Sony is a leader in the mirrorless camera market. So if you’re looking to go mirrorless as a sports photographer, their cameras are worth your consideration. But what if you don’t know which one to buy?
I’m Caleb, and I have around five years of experience as a sports photographer. I’ve shot college and semi-pro games across several sports, and I have a pretty good idea of what to look for in a sports photography camera.
Today, I’ll go over the cameras from Sony and which ones stand out for shooting sports specifically. I’ll reveal the best one that money can buy and a cheaper option with good value. If you’re considering a Sony camera, keep reading to find out which is the best.
- Since this is a camera for sports photography, you’ll need a high continuous shooting speed. While Sony as a brand isn’t mainly known for fast-shooting cameras, they have a few that meet this requirement well enough.
- The Sony a1 is one of the best options on the market specs-wise, but its prohibitively expensive cost will keep most photographers from getting their hands on it for a while.
- The Sony a9 II is cheaper while still delivering top-of-the-line performance.
- The a7 III comes in as the best Sony camera you can get under $2,000.
What Makes The Best Camera for Sports Photography?
Shooting sports have some pretty specific demands, so there are some things you should keep an eye out for when considering whether a camera will fit your needs.
- Continuous Shooting Speed: Sports tend to move fast. If your camera can shoot at a faster frame rate, you have a better chance of capturing great shots instead of missing them.
- Resolution: While the resolution isn’t as important to sports photography as it is to some other fields, it still impacts quality. Sports photos are often cropped significantly in editing, so it helps a lot to start from a high-res base image.
- Low-Light Performance: Unless you’re only shooting outdoor games during the morning and afternoon, you’ll probably run into poor lighting conditions at some point. This is especially relevant for small indoor venues like high school gyms.
- Processor: Among other things, your camera’s processor helps you write images to the memory card quicker. A good processor will keep you from missing a shot because your camera is buffering.
The Best Sony Cameras for Sports Photography
These are the three best Sony cameras for shooting sports, in my opinion. Why only three out of all the cameras Sony makes?
Most of Sony’s cameras aren’t targeted at the action photography crowd, which includes sports. Their list of cameras that fit this role isn’t as extensive as Canon or Nikon. However, their cameras that do fit into this niche tend to do their job very well.
1. Sony a9 II (Best Overall)
- Resolution: 24.2MP
- Continuous Shooting: 20fps
- ISO Range: 100-51,200
- Sensor: Full-frame
A better version of the original a9, the Sony a9 II arguably has the best mix of cost and performance among Sony’s E-mount cameras. One of the main specs that stand out immediately is the 20fps continuous shooting speed, a critical capability for sports.
It’s not just the raw specs that make the a9 II a good option. A good autofocus will make your life easier as a sports photographer, and the a9 II excels in that area. Its tracking autofocus mode is designed to follow moving subjects, and you can even track the subject eyes.
Regarding image quality, the a9 II is at the upper end of Sony’s offerings and supports 4K video.
Interestingly, the a9 II also lets the user attach voice memos to individual pictures or bursts of them. This can be useful for marking the context associated with a specific photo.
One con for the a9 II is that, at its core, it’s not that different from the original model. While it does bring improvements to the table, like better autofocus, the basic specs profile is very similar between both cameras.
My Verdict: The Sony a9 II doesn’t reinvent the wheel compared to the a9 but still stands out as the best combination of value and performance for sports photographers.
2. Sony a1 (Best High End)
- Resolution: 50.1MP
- Continuous Shooting: 30fps
- ISO Range: 100-32,000 (expandable to 102,400)
- Sensor: Full-frame
If money isn’t an object, the Sony a1 is one of the best cameras on the market for sports photography. The first spec that stands out is the massive 50.1MP resolution, which ensures you’ll have ridiculously high-resolution photos even after cropping.
The 30fps shooting speed with an electronic shutter is the other main feature that stands out. This is top-tier in general, not just when compared to other Sony cameras. You’ll have no problem catching even the fastest plays with a shooting speed like this.
Like the a9 II, the a1 also excels in autofocus. It features 120 times per second autofocus calculation, which helps a lot in sports where athletes constantly move up and down the field.
Also, if you do any work with video, the a1 has excellent quality in that department. It can shoot in 8K at 30fps or 4K at 120fps. If you do sports photography and create video content, you won’t have to switch to a different camera to achieve the best quality.
The a1 has few true cons, as it has some of the best specs of any consumer camera right now. However, as it was released recently in 2021, it’s still extremely expensive, even more so than the already pricey a9 II. Its biggest con is its inaccessibility to most photographers.
My Verdict: The Sony a1 is extremely pricey but delivers some of the best sports photography specs money can buy.
3. Sony a7 III (Best Under $2,000)
- Resolution: 24MP
- Continuous Shooting: 10fps
- ISO Range: 100-51,200 (expandable to 204,800)
- Sensor: Full-frame
Stepping down a price range from the a9 II and the a1, the Sony a7 III is probably the best you’ll find. While not as lightning fast as something like the a1, the 10fps shooting speed is still around double what you’d get from most entry-level and lower intermediate cameras.
The resolution is good enough for sports photography, too. After all, 24 megapixels puts it on par with the higher-end a9 II. This is an excellent resolution to crop your photos and still has a good size left after.
Another plus of the a7 III is that, like the other cameras on this list, it uses Sony’s E-mount. There’s already a great selection of lenses for this mount, and using a good enough lens will let a camera like this compete with even upper-end models like the ones mentioned above.
The autofocus, while less modern than what the a9 II has, is still quite good and, like that camera, even includes a mode for eye tracking. While most sports photographers won’t need that, it shows that the a7 III’s autofocus is sensitive enough to pull it off.
There aren’t many cons here, as the camera is pretty well-rounded, and the specs are great for the price. However, it’s worth pointing out that you might be able to get a higher-resolution camera from a different brand for a similar amount these days.
My Verdict: The Sony a7 III is a balanced camera that shares some of the strengths of Sony’s higher-end models, making it suitable for anyone looking to start with professional sports cameras.
Sony isn’t the most well-known name for sports photography cameras, but they have some models that can compete with Canon and Nikon just fine. Between the a9 II and the a1, some of the best mirrorless cameras you can get for sports are made by Sony.
Of course, if you’re unsure which camera is best for you, it might be worth considering other brands like Canon or Nikon. Both of these brands have larger selections regarding action photography cameras.
What do you think about Sony cameras? Do you think they make the best mirrorless cameras on the market at the moment? Let us know in the comments.