3 Best Budget Cameras for Sports Photography

If you’re buying a camera for sports, price is probably one of the first things you’ll consider. After all, not everyone has thousands of dollars to spend on the latest full-frame models. Luckily, it’s still possible to find success in sports photography even with much cheaper gear.

I’m Caleb, and I have five years of experience as a sports photographer. I’ve shot games across many sports, using less than top-tier equipment myself.

In this article, I’ll review the best budget sports photography cameras under $1,000. I’ll explain what makes each one stand out above other similarly priced cameras, so if you’re on a budget right now, keep reading for the full explanation.

Key Takeaways

  • You won’t find a camera for less than $1,000 that does everything well. If you’re getting the camera for sports photography, focus on the specs that are most useful for sports.
  • The Nikon Z 50 punches above its weight, delivering a faster shooting speed than most other cameras at its price point.
  • Because it’s cheaper due to its age, the Sony a7 is an excellent full-frame option for under $1,000.
  • You can get more quality from a lower-end camera by pairing it with a better lens.
How Many Megapixels Do You Need For Sports Photography?

While there’s no true minimum resolution for sports photography, having at least an average megapixel count will make things easier when it comes to cropping or making prints. Aiming for at least 20 megapixels should be enough.

Is DSLR Or Mirrorless Better For Sports Photography?

In the past, the best sports photography cameras have typically been DSLRs. However, this distinction is going away as modern mirrorless cameras are able to do most of the same things. You should go with whatever style of camera you’re more comfortable with.

What Camera Do NFL Photographers Use?

There’s no standard camera for NFL photographers. You can find lots of cameras in this role, as each photographer generally chooses their own equipment.

Do Sports Photographers Need Image Stabilization?

Not really. While image stabilization is helpful, many sports photographers sometimes shoot with it turned off. This is because shooting with stabilization tends to be slower, and speed is more important.

What Makes The Best Camera for Sports Photography

Here are some things to consider when buying a camera for sports photography. These things apply for all sports photography cameras but can give you an idea of what to prioritize when looking for a budget camera specifically.

  • Shooting Speed: If there’s one spec to consider before any others, it’s this. Sports photography is all about capturing moments of fast action. If you can find a cheap camera with a good shooting speed, you’ve found a good deal.
  • Sensor Type: Having a full-frame camera will give you more clarity and sharpness compared to a crop-sensor one. It might be worth getting an older full-frame camera, even if it has worse specs in some other areas.
  • Resolution: Resolution isn’t the most important thing, but it does matter, especially if you’ll crop your photos extensively after taking them.
  • Lens Compatibility: You can get better quality out of a cheap camera by pairing it with a good lens. You may want a camera that is compatible with widely used sports photography lenses, such as Canon’s 70-200mm models.

The Best Budget Cameras for Sports Photography

Here’s my list of the best under $1,000 cameras for sports photography. These cameras all have strengths and weaknesses. If they were perfect, they’d cost a lot more. However, each one of them has something that makes it stand out against other similar models.

1. Nikon Z 50 (Best Overall)

  • Resolution: 20.9MP
  • Continuous Shooting Speed: 11fps
  • ISO Range: 100-51,200 (expandable to 204,800)
  • Sensor: APS-C

If you prioritize shooting speed, the Nikon Z 50 is the obvious winner on this list. It can shoot at 11fps, which places it above the vast majority of other entry-level cameras, and it’s priced very similarly to those slower cameras.

The Z 50 holds up in other areas, too. The resolution is 20.9 megapixels, which isn’t going to blow anyone away, but it’s not exactly subpar either. The slightly lower resolution than something like Canon’s Rebel T8i is worth it when you consider the speed advantage.

Nikon has invested into the autofocus of their newer models, and some of that is present in the Z 50. It has 209 autofocus points, which helps with tracking your subject no matter where they move in the frame.

Also, while many sports photographers might not have a use for this, the Z 50 can handle 4K video at up to 30fps. This may be useful if you record video on the side and want a camera that can take on both jobs.

Most of the cons with this camera have to do with the autofocus. While the large amount of AF points is a plus, the autofocus itself is rougher than what you’d get with Nikon’s higher-end offerings.

My Verdict: The Nikon Z 50 is great for any sports photographer on a budget because of its fast shooting, which even beats out many higher-priced cameras.

2. Canon Rebel T8i (Best Lens Compatibility)

  • Resolution: 24.1MP
  • Continuous Shooting Speed: 7fps
  • ISO Range: 100-25,600 (expandable to 51,200)
  • Sensor: APS-C

The main advantage of the Canon Rebel T8i is unconventional: its EF-S lens mount. The Rebel series is generally average, but with this mount, you can use any Canon EF or EF-S lens. This includes some of the popular and highest-quality lenses for sports photography.

That’s not to say the camera itself is bad. The 24.1 megapixels of resolution is good enough for image quality, especially at the cheap price point the T8i and other Rebel series cameras come at.

Also, while the T8i isn’t as fast as the Z 50, the 7fps shooting speed is a slight upgrade over both the earlier T7i and T6i. Like with the resolution, it’s good enough for the price point, especially since speed isn’t the main focus of the Rebel series.

Like most other newer Canon cameras, the T8i has built-in Bluetooth capability that you can use to transfer pictures to your phone immediately, using Canon’s app. If you’re shooting games in a journalistic role, this is great for quickly sending pictures back to your editors.

As for cons, the viewfinder isn’t the greatest, being small even when considering the T8i’s status as a crop-sensor camera. Also, it’s limited to 24fps for 4K video. But these are minor shortcomings for a camera at this price.

My Verdict: If you’re interested in using Canon’s large collection of EF / EF-S lenses, many of which are great for sports photography, the Rebel T8i is a good option for you.

3. Sony a7 (Best Full-Frame)

  • Resolution: 24.3
  • Continuous Shooting Speed: 5fps
  • ISO Range: 100-25,600
  • Sensor: Full-frame

The Sony a7 is special for being the only full-frame camera on this list. That alone warrants a spot here because it’s rare to see a relatively modern full-frame model for under $1,000. This makes it a great choice if you want to switch over from an APS-C camera cheaply.

Even though plenty of derivative models have come out since the original a7 is still pretty modern. For example, it features 25 contrast-detect and 117 phase-detect autofocus points.

Like with the Rebel T8i, the lens mount here is an advantage, too. The a7 uses the E mount, meaning you can take advantage of the more advanced lenses Sony has made for full-frame cameras in the years since the a7’s initial launch.

The resolution obviously isn’t anything to knock either, standing higher than the Z 50 and at the same level as the T8i despite both being newer cameras compared to 2014’s a7.

If there’s a major con, it’s the shooting speed, however. It’s only 5fps, which is obviously a pretty big downside for sports photography. If you can ignore that shortcoming, though, the rest of the package is very good.

My Verdict: The original Sony a7 is the best choice if you need a full-frame sports photography camera for under $1,000.

Final Thoughts

Budget can obviously be an obstacle to getting into photography. But it doesn’t have to be. If you want to look a bit harder, you can find perfectly good options for under $1,000. Even if sports is the photography niche you’re trying to get into.

Do you have any tips for doing sports photography on a budget? Do you think another camera should be mentioned here? Let us know in the comments.

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