What Focus Mode is Best for Sports Photography?

You can expect to use autofocus for almost all of your sports shots. Any autofocus mode will meet the minimum requirement, but continuous AF mode provides the best results in sports photography. 

I’m Caleb, and I have more than four years of experience as a sports photographer. I’ve shot games from the semi-pro to the college level, and getting shots in focus was one of the first things I learned in this field.

In this article, I’ll discuss focus modes and which is the best for sports photography.

Best Focus Mode for Sports Photography

It’s a given that you’ll use autofocus in sports photography. Games happen fast, and there’s just not enough time to adjust the focus manually and still capture moments of action as they happen.

With that being said, autofocus isn’t just one singular mode. There are different kinds of autofocus, some of which are better than others.

The best for sports photography is continuous autofocus, where the camera will do its best to track your subject for as long as you half-press the shutter button. 

This means that, even if your subject is on the move, you don’t have to waste time re-pressing the shutter button multiple times to update your focal length.

Different brands have different names for this kind of autofocus. On Canon cameras, it’s marked as AI Servo AF. Nikon and Sony, on the other hand, label it AF-C. 

What Do You Need For Effective Autofocus?

While picking the proper focus mode will help you greatly in sports photography, there’s more to autofocus than just that.

Its effectiveness also depends partly on how many focus points your camera has. Higher-end cameras generally have more focus points, letting them track the subject more precisely as it moves across the points.

Often, cameras are marketed to sports photographers with their fast speed. While fast shooting speed is beneficial in sports photography, having a high number of focus points is another important attribute that some photographers overlook.

For example, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, a top-of-the-line camera suited very well to action photography, has a whopping 191 focus points. For comparison, the midrange Canon EOS 90D has 45.

Still, even if you don’t have a high-end camera, continuous autofocus will save you time and help you get better sports photography shots.

Modern digital cameras are good enough that even entry-level models can focus on the action in sports photography just fine. If you have a lower number of focus points, the transitions when using continuous focus modes will just be a bit less smooth.


If you’re still curious, here are some common questions about autofocus and sports photography.

How Do You Get Crisp Action Shots?

Getting crisp action shots isn’t just about having the subject in focus but also about shutter speed. If your action shots are blurry, try shooting with a faster shutter speed, like 1/1000 or above.

What Is Continuous Autofocus Called On My Camera?

The continuous mode is called AI Servo AF if you have a Canon camera. If Nikon or Sony makes your camera, it is called AF-C. If you still aren’t sure, you can probably find this information in your camera’s manual.


Continuous autofocus modes are the best for sports photography, as they save you the time of manually pressing the shutter button multiple times to keep your subject in focus. And if you have a camera with more focus points, you’ll get smoother performance in this mode.

Which focus mode do you use for action photography? Tell us in the comments.

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