How much zoom you need for sports photography depends mainly on the sport you’re shooting. A 70-200mm lens is a very versatile option, but you likely need a shorter lens for more up-close sports.
I’m Caleb, and I have more than four years of experience with sports photography. I’ve shot several sports at various levels, from semi-pro to college.
In this article, I’ll talk about zoom lenses and how much zoom you need to get the perfect shot.
If you’re shopping for a lens for sports photography, read ahead first to ensure you know what to look for.
How Much Zoom Do You Really Need for Sports Photography?
Unfortunately, there’s not really any perfect focal length that works with every sport. Some lengths are more versatile than others, but the right amount of zoom for you will mainly depend on which sports you shoot.
For example, basketball is played on a relatively small court, and its photographers are usually very close to the action. If you’re using a 70-200mm lens, the players will probably be too close once they reach your side of the court.
You could fix this problem by buying a 24-70mm lens instead, but if you were to take that lens to shoot a soccer match, you’d find it doesn’t have enough zoom to get most of the shots you want.
In other words, buying lenses for sports photography is all about picking and choosing. Your needs depend on your sport, and not every lens will work well with every sport.
The Most Versatile Lens
Lenses with a 70-200mm focal length are probably the most versatile across various sports. It’s not hard to find lenses like these on the market. The major companies, like Canon, Sony, and Nikon, basically all produce their own version of this design.
This focal length is excellent for shooting at medium ranges but can also work for the lower end of what would be considered long range. For outdoor sports with a large field, like football or soccer, it’s basically essential.
It suffers, however, when it comes to shooting sports where the players are right in front of you. These indoor sports, like basketball or boxing, are usually played within a smaller area.
The Lens For Tighter Spaces
Your best bet for sports like basketball or boxing is probably a 24-70mm lens. This lens type is also very popular because of its versatility and is also available for every major camera brand.
These lenses will lack range for outdoor sports with larger playing areas, but they’re beneficial for the sports they excel at.
Also, if you’re using multiple cameras, a 24-70mm lens is an excellent alternative to a 70-200mm one.
Many sports photographers using 70-200mm lenses also bring one of these to shoot close-ups when the players are too close for the longer lens.
Super-telephoto lenses go out longer distances, such as 300mm, 400mm, or even 600mm. They have a reputation for being prohibitively expensive, but luckily, you don’t really need one of these for sports photography.
There are certainly reasons to find them useful. For example, you can stand at one end of a soccer pitch and get close-ups of players in the middle of the field. Thanks to this, many higher-end professionals use these for large field sports.
But you can still get most of the essential shots without having this much zoom. You can think of super-telephoto lenses as a luxury item to buy after you’ve “made it” and already found a lot of success with regular lenses.
Also, don’t be fooled by the cheaper super-telephoto lenses with lower prices but worse aperture. These aren’t actually great for sports photography, and you’ll probably regret the purchase.
Here are some other frequently asked questions about zoom and sports photography.
Is 400mm Good Enough For Sports?
Yes. 400mm is within the territory of super-telephoto lenses and, in many cases, is overkill for sports.
Can I Use A 50mm Lens For Sports Photography?
A 50mm lens is usable for sports photography, but you’re better off looking for slightly more length and going with a 24-70mm lens. 50mm will probably leave you wanting that extra bit of zoom when the players are further away from you.
Is A 35mm Lens Good For Sports Photography?
35mm isn’t enough zoom for a primary lens. However, a 35mm lens can make a decent lens for a second camera for shooting close-ups when the players are close to you.
How much zoom you need for sports photography depends on the sports you’re shooting. If in doubt, however, 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses are the most reliable and versatile options. For good reason, these lenses are also some of the most widely available.
Which lenses do you use for sports or action photography? Tell us in the comments.