Do Sports Photographers Use Autofocus?

Sports photographers use autofocus almost all the time to get shots faster and cut down on time spent getting the subject in focus. The most useful mode is continuous autofocus, where the camera tracks the subject while the shutter button is half-pressed.

I’m Caleb, and I’ve been a sports photographer for more than four years. My knowledge of sports photography comes from shooting several sports during that time, including at the semi-pro and college levels.

In this article, I’ll discuss why and how sports photographers use autofocus. I’ll also explain the best autofocus mode for sports photography.

If you’ve ever been curious about sports photography and autofocus, keep reading for the full breakdown.

Why Do Sports Photographers Use Autofocus?

In some ways, sports photography is all about speed. Sporting events move fast, and autofocus helps photographers cut out wasted time and keep up with the pace of the event.

When a play is coming in your direction, you won’t really have time to adjust the focus manually. Especially if you already have one hand on the zoom ring, which you probably will most of the time when shooting sporting events.

With that being said, not all autofocus is the same. There are different modes, and using the right one can make your job much easier.

Best Autofocus Mode for Sports Photography

The most helpful autofocus mode for sports photography is continuous autofocus. 

This will sometimes have different names depending on the brand. For example, Canon calls it AI Servo AF, while Nikon refers to it as AF-C.

In this mode, your camera will try to track the subject while you half-press the shutter button and adjust the focus as the subject moves. This is usually more accurate if your camera has a higher number of autofocus points. 

It also uses a higher amount of battery compared to other modes because the camera has to spend more energy changing focus to follow your subject.

The main advantage of this mode is that it lets you leave the focusing to the camera while you keep your attention on getting the best shot.


Here are some other questions about autofocus and sports photography.

What Is The Difference Between AI Servo AF and AF-C?

AI Servo AF and AF-C both fundamentally do the same job. The modes are named differently because of the manufacturer. Canon refers to their continuous autofocus mode as AI Servo AF, while Sony and Nikon use AF-C.

Why Are My Sports Photos Blurry?

If you’re using autofocus and your photos are coming out blurry, you may want to try focusing earlier and making sure you’ve chosen the right point to focus on.


Sports photographers have more of a need for autofocus than most and make use of it frequently when shooting fast-moving sporting events. The most common mode is continuous autofocus, where the camera does the tracking independently.

Which autofocus mode do you use in your own photography? Let us know in the comments.

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