Sam Kacey

Sam is a professional photographer. He loves landscape and sports action photography.

Sports events present unbeatable opportunities for amazing shots to show off your photography skills with adrenaline-filled expressions and constant rapid movements. However, these opportunities also come with different unique challenges. As anyone who has ever attempted sports photography will tell you, trying to capture all-star moments can quickly become an excursion in frustration if you don’t have the best Nikon lens for sports.

Sports photography can be tricky to shoot, even if you have the latest camera from Nikon. If shooting indoors, you need to freeze the action by selecting a fast shutter speed, but the low amount of light available often limits you. Most lenses don’t have apertures big enough to let in more light, so you’re left with raising the ISO speed, and this doesn’t always look good on every DSLR.

For outdoor sports, it’s a lot easier since the sun provides plenty of light. Shooting with shutter speeds over 1/250 is not a challenge, even if the lens you use has an aperture of f/5.6. When selecting the best Nikon lens for sports, chances are you won’t only be shooting sports. So before buying a lens, you should consider what else you want to shoot with it. Perhaps it’s portraits, wildlife, races, animals, or anything far away.

Instead of poster-worthy prints, you can easily end up turning out one blurry picture after another of ant-sized players that no one can identify. To help avoid such sad results, you may have already realized that investing in a dedicated sports lens is an absolute necessity. If that’s your case, but you’re not sure which sports photography lens you need, continue reading to find our top picks for the best Nikon lens for sports of 2022 that will amp up the wow factor in your action shots. Or if you’re in a hurry jump straight to our number #1 pick here.

sports lens for Nikon camera

What Should You Look for in the Best Nikon Lens for Sports?

Purchasing a Nikon lens shouldn’t be difficult, but most people are unfamiliar with camera lenses and don’t know what to look for when buying one. We understand that problem better than most because if you’re not a photography enthusiast or a camera geek, you wouldn’t know the ins and outs of lenses.

You don’t have to know all the prerequisites of sports lenses to know if they will deliver results or perform above your expectations. However, there are a couple of vital things you must look for in the best Nikon lens for sports. These include the following:

Criteria #1: Long Enough Focal Length

If you want to become a sports photographer, shooting a multitude of sports, you want a camera lens with the best focal length. However, most sports photographers tend to focus on one or two sports in the beginning. It’s best to consider the conditions on the field for your sport.

The Bigger field sports such as football and cricket require longer lenses that cover the entire field. Meanwhile, indoor sports such as volleyball or basketball may require wider-angle lenses. With time, you will want to expand your camera gear and have multiple lens options to shoot with.

However, when purchasing your first lens for sports, think about the amount of reach you need so that you’re as close to the action as possible and can capture all the unforgettable moments.

canoe in river shot with Nikon sports lens

Criteria #2: Fast Maximum Aperture

You may note that having a fast and reliable aperture is the main concern for sports photographers. You want to have a wide-open aperture, which lets plenty of light in and allows you to take advantage of the shutter at lightning-fast speeds. It’s an advantage in all sports but is vital when photographing for night games on poorly lit fields or indoor sports.

If you plan on mainly photographing events outside in broad daylight, you can sacrifice the aperture for other details such as price and zoom range. Otherwise, buying the widest maximum aperture you can afford helps ensure you will always catch the action in any lighting conditions.

Criteria #3: Fast Autofocus and Good Handling

You must have good speed to catch all the action. Big moments happen in milliseconds, and if you’re consuming a lot of time focusing your lens, you will miss them. To avoid the mishap of missing a great praise-worthy image by missing the shot or getting a blurry image due to lens focus, you should go for a lens that has proven autofocus capabilities.

However, when firing shots, seamless, slick speed can make all the difference. Also, have a feel of the lens in your palm; the weight, the size, and the position of the buttons can affect your experience as a sports photographer.

An awkward or heavy lens will cause you a lot of frustration during shooting. Even though every new piece of equipment has a learning curve, you don’t want your shoulders to start aching and your fingers to go numb while you’re handling your lens.

Here’s How We’ve Determined the Best Nikon Lens for Sports

You can’t expect phenomenal performance from your Nikon lens for sports photography if you don’t have adequate photography skills. However, with the right lens by your side, even amateur photographers can end up taking prize winning pictures. Therefore, it’s important to get your hands on the very best Nikon lenses for sports photography on the market.

With hundreds of options at your disposal, it’s not an easy task to pick 4 or 5 lenses and claim that they are the best in the market. Our team did their research and ensured that any lens we picked for our review met the criteria and ticked all the boxes, to earn the label for the best Nikon lens for sports. Here are our top picks:

#1: Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E Sports Lens (Best Value)

The Nikon AF-S 200-500mm is the best value lens spanning a long and versatile zoom range. It’s a telephoto zoom with a continuous f/5.6 maximum aperture that affords consistent performance during the zoom range. Incorporated into its optical design are three glass elements that are extra-low dispersion and help reduce chromatic distortions and aberrations for increased color accuracy and sharpness.

The image quality is improved with the application of the Super Integrated Coating to lens elements, which lessens ghosting and flare for improved clarity and contrast. The Silent Wave Motor AF system is known for producing a near-silent, fast-focusing performance for excellent movie recording and stills shooting. It can be instantly overridden manually by turning the focus ring.

See Today’s Best Price for The Nikon AF-S 200-500mm at B&H Photo

The photographing is improved in difficult lighting and fast-paced situations by the Vibration Reduction (VR) image stabilization to compensate for camera shake by nearly 4.5 stops shutter speed. In addition, the lens design has an electromagnetic aperture mechanism, which provides better stability for exposure control and is useful when you work with fast continuous shooting rates.

The lens is designed to be used with FX image sensors but can be used with DX sensors as well, where it offers an equivalent focal length range of 300-750mm.

Reason #1: Vibration Reduction Image Stabilization

The Vibration Reduction image stabilization helps reduce camera shake for up to 4.5 shutter speed stops, benefitting this lens’s use in low-light conditions. In addition, a designated Sports Mode is ideal for working in conditions that are fast-paced where lateral camera movements and panning are common.

Reason #2: Silent Wave Motor

The Silent Wave Motor affords quiet, precise, and fast autofocus performance and has a full-time manual focus override. There is also an internal focusing design where the internal lens groups move while maintaining the lens’s overall length during use and promoting faster-focusing speeds while shooting.

horse race shot using sports Nikon lens

#2: Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4E Sports Lens (Best Prime Telephoto)

The Nikon AF-S 300mm lens combines a portable form factor with a long reach. The prime telephoto lens features an exclusive Phase Fresnel element, which decreases the weight and size of the lens compared to other lenses. The one extra-low dispersion glass element helps in reducing color fringing and chromatic aberrations for improved color accuracy and clarity.

The individual elements also feature both Super Integrated Coatings and Nano Crystal and Super to suppress ghosting and flare. There is a protective fluorine coating, which protects the optical system from moisture and dust. The optical design is enhanced with the Silent Wave Motor AF system, which can produce a near-silent, fast focusing performance for movie recording and stills shooting. It also is instantly overridden manually by turning the focus ring.

See The Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4E Sports Lens at B&H Photo

Your photographing is improved in fast-paced and difficult lighting conditions thanks to the Vibration Reduction (VR) image stabilization, which compensates for camera shake and allows sharp handheld shooting. In addition, the lens design has an integrated electromagnetic aperture mechanism, which offers greater stability for exposure control and is perfect when you work with fast continuous shooting rates.

bike flying through the air shot using Nikon sports lenses

#3: Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Sports Lens for Nikon (Best Telephoto Zoom Range)

The Sigma 150-600mm Sports-series lens has a versatile reach, offers the best flexible telephoto zoom range, and has an advanced physical and optical design. It has several elements of low dispersion, which help in reducing color fringing and chromatic aberrations through the zoom range while contributing to greater color accuracy and clarity.

There is also a Super Multi-Layer Coating employed to control flare and ghosting for enhanced contrast when you work in conditions with strong lighting. The optics are complemented by a Hyper Sonic Motor, which offers quiet and fast autofocus performance, along with a full-time manual focus override.

There is an Optical Stabilizer, which minimizes camera shake for sharp handheld shooting. In addition, the lens design is integrated with a rotating tripod collar that suits working atop a monopod or tripod.

As part of the Sports line within Sigma’s Global Vision series, this lens is designed to offer excellent optical performance, speed, and other customizable features that make it an ideal choice for wildlife, sports, action, and other fast-moving subjects.


#4: Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E Lens for Sports (Best Versatile Range)

Nikon Nikkor 70-200mm sports lens

The Nikon 70-200mm lens spans a versatile focal length range that is longer than normal. It is a portrait to telephoto zoom, providing a bright f/2.8 constant maximum aperture, sophisticated construction, and intuitive handling controls.

The revised layout comes with one fluorite element, six extra-low dispersion elements, and one high refractive index element for reducing color fringing and chromatic aberrations for improved sharpness and clarity.

Super Integrated Coatings and Nano Crystal enhance the image quality by decreasing lens flare for improved color accuracy and contrast. The front and rear elements have fluorine coatings that protect against smudging, dust, and moisture.

The optical attributes of the lens are balanced by a series of strong handling and physical assets. These include a 4-stop-effective Vibration Reduction system that minimizes camera shake and allows sharper handheld shooting. The Silent Wave Motor AF system also enables sharp imagery with smooth, quiet, and quick focusing performance that’s ideal for video and stills.

There are also four focus buttons on the lens barrel, which activate AF Lock easily, and there is also an option for full-time manual focus override. In addition, the lens also features a magnesium-alloy and weather-sealed construction perfect for working in harsh environments. The rotating, removable tripod collar can spin on the ball bearings for quick and smooth shifting between horizontal and vertical shooting.

canoeing race shot using Nikon lens for all sports

#5: Nikon AF-S 500mm f/5.6E Sports Lens (Best Super Telephoto)

lens from Nikon used for sports

The Nikon 500mm has an extremely long reach with an easy-to-hold form factor that proves a super-telephoto lens doesn’t have to be massive. The 500mm prime lens uses an exclusive Phase Fresnel element that reduces its weight and size compared to past focal length versions.

The PF element and three extra-low dispersion elements help in eliminating chromatic aberrations and color fringing while achieving a higher degree of sharpness, clarity, and color fidelity. The advanced optical design is complemented by individual elements that feature Super Integrated Coatings and Nano Crystal to suppress ghosting and flare. There is also a protective fluorine coating, which protects the optical system from moisture and dust.

The optical design is enhanced with the Silent Wave Motor AF system, which can produce a near-silent and fast focusing performance for movie recording and stills shooting. It can also be instantly overridden manually by turning the focus ring.

Photographing in difficult lighting and fast-paced situations is enhanced thanks to the Vibration Reduction (VR) image stabilization, which compensates for camera shake and allows sharp handheld shooting. In addition, the lens design has an integrated electromagnetic aperture mechanism that offers greater stability for exposure control and is ideal when you work with fast continuous shooting rates.

volleyball players in action

Frequently Asked Questions

Buying a quality Nikon lens for sports photography doesn’t get any easier, even if you read all the reviews. Most people are not familiar with lens technology and the intricate mechanics of lenses. You will obviously have a lot of questions. We have taken that into account and shared some frequently asked questions here.

How to Choose the Best Nikon Lens for Sports?

One of the most critical factors you need to know when considering a lens is what kind of sports you will be photographing. That will inform you more than anything about the lens type you need to look into. Some of the questions you must ask yourself are:

  • How close or far away to the action will I be?
  • Is this sport played indoors or outdoors?
  • Is it played at night or day?
  • What kind of access to the playing area will I have?

The answers to these questions will significantly inform what lens type you need to purchase. Another important aspect of sports photography is your experience. Is this a hobby or career? How much are you willing to invest in a lens? It may be easier for those who are career photographers to invest in a lens that costs thousands of dollars.

However, for those looking to invest in a hobby, it may be better to look for an economical option to meet your needs. Finally, if you know the venues you will be shooting at and your budget, you should look into some of the more technical elements of the lens.

plane shot by Nikon lens for all sports

What to Look for in the Best Nikon Lens for Sports?

Zoom capability is a vital feature for any Nikon lens you purchase for sports photography. If you’re going to be close to the playing surface on the sidelines where only a short distance is required to zoom in, then the Nikon AF-S 200-500mm Sports Lens is a good option.

However, if you will be a fair distance away from the action, you want a big range for zooming in, so that you can capture close-up images of the action. A lens with a powerful zoom capability will be required for such situations. Another crucial feature is the aperture capabilities for sports photography.

Sometimes there is dim lighting at sporting arenas and stadiums, but depending on where you will be photographing, you must pick a lens that captures a decent amount of light for quality images. Action shots are the bread and butter of sports photography, and features like autofocus and vibration control help photographers catch amazing images of athletes in action.

What Are the Prerequisites for the Best Nikon Lens for Sports?

One of the most crucial factors for choosing a sports lens is the aperture. Essentially, the aperture of the lens will dictate the amount of light that enters a lens. Therefore, a lens with a low aperture will have better performance. The perfect aperture is f/2.8 for a sports lens. However, finding sports cameras with low apertures will do the job if you can’t find a lens with a low aperture in your budget.

Another vital prerequisite is autofocusing for an excellent sports lens. Photographers are always trying to catch athletes in the heat of the action, which makes it hard to manually get a focused image. That’s why you want a sports lens that has auto-focus capabilities. The main thing you want is the focusing distance from your lens.

You want to shoot tight and sharp pictures, which means you can zoom in close to the action in the middle. It doesn’t help you if you’re photographing with a lens that doesn’t have excellent aperture and autofocus capabilities because you won’t get good action shots.

Verdict: Your Best Nikon Lens for Sports

Shopping for the best Nikon lens for sports photography can be tricky, and even the most seasoned photographers can get things wrong at times. However, we have done our best to provide you with an in-depth review of the best lenses from Nikon for sports. We stand by our choices and believe that the Nikon lenses we have highlighted here are the best on the market. Here’s a recap of our top picks:

If you’re looking for the best value lens with a long zoom range, go with the Nikon AF-S 200-500mm.

This telephoto zoom lens has a f/5.6 constant maximum aperture that performs consistently when you are zooming in or out. The optical design features three glass elements for extra-low dispersion, which are designed to decrease chromatic distortions and aberrations. You also get enhanced color accuracy and sharpness as a result.

If you want the best prime telephoto sports lens, get the Nikon AF-S 300mm.

It’s a telephoto prime lens that comes with a Phase Fresnel element that reduces the lens’s weight and size considerably. It has one glass element for extra-low dispersion, which decreases color fringing and chromatic aberrations and improves color accuracy and clarity.

If you need the best telephoto zoom range lens, choose the Sigma 150-600mm.

This lens is part of Nikon’s sports-series lenses and is incredibly flexible and versatile when zooming in or out due to its phenomenal reach. The lens’s advanced design incorporates numerous low dispersion elements that decrease color fringing and chromatic aberrations. You also benefit from enhanced color accuracy and clarity.

These are our top contenders for the best Nikon lenses for sports photography. We believe that you can pick any of these lenses and improve the quality of your images, shots, and videos considerably. As always, price is a factor when purchasing any quality lens, and we looked at that when compiling our research. Nevertheless, these are your best options if you want to purchase a Nikon lens for sports photography.

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