5 Best Canon Lenses for Sports in 2023 (Expert reviews)
Sports photography isn’t the easiest, if you’ve done it once, you’ll know that. But it can be made much easier with the right Canon sports lens. I’m here to help you find it.
With years of experience as a professional photographer, I know what to look for when purchasing a lens for sports photography.
In this article, I will tell you exactly what the best sports lenses for Canon are, and not only that, I will also give you the best price. This way, you can go out and shoot as soon as possible.
Best lenses listed
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What is the best Canon lens for sports photography?
So I just said that sports photography can be made easier with the right lens, I think we all know that’s true. A fast-focusing lens with great image quality is therefore required. Its weight is also important, most zoom lenses are heavy.
It doesn’t matter what kind of sports you photograph, I mean, there are dozens of different types of sports. The lenses I choose are good for all types of sports photography, from football, baseball, and swimming to cycling, motorsports, and hockey.
I made sure to take everything into account when choosing the right lens, I looked at the image quality, autofocus speed, stabilization, and a lot more. When shooting sports, you want to use a fast shutter speed, anything from 1/1000 should be fast enough.
It’s important to use sports lenses that are capable of letting through enough light, like an F5.6 lens. Anything faster would be better, like the F2.8 lens I recommend. I do recommend some darker lenses, like F7.1-8 lenses. These most often are cheaper, so if you want a budget sports lens from Canon, make sure to look at those lenses.
If you’re shooting sports on a big field, like soccer, softball, or hockey, I recommend using a 400mm lens minimum. You need to get close to the action, and using a lens like that will get you closer to the athletes.
Sometimes, I shoot track events, which are motorsports. In that case, you could get away with a wider lens, like 70-200mm. Although I would recommend bringing a more telephoto lens with you.
Note that, on sunny days, the image quality won’t be as good with telephoto lenses due to heat waves. This is a problem mainly on asphalt, but sports fields do suffer from this. I don’t recommend taking 800mm lenses with you, just because you can.
Now, a good lens will only get you so far. You must have a camera which is good enough for sports photography, that isn’t necessarily the most expensive. I’ve got a Canon R6 and is perfect for my needs. Here’s a list of the best cameras for sports.
My goal is for you to buy the right sports lens from Canon, which isn’t necessarily the most expensive or newest lens. There are plenty of older lenses that work perfectly fine. I don’t recommend any $10,000 lens on here, as I don’t necessarily see the added value.
Enough talking, let’s get straight to the best Canon lens for sports.
So I said that I won’t recommend the most expensive lenses from Canon. Now, one lens that is one of the cheapest is the Canon RF 100-400mm. It is not an L lens, which I was used to before, so the image quality isn’t at that level.
Nevertheless, the build and image quality are great and the 400mm is nice to have. The 100-400mm gives a bit more flexibility, so I didn’t worry at all when athletes came my way. Autofocus is also great, it has the newer USM motor, which is unique for the price range.
All in all, I think the Canon RF 100-400mm is the best budget lens for sports photography Canon.
What I like/dislike about the Canon 100-400mm
- To begin with, this lens is very sharp. At 100mm the entire frame is sharp, the center as much as the corners. The same goes for 400mm, which I used most of the time. Colors are vivid and there’s a lot of contrast. There are hardly any flares when shooting backlit, which was a surprise to me.
- It’s a relatively small lens, not much larger than the older 70-300mm lenses, and its weight is a pro. Weighing roughly 630 grams (1.5 lbs), I didn’t have to use a monopod.
- The zoom ring is smooth and doesn’t suffer from zoom creeping, although you have a lock switch to lock the focal length into place when the zoom ring loosens a little bit.
- Perhaps the most important part is the autofocus. Canon put the Nano USM motor in this lens, their top-of-the-line motor. It is incredibly fast and accurate, and I didn’t have any problems whatsoever.
- There are a few downsides though, the largest aperture is F5.6 at 100mm and F8 at 400mm. The aperture closes down fast, with F7.1 at 250mm. With overcast, I didn’t shoot below ISO 1000, so if that’s not a problem then it’s a perfect sports lens from Canon.
- It also doesn’t have weather sealing, which can be a deal-breaker. For me, it isn’t, but I can understand why it could be for some sports photographers.
Next up, I recommend a little more expensive lens. It is a completely different lens with a different goal. The Canon 70-200mm F2.8 is a great option for shooting indoor sports. With the F2.8 aperture, the lens lets in a lot of light.
I don’t recommend using any lens that is darker than F2.8 for indoor sports, as you have to push the ISO already. The newer cameras from Canon are great at higher ISOs, but I always try to keep it as low as possible.
It has two USM motors, making it about twice as fast as the 100-400mm. The difference is noticeable, but you will pay a price for that.
Overall, I think the Canon 70-200mm F2.8 is the best Canon lens for sports photography indoor.
What I like/dislike about the Canon 70-200mm
- The image quality is perfect, as you can expect from an L-series lens. The center is always teck-sharp, while the corners are just a bit softer if you’re shooting at F2.8. Bokeh is lovely, indoors, I always shoot at F2.8 which gives me beautiful bokeh.
- It’s much lighter than the EF-version, it weighs roughly 1kg (2.2 lbs). Although it’s lightweight, the lens doesn’t feel cheap. The build quality is high and it’s an external zoom, making it much more portable.
- You have a customizable control ring, which I use to change the ISO. Shooting indoor sports with this lens is so much easier than the older EF versions.
- The focus ring is smooth and made of rubber, it responds immediately as if it is mechanically connected.
- This lens has two Nano USM motors, which focus incredibly fast. It is a lot faster than the 100-400mm, which is already good enough for sports photography.
- Stabilization is great, with 5.5 stops you can pan without a problem. There are different modes for stabilization, one of which is panning, quite a handy feature.
- It is quite a lot heavier than the 100-400mm, almost twice as heavy. Although I didn’t have any problem, because of the small size. It is still easy to handheld for longer periods of time.
- I noticed some vignetting when shooting wide open at F2.8. Fortunately, this is fixable with in-camera corrections or using editing software.
Talking about a little more expensive lenses, the Canon RF 100-500mm fits into that category. It’s an updated 100-400mm L lens, but as the RF version. The image quality is noticeably better than the RF 100-400mm.
Although the aperture is quite dark, photographing at 380mm still gives an aperture of F5.6. The weight is handled pretty well, although it is heavier than the 70-200mm.
I don’t think you need a monopod for this lens unless you have a heavy Canon R3, then it’s a must.
All in all, I think the Canon 100-500mm is the best sports lens for Canon.
What I like/dislike about the Canon 100-500mm
- Firstly, the image quality is one of the best I’ve seen in a superzoom lens. It is sharp in the middle as well as the corners, all the way up to 500mm. There’s a lot of contrast and no color fringing.
- Although the aperture says F4.5-7.1, you can shoot at 380mm with F5.6. It doesn’t stop down as fast as the cheaper 100-400mm lens.
- It weighs a lot less than the older 100-400mm ‘L’ lenses, weighing about 1.3kg (3 lbs). It is a bit heavier than the 70-200mm, so I would recommend a monopod.
- The lens feels nice and tough, it has a brushed finish to it which is a nice touch. It is beautiful to handle. Handling-wise, the control ring is a handy add-on, I use it for my ISO mainly.
- Just like the 70-200mm above, this lens also has 2 Nano USM motors, making it super fast for sports photography.
- I do have a few complaints, you can use a 1.4x or 2x converter only from 300mm to 500mm. Not anything below that. If you use an extender, make sure to bring a second body with a 70-200mm.
- This lens also has some vignetting, but that is easily fixable by turning in-camera corrections on or using editing software.
Now, a completely different lens is the Sigma 150-600mm Sports. It is marketed as a special ‘sports’ version, which is a bit heavier than the normal version. The quality is great like we’re used to with Sigma.
Price-wise, it is much more attractive than the Canon ‘L’ lenses, costing roughly half the price. Now, the autofocus isn’t as fast, but it is quick enough for sports photography.
It’s more versatile than the 100-400mm, in my opinion. The 600mm reach is amazing, and it’s the only lens on the list that zoomes in this far.
All in all, the Sigma 150-600mm is the best Sigma lens for sports photography for Canon cameras.
What I like/dislike about the Sigma 150-600mm
- First of all, the build quality of this lens is great. If feels much like a Canon ‘L’ series lens, it’s made of metal and is weather proof.
- Although the lens is not too heavy, I do recommend using a monopod. For a lens in this class, is a decent weight, it weighs about 2.8kg (6.1 lbs).
- The lens offers multiple stabilization modes, just like the Canon ‘L’ lenses mentioned above. The horizontal stabilization mode works perfect for sports photography.
- Autofocus-wise, it’s incredible. Sigma markets this lens as a ‘sports’ version with the HSM motor, which is their top-of-the-line tech. It’s silent, but not as good as the Canon lenses.
- The lens is very much front heavy, with a front element of 105mm and a metal hood, it’s not suprising that it’s not well-balanced. Therefore, I recommend using a monopod, that’s the best choice for sports photography.
- Zoom creeping is apparent, which is also not a suprise as the front element is so big. You do have a lock-switch which you can use to lock the zoom on the lens.
Last but not least, I will recommend the cheapest lens on the list. It is a little bit older, Canon EF 70-300mm. It’s the newest version with the USM motor, which we now know, is a fast-focusing motor.
It’s a bit more versatile than the 70-200mm and more lightweight. You have to pay a price for that because the image quality isn’t as good as the 70-200mm.
I like this lens because of its quality for the price, you can get it for just under $500, making it attractive to many beginner photographers.
Overall, I think the Canon 70-300 is the cheapest sports lens for Canon.
What I like/dislike about the Canon 70-300mm
- I’ve got a lot of good points to make about this lens, first of all, it’s a pretty sharp lens. For this price, I didn’t expect much, but it’s always sharp in the middle. The corners are a bit softer, but stopped down to F8 and the entire image is sharp.
- The stabilization works well, even when zoomed in to 300mm and the bokeh is nice to look at. You’re garuanteed to have blurry backgrounds when shooting sports.
- It feels heafty, weighing 700grams (1.5 lbs) but I thought it felt more professional this way. The build quality is also great, but not perfect, of course. It’s not weather sealed for example.
- The zoom ring is quite big, which makes it easy to handle. It’s not too smooth, but after using it for a bit, it gets smoother. The focus ring on the other hand is very smooth, and it is responsive.
- This lens has a Nano USM motor, which is the top-of-the-line focus motor of Canon. It’s super fast and reliable, especially when mounted onto the new EOS-R models from Canon.
- I do have a few comments about this lens, firstly, it is made of plastic, which can feel a bit wobly, especially if you’re used to more premium lenses.
- The lens also has quite a lot of distortion at 300mm and some vignetting. With in-camera corrections turned on, this problem is solved, fortunately.
The best Canon lenses for sports
Overall, I think you have a good idea of what the best Canon lenses for sports are. I gave a few cheaper and more expensive options. I’m sure that you would make great images with any of the lenses I recommend above.
If you do decide to purchase a lens, don’t forget to share this article with fellow photographers. We can all help each other and make sure we all get the right sports lens from Canon.
Who is Sebastiaan?
Hi! I am Sebastiaan, the writer of this blog. With years of experience as a professional photographer, I want to share my expertise with you. From recommending cameras and lenses to giving tips that make a world of difference, that’s what I enjoy doing most.
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