SPORTS & ACTION

The best Canon cameras and lenses for sports photography

Sports photographers Jorge Ferrari and Richard Heathcote reveal the kit they rely on to capture their standout action shots.
A tennis player is captured mid-serve, their racket held back and the ball in the air. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM lens.

The Canon EOS R System has some outstanding camera and lens options for sports photographers, ideal for capturing those key moments, including the professional EOS R3 camera and the fast and lightweight RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM lens. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 1/6400 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 100. © Jorge Ferrari

Sports photographers need robust, reliable camera equipment to ensure they never miss a beat. Fast, accurate AF and a high-speed drive are essential, as are intuitive fingertip controls that mean you never have to take your eye off the action.

So, which Canon cameras are best for sports photography? And what lenses do professional sports photographers recommend?

"For me, the essential lenses for sports are the RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM, the RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM and a short zoom," says Canon Ambassador Jorge Ferrari, who now shoots exclusively with Canon EOS R System mirrorless cameras and lenses. But, as the in-demand sports, action and commercial photographer also reveals, the best lens ultimately depends on what the objective is for a particular event. "Let's say I'm covering a rugby match, for example," Jorge continues. "I would put a 400mm or 600mm lens on my Canon EOS R3 because the tight action shots would be my main focus. But I'd switch to a 70-200mm or 24-70mm lens for the prize presentations, because my priority has changed.”

Unlike many sports photographers, who specialise in a particular sport and travel from place to place to photograph it, Jorge focuses on international sporting events in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the wider Middle East. "There are so many things happening in this region that I cover a lot of the different events that pass through, from Formula 1 and football to tennis and triathlon," he explains. "I love it."

Getty Images sports photographer and fellow Canon Ambassador Richard Heathcote, by comparison, travels the globe. The ability to work at speed – from capturing the decisive moment to filing the images remotely – is essential, which is why his workhorse camera is the Canon EOS R3.

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“We pride ourselves on how quickly we can move pictures,” he says. “One of the blue ribbon events that everyone gauges themselves against is the 100m final. We’re now able to take a picture, then transmit it, ftp it to a server, get it edited, captioned and delivered via our software to all our clients in less than 30 seconds. And that’s fast.”

Here, Jorge and Richard, together with Canon Europe Product Specialists John Maurice and Mike Burnhill, offer some recommendations and insights into the cameras and lenses that can raise your sports photography into a different league.

A red rally car travelling at speed with a large cloud of dust behind it. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM lens.

The Canon EOS R3 boasts vehicle tracking that's ideal for motorsports, maintaining reliable focus even in difficult conditions – such as through thick clouds of dust. Motorsports photographer Vladimir Rys put it to the test on a challenging electric rally car shoot. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM at 400mm, 1/32000 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 400. © Vladimir Rys

A skier captured in motion manoeuvring around a red flag, kicking up snow. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM lens.

The Canon EOS R3 enables exceptional shooting speeds, firing off bursts at up to 30fps, freezing the fastest possible action. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM lens at 472mm, 1/3200 sec, f/7.1 and ISO 400.

1. Best mirrorless camera for sports photography: Canon EOS R3

The flagship professional model in the EOS R System range raises the game for full frame mirrorless camera performance. Its rapid RAW continuous shooting speed of up to 30fps with full AF/AE tracking is enabled by a back-illuminated stacked sensor and AF readings taken at up to 60fps

“This is basically the next generation of sensor technology, which allows slightly bigger pixels and much faster readouts of data than our previous cameras,” explains Mike.

“It has many benefits, one of which is a reduced rolling shutter effect, so you get less distortion on fast-moving objects. Swinging golf clubs appear straighter, for example. Without the faster readout, tennis balls and baseballs can distort into egg shapes when they’re travelling at speed, and even a football can end up looking more like a rugby ball.”

Autofocus is quicker and more versatile than ever before. The Canon EOS R3 features Eye Control AF technology, which enables you to select an AF point based on where your eye is looking. People detection AF has been enhanced to detect eyes, face, head and body in that order of priority, providing accurate AF even with subjects wearing face masks, helmets or goggles.

“The eye and face tracking on the EOS R3 is phenomenal,” Richard enthuses. “When you’re shooting a sport where someone’s turning or jumping, such as gymnastics – or even something like golf, where all of sudden the subject turns their head and their face disappears from view – the AF isn’t wildly switching to something else while it waits to find the face again. The camera is able to stay locked on the head, even though you might only be looking at the back of it.”

A Canon EOS R3 camera.

Canon EOS R3

A camera designed to capture the fastest moving action and built to meet the exacting demands of professional shooters, with ultra-responsiveness, high sensitivity, reliability and durability.

Object-tracking has also been taken to the next level with the option to detect and track racing cars and motorbikes as priority, and there’s a new Flexi Zone AF where the AF area size and shape can be customised – for instance you might opt for a block running horizontally across the frame to capture the winner of a sprint race whichever lane they were in.

With its amazing in-body image stabilisation (IBIS), the Canon EOS R3 can deliver an industry-leading 8 stops of IS when paired with certain telephoto RF lenses, giving unparalleled flexibility and image clarity at long focal lengths, even when shooting handheld.

Another standout feature of the EOS R3 is its completely silent operation when powering through 30 frames per second, adds Richard. “Silence is extraordinarily important in quite a few sports, including golf, tennis and snooker, and particularly helpful whenever’s there’s live television coverage.

“It’s allowed us to gain better access and get pictures that we would have struggled to capture before. With golf for example, the players would previously have been wary of you, and you might have been moved on. But now the cameras don’t make a noise, the players trust that we’re not going to disrupt them.”

A green and yellow mahi-mahi fish leaps out of the water as it attempts to escape the hook on which it is caught. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM lens.

Jorge took this incredible image of a hooked mahi-mahi in September 2020, while testing out the Canon EOS R5 for the first time in the United Arab Emirates. The fish was later safely released. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM lens at 200mm, 1/1000 sec, f/8 and ISO 200. © Jorge Ferrari

2. Best camera for creative sports photography: Canon EOS R5

While the Canon EOS R3 takes the gold medal for speed and sensor design, the Canon EOS R5 runs a close second for sports photography. The ability to shoot continuous bursts of 45MP stills at up to 20fps, record crisp 8K video and capture revealing 4K 120p slow-mo means the EOS R5 has much to offer photographers looking to capture sport in creative ways.

“Professional sports photographers rely on the EOS R3 for filing purposes,” explains John. “The camera is designed to help photographers achieve perfection in terms of capturing the action and then get images with a small file size to a destination quickly. The EOS R5 provides something different though. It’s more portable, and the 45MP sensor gives you greater cropping potential and the ability to display work at very high resolution.”

Richard uses an EOS R5 alongside his two EOS R3 bodies. “I purposely don’t use it with the grip on because I want it to be a little bit more discreet. If you’ve got a smaller prime lens on it, such as the RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM, you can be pretty inconspicuous and get in close to capture a different perspective on the sport. It’s also quite a lightweight setup to carry around as a third body. As a sports photographer, you end up walking around with a lot of gear, but you still want to be as light as possible.”

A Canon EOS R5 camera.

Canon EOS R5

A professional full-frame mirrorless camera offering photographers and filmmakers high-resolution stills and 8K video.

3. Best hybrid camera for shooting sports photos and videos: Canon EOS R6 Mark II

Both the Canon EOS R3 and EOS R5 are capable of capturing sublime sports photos and videos, but the Canon EOS R6 Mark II makes life that little bit easier for hybrid shooters, suggests John. “The camera has a dedicated switch, enabling you to move rapidly between the two modes.

“The EOS R6 Mark II is a very good all-rounder that’s perfect for covering amateur sports and semi-professional shoots. It features our advanced subject detection autofocus that recognises horses, planes and trains, and it’s able to track people’s heads as effectively as the EOS R3.”

When its electronic shutter is in full flow, the EOS R6 Mark II can hit a remarkable 40fps, and it also boasts a 30fps RAW Burst mode with Pre-release capture, enabling the camera to start recording sporting action up to 0.5 seconds before you press the shutter button.

It is one of the best cameras for sports video too, capable of shooting high-quality oversampled 4K 60p footage across the full width of the sensor. A combination of IBIS, optical IS and Movie Digital IS delivers exceptionally smooth handheld footage, making professional results easy to achieve.

A Canon EOS R6 Mark II camera.

Canon EOS R6 Mark II

The EOS R6 Mark II’s great speed, class-leading performance and professional filmmaking features allows your creativity to thrive without compromise.
A figure in a wetsuit is captured ascending a rocky cliff in an image taken on a Canon EOS R5 C with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens.

The Canon EOS R5 C offers pro-level filmmaking capabilities, such as Cinema RAW Light recording, Canon Log 3 and a multi-function hot shoe for professional accessories, such as the Canon Speedlite EL-1. It’s perfect for capturing sports photography in all environments. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 C with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm, 1/1000 sec, f/18 and ISO 1600.

4. Best camera for sports videography: Canon EOS R5 C

If sports and action videos are your main focus, then the smallest Cinema EOS camera is highly recommended. Featuring the same class-leading intelligent subject detection and high-resolution full-frame sensor as the Canon EOS R5, the Canon EOS R5 C adds professional video features such as Waveform Monitor, False Colour, Timecode and 12-bit Cinema RAW Light recording.

“The camera includes a full cinema interface and allows you to switch between video and high-resolution photo instantly, with a flick of a switch,” says John. “It offers 8K recording, slow-motion video up to 120fps and has a dedicated internal fan so that you can record for long durations – perfect for sports where the action is drawn out.”

As DoP Keith Ladzinski enthused while on an adventure sports shoot in Utah to test the EOS R5 C, the camera’s compact size makes it easier to work with in remote or challenging locations. Being able to shoot high-quality 45MP stills alongside 8K video means there’s no requirement to carry multiple setups.

The Canon EOS R5 C camera.

Canon EOS R5 C

Combining the best of Cinema EOS with all the advantages of the EOS R System, the EOS R5 C shoots incredible 8K movies and captures rich, detailed 45MP stills.

5. Best mirrorless APS-C camera for sports photography: Canon EOS R7

APS-C cameras can be an advantage for sports where you’re forced to shoot from further away. “The benefit of the Canon EOS R7 is reach,” confirms John. “If you’ve not got particularly long lenses, the crop factor of the EOS R7’s smaller sensor is going to make distant runners, cyclists and surfers appear larger in the frame. You can shoot sports with the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM for example, and it’s going to look as though you’ve got a 112-320mm f/2.8 lens in terms of framing.”

The EOS R7’s 32.5MP APS-C sensor offers a superb balance of resolution, low-light performance and speed. In fact, it’s capable of 30fps bursts with its silent electronic shutter and up to 15fps using the mechanical shutter – fast enough to capture split-second moments during demanding action sequences. Pre-recording in RAW burst mode is also made possible by the EOS R7. This means that the camera can record data for up to approximately 15 shots (0.5 seconds) before the shutter button is fully pressed.

A Canon EOS R7 camera.

Canon EOS R7

EOS R technology meets APS-C design, for a hybrid mirrorless camera that’s small, fast and powerful.
A skier is captured mid-air against the rooftops of a cityscapes. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens.

“The RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM is such an important lens in terms of day-to-day coverage of sports,” says Richard. “The image quality and the sharpness and just how fast it is, is incredible. I first used it properly at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games and there’s a big difference in terms of image quality and sharpness in the corners compared to the excellent EF version. You can see the jump optically that’s possible with the RF mount.” Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 135mm, 1/5300 sec, f/3.2 and ISO 200. © Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

6. Best Canon lenses for general sports photography: Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM and RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM

While a super-telephoto lens is essential for situations where you physically can't get close to the action, a 70-200mm zoom lens is ideal for (almost) everything else. "You can do a bit of tennis, a bit of Formula 1, a bit of football – almost anything!" enthuses Jorge, who uses the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM. "I don't think you can cover any sport without a 70-200mm lens.”

Its versatile range of focal lengths means that this type of lens is great for covering moments that fall outside of the tight action shot, suggests Mike, "be it the grip-and-grins with the managers at the start, the coin toss or the prize-giving. But the most vital part, and why it's probably the go-to lens for all sports photographers, is because of the celebration.

"For a football photographer, the moment the players run towards the touchline to celebrate is the money shot. That's why for every big lens you see, there's a 70-200mm hanging off the arm of any sports photographer.”

A Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM lens.

Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM

A versatile zoom that delivers detail, clarity and an exceptional telephoto performance, bringing distant scenes closer thanks to 100-500mm pulling power.

The RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM packs a sport-friendly selection of focal lengths into a lightweight L-series zoom. On an APS-C camera such as the Canon EOS R7, the sensor crop gives you the same field of view as 160-800mm on a full-frame camera, and there aren’t many sports that you would be unable to cover with that setup.

A cyclist is captured at speed, the sunshine emerging through an out of focus background. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens.

Getting close with an ultra-wide or fisheye lens enables you to put viewers in the thick of the action in a way that can't be achieved with a telephoto lens. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm, 1/200 sec, f/11 and ISO 125. © Jorge Ferrari

7. Best wide-angle Canon lenses for sports photography: Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM and Canon RF 10-20mm F4L IS STM

“Sports often take place in vast arenas, so choosing a wide-angle lens and getting in close to the action means you’re able to capture the athletes in their environment and create images with lots of impact,” says John. “You could be close to a group of players huddled together on a football or rugby pitch, for example, but also pull the stadium into shot and create a stand-out shot as a result.”

The Canon RF 10-20mm F4L IS STM can create an amazing sense of scale when used in this way. It’s capable of capturing a huge 130° angle of view, but it features a more practical design and significant weight saving compared with the EF 11-24mm f/4L USM.

For more conventional wide-angle sports shots, look to the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM. It is one of the trinity of Canon professional RF zoom lenses, along with the RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM and RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM – three essential fast-aperture, high-performance RF zoom lenses covering ultra-wide, standard, and telephoto ranges. "They're the bread and butter choice for a lot of sports photography," adds Mike. "The RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM and RF 10-20mm F4L IS STM are perfect for creating a very different perspective, especially if you've got the camera positioned remotely at the back of a goal, for example.”

A Canon RF 10-20mm F4L IS STM lens.

Canon RF 10-20mm F4L IS STM

With a huge angle of view of up to 130˚, the Canon RF 10-20mm F4L IS STM lets you put 16% more in the frame than a 12mm lens.
A hand holding a tennis ball is captured in focus against an out-of-focus blue background. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM lens.

The Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM lens is capable of capturing images which blend incredible sharpness with silky out-of-focus areas. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM lens, 1/1600 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 100. © Jorge Ferrari

8. Best Canon lens for pitch-side sports photography: Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM

The fast-aperture 400mm f/2.8 is a classic sports photography lens, providing outstanding optical quality and the perfect angle of view for popular sports.

The bright maximum aperture isn't just useful for freezing action. "It also gives you that nice background blur that separates players from the supporters in the background," says Mike.

This is a lens that’s well-suited to monopod and handheld shooting, as it sets new standards for lightweight design in its class. The Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM offers up to 5.5 stops of optical stabilisation and it can also be combined with the Canon RF 1.4x and the RF 2x extenders to give you even more reach when you need it.

“I’ve always got the Canon RF 1.4x extender with me,” says Richard. “It just gives you more options. A good example is football, when you’re behind the goal and you want to get some shots of the manager and coaching staff on the sidelines. A 400mm frame could be a little loose and the pictures could be messy because there’s a lot of stuff around those technical areas. But sticking on a 1.4x extender enables you to shoot tighter, cleaner bits and pieces.”

When paired with the Canon EOS R3, the lens also benefits from the greater communication speed and bandwidth made possible by the RF mount, delivering even faster focusing through the lens's Dual Power Focus Drive. In addition, next-generation Eye Control AF technology enables you to select an AF point based on where your eye is looking, making focusing more straightforward when handling a super-telephoto lens.

A Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM lens.

Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM

A high-performance super-telephoto lens with class-leading portability, performance and image quality.
An athlete captured at the moment he lands hard in a sand pit, tensing his body as he does so. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens.

The Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM enables photographers to capture the perfect shot even from the other end of a stadium. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens at 1/2000 sec, f/5.6 and ISO200.

9. Best Canon super-telephoto lens for sports photography: Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM

Stepping up to a super-telephoto 600mm f/4 lens gives you extra reach with outstanding optical quality and legendary L-Series performance.

Although they are more popular for wildlife photography, 600mm f/4 lenses are the perfect choice for many sports, says Mike. "Take skiing and winter sports, for example, where the shooting distances tend to be greater, because obviously people are coming down a mountain. Even rugby, where the try line and the big try area means that photographers have to be farther back than they are with football. And you can get those tight, frame-filling shots of golf and tennis.”

If you pair the Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens with the Canon EOS R3 you also gain even faster AF performance thanks to the RF mount's much greater communication speed and bandwidth between camera and lens. Plus, there’s a game-changing level of image stabilisation even when shooting handheld, when the long lens would usually exaggerate the effects of camera shake.

 A man holding a Canon camera smiles and talks to another man.

Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM

A high performance super telephoto lens with class-leading portability and performance.
Golfer Viktor Hovland celebrates a birdie, another golfer and the crowd out of focus behind him. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 100-300mm F2.8L IS USM lens.

Viktor Hovland of Team Europe celebrates a birdie on the seventh green during the 2023 Ryder Cup. “Over the course of five days I walked 70 miles,” says Richard. “It came to about 125,000 steps in 30°C heat. The two lenses I used were the RF 100-300mm F2.8L IS USM and the RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM, and the weight-saving of the RF lenses was just unbelievable.” Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 100-300mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 188mm, 1/2000 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 200. © Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Sprinters run along an athletics track, their shadows stretching out below them. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 100-300mm F2.8L IS USM lens.

Richard used an RF 100-300mm F2.8L IS mounted on a remote Canon CR-S700R power head to capture this striking bird’s-eye view of runners competing in the Women's 1500m Semi Final at the World Athletics Championships, Budapest, 2023. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 100-300mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 100mm, 1/2000 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 320. © Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

10. Most versatile super-telephoto lens for sports photography: Canon RF 100-300mm F2.8L IS USM

This workhorse telephoto lens combines the flexibility of a zoom with the fast maximum aperture, focusing speed and optical quality of a prime lens. It’s also compatible with the Canon RF 1.4X and 2x extenders, adding to its versatility.

“I can’t tell you how good this lens was when covering the Ryder Cup,” Richard says. “The weight and handling make it so easy to use. I was using it handheld without a monopod, and at 300mm the quality is so good that you wouldn’t know it’s a zoom at all – you’d think it was a 300mm f/2.8 prime.”

Richard has also used the lens mounted to a Canon Robotic Camera System CR-S700R – a remotely operated pan, tilt and zoom power head. “We use this head predominantly for athletics, installing it in roofs and anywhere that we are unable to have a photographer physically above a sport looking down.

“You get really cool, graphic images from those angles. Previously our lens options have been limited because of the size and weight we had to work with. The Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM is a really good lens, but sometimes not long enough, whereas the RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM can be too dark when you’re working under stadium lights. The RF 100-300mm F2.8L IS USM gives you a really good range of focal lengths for that kind of installation though, and because you’ve got f/2.8 it’s much faster to focus and gives you that shallow depth of field which really makes things pop and jump.”

Julian Finney, also a Getty Images sports photographer, was equally impressed by the versatility of the RF 100-300mm F2.8L IS USM on a shoot with the lens. "Photographers who shoot many different sports throughout the year have really got to think about what lenses they pick," he says. "This lens will be hugely useful in athletics."

A Canon RF 100-300mm F2.8L IS USM lens.

Canon RF 100-300mm F2.8L IS USM

When you need the incredible focusing speed, sharpness and performance of a prime lens plus the versatility of a zoom, the RF 100-300mm F2.8L IS USM gives you both.

11. Best entry-level sports lens: Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM

If you’re just starting out in sports photography, then the Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM offers lots of reach in a compact package. It’s an easy lens to handle, weighing just 635g and measuring 164.7mm in length.

When it’s mounted on an APS-C camera such as the Canon EOS R7, you’re effectively working with a 160-640mm F5.6-8 lens. What’s more, it’s also compatible with Canon RF extenders. With a 2x extender for example, the effective focal length is boosted to 1,280mm – but it still supports metering and autofocus for tracking distant sports subjects.

AF is fast and quiet thanks to a Nano USM focusing, and there’s a customisable Lens Control Ring, which allows you to control one of your commonly used camera settings without having to take your eye from the viewfinder.

A Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM lens.

Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM

This compact, lightweight telephoto zoom boasts advanced optical image stabilisation and a versatile 100-400mm range, ideal for sport – and your next adventure.

You can also use our lens selector to find the perfect match for you and your Canon EOS camera.

Marcus Hawkins

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