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6 Best Nikon Lenses for Sports Photography in 2021 [Expert Picks]

The Nikon range of cameras has been praised for generations for their insane photography capabilities and professionals were quick to adopt them. Lenses play a major role in all this, and if you are looking to buy the best Nikon lens for sports photography, I want to make damn sure you find the right one.

If you’re a professional sports photographer, you already know how things work but, in case you’re just starting off, you do need to know a few things. Let me list them out for you:

  • Firstly you’ll need a good Telephoto lens with a nice focal range. The focal range is measured in millimeters.
  • The higher the max range is the further you can zoom in.
  • Having a lens with a wide aperture also helps, as you can maintain fast shutter speeds that help you capture moving subjects better.
  • If the lens has stabilization built-in, it’ll handle zoomed-in shots better. This can be useful while your subject is far away. If it isn’t in fact, stabilized, you can put the camera on a Tripod.
  • If you are shooting handheld, you need to make sure that the total weight of the camera and the lens isn’t too heavy for you. Otherwise, it can affect stability and result in undesirable photos.

Now you need to keep many factors in mind to make sure that you don’t end up getting a lens that won’t help your cause at all. However, that can be super-confusing and time-consuming. That’s why I’ve sorted out the best ones available and listed them here.

Best Nikon Lenses for Sports in 2021

For the selection process, I’ve taken all the qualifying sports lenses from Nikon and evaluated them for a while. After going through every possible pointer required for sports photography, I’ve finally landed on a total of six lenses that do the best possible job while also covering a wide price range. So, your budget should be covered.

  • Focal Range: 80-400 mm
  • Aperture: f/4.5-f/5.6
  • Weight: 3.46 lbs

If you want the no-compromise flagship lens, and budget is not a limitation, the NIKKOR 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6G ED VR is going to be an excellent option for you. It has a ton of professional-grade features and lets you capture objects extremely far away while also working as a medium-telephoto lens when retracted.

Design & Build

The NIKKOR 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6 is built like a tank and weighs around 3.46 lbs. That is a bit on the heavier side. It uses the Nikon F-Bayonet mount making it compatible with Nikon’s ever-expanding line-up of cameras. However, although you can technically mount it to an APS-C camera, this one is made for Full-frame.

Focusing Mechanism

Nikon has implemented their M/A focus shift mechanism which allows the lens to quickly switch from Autofocus to Manual Focus by turning the focus ring. It even comes with a Silent Wave Motor (SWM) to ensure fast autofocusing speeds. These will help out with quick-moving subjects which is a key requirement.

Highlighting Features

The lens comes with four ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements and one Super ED element. While the ED elements deal with correcting chromatic aberrations, the Super ED elements can eliminate secondary spectrum as well. These come together to eliminate the rainbow effect around light sources.

For Zoom, the 5X number might not sound like much, but thanks to the wide range, it can zoom in pretty far. While zoomed in, stabilization can become a concern, and thanks to a very well-built OIS, that isn’t a huge issue here.

It also has Vibration Reduction (VR) to compensate for shaky hands. This makes handheld photography more convenient and, although this is a common feature for Nikon lenses, the mechanism built-in here is more advanced than your typical upper mid-range offerings.

Conclusion

The NIKKOR 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6G ED VR is a premium & feature-rich lens that has some excellent capabilities making this one of the best lenses for shooting sports. So, if you have the extra budget, you surely won’t be disappointed with this lens. However, it is recommended to be used with a Full-frame camera.

Pros
  • Four ED elements & one Super ED element
  • Fast autofocusing mechanism
  • Excellent range
Cons
  • Super expensive
  • On the heavier side
  • Focal Range: 200-500 mm
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Weight: 5.07 lbs

The NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens comes with a fixed aperture, a variable range, and it kinda weighs a lot. It is mainly targeted towards wildlife photography but it does an amazing job when it comes to sports photography.

Design & Build

As you might have guessed, the build quality is excellent, the mount is an F-Bayonet type, and it is actually one of those Telescope-looking lenses, so it’ll be taking some extra space in your camera bag. The weight is around 5.07 lbs which can be a bit much for shooting handheld. But, your mileage on that may vary.

Focusing Mechanism

Just like its more expensive sibling, the NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6 has the same Silent Wave Motor (SWM) and M/A focusing technologies. That means you can indeed change the focus from Auto to Manual, just by turning the focus ring, and if the camera sensor is also capable, it can grab onto subjects really fast.

Highlighting Features

Where you do get a significant compromise though, is in the ED department. There is no Super ED element which means, secondary spectrum elimination is happening. Also, you only get three ED elements instead of four which means the rainbow effect is less contained. However, in real life, it’s still really good.

There is a 2.5x zoom which means you don’t get as many levels of flexibility, as it starts at a whopping 200mm. However, the entire mechanism moves inside the outer shell, so it won’t expand when you zoom in. There is no OIS, but the company did include Vibration Reduction (VR), to compensate for handshakes.

Conclusion

If you don’t have an issue with the extra weight, not having OIS and in case you can really make sense of the price tag, the NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR is a really good lens for sports photography.

Pros
  • Works well with both FX & DX format cameras
  • Excellent range
  • Fixed aperture
Cons
  • 200 mm is a bit high starting range
  • A bit too heavy
  • Focal Range: 70-200 mm
  • Aperture: f/4.0
  • Weight: 1.87 lbs

If you want something lighter and you don’t necessarily require a super-long range, then the NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR might just be the perfect Nikon sports lens for you. It still has a lot of premium features, is easier to shoot handheld, and costs ever so slightly less.

Design & Build

This is still a premium lens, so of course, it is built really well. However, at around 1.87 lbs, this one isn’t as heavy as the other premium options here. That means shooting handheld is comparatively easier on this one. It is using old-school switches but, you still don’t miss out on the M/A focus-switching mechanism.

Focusing Mechanism

You still get SWM for quick & quiet autofocusing, VR for reducing camera shake while shooting handheld photos, and 4-stop image stabilization. This is also one of the lenses where the optical elements move internally to achieve different zoom ranges, so the lens housing doesn’t change in size.

Highlighting Features

It comes with three ED elements that help to correct chromatic aberrations. That’s the rainbow effect that originates around bright light sources. There is no Super-ED element though, so this one won’t really eliminate any secondary spectrums. However, the ED elements do a pretty impressive job on their own.

There is a 2.9x zoom, expanded between a range of 70-200mm. This is just enough zoom range to take some medium-distance close-ups. But, if you’re shooting from further distances, it would be better for you to shoot with something with a longer range. Of course, the aperture is fixed at f-4.0.

Conclusion

The NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR is a premium lens for sports photography by Nikon that comes with some of the top-end features and a fixed aperture. If you’re fine with the zoom range, require that handheld stabilization, and don’t have an issue with the price tag, you should definitely consider this lens.

Pros
  • Good range
  • Fixed aperture
  • Three ED elements
Cons
  • Price to performance ratio isn’t ideal
  • Looks are kinda ordinary
  • Focal Range: 28-300 mm
  • Aperture: f/3.5-5.6
  • Weight: 1.76 lbs

If you have one of the Nikon Full-frame (FX) cameras, and you are looking for a good sports lens under that $1000 price point, the NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR is going to be one of the best lenses you can buy.

Design & Build

The build quality is actually really good with a solid & sturdy one-hand feel. It has a weight of around 1.76 lbs which is still a bit on the heavier side but, not by a lot. Although it’s not a super-premium lens, Nikon hasn’t cut any significant corners here.

Focusing Mechanism

Even most of the premium features are still here. For example, you still get Vibration Reduction (VR) that compensates for camera shakes and M/A focus shifting where you can switch between Auto & Manual focus just by rotating the focus ring. Features like SWM are also present and they do help with Autofocus.

Highlighting Features

Where you will get a significant compromise though is in the ED elements. Unlike its more expensive siblings that come with three or even four ED elements, this one only comes with two. That means it doesn’t do as impressive a job with chromatic aberrations. It’s still pretty good but, definitely toned down a little.

As far as Optical Zoom levels go, this lens can do up to 10.7 times, thanks to a range spread-out between 20-300mm. That means you do get to shoot pretty up close and expand to a further range when the subject moves away from you. Nikon has also included Aspherical elements to reduce bending at the edges.

Conclusion

The  NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G is an excellent lens for the money and if you can make use of the features, I have no problem recommending this to you. optimized for Full-frame cameras and although it can fit onto an APS-C type camera, I won’t recommend using it that way.

Pros
  • Good range
  • M/A focus switch
  • Good value for money
Cons
  • Only two ED elements
  • Focal Range: 18-300 mm 
  • Aperture: f/3.5-6.3
  • Weight: 1.21 lbs

Now in case, you’re using an APS-C (DX) camera instead, and you need a good Nikon sports lens that provides all the important features while keeping the price in check, the NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED VR needs to be on top of your consideration list.

Design & Build

Nikon has been providing really great build quality in their upper mid-range segment and this one is no exception. Yes, the build quality ain’t gonna compete against the super-premium players but, for the price, it has great build quality. The device weighs around 1.21 lbs, so handheld shooting shouldn’t be an issue.

Focusing Mechanism

As mentioned earlier, all the important stuff is still here including SWM, Vibration Reduction (VR), and even Auto-Manual focus shifting using the focus ring. That means the lens can help with faster autofocus times, compensate for camera shake & change its mode of focus when you rotate the focus ring.

Highlighting Features

Surprisingly enough, it has a total of three ED elements to deal with the rainbowing effect that originates from bright objects. That puts it in the same line with premium lenses that cost twice or even more. Of course, there is no Super ED element at this price point.

Thanks to the wide-spread range, the Optical Zoom range goes up to a whopping 16.7x. At around 18mm, it does have a wide-angle perspective to it, but Nikon did include three aspherical elements to eliminate any bending at the edges. The closer range also makes it one of the best Nikon lenses for indoor sports photography.

Conclusion

Needless to say, the NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED VR is an excellent lens for Nikon DX-format cameras. It doesn’t compromise on important features and although it’s an upper mid-range device, it has a surprisingly great value.

Pros
  • Great value for money
  • Three ED elements
  • Good range
Cons
  • Aperture at max range is a bit too clogged
  • Focal Range: 70-300 mm
  • Aperture: f/4.5-6.3
  • Weight: 0.91 lbs

If you’re on tighter budget and looking for a cheap Nikon lens to do sports photography on your DX-format camera, the NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR is one of the best value-oriented lenses that come in less than $400. However, you’ll have to give up on a handful of features.

Design & Build

The build quality is good for the price but, it’s nothing special either. It doesn’t feel cheaply made or look that way and unless you’ve used premium or upper mid-range lenses before, you won’t be able to tell a difference. It weighs around 0.91 lbs, so it’s significantly easier to handle while shooting handheld.

Focusing Mechanism

It does have VR to stabilize camera shake while shooting handheld and automatic switching of Auto-Manual focus modes using the focus ring. However, you do not get the Silent Wave Motor (SWM) as it has the Pulse Motor technology. It isn’t as fast or as quiet as the SWM.

Highlighting Features

Unlike all the other Nikon sports lenses on the list, this one only comes with a single PD element. That means, although it’s better than having no PD elements at all, the reduction of chromatic aberrations isn’t as effective as the others. As a result, rainbow-ish shimmers are more prominent.

The 4.3x zoom under the 70-300 mm does a fine job capturing the subjects from various distances. At 300 mm the aperture closes up to f-6.2 which isn’t ideal for night and as there aren’t many stability mechanisms in place, it’s going to shake significantly while zoomed in, so maybe consider a tripod for those situations.

Conclusion

As far as having a wide variety of features & flexibility go, the NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR isn’t bringing a lot to the table. But, for the cheaper price, this is definitely one of the better Nikon lenses out there that do well in sports photography. So, if you don’t mind the compromises, definitely get this one.

Pros
  • Decent value for money
  • Good range
  • Weighs less than 1 lbs
Cons
  • Only one PD element
  • No Silent Wave Motor (SWM)

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of lens do I need for Sports photography?

Sports Photography requires a good Telephoto lens. For Nikon cameras, you can look for the company’s F-mount lenses that have good zooming range, at least a decently wide aperture, some kind of inbuilt stabilization, and a good focusing mechanism.

Are Nikon cameras reliable for doing good Sports Photography?

Nikon cameras are great for shooting sports. However, the faster premium models definitely do a way better job compared to the baseline stuff. Even a lot of Sports Photographers use Nikon cameras for their shoots.

Can I use third-party lenses instead?

Of course, you can use third-party lenses. If you don’t want to use Nikon’s own lenses for sports photography, companies like Sigma, Tamron, Tokino, Yongnuo, and more are making some great Nikon-compatible lenses.

How much range do I need to capture good sports photos?

For regular sports photos, 70-200 mm is the basic standard. However, your workflow requires a lot of zooming in, you can get lenses that max out at anywhere from 300 mm to 600 mm.

Verdict

Nikon cameras have been used by amateurs, intermediates & professionals to do photography in various fields and of course, sports photography is one of the major ones. So, if you are looking for a great sports lens to complement your setup you’ve definitely made the right choice.

Considering the fact that you have made it till the end, you probably have a personal favourite by now. But, in case you want to double-check or you’re still a bit confused, let me make the selection process a bit simpler for you.

I hope that cleared out any doubt you had. In case you want to check some cameras from Nikon or other brands, there are a ton of articles on the website, exploring the same. So, maybe consider checking those out next.


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