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Best Nikon Lens for Sports Photography: Top 10 Picks

To capture the action at sporting events, you need a high-quality telephoto lens. A telephoto lens allows you to sit back in the stands and still take amazingly detailed photos.

Nikon camera owners have some of the best telephoto options on the market. Below, we have outlined the best Nikon lenses for sports photography; we’ve made sure to include options for various focal lengths, budgets, and Nikon lens mounts.

1. Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S

Our Pick
Great for multiple shot types

This Nikon Z lens is highly versatile. It also has a durable build and superior optics.

Excellent optics for clarity and sharpness
Various customizable buttons for usability
S-series build quality
Expensive

An excellent Nikon Z lens for sports photography is the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S. This is a superb-quality midrange telephoto lens. The 70-200mm focal length gives you plenty to work with and allows you to experiment with different angles and crops.

NIKON NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S Telephoto Zoom Lens for Nikon Z Mirrorless Cameras

This is an S-series lens, and as a result, it has a impressive build quality, both externally and optically. It is weather sealed and thus suitable for sports photography in various conditions. It also has a tripod mount if you want to work from a fixed position.

The 70-200mm f/2.8 has several customizable function buttons and a customizable control ring. You can program these as you like; it’ll make changing camera settings quicker so that you don’t miss any of the action!

2. Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S

Also Great
Best for professional sports photography

The Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S is an amazing lens and the current top pick for Z-camera sports photography.

Has VR for superior handheld use
Dual high-speed STM autofocus motors
Durable build quality
Very expensive

Another great lens is the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S. This is a superior super-telephoto lens that has many useful features and offers consistent performance.

NIKKOR Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S

The optics are fantastic, and you can expect amazing images regardless of the focal length. Unlike many Z lenses, it also has Vibration Reduction. Combine this with the in-body image stabilization of the Z6 II and Z7 II cameras, and you have a lens that is easy to use handheld (even in low light!).

The lens is further enhanced by the dual high-speed AF motors. This means you can focus instantly and accurately on moving subjects. This amazing lens can also be used with the 1.4x and 2x Z-series teleconverters if you want more detail and range.

3. Nikon AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED VR

Budget Pick
Best for beginners

The Nikon AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED VR is the perfect beginner telephoto lens to start improving your sports photography skills.

Excellent focal length range
Relatively small and lightweight for a telephoto lens
Includes ED elements for great image resolution
It may not be suitable for professional sports photography

The best Nikon sports lens for beginners is the AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED VR. It’s a relatively affordable lens that’s perfect for those looking to get into sports photography.

Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S VR Nikkor Zoom Lens for Nikon Digital SLR...

The focal length is great for sports of all types and allows you to cover a range of shots. You can take wide-angle photos at 70mm or zoom in to 300mm to capture the action as it unfolds.

The decent f/4.5-5.6 maximum aperture range will also help you use faster shutter speeds, which is essential for sports photography. When combined with Vibration Reduction technology, you get a potent lens that can capture stunning images at different focal lengths and in all conditions.

4. Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II

Great for close action settings

This superior telephoto lens is perfect if you can get close to the action and don’t need a super-telephoto focal length.

Excellent lens construction
Decent minimum focusing distance
Has a fast, quiet, and accurate autofocus motor
Relatively expensive

If you plan to attend sporting events where you can get closer to the action, something like the Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II is a great choice. This professional lens has the benefit of a constant maximum f/2.8 aperture, which means you can use faster shutter speeds to capture single moments with epic clarity.

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S Nikkor Zoom Lens For Nikon Digital SLR Cameras...

You can also expect amazing image quality across the focal length range. This is thanks to a range of elements and coatings designed to boost light transmission, color consistency, and clarity. The rounded aperture diaphragm also means that you can capture natural backgrounds with smooth bokeh.

This 70-200mm lens also has Vibration Reduction technology, which allows you to shoot handheld up to four stops slower than would normally be possible. As a result, you won’t always have to rely on a tripod for stability in low light.

5. Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

Great for intermediate sports shooters

The Nikon 80-400mm is a step up from beginner telephoto lenses and great for those who want to improve their sports photography game.

Excellent focal length of 80-400mm
Includes a tripod mount
High-quality optics for consistent sharpness
Not the smallest of lenses even when retracted

The Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is a great lens if you want to cover multiple types of sports shots. You can take wider shots of the action at 80mm or get detailed shots of individual players at 400mm, for example.

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6G ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens with Auto...

While some multi-zoom lenses like this suffer in terms of sharpness, this lens remains sharp regardless of the focal length. It features excellent lens construction and also offers Vibration Reduction, which helps with camera shake when handholding.

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The maximum aperture is f/4.5 at 80mm and f/5.6 at 400mm. This means you can use decently fast shutter speeds in low light and also get great background separation when shooting wide open. Overall, the 80-400mm is a great midrange lens for those who want to level up their sports photography but are not quite ready for higher-tier models.

6. Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR

Great for versatile shooting

This super-telephoto lens is reasonably priced and a great option for those who want to learn different types of sports photography.

Versatile focal length range
Constant f/5.6 aperture
Superior build quality with weather sealing
Not the smallest or lightest lens

The Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR offers an amazing focal length range and is great if you want to capture different types of sports photos from a single position. You can take closeup shots at 500mm or zoom out to 200mm to capture full-figure shots, for example.

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens with Auto...

For faster shutter speeds and impressive depth of field control, this lens features a constant maximum aperture of f/5.6. This means you can capture the action in exquisite detail, even in low light (and low-light shooting is made easier by the built-in Vibration Reduction that corrects for up to 4.5 stops of camera shake).

As the 200-500mm f/5.6 is a much larger and heavier lens, it does have an attached tripod mount. This makes it easier to use at sporting events if you have space to set up a tripod. Even if you stay in one spot, the lens’s expansive zoom range should help you capture a variety of shots.

7. Nikon AF-S 200mm f/2G ED VR II

Great for professional sports photography

The Nikon AF-S 200mm f/2G ED VR II has a fast maximum aperture and takes tack-sharp photos.

Fast f/2 aperture
Has Vibration Reduction to reduce camera shake
Fast and accurate autofocus system
Incredibly expensive

We’ve presented a great selection of zoom lenses for sports photography, but Nikon also has some excellent prime lenses, too! A great example is the Nikon AF 200mm f/2G ED VR II.

Nikon AF FX NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED Vibration Reduction II DSLR Lens with Auto Focus for...

This 200mm prime lens is ideal for sports photography due to its fast f/2 maximum aperture. The f/2 aperture offers excellent depth of field control and means you can work with faster shutter speeds when doing low-light photography.

We also like that the lens features Nikon’s latest image stabilization technology: VR II. This helps reduce camera shake and means you can capture stunning images of sports players at unprecedentedly slow shutter speeds.

This 200mm lens also has a Super ED glass element to boost colors and contrast.

8. Nikon AF-S 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II

Great for consistent sharpness and detail

The Nikon AF-S 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II is a fast prime lens that provides sharp photos in all situations.

Great lens design for fantastic end results
Has VR II technology to improve tracking and focusing
Fast f/2.8 aperture
Costs more than most cameras

If you are mainly taking photos from a distance but want the ultimate in quality and flexibility, the Nikon AF-S 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II is the best Nikon sports lens for you.

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED Vibration Reduction II Fixed Zoom Lens with Auto...

It’s an incredibly expensive prime lens, but it offers some of the best features on the market. And thanks to the 300mm focal length, you’ll be able to capture up-close and personal shots of the action.

To ensure excellent image quality, the lens elements have nanocrystal coatings; this helps reduce ghosting and internal flare. The ED elements also improve color correction and sharpness while minimizing chromatic aberration.

The 300mm f/2.8 is very expensive. It’s also very good, so if you want to take your sports photography to the next level and you can afford this lens, then it’s absolutely worth considering.

9. Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR

Great for sideline shooting

The 300mm fixed focal length is ideal for sports photography from a distance.

High-quality SWM autofocus motor
Nano crystal coatings to reduce ghosting and flare
Compatible with the Nikon teleconverters
Quite heavy at 1.66 lb/725 g

If you can’t afford the 300mm f/2.8, there is a cheaper but still effective alternative: the Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR. This is a superb-quality prime telephoto lens that has a smaller – but still impressive! – maximum aperture of f/4.

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 300MM f/4E PF ED Vibration Reduction Lens with Auto Focus for...

While this does make a difference and means you can’t use shutter speeds as fast as the f/2.8 version, you still get a premium lens. And at f/4, you can operate in low-light situations, use decently fast shutter speeds, and achieve great background separation.

The 300mm f/4 has Vibration Reduction technology and a fast and accurate SWM (Silent Wave Motor) autofocus system. This means you should be able to easily track moving subjects and quickly focus on the action!

10. Nikon AF-S 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR

Great for detail shots

The Nikon AF-S 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR is an exceptional super-telephoto lens that delivers unparalleled detail.

PF elements to reduce overall size
VR to help low-light handholding
High-quality optics for superb sharpness
Suitable for beginners

Our last Nikon lens for sports is an incredible prime model that boasts a 500mm focal length. The Nikon AF-S 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR is a fantastic piece of kit and the best Nikon lens for detailed sports shots.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm F/5.6E Pf ED VR Super-Telephoto Lens

At 500mm, you can capture incredible detail from the sidelines and stands. And if you want even more zoom, you could use one of the Nikon teleconverters!

This lens features Vibration Reduction technology for easier handholding in low light. It also has specially designed Phase Fresnel elements, which keep down the overall size and weight.

The lens also does great in low light thanks to the decently fast f/5.6 maximum aperture. And you should easily be able to create professional shots that frame your subjects perfectly with great background separation.

Pick the Perfect Nikon Sports Lens

We hope you now have a clear idea of the best Nikon lenses for sports photography! But which is the right lens for you? That depends on your budget, the types of shots you want to take, and the sport you will typically photograph.

For example, beginners could benefit from a cheaper sports lens like the Nikon AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED VR.

Alternatively, if you want the ultimate lens for professional use, models like the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S or the Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR may be initially expensive but should pay for themselves in the long run!


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