Can You Shoot Sports Photography Without Spending Thousands on Camera Gear?

High-end sports photography typically involves a combination of expensive camera bodies with even more expensive lenses. What compromises are involved when capturing fast-moving action using equipment that doesn't cost tens of thousands of dollars?

David Bergman of Adorama runs through some of the fundamentals of why sports photographers use such expensive gear and where you can expect to compromise if you’re not using manufacturers’ flagship equipment.

Bergman’s comparison is between two DSLRs and it's worth noting that even the more affordable mirrorless cameras offer some significant advantages that have started to close the gap between the professionals on the pitch side and the amateurs in the stands. Firstly, burst speeds on mirrorless cameras tend to be far higher when you switch to a fully electronic shutter. This does introduce other compromises, however, such as the effect of rolling shutter that can make a tennis ball look oblong or a golf club appear curved. For many shooting situations, this won’t be an issue and any stretching might give an indication of the pace of the action rather than presenting a distraction because of how strange it looks.

Smaller sensors offer some significant advantages here and shooting on an Olympus camera might be the way to go for anyone wishing to get started. Both lenses and bodies are cheaper and far smaller than their full-frame counterparts.

What would you recommend? Let us know in the comments below.

Andy Day's picture

Andy Day is a British photographer and writer living in France. He began photographing parkour in 2003 and has been doing weird things in the city and elsewhere ever since. He's addicted to climbing and owns a fairly useless dog. He has an MA in Sociology & Photography which often makes him ponder what all of this really means.

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I suspect that an Olympus E-M1X with a 40-150 f/2.8 or 300 f/4 is entirely adequate for most shooters in well lit environments. That said, you're still spending thousands on gear... just not tens of thousands ahah.

Fuji X-T4 + 200mm f2 is also a reasonable crop sensor solution, sub 10k

"Shoot Sports Photography" Welcome Borat, new FStoppers editor from Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

I wish he would have suggested used gear instead. A 300 dollar Canon 7d gets you 8 fps burst, 19 focus points and a rugged, weather resistant mag alloy body. Grab a Sigma 135-400mm for 250 bucks and you are at the same cost as the entry level kit but vastly better specs (where it really counts).

Yeah the old 135-400 is a bit slow to focus and you are still stuck with f5.6 at the far end, but you are usually already back button focusing on your target so it's not that much of a disadvantage.

yes - of course you can do it without: check out the 2012 MoMA piece "Spectacle and Spirit: 1930s Photographs of Olympians" -

You can loathe her politics - but still admire MoMA's image - Leni Riefenstahl. Nocturnal Start of Decathlon 1,500m Race. August 1936. Gelatin silver print, 9 5/16 x 11 3/4″ (23.7 x 29.8 cm)

Interestingly in the link you provided, it states that the image you called out was actually a re-shoot and specifically lit for "the benefit of the photograph". Great image, to be sure, but impractical in the context of this article where you have only the split second to capture action.

"To capture the Nocturnal Start of Decathalon, 1,500m race, Riefenstahl convinced the gold medalist, American runner Glenn Morris, to return from Stockholm to reshoot the race with his fellow American, silver medalist Robert Clark. The reshoot allowed her to light the runners to the benefit of the photograph, to move close in on the track. Ultimately, it also ensured that her best shots were of the German athletes or the medal winners."