Best Nikon Lens for Sports [2021 Review]

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Sports events are filled with opportunities to capture unique images of players and fans. However, this fast-paced environment is filled with challenges, and you will need a special type of lens to fulfill your task. 

Our Top Sports Nikon Lens Reviews 

Sports photography can be exhausting and frustrating if you do not have the right lens to back you up. The best Nikon lens for sports will help you produce poster-worthy images and can prevent unwanted effects from showing up in your prints. 

Brand
Best Overall
Nikon S 70-200 f/2.8
Best for the Money
Nikon AF-S DX Nkr 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6G
Best Cheap Pick
Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G
Product
NIKON NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S Telephoto Zoom...
AF-S DX Nkr 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6G ED VR II
Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR...
Lens Type
Telephoto
Telephoto
Telephoto
Maximum Focal Length
200 millimeters
200 millimeters
200 millimeters
Rating
-
Best Overall
Brand
Nikon S 70-200 f/2.8
Product
NIKON NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S Telephoto Zoom...
Lens Type
Telephoto
Maximum Focal Length
200 millimeters
Rating
-
Price
Best for the Money
Brand
Nikon AF-S DX Nkr 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6G
Product
AF-S DX Nkr 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6G ED VR II
Lens Type
Telephoto
Maximum Focal Length
200 millimeters
Rating
Price
Best Cheap Pick
Brand
Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G
Product
Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR...
Lens Type
Telephoto
Maximum Focal Length
200 millimeters
Rating
Price

Best Overall Nikon Lens for Sports: Nikon S 70-200 f/2.8 

The Nikon S 70-200 f/2.8 is a telephoto zoom lens that can capture all the exciting moments seen in sports events. 

NIKON NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S Telephoto Zoom...

The built-in image stabilization feature eliminates the need to attach your camera to a tripod or a camera stabilizer. 

With a silent autofocus system, you can discreetly take pictures of the event as the focus motor won’t make a sound while you zoom in. 

The lens is covered with a fluorine coating, which is an anti-smudge element. You can easily wipe off fingerprints, dust, and dirt from the lens to maintain its quality. This is a feature that the Nikon 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6, Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3, and the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 do not have. 

However, it is not waterproof, unlike the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 and the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6. This means that if the lens gets wet, it could affect its functionality. 

Also, it is a heavy and bulky lens. The lens weighs 3.08 pounds and measures 8.66 x 3.5 x 3.5 inches, so it can be difficult to use for hours. 

Pros: 

  • It has an image stabilization feature that removes distortion and blurs on images that are caused by a shaky camera
  • It is fluorine coated; you can easily remove smudges and fingerprints using only a clean cloth
  • The autofocus system is quiet, so you can capture images without disturbing your subject or the surroundings

Cons:

  • The lens is not waterproof; it is not ideal to use outdoors, especially if the weather is unpredictable as water droplets can damage the lens. 
  • It is bulky and heavy, the lens is difficult to store and can be tiring to carry around when you travel.
NIKON NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S Telephoto Zoom...
  • At 70mm, focus can be achieved as close as 0. 5m from the subject
  • Lens utilizes standard 77mm filter thread
  • Lens offers customizable Function buttons and control ring for versatility

Best Nikon Sports Lens for the Money: Nikon AF-S DX Nkr 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6G

The Nikon AF-S DX Nkr 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6G is a versatile lens that can be used for group shots, portraits, landscapes, and sports photography. 

AF-S DX Nkr 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6G ED VR II

The lens is equipped with image stabilization, so your images will remain remarkably clear despite unexpected camera movements. 

The Nikon 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6G has Extra-Low Dispersion or ED glass element that removes chromatic aberration, a feature that the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 does not have. 

The lens has a built-in silent autofocus feature that allows for quiet and fast autofocusing. 

If you want to make sure that you have the subject on sight, you can use the zoom lock switch feature of the lens. It locks the lens on your length of choice, and it keeps the subject in a frame, so you don’t miss a shot. 

However, the lens is not waterproof. A feature that the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 and the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 has. 

The lens is not ideal to use outdoors, especially on a rainy day, because the water droplets may affect the quality of the lens. Also, its aperture of f/3.5 is too narrow. If you use it in low light conditions, blurs and distortion may appear on your images. 

Pros:

  • The lens is equipped with special elements such as Extra-Low Dispersion and Integral Coating that prevent flares, ghosting, and chromatic aberration from appearing on your images.
  • It comes with a zoom lock switch so you can keep the lens at a certain length, and you won’t have to keep adjusting it.
  • It comes with a built-in image stabilization feature that lets you move around freely with the camera on hand without having to worry about blurs or distortion on your images. 

Cons:

  • The lens is not waterproof; it is best to cover it up properly when shooting outdoors, and it needs to be stored securely when not in use.
  • Its f/3.5 aperture is narrow and not ideal for taking pictures in low-lit areas. 
AF-S DX Nkr 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6G ED VR II
  • One-lens solution adept in a wide variety of situations
  • Focal length range: 18 -200 millimeter, minimum focus distance: 1.6 feet.
  • Two extra-low Dispersion (ED) elements; Three aspherical lens elements

Best Cheap Nikon Lens for Sports: Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G

The Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G is a super-telephoto zoom lens that can impressively capture images from concerts, landmarks, wildlife, sports events, and subjects that are far away. 

Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR...

With its image stabilization feature, you can freely move around with the camera. The feature prevents blurs from appearing on your images that are usually caused by a shaky camera. 

The lens has a quiet autofocus motor that lets you capture images silently, so you won’t cause any distraction during the event. 

The Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-6 is an ideal travel companion as it is light and small. It measures 4.25 x 2.83 x 2.83 inches and weighs 14.6 ounces, so you can carry it around with you with ease for hours. 

The lens is waterproof, dustproof, and dirtproof, unlike the Nikon S 70-200 f/2.8, Nikon 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6, and the Nikon 24-120mm f/4G.

However, the lens does not have any special elements such as Extra-Low Dispersion and Aspherical Elements, unlike the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8, Nikon 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6, Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6, and the Nikon 24-120mm f/4G. 

Since it does not have special elements, chromatic aberration, flares, and ghosting can be seen on your images if you don’t have the right angle and lighting. 

Also, the f/4.5 aperture is narrow, and it can’t be used in low-light areas. 

Pros:

  • Its silent autofocus feature allows you to zoom in on your subject without disturbing it.
  • The lens is small and very light; it can be used for hours, especially when doing handheld photography.
  • It is waterproof, and it is sealed against dust and dirt. This feature can prevent the quality of the lens from deteriorating.

Cons:

  • The lens is not equipped with special elements such as Aspherical elements and Extra-Low Dispersion glass elements. If you don’t have the right lighting, unwanted effects such as flares and ghosting may appear on your pictures.
  • Its aperture of f/4.5 is very narrow, it can’t be used in dark environments, or your images will be filled with blurs. 
Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR...
  • F-mount lens/DX formatfilter-attachment size: 58mm, (p = 075 mm)
  • Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.22x. 105-450Mm (35mm equivalent)
  • Aperture range: f/45-63 to F/32

Best Nikon Super Telephoto Zoom Lens for Sports: Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E is an amazing super-telephoto lens that can capture and share beautiful images of athletes, performers, landmarks, wildlife, and other subjects that are far away. 

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Vibration...

The electromagnetic diaphragm feature operates in sync for subjects with fast movements, such as athletes, so you won’t miss a single moment. 

The feature can transform fast-moving action into photo sequences. It is a feature that the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8, Nikon 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6, Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3, and the Nikon 24-120mm f/4G does not have. 

The image stabilization system can help keep your pictures sharp and steady while you move around, as it prevents distortion and blurs that are often caused by a shaky camera. 

With its special elements such as Extra-Low Dispersion or ED glass can cut through intense light and evenly distribute the colors on the images, unlike the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3. 

The lens is equipped with a silent autofocus system that allows for fast yet quiet autofocusing. 

However, the f/5.6 aperture of the lens is narrow and not ideal for taking pictures of filming videos in the dark as it will cause distortion and blurs. 

Also, it is the heaviest lens on the list, weighing 5.07 pounds. It can be tiring to carry it around, and it can be uncomfortable to use for hours. 

Pros:

  • It has a silent autofocus system that lets you zoom in without any noise; this prevents your subject from getting distracted while you take pictures.
  • The image stabilization feature steadies the lens, so you won’t have to use a tripod. It prevents distortion caused by camera movements. 
  • It has special elements to remove flares and ghosting on images.

Cons:

  • The lens is very heavy; it is difficult to carry with you while you travel
  • The f/5.6 aperture is narrow that it can’t be used in low light environments as it won’t result in clear images
Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Vibration...
  • Compact super telephoto zoom lens for birding, wildlife, motorsports, events and more
  • 500 millimeter of zoom power on fx format DSLR; 750 millimeter equivalent on dx format DSLRs,...
  • Fast f/5.6 constant aperture for beautiful out of focus backgrounds and low light performance

Best Nikon Zoom Lens for Sports: Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G  

The Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G delivers beautiful images from the standard 24mm focal length to the 120mm telephoto lens. The images are clear and crisp throughout the focal length range. 

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED Vibration...

The lens is equipped with image stabilization that reduces the effects of camera movements. It keeps your pictures sharp while you carry the camera. 

You won’t have to worry about other unwanted effects that could ruin your images, thanks to the special glass elements that the lens is equipped with. It has a Nano Crystal Coat that reduces the appearance of flares and ghosting no matter what focal length you choose. 

The Extra-Low Dispersion elements, prevents chromatic aberration even at the longest focal length or widest aperture setting. It is a feature that the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 does not have. 

The lens also has a fluorine coating, so you can easily clean fingerprints and smudges to keep it looking brand new. Unlike the Nikon 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6, Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3, and the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 that are not equipped with this feature.  

The lens has a built-in silent autofocus feature that prevents the motor from making any noise while you zoom in and take pictures of your subject. 

However, its aperture of f/4 is so narrow that it can’t be used for nighttime photoshoots because it only lets a bit of light in. This will result in blurry and distorted images. 

Also, it is not waterproof. The lens should be adequately covered when not in use, and it should be cleaned regularly to remove the accumulation of moisture, dust, and dirt, or it may affect the quality of the lens. 

Pros:

  • The image stabilization system allows for handheld shooting, and the images will stay sharp and clear.
  • It is equipped with glass elements such as Extra-Low Dispersion and Nano Crystals to prevent chromatic aberration, ghosting, and flares from showing on your pictures.
  • The silent autofocus feature lets you focus on your subject silently so you can zoom in on your subjects without startling them.

Cons:

  • The f/4 aperture allows little to no light in because it is too narrow. Not great for taking pictures in low light conditions.
  • The lens does not have a waterproof seal, so water droplets, moisture, and other natural elements can affect the lens’s performance. 
Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED Vibration...
  • Compact and versatile 5x standard zoom lens with f/4 maximum aperture
  • Maximum reproduction ratio: 0.24x.Focal Length Range : 24 to 120 millimeter, Minimum Focus Distance...
  • Extended range on Nikon DX format DSLR cameras

Features to Consider in Nikon Lens for Sports

When it comes to sports photography, you will need a lens that can offer exceptional range and speed, and it should be different from your everyday, regular lens. 

The best Nikon lens for sports has a fast processing rate and burst speed, so you can capture sharp and vibrant images needed when taking pictures of sports events. 

Special ElementsWaterproofFluorine Coating
Nikon S 70-200 f/2.8 YesNoYes
Nikon 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6YesNoNo
Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3GNoYesNo
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6EYesYesNo
Nikon 24-120mm f/4GYesNoYes

Special Elements

Special elements are additional glasses built in the lens itself to filter strong light and improve the outcome of your images and videos. 

Special elements come in different categories: Aspherical Elements, Extra-low Dispersion glass elements, and Nano Crystals. The aspherical elements reduce distortions on images, thus improving the sharpness of the image’s borders. 

Extra-Low Dispersion elements can help fix chromatic aberrations caused when different light wavelengths hit the lens and the colors are not appropriately distributed. 

The Nano Crystal Coat eliminates internal lens element reflections in different wavelengths; thus, it reduces the appearance of flares and ghosts. 

The Nikon S 70-200 f/2.8, Nikon AF-S DX Nkr 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6G, Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E and the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G are equipped with special elements. 

A photographer carrying a Nikon camera with sports photography lens

Waterproof

Most sports events are held outdoors. Unfortunately, the weather can be unpredictable, which is why it is best to get a sports lens that is sealed from water, dust, and dirt so that its quality won’t deteriorate fast. 

The Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 and the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 have waterproof features, ensuring the lens’ longevity despite moisture and exposure to extreme temperature. 

Fluorine Coating

When you use the lens frequently, its glass and barrel will be filled with smudges and fingerprints. Although it can be cleaned using a cloth or other cleaning materials, chances are there will still be spots left behind. 

Fluorine coatings ensure an easy clean as it removes fingerprints and smudges without leaving any spots or faint lines. 

Out of all the lenses on the list, the Nikon S 70-200 f/2.8 and the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G are the ones with fluorine coating. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Makes AF-S Nikon Lens Different from AF-P Nikon Lens?

The AF-S Nikon lens is equipped with the Silent Wave Motor system or SWM. It converts energy waves into rotational energy, so it enables fast autofocusing that is quiet and accurate. 

Meanwhile, an AF-P Nikon lens uses a stepping motor for its autofocus feature, as it converts digital pulses into shaft rotation, making it much smoother and quieter than the AF-S lens. 

How is Extra-Low Dispersion Glass Manufactured?

Extra-Low Dispersion glasses are created by merging two glass elements: flint glass and crown glass. Both glasses are made into one unit called an achromatic doublet. 

Two glass elements were needed so that they can cancel each other out in case one glass element had more dispersion characteristics than the other. The achromatic doublet is then added into the lens, hence creating Extra-Low Dispersion or ED glass. 

Conclusion

Sports photography is not an easy genre due to a lot of movements, unpredictable environments, and other challenges brought by crowded areas. 

The best Nikon lens for sports that you choose will depend on how you want your sports photography journey to go. You can also decide on the focal length that you want for your lens, the autofocus speed, and the aperture to ensure amazing results. 

Jared Bauman has spent more than twenty years in the professional photography profession. He founded Bauman Photographers in 2001, which is a wedding and commercial photography studio in San Diego, California. The company has been in business for 20 years, and has a stellar reputation in the community. In 2007, Jared co-founded ShootDotEdit, the premium post production company for professional wedding photographers worldwide. The company has edited millions of images for photographers around the world. Jared has spoken and presented at the Wedding and Portrait Photographers International Conference 9 years in a row. He has also given several multi-day courses on Creative Live, in addition to two national speaking tours.