Best Nikon Lens For Sports – 2019 – Reviews, Buyer’s Guide & FAQs

Even for the most seasoned photographers, sports photography is tricky. You are unable to choose the time of day when the action would happen. Too often the action happens under floodlights or when the sun is behind a cloud.

Indoor sports photography, such as basketball is even more difficult as most gyms are poorly lit.

It is next to impossible to get the perfect frame since the athletes are moving swiftly.

There are so many challenges, but if you are using a Nikon camera, you know that at least you have the best equipment.

To make the picture-perfect all you need is the best lens that makes it easy to capture that rowdy football scrimmage and the perfect badminton drop shot.

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

The Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR is one of the best Nikon lenses for sports as well as wildlife photography. We’ve found the lens stays super sharp even as it is tracking animals along the wilderness. If you were to pan race cars in sports mode, it gets super sharp than when not panning. 

The VR is stable enough to get fantastic clarity even at low ISO and handheld. The lens doesn’t have a tripod mode. 

The lens focuses on the subject fast, no matter what aperture you’ve selected and the speed of the subject you are trying to shoot. For the most part, even at high white light, the flare is low. Sometimes, the force of the sun glimpsed through tree branches can cause a minimal flare. The area out of focus is soft, but it’s not aesthetic enough to bring out the bokeh effect. 

Before purchasing the lens, check whether the current camera model you have will fit the lens. Although, it should fit most Nikon models. The lens is sold along with a front and rear lens cap for protection, a Bayonet Hood and a semi-soft case. Exactly one year warranty is provided on the lens from the date of the purchase. 

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Pros
  • Rare Distortion
  • Sharp at all lengths and apertures
  • Almost non-existent flare
  • Great focus at all aperture and lengths
  • Solid, metal lens which is sturdy
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Cons
  • Slight Chromatic Aberration
  • Minimum Vignetting Noticed above 400mm
  • Barrel Size is more extended than standard Nikon lenses which can be hard to fit into an average size camera backpack

2. Nikon 70-300 mm f/4-5.6G Zoom Lens with Auto Focus

Nikon has launched a very lightweight yet great performer, especially for wildlife photography in the form of Nikon 70-300 mm f/4-5.6G lens. The lens is best for clicking far away objects. 

The VR II technology of the lens reduces vibration and allows 4 full stops and excellent shutter speed. We would like to praise particularly the AF-S system of the lens that makes Autofocus an entirely silent feature. 

Nikon 70-300 mm f/4-5.6G also features low Chromatic Aberration, great resolution and amazing contrast. Its 9 blade diaphragm and 17 element/ 12 groups have made it an amazing lens for both still photography and video shoots. 

67mm filter and internal focusing helped us take great snaps with this lens. Zooming in and out function without any jerk. 

At 70mm we found a little bit of barrel distortion but as we progressed towards 200mm, the distortion was totally missing. However, we experienced minor pincushion at 200mm-300mm. 

We have also discovered that sharpness is a bit of an issue with this lens, but that’s noticed only at longer focal lengths, for e.g. at 135 to 200mm. And, till 100mm we got overall sharp images. Taking all these together, we would surely recommend it to all professionals.

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Pros
  • Lightweight
  • Great for travel-shoot
  • Excellent image quality
  • Low CA and good bokeh effect
  • Silent Autofocusing
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Cons
  • Sharpness varies at different focal lengths
  • Barrel distortion visible at shorter focal lengths

3. Nikon AF FX NIKKOR 80-200mm f/2.8D ED Zoom Lens with Auto Focus

The all-metal construction of Nikon AF FX NIKKOR 80-200mm f/2.8D ED lens makes it perfect for all kinds of photography situation. The arrangement of 16 element/11 groups makes this 2.5x telephoto zoom lens perfect for sharp images. 

This lens permits autofocus only if the camera used for it has a built-in motor dedicated to auto-focusing. So, that was a significant discovery. 

We liked the aperture ring control and focus distance indicator on the lens. But it does not have any depth of field indicator, sadly. 

One more feature that we absolutely loved is the delimiter switch on the lens. It helps in ceasing focus-hunting and within no time sets the focus to give you a perfect picture. Once you get used to it, things become easier than what you experience with other lenses at the same price range. 

Its 9-blade diaphragm and 3 ED glass technology enable it to capture images that have very low Chromatic Aberration and high resolution at the widest aperture.  

We experienced quick focusing from 80-200mm without any jerk. Internal focusing works well. Zooming in and out seemed quite a smooth task.

Overall, we got good images with  fine sharpness, great CA and very nice bokeh effect. You can go for this one to have fun with easy photography.

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Pros
  • Super strong build quality
  • Fast Autofocus
  • Smooth zooming in and out
  • Wide aperture
  • Bright contrast
  • Minimal vignetting
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Cons
  • Image stabilization is a missing feature
  • No built-in autofocusing motor

4. Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens with Auto Focus

The newest optical formula of 16 elements and 12 groups in Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED, that comes with a non-heavy grip, surely captures great images.

7-blade diaphragm and 67mm filter thread help the lens perform very well in every scenario. During our tests, we liked the IF mechanism and Silent Wave Motor technology present in this lens. However, it fails to provide internal zooming.

We were a little surprised to find out that the Vibration Reduction system of this lens is not as sophisticated as its older version i.e. 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED lens. VR was much more satisfying with the older lens. 

Autofocus is also a little disappointing if compared to its predecessor but is surely better than the AF-S 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DX in terms of speed. 

We liked the fact that the filter thread never rotates while focusing. And hence, the images that are taken boast excellent clarity.  Till the focus range of 55mm, we observed barrel distortion, which however, fades away with longer range. 

Chromatic Aberration is well-managed but we found heavy light fall at corners even at wide aperture. Stopping down will help you to adjust the dark corners, it worked with us. 

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Pros
  • Can lock the zoom-ring
  • Great focusing
  • Silent zooming in
  • Overall nice image quality
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Cons
  • Vibration reduction is not well-managed
  • Distance scale is missing on the lens

5. Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S Nikkor Zoom Lens

Nikon offers one of the most versatile lenses in the form of Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S which comes in its new White box with a constant aperture and VR II feature, making it an all-rounder lens. 

The best optical formula of 21 element/16 groups and 9 blade diaphragm of the lens allow it to capture exceptional images with eye-catching bokeh and sharpness, from all focal ranges. 

We absolutely praise the inner focusing system of the lens and the Silent Autofocusing controlled by the SWM mechanism. 77mm filter thread is great and doesn’t rotate, making photography quite a pleasure. 

The only drawback, though not a matter of huge concern is, the lens is too heavy to use in the hand-held mode for long. After 1 or 2 hours it becomes too exhausting, wrist starts aching. But with a tripod, you are good to go. 

We found the Vibration Reduction system comes with 4 stops and two modes of shooting. Both the modes — Normal (for regular capturing) and Active (for taking snaps while on motion) worked well when we used the lens. 

Internal zooming helps you handle this massive lens with comfort and the ring is also flexible. What seems best to us is, you can turn on manual focus keeping the AF mode active. Extraordinary, isn’t it?

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Pros
  • Macro imaging is satisfactory
  • CA is very well-managed
  • Great sharpness
  • Highly adaptable
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Cons
  • No depth-of-field indicator
  • No infrared focus index

6. Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens with Auto Focus

The first-ever FX lens introduced by Nikon is AF-S FX NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED lens that comes with the package of many signature benefits of Nikon. The lens offers a 10.7x zoom range and the ED mechanism makes it a low CA-high resolution lens.

We can’t stop admiring its edge-to-edge sharpness, no light fall-off, and amazing image stabilization. With the M/A tag on the barrel you can expect a free and easy switching of focus from automatic to manual. 

The complex design of the lens includes 19 elements and 14 groups, which work great with 3 aspherical glass elements providing extra-low dispersion. We loved how it captures images with excellent contrast but very low CA.

Its 77mm non-rotating filter thread makes it a superb performer. We like the ease of using the zoom-ring; it’s not stiff at all, but also not very loose. 

Silent Wave Motor and IF system have uplifted the quality of the lens. When we tested the lens on the Nikon F65, the focusing was not very much satisfactory in-room lighting. But, when we used it with Nikon D700, both in room-light and broad daylight, the lens took outstanding images. 

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Pros
  • High-quality images
  • Excellent zooming in and out
  • Easy focusing 
  • Nice bokeh effect
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Cons
  • Internal focusing isn’t available
  • Prominent light fall-off at higher focal lengths

7. Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens with Auto Focus

Nikon presents ultra-high zooming with 16.7x ratio and a focal range equivalent to 27-450mm with the launch of Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED lens. 

Its optical formula that comprises of 19 elements and 14 groups with the addition of 3 aspherical lens elements as well as 3 ED lens mechanism, allows the lens to take images of the highest quality.

During the tests, we found the silent focusing is excellently installed and AF mode works superfast. We could easily switch between AF and manual focus controlling to take quick snaps. 

When we used the lens with D3200, it felt extremely heavy on the front. But when changed the body with D7000, it was not that much of a problem. Of course, the lens is not a ‘light’ one. We liked how it stays stable while zooming and how zooming and focusing both function smoothly.  

We also liked CA management of the lens, thanks to the ED technology. However, we observed heavy light fall-off at medium focal range of 150-200mm. Bokeh effect is quite commendable. 

Shutter speed is good and barrel distortion is negligible. Overall, the lens is a pro performer providing great stills as well as videos in every weather condition. Professionals can surely go for it. 

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Pros
  • Smooth Zooming 
  • Excellent focusing
  • Free switching between AF and manual focusing
  • Great sharpness
  • Fine resolution
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Cons
  • No focus scale provided
  • No aperture ring
  • No depth-of-field index

8. Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR Lens

Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR is something you want to buy if you have recently started to dip into sports photography as a hobby. It’s a relatively cheap lens that you can pass up on if you decide sports photography isn’t for you. 

You must do a quick check on whether the lens would be fit for your current Nikon camera, for it is only compatible with the ones released after 2013. 

The wide-angle lens shows clear, crisp images at 15 to 30mm range. There is slight distortion visible if you go for an extreme wide-angle. While the lens comes with a smooth focus ring, it’s a decorative item more than anything. Focus is achieved electronically through the camera. If you planned on setting it up manually, it’s not possible. 

The lens is extremely small and lightweight, so you shouldn’t have any problem carrying it around. We will recommend not dropping it accidentally, for it is mostly plastic. 

While the aperture range is limited to f/4.5-5.6, the stable VR is capable of compensating for the problem by providing a slow shutter speed. The sharpness is one notable feature, which surprisingly gets better at 20mm. At 10mm, if the subject isn’t under super bright light, one can notice slight vignetting.

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Pros
  • Inexpensive compared to most lenses with the exact specification
  • Large Zoom ring
  • Lightweight but solid
  • Superfast focus
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Cons
  • Plastic Mount
  • No rubber weather seal to protect the lens
  • No external switch. Every function has to be performed through the camera mounted to the lens

9. Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II Lens

This lens is surprisingly good for the price at which it offers itself. With a retractable lens that can be detached when not in use, it can be used efficiently without creating a wear-and-tear issue. The focal length range and the focus distance of 1.1 m are good enough to capture a picture adequately. 

Pictures, however, do get distorted in barrel shapes as the focal length is the shortest, while there are pincushion-shaped distortions at above 80 mm focal lengths. The distortion angles are kept within limits, and hence, minute distortions can be helped with software. It has Extra-low Dispersion glass, and thus it minimises chromatic aberrations. 

This lens is just 300 grams in weight, which is lighter than its predecessors! This makes it easier to work with. It has a Vibration Reduction(VR) image stabilization. This was the feature that helped in our use to get blur-free handheld pictures. It also assures dramatically sharper images. Throughout our use, we could capture steady and still photos, that proved the quality of the lens.

The lens has a Super Integrated Coating that gives it a superior look while reducing the ghosting and lens flare. We found it to be a good bet at the given price. The lens surprised us when it could click sharp pictures at all focal lengths. It, however, has higher sharpness in the center than in the corners. This difference in sharpness will not be too visible.

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Pros
  • Minimum Chromatic Aberrations
  • Premium look
  • Compatible with any Nikon cameras
  • Least distortions
  • Built-in Vibration Reduction
  • Light-weighted
  • Available at only $346.95, which is a quality-for-money amount
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Cons
  • It might not be a good purchase for professional photographers, due to lack of sufficient uniform sharpness.
  • The AF Motor can be noisier than those of other lenses. 
  • The MF Motor is inconvenient to work with due to its ring that can get locked easily.

10. Nikon AF S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G Fixed Lens with Auto Focus

This lens stands out from its earlier version as it weighs 300 grams lesser than its predecessors. It has nine optical elements in 9 different groups. It has an excellent range for portraiture but can also prove to be too long for any other kind of photography.

The front lens does not rotate. This makes it easier to work with this lens and efficiently use circular filters and filter holders. It has a 7-blade diaphragm in comparison to a 9-blade diaphragm of its predecessors. Though it might seem to be the downfall of the lens, it is not. This is because the diaphragm used is rounded.

The bokeh is not much visible at large apertures. It has an Internal Focus feature, along with a Silent Wave Motor feature. Both Auto and Manual Focus Mode is available.

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Pros
  • Nikon Super Integrated Coating provides superior looks and reduces flare.
  • Due to a non-rotating filter thread, it is straightforward to use graduated neutral density filters and polarisers.
  • The AF-S focus is quick and quiet.
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Cons
  • Bokeh is difficult to obtain.
  • The lens may be too long for different kinds of photography.

Buying Guide for Nikon Sports Lenses

  • Weight – Many telephoto lenses are really bulky. The heaviest one we reviewed weighs over 2 kilos. There is really no way to get around this issue since full-frame telephoto lenses are huge and the bigger they are, the better.
  • Zoom vs. Telephoto – A telephoto provides a close up of something far away while a zoom adds to the field of view. A long barrel lens may be either telephoto or both depending on its optical specification.
  • Aperture – Most telephoto lenses are not really good at large apertures. Extremely large lenses rarely offer more than f/4.

FAQ

1. What is super telephoto?

These are long lenses with focal length above 400 mm. There is only one on the above list that meets this spec because they are really expensive. The monster among these would be Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR Lens priced at $16,300.

However, you need adequate practice with a “smaller” lens up to 300 mm before you can test drive one of these.

2. Do I need a tripod?

More or less, always. Since your subject is quite far away and the lens is long and unwieldy, it is best to balance the camera using a tripod. The faintest movement produces a blur. The stability of the setup is paramount.

3. What use is a shutter release?

If you know the action is going to be in a particular zone, e.g., the hoops at either end of the basketball court, you could focus your camera and release the shutter through an extension cord. This means you are free to watch the action instead of peering through a tiny viewfinder.

4. Should I turn off VR?

If you are using a tripod turn off the VR and any image stabilization features. Since your camera is stable, there is no need for an extra set of lenses to mess up the sharpness and clarity of images.

5. What is Aperture Priority mode?

It allows you to set the aperture while your Nikon selects the corresponding shutter speed. Keep aperture between f/2.8 and f/4 and let the shutter speed change automatically as decided by the camera. This lets in a large amount of light and produces sharp images.

Verdict

During our research, we found the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens to be extremely competent.

At about half a kilo it is relatively light and quite compact. There is VR that offers an increase of 4 stops. The front has a convenient knurled zoom ring. It is affordable and does not require a steep learning curve.

The runner up is the huge Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens.

The lens barrel is very long and solidly built. To some, it may seem a  tad high priced for a telephoto; we assure you it is reasonable for a super-telephoto. This is an incredible sports lens meant for enthusiasts.

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