What is the ultimate Canon indoor sports lens?
Do you own a Canon DSLR camera? Our Best Canon DSLR Camera Indoor Sports Lens recommendations page has your recommendations.
The indoor sports photographer typically faces one of the biggest challenges in the photography world. Basketball, volleyball, soccer, gymnastics, wrestling, dance, equestrian, etc. events are typically held under dim, spectrum-starved venue lighting. The photographer is often confined to one location while the participants move around – a lot. And the participants usually don't move slowly.
An indoor sports lens needs to have a very wide aperture to enable a shutter speed fast enough to stop the action under the poor lighting conditions. "Adequate" in these situations usually involves a significant compromise between motion-stopping shutter speeds and noisy high ISO settings.
A prime (fixed focal length) lens is often the right choice as these lenses typically get the widest apertures. Of course, the disadvantage of the fixed focal length lens is that you can't properly frame the fast-moving athlete as they go from close to far or far to close. The results from a prime lens in this scenario often require resolution-destructive cropping when the subject is too far away and creative framing when the subject is too close.
When it comes to indoor sports, the biggest problem with zoom lenses is that they seldom feature a max aperture wider than f/2.8. F/2.8 is usually what I consider the absolute minimum aperture opening for a successful indoor sports shoot.
In dimly lit arenas, even a max aperture of f/2.8 may require the use of ISO settings so high that an unacceptable amount of noise in your images is the result, especially with an APS-C/1.6x FOVCF DSLR camera. I shoot indoor soccer in one venue where f/2 on a full-frame body is not even adequate.
With a prime lens, you need to select the lens and position that works best for the particular combination or carry a couple of cameras with different focal length lenses mounted.
Autofocus performance is a big differentiator between lenses when action sports are the subject and light levels are low. While most lenses can capture a distant subject running perpendicular from you across a court (a constant focus distance), it takes a good lens to be able to focus-track a rapidly approaching or departing subject at close distances or with tight framing. Economy lenses will not typically be up to this challenge.
The focal lengths needed for indoor sports photography vary greatly, but the 70-300mm range covers most of the requirements.
Insanely Sharp, Ultra-Wide f/1.8 Aperture, Outstanding AF Performance, Impressive Image Stabilization System, Professional Grade
The RF 135mm F1.8 L IS is one of the highest performing lenses ever created.
If you like sharp, this lens has your name on it.
Additionally, the 135mm f/1.8 focal length and aperture combination is super useful, especially for photographing people, including people participating in events. Few lenses can blur the background more diffusely than this one, and making the subject pop from a blur of color is differentiatingly beautiful.
F/1.8 combined with a 5.5-stop image stabilization system (8 stops coordinated with IBIS) is ready to tackle extremely low light scenarios, and weather-sealed, professional-grade build quality is ready for high-volume daily use.
The Entire Package: Impressive image quality and Overall Performance, Wide Aperture, All of the Right Focal Lengths, Image Stabilization, Pro-Grade Build, Incredibly Compact
The Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens is my go-to general-purpose telephoto zoom lens, and with an f/2.8 aperture, this focal length range represents the longest available without a big step up in size, weight, and cost. This lens is the right choice for a very high percentage of general telephoto photography needs, with sports being ideally covered.
Few want to compromise image quality, and this L-series lens delivers greatness in that regard. Fast and accurate AF? That box is checked. Pro-grade, weather-sealed build quality? Ruggedness is built in. High-performing image stabilzation is there for you when the tripod is not, and the wide aperture enables stopping motion in low light.
Incredibly-Wide Aperture, Impressively Sharp Wide-Open, Pro-Grade Lens, Focal Length is Wide for Many Sports
This lens is fat, heavy, and, especially for an 85mm prime lens, expensive. However, the sharp, background-blurred images this lens produces at f/1.2 will quickly have you overlooking any downsides of this lens. This lens rules low light gynasiums.
The RF 85 F1.2 L gets the full L-series pro-grade build quality and performance features.
4. Adapt a lens from the Best Canon DSLR Camera Indoor Sports Lenses List.
Huge Selection, World-Class Options
The list above is not an exhaustive list of lenses that can be used for indoor sports photography, but they are my top choices. Also, visit the Canon Lens Recommendations page for other recommendations, including recommendations for Canon mirrorless camera outdoor sports lenses.