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Best Digital Camera For Sports Photography

So you're looking for the best DSLR to shoot sports. The ideal camera is one that handles fast moving objects without any noise or blur. You want something that delivers sharp, accurate pictures 99.99% of the time with excellent performance. It's the difference between shooting a classic shot, and just an average one, or not even getting a shot at all.

We asked 3 sports photographers what cameras they would recommend to the aspiring sports photographer and went out and tried these cameras. Here's our top three:

1) Canon EOS-1D Mark IV

The Mark IV is for those who are serious about shooting sports, and is used by many in the industry. At over $4500, it's not cheap by any means, but it delivers. This camera is as high-end, and as good as it get, folks. It's like buying a mansion - you probably won't need to buy another house (unless you're greedy) for your entire lifetime.

I had a chance to rent this camera, and take this baby out for a test drive for a NY Jets game vs. the Buffalo Bills. I've never had a chance to ever hold any camera of this price range before, so needless to say I was nervous and excited. We heard from other photographers that the Mark III disappointed them in shooting fast action shots, so a bunch of photographers actually gathered around us, asking us it was.

Holding it in our hands, it felt good. We shot the game using a 400mm lens, and sometimes used the 1.4x converter for far away shots. Since football involves a lot of running, this was the perfect chance to see how well the Mark IV fared in shooting fast, speedy action shots.

Well, we were definitely not disappointed. All of our shots turned out to be crystal clear, and sharp - amazingly sharp! I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw how sharp they were, and never knew a DSLR could produce pictures of this quality of fast moving objects.

The EOS Mark IV has incredibly high ISO performance. I mean, really the ISO range goes up to a ridiculous 102400. It clearly blows all other mid-range DSLRs and even high-end DSLRs out of the water. We let a few expert photographer who used the Mark III examine our photos, and all of them told us the Mark IV was clearly better at noise reduction, and sharpness, at low ISO and high ISO settings.

We also had a chance to test out some of the many features in the Mark IV such as the video, but the most important thing for us was super sharp, clear pictures, which the Mark IV clearly delivered.

What's great about it:
- Excellent image quality: Sharp images, as good as it gets
- Beats almost every camera in ISO performance/noise reduction
- The best for taking action shots.

What's not so great:
- Expensive price tag

Summary: The Mark IV is clearly not geared for the casual user who wants to shoot sports once in a blue moon like soccer moms, or even casual sports fan. It's for those that are either sports photographers, or aspiring sports photographers (add wildlife photographers too). People who CAN NOT afford to miss a shot, or else their paycheck suffers. If your budget is too tight, we consider looking at the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, which experts tell us has good performance as well shooting action.

2) Nikon D300s

Ok, so you can't afford the Mark IV, I can't blame you, neither can we. But that doesn't mean there aren't more inexpensive options. The D300s is a good mid-range option for the sports photographer, and it's no doubt why - it has outstanding burst speed and a good low-light focus.

We rented a Nikon D300s, which we have used several times before and took it out to a NY Rangers hockey game to give it a test. After using the Mark IV to shoot a football game last month, we were kind of hesitant and hoping not to be let down a little.

First off, if you're buying the D300s, you can buy it with the body only, or with the kit with the 18-200mm f3.5-5.6G ED lens. We used this kit when taking our action shots.

Holding the D300s, you can tell it's protected well. It's built to resist any weather elements - dust, water, you name it. It's heavy, but still comfortable to grip. The viewfinder is absolutely gorgeous and how we like it - big and bright.

During the basketball game, we exclusively set the ISO to 1600-2000 and for the most part our images turned out to be sharp, accurate, with very little noise. We also set the in-camera noise reduction off.

After the basketball game was over, we decided to head over to a night-time high school football practice and test it there. Well, the D300s works just as well in crazy lighting conditions. We shot in ISO 6400, and the photos turned out to be solid with good color renditions.

The performance for the D300s is outstanding. The D300s takes just .3 seconds to power on and shoot. In good light, it takes .3 seconds as well to focus and shoot, and .7 seconds in low light. 2 Non-burst JPEG shots take .4 seconds, and .5 seconds when using RAW. Shot to shot time is .9 seconds, with the flash. And the continuous shooting rate is an excellent 6.8 frames per second. No matter how you cut it, the D300s' performance is in the top of the class.

What's great about it:
- Sharp, vivid images in good and low lighting conditions
- Incredible performance and burst speed: ideal for fast action sports

What's not so great:
- Controls can take time to get used to
- Under $2000, but may still be expensive for some

Summary: The D300s is an incredible camera that is used by many sports photographers as both their main camera or backup camera. We didn't even use the best lens possible for this camera, but still managed to churn fantastic fast action shots in low lighting and good indoor lighting. Some photographers even say the D300s simply make any lens you put better they really are. So that's saying a lot right there.

3) Canon 20D

We think the Canon EOS 20D is another reasonably priced option for the sports photographer. Sure it's old, but it works, and that's what maters. It features great performance, low noise levels even at extremely high ISO settings, and a fast auto-focus (its best features in our opinion).

We gave the EOS 20D a hands on test and shot a NY Mets baseball game with it. We were immediately impressed with the speedy quick auto-focus, I mean seriously this baby is response. You won't find a faster auto-focus camera than the EOS 20D among prosumer cameras.

The shutter delay was also fantastic. Combine these 2 features, and it's no wonder we were able to catch fantastic, sharp images of Jose Reyes sprinting towards 1st base, and stealing 2nd. The Canon 20D was able to track him all the way. We used many other DSLRs above $1000, and we guarantee you none of them would have produced images this sharp, and focus this quickly.

We also love how light this camera was. We were expecting something bulky, but no, it's feels great and you can wear it around your neck without the weight pulling you down.

Another feature we like about the 20D was the pop up flash. It works as marketed. If you need a little more light, just use the pop up flash, and it'll do its job.

What's great about it:
- Speedy, responsive auto focus
- Excellent image quality, even at high ISO levels
- Sleek, comfortable to use design
- Good pop up flash
- Affordable price than other high-end sports DSLRs

What's not so great:
- Nothing glaring except buffer is a tad under-sized

Summary: If you're short on money and can't afford the Mark IV, consider giving the Canon EOS 20D a try. It's an old model, so you can probably find it for sale on Amazon. If you're not doing sports photography for a living, this is perfect, reasonably priced DSLR for your needs.


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