If you are looking for the camera that will give you the best action shots, chances are you already have a camera and it is just not as good as you would like it to be. In that case, you probably already have a lens or two and are comfortable using whatever system (Nikon, Canon, etc…). This makes buying your next camera much easier! If, however, you are new to photography and are looking to get into action photography, you have some tough decisions ahead. First, understand that you will need to purchase an appropriate telephoto lens to get close to the action and that learning photography (action and sports photography in particular) will take practice so do not get discouraged if your first outing is unsuccessful. To decide on a camera, go to the store and try each one within your budget. See which one feels the best to you as they are all very good cameras and will suit you well.
Read Tips on Shooting and Showing Action in Photography for some helpful tips and techniques on capturing the best action photos.
The digital SLR cameras listed are organized by brand and are ordered in increasing price. Find the best digital SLR for action shots that will fit your budget and has the features you need.
The Best Nikon Digital SLR Cameras for Action Shots
Nikon D90 (3 out of 5)
The Nikon D90 is the lowest level Nikon digital SLR camera I would recommend. It features 11 AF points, 4.5 frames per second (fps), Nikon’s Multi-CAM 1000 AF motor, and decent noise handling up to 3200 ISO ( boosted max of 6400). It also supports 720P HD movie recording. It can be found for about $800.
Nikon D300 and D300s (4 out of 5)
Nikon D300 and D300s – The D300s is Nikon’s latest and highest APS-C "DX" camera offering. It is nearly identical to the D300 with the main exception of HD movie recording. It features 51 AF points (with 15 cross-type high-sensitivity sensors), Nikon’s Multi-CAM 3500DX AF motor (which is better than the D90), 7 fps (8 fps with the MB-D10 battery grip), and equally as good ISO performance as the D90 (it uses the same CMOS DX sensor). The D300s can be found for about $1600.
Nikon D700 (5 out of 5)
The Nikon D700 is Nikon’s budget full-frame (35mm CMOS sensor) digital SLR camera, but don’t let the name budget fool you. It is essentially a Nikon D3 in a D300-sized body. Its ISO performance is stunning up to 3200 ISO (max of 25,600 ISO). It features 51 AF points (15 cross-type), Nikon’s Multi-CAM 3500FX system, and shoots at 5 fps (8 with the MB-D10). As a full-frame camera, you lose some "reach" with long lenses, but you gain a wider field of view which can be useful in certain situations. The main benefit is the image quality. The D700 can be found for about $2400.
Nikon D3 Series (5 out of 5)
The Nikon D3 line (D3, D3x, and D3s) are the top of the line flagship models. The D3 and D3s feature 12 MP while the D3x has a whopping 24.5MP! Any of these would serve you well for professional use of sports and action photography. The D3s can shoot at 9fps and has 51 AF points (15 cross-type), and shoot 720p HD movies at 24fps. The D3s can be found for $5,200 and the D3x $7,500.
The Best Canon Digital SLR Cameras for Action Shots
This page focuses on Canon’s best digital SLR cameras for action shots and sports photography.
Canon 50D (3 out of 5)
The Canon 50D is an older Canon model that seems to be getting phased out with the arrival of the flagship APS-C 7D (below). However, it is equivalent to the Nikon D90 in terms of features and pricing. It features a 9-point cross-type AF, 6.3 fps, and has decent ISO performance of 3200 ISO (maximum is 12,800 ISO).
Canon 7D (5 out of 5)
The Canon 7D is Canon’s hottest camera right now. Coming in at $1700 for the body, it is a bargain in terms of the features you get. It is a solidly constructed body with weather sealing (not found in cameras at this price point), and can shoot a remarkable 8 fps without any addons. It also has a re-tooled autofocus algorithm for fast autofocus (TTL-CT-SIR CMOS sensor) in low-light and even rivals the Canon 1D series with its 19 cross-type AF points (F/2.8 at the center). Its maximum ISO is 12,800 and is excellent through 3200 ISO! It shoots full-HD 1080p movies at 24fps and 720p at 60fps. This is a great digital SLR camera for action shots.
Canon 1D Series (5 out of 5)
The Canon 1D Professional Series (the 1D and 1Ds) are Canon’s flagship professional line of digital SLR cameras. The s in the 1Ds line indicates it is a full frame whereas the 1D series is a APS-H 1.3x crop camera. The 1D is the preferred action/sports camera, the latest 1d Mark IV camera shoots at 10fps, has 45 AF points (30 cross-type f/2.8 sensitive points), and has an ISO range of 50 to 102,400 ISO. It also features 16.1 MP, a significantly higher resolution than the Nikon D3s. The 1D Mark IV is among a handful of Canon’s latest cameras that can shoot full-HD movies at 1080p at 24fps and 720p at 60 fps!
The reason I do not recommend the 5D series is because the autofocus is lacking for fast action. It is a great camera for everything else but will leave you frustrated for sports.
I hope this has given you some insight into choosing the best digital SLR camera for action shots. I covered Nikon and Canon because they are the most popular and work the best for fast action sports. Sports are a difficult thing to shoot well and these are what the pros use. To effectively shoot sports, you will also need a lens to match the fine body you have chosen. I would recommend a 70-300mm for good daylight and a 70-200mm or longer prime lens (300mm or 400mm) for shooting at night.
If you are still scratching your head and can’t decide between the Nikon or Canon cameras, I would recommend the Nikon D90 over the Canon 50D, the Canon 7D over the Nikon D300s (and D300), and the Nikon D700 if you have $2400 to spend on a camera.
The best all-around digital SLR camera value would have to be the Canon 7D for its swift autofocus, 8fps, and excellent image quality!