For so many of life’s events, a phone is more than powerful enough, eliminating the need for a dedicated camera. But while smartphone cameras have vastly improved, so have actual cameras, with big manufacturers releasing multiple new models every year and pushing resolution and light sensitivity to new heights.
When you need to capture action, a dedicated camera is going to be your ticket to memorable footage. The zoom on camera phones is still very lacking, as is stabilization and panning. Whether you’re covering a professional event, like a car race, or just trying to film your kid’s league game, there is the right camera out there for you. Let’s look at what to consider and compare a few models to narrow down your options.
How To Choose the Best Video Camera for Sports
First, it helps to list out what you actually need a camera to do. Not every feature is strictly necessary and some styles of cameras are much more suited to certain kinds of sports than others.
The Right Gear for the Right Sport
Certain camera features are going to be essential depending on the event. If you’re covering something end-to-end instead of just capturing the highlights, you’ll want to look at cameras that have either no recording length limits or are compatible with external recording monitors that can hold beefy SSDs. Other considerations:
- Field sports will be reliant on having either a telephoto lens or a camcorder with great zoom.
- Gym sports will demand a lot of light sensitivity from your setup.
- Auto sports involve a lot of panning, so you’ll want something you’re physically comfortable handling.
- Extreme sports may call for POV-style shooting, which means rigging up action cams.
- Will you be allowed to move about or are you expected to film entirely from a designated spot?
- Will you have shelter of any kind? You may have to consider weather resistant setups.
- Are you streaming the event? That will introduce a whole different set of feature needs.
If you’re doing any water sports, you’ll want to get an underwater housing unit. Learn more about those in our Ultimate AquaTech Underwater Compatibility Guide for Camera and Lens Rentals.
What Resolution Do You Need?
Do you really need 4K? That used to be a real consideration but, honestly, it’s now so standard for cameras of all levels and form factors to offer at least UHD 4K that quibbling over it is moot. More devices are capable of displaying in 4K resolution and web players such as YouTube are increasingly making it possible to stream in 4K and, thanks to adaptive streaming, you can now often opt to film in 4K and not worry about throughput. Even if you don’t want to present your final footage in 4K, filming in it can increase the quality of your video and allow you more flexibility for cropping, if needed. In 2021, 4K is a given for most uses. Now the question is becoming more like “Do you really need 6K, 8K…12K?”
Best Video Cameras for Sports: Action vs DSLR/Mirrorless vs Camcorder/Cinema Camera
Now that you’ve taken stock of the type of event you’re covering, where it is, how much you can move, and how long you’ll be out there, here are the different types of cameras that may be suitable for you:
Compared to early models, the most recent action cams have vastly improved specs, but with such tiny sensors they will never be able to fully compete with larger cameras. They are also limited with fixed lenses (often very wide FOV) that are designed to capture everything and have it all in focus (so no beautiful bokeh).
However, action cams can go anywhere: near a net, on a cyclist, on a surfboard. These cameras are waterproof, shockproof from very high drops, controllable via phone, and deliver amazing POV footage. The major downside to action cams is that the battery life is usually pretty bad.
Interchangeable Lens Cameras (DLSRs and Mirrorless)
With this kind of camera, you are faced with a bunch of options. First, is brand and mount since what you choose will determine what lenses you can use. The biggest brands for us are Canon, Sony, Nikon, Panasonic, and Fuji. Next is sensor size, with the most common you come across being full frame (approximately the size of original 35mm photography film), APS-C (approximately the size of Super 35 motion picture film, which is just a little smaller than 35mm photography film), and Micro Four Thirds (approximately the size of television camera tubes that were used prior to CCD sensors – or 110mm film for a photography comparison, which is about 30% smaller than APS-C but still much larger than sensors found in compacts, point and shoots, action cams, and phones).
All sensor technology has been amplified in recent years, making choosing a size a less obvious process. It used to be that full frame ruled the roost but the great tech coming out of smaller-sensor cameras is muddying that. The overall feel of the body, along with its particular feature set that matches your goals, should probably be the bigger factor than the sensor. Considerations:
- Grip depth and dial layout.
- Fixed, tilting, or articulating touchscreens and how bright they can get.
- Slow motion options, if you want them.
- How well the camera minimizes rolling shutter effects.
- How good the on-board sound is or whether the camera accepts external mics and with what connections (hot shoe only, 3.5mm, etc).
- In-body stabilization features.
- Weather sealing, battery life, and video clip length.
- What kind of media it accepts, at what maximum capacity, and how fast the bus interface is.
- Overall resolution, frame rates, and whether you have any access to log formats and film emulations.
Camcorders were hugely popular for home movie-type stuff in the 80s and 90s and then they sort of fell out of favor and have now made a comeback. What makes them really nice over a DSLR/mirrorless option is that they are all-in-one, leaving you less to think about with regards to lenses and compatibility. Most now have great zoom, built-in filters, image stabilization, great I/O, bigger batteries, and are quite ergonomic. They do tend to have smaller sensors and a camcorder won’t double as a photography option like a DSLR/mirrorless camera does, but overall they are a great choice when covering events. The things to look for here, specs-wise, are similar to what you’d look for in a DSLR/mirrorless option.
If you’re covering much more than a kid’s softball game, such as for an actual paying gig, you may just need to spring for a real cinema camera. There is no law saying you can’t do this for just a kid’s game – it’s just overkill. But you might want to anyway just for the practice of handing a real rig!
Cinema cameras require a lot of research though and often don’t come with everything you need. They are designed to be modular and will conform to various assignments. Beyond just specs, you’ll need to think about…
- Does the camera use broadcast batteries and in what mount? Is the mount plate already installed on the camera or do I need to add one?
- Does it use XLR or mini-XLR for external mics?
- Do you need to attach a shoulder mount to it and will that mount require rods and grip handles?
- Will you be using a manual focus lens on it and will you be needing a follow focus unit to go with it?
- Does the camera have mechanical ND filters, if you even need them, or will you need to get a matte box?
All this comes at significant cost, even when renting, and requires a lot of setup. Even for professional gigs, a camcorder may suffice. But if you want the experience or simply need the quality, a cinema camera is at least within financial reach when you have the option to rent one. This used to not be the case and students of filmmaking had a much harder time getting their hands on high-end gear. So it might be worth it to you to take advantage of a rental!
Best Video Cameras for Sports
With an idea of what you might need from a camera and how different camera types compare, let’s look at some of the best video cameras for sports that you can rent today for a variety of budgets and event types:
GoPro HERO10: Highest Versatility for POV Coverage and the Best Option for Extreme Portability
The HERO10 just iterates on prior models – there are no market-upsetting inventions here. It offers the same sensor as the prior model but with a new processor which helps unlock ever-increasing resolution. Hypersmooth can now be used while live streaming, which is really great for those walking-and-talking selfie-style vlogs. The degree of horizon leveling has also been expanded. HDR processing has also been added to video.
To really make this action cam shine, depending on the type of sports coverage you’re doing, pair it with the Media Mod, which equips you with a little directional shotgun mic plus cold shoes for adding other accessories. The Micro HDMI port is a great add-on here for external monitoring.
For first person perspective footage, you really can’t do better than a GroPro. There are so many accessories for catching just the right POV, such as the GoPro HERO/MAX Chesty Performance Chest Mount and GoPro Head Strap. At the time of this writing, you can rent the GoPro HERO10 Black for as little as $54 a week and is recommended for sports coverage of:
- Surfing, mountain biking, skateboarding, or any sport using an object with a mountable surface.
- Kids and pets POV (with the right accessory).
- Mounting to basketball hoops, goal nets, and other unique positions – great for b-roll.
Also Check Out: The Insta360 Pro II for the ultimate in POV-style coverage with 6 built-in lenses to capture every angle of a scene at once for immersive and beautiful VR.
DJI Pocket 2: Easy as a Smartphone But With Major Stabilization Benefits
With its smartphone-style sensor and tiny touchscreen, the Pocket 2 is not going to be anyone’s first choice for capturing major sports. Where it really shines is with its automatic tracking and stabilization features, along with an ergonomic little gimbal-style handle. You can use your own phone as a nice monitoring system. The tripod mount at the bottom of the handle allows you to mount this in place and move around in front of it while being tracked – really great for fitness instruction and similar actions.
This unit is rather bad in low light and can struggle in high-contrast environments. The main use case for the DJI Pocket 2 is when you want coverage of an event you’d probably use your phone for anyway but you want to take advantage of really nice, intuitive gimbal-like stabilization with very nice face tracking features. At the time of this writing, you can rent the DJI Pocket 2 Gimbal for as little as $38 a week is recommended for sports coverage of:
- Gymnastics, dancing or any event where you want to track a single athlete.
- Travel vlogging while hiking or even running.
- Participating in the action, such as running along marathoners.
Also Check Out: Like the idea of this little camera but want to go bigger? Look into the DJI Ronin-SC Handheld Gimbal Stabilizer, which will hold your lightweight camera plus smartphone on a powerful gimbal with a long-lasting battery.
Sony FX3: Ideal Blending of Camcorder Layout with Small Mirrorless Portability and Cinema Camera Features
Rocking the build of a Sony a7S III but with the prowess of the FX6, the FX3 is a great streamlined option for unlocking more pro features without majoring weighing yourself down. The top handle not only provides a stable grip but offers XLR ports and a shotgun mic holder. This along with the plethora of 1/4″-20 mounting ports eliminates the need for a cage. This modularity, however, also eliminates the EVF. While video shooters largely rely on external monitors (at the very least a swivel LCD), this omission may not sit well with you.
With this camera you get a nice zoom toggle that’s compatible with Sony’s Power Zoom lenses, giving this whole setup a pro-camcorder feel. The AF joystick and record buttons are positioned to be easily thumb-reachable, but may feel strange being so far back from the actual hand grip of the body.
Ergos aside, this camera features not only fast hybrid AF performance but also a new AF Transition Speed setup in 7 settings for rack focusing with the LCD monitor, allowing more notice shooters to explore this cinematography style without engaging with external follow focus units and lens gears. Need extremely high quality footage? 16-bit raw out over HDMI is an option and the S-Cinetone mode matches that of much higher-end cameras such as the VENICE and FX9.
At the time of this writing, you can rent the Sony FX3 for around $239 a week, which includes the handle and accessory shoe kit. It is recommended for sports coverage of:
- Long events thanks to uninterrupted 4K60p and an innovative heat-dissipation system.
- Evening games, as the low-light performance matches the venerable a7S III.
- Unique POV mounting but with higher quality – this camera is just small enough to be treated like a GoPro on steroids for mounting to the insides of cars or along the sides of rinks.
Also Check Out: If you’re missing the EVF and don’t necessarily need the handle, the Sony a1 offers incredible 8K resolution and gorgeous depth of field thanks to the massive 50.1MP sensor. Plus, capture beautiful 120 FPS slow motion up to 4K.
Panasonic GH5 II: Awesome Anamorphic Offerings and Live Streaming Functions Inside a Familiar DSLR-Like Build
The GH5 II offers a lot of the same benefits as the Sony FX3 – unlimited 4K capture, HDMI out, and advanced stabilization. You may want to hold your breath on this one, as the GH6 is scheduled to be released by the end of the year. While the GH6 is supposed to be offering 10-bit 5.7K 60p, the GH5 II is no slouch with unlimited 10-bit 4K and 4K anamorphic internal video recording.
Focusing a bit on anamorphic, this camera will give you that beautiful, theatrical widescreen effect which may be a lovely addition to your sports shooting reel. The GH5 II has a built-in desqueeze setting to automatically optically correct your anamorphic scene, plus you can use image stabilization when paired with an anamorphic lens. We currently offer 3 Micro Four Thirds mount anamorphic lenses, the Sirui 1.33x 50mm f/1.8, Sirui 1.33x 35mm f/1.8, and Sirui 1.33x 24mm f/2.8. This collection is likely to expand, as anamorphic footage is growing in popularity.
With focus peaking, zebras, waveform monitors, and vectorscopes, the GH5 II gives you all of the pro tools required for videography while maintaining that DSLR form factor. Live streaming is another major benefit of the GH5 II, as it includes support wired-based streaming using the full size HDMI port and a capture card/PC. The built-in WiFi makes it capable of fully wireless streaming as well but you must use either the Lumix Sync mobile app or Lumix Tether desktop software. As of this month, the GH5 II has a firmware update that adds streaming all the way up to 4K plus support for IP streaming via wired LAN.
You can rent the GH5 II, at the time of this writing, for around $103 for an entire week. For sports shooters, this camera is recommended for…
- Anyone wanting to add a storytelling feel to their sports footage using anamorphic formats.
- Robust streaming options while still maintaining a portable setup.
- Hybrid shooting, as the GH5 II also makes a great sports photography options with long bursts at 12 FPS.
Also Check Out: The Panasonic S1H with full frame 6K recording, dual-base Native ISO borrowed from much more expensive Panasonic cinema cameras, and an L mount to accommodate high-end lenses.
Canon XF605: Pro Broadcast Camcorder with Mobile Workflow, A Great Lens, and Innovative AF Features
Aimed at the solo pro, the XF605 has an impressive set of specs, namely unlimited recording times with active cooling, C-Log 3 for grading, 15x stabilized zoom on a built-in L-series lens, and Dual Pixel CMOS AF – plus expansive connectivity and IP streaming support.
With Dual Pixel AF and Eye Detection AF (a first for an XF camera) plus an advanced “deep learning” feature for intelligent head tracking, this camcorder is ready to follow your favorite athlete. Dual Pixel Focus Guides will quickly tell you if focus is set on your subject or behind it so that you’re not surprised by missed focus in post production.
Another first for a Canon pro camcorder is USB Video Class support so you can use the XF605 as a webcam without the need for a capture card. It also offers content transfer mobile (CTM) functionality for gathering proxy footage to be swiftly transferred to, say, a newsroom. Rather than shelling out around $4,500 for this system, you can rent the Canon XF605 for as little as under $200 (at the time of this writing) over the course of a long weekend event. This is great for…
- Local television sports coverage.
- Large field events where you’ll be reliant on zooming.
- Making the jump from small-camera shooting without the complexity of building a custom pro-cinema system (the all-in-one aspect of camcorders is a good “next step” for video students).
Also Check Out: If you like the idea of the XF605 but feel like it might be a little much for your needs, consider the Canon XA55. It offers many of the same features but is shorter and about half the weight. It will lack some of the mobile workflow benefits of the XF605, though, as it’s PTP-out only and not UVC-compatible.
Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2: Blends High-End Cinema with Traditional Broadcasting
The URSA Mini Pro G2 aims to be 3 cameras in one but, unlike many hybrids, it excels in all areas. It has all the essential features needed by most filmmakers without giving up the run-and-gun features of broadcast cameras:
- Internal recording of 12-bit Blackmagic RAW format
- Built-in ND filters
- Mounting points all over the body
- Versatile audio connections
- Large 4” Touchscreen
- Heads Up Display with frame rate, iris, Timecode, shutter angle, audio levels, and more
With ATEM switch integration, this camera is a great choice for pro multi-camera live streaming, plus it offers a variety of recording options as far as media goes – dual CFast slots for raw recording, dual UHS-II SD slots, plus USB-C expansion for external drives. But where this camera really shines is with slow motion footage. You have the option of shooting full-sensor 4.6K footage up to 120 FPS, DCI 4K at 150 FPS, or windowed 1080 at 300 FPS – all in Blackmagic RAW. In ProRes 422, you can still capture full-sensor 4.6K up to 80 FPS, 4K up to 120, and HD up to 240. Note that full-sensor does not mean “full frame”. This is a Super 35 sensor camera with a 25.34 x 14.25mm sensor (by comparison a “full frame” is 36 x 24mm and traditionally the domain of photography cameras though is increasingly used in cinema, as you can see in this list).
Priced at about half the cost of other flagships with similar specs, the URSA Mini Pro G2 is one of the best values out there for professional-looking fast-action documentary footage. But unlike the camcorder option, this camera still requires a lens (we offer ours in EF mount). For under $300 for a long weekend you can take this out for a big game, sports documentary, or a high-speed wildlife project. Pair it with a Blackmagic URSA Mini/Mini Pro Shoulder-Mount Kit and an EF-mount cinema lens and you’re set for…
- Local television sports coverage or wildlife documentaries
- Any specialized high-speed work
- Breaking into pro-cinema gear without completely breaking the bank
Also Check Out: Step it up further with the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K, which – as the name suggests – gets you massive 12K resolution inside Blackmagic’s award-winning URSA Mini form factor. With 10 times the resolution of UHD 4K, you can experience major cinematic results in one of the most portable digital systems the industry offers.
For anyone who wants to shoot sports, either on a casual basis or as part of your professional services, there is a wide range of incredibly capable cameras that will fit your needs and your budget when you rent from BorrowLenses.
This post has been updated and republished to reflect recent macro recommendations.