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Action Photography Camera Recommendations

I’m asked about recommendations for cameras a lot, and as much I always want to be able to give a long-winded answer to every time, I don’t have the time to always offer that to everyone. There is so much nuance and so many things to say, from my overall philosophy on gear to the ultimate ranking of recommendations based on the nuances of a photographer’s needs and situations. 

So here’s my crack at it - This isn’t a short post but I do hope that you read it if you do genuinely want my opinion on what might work for you. Please know that because I have only ever used Canon professionally, I am only recommending Canon cameras in this; this isn’t to say anything bad about the other manufacturers as much as it is about my own experience.

Philosophy on Gear Acquisition

Anyone who has talked to me about gear knows that I love gear, I love learning about gear, and I love testing out and buying gear (often to my bank account’s dismay). As much as I like the newest, best, and brightest - the reason behind most gear purchases should be more than just a pursuit of that. Growing your toolkit of camera equipment should be a journey that runs parallel to your growth as a photographer in other regards. Camera equipment are tools that for jobs, and as a working professional. 

Priorities when Ranking Camera Equipment

Action photography is one place where camera equipment does truly matter. The things camera manufacturers have been working so hard at in the last 20 years are the things that are most pressed in an action environment. Fast focus, low light performance, reliability. As much as I wish a phone or cheap camera could do what I do with my equipment, it unfortunately can not. 

Cameras; Ranked

Here's my Canon camera recommendations for a camera while prioritizing action photography. I have my top recommendations lined in the first grouping, and then below that are my strong contenders in both the Mirrorless and DSLR categories. 

The Action Champions

  1. R3: This is the camera I use primarily for action - I upgraded to it in March 2024. I really do like this camera, but I’ll be first to admit that it is overkill for 99% of photographers. I upgraded to the R3 because my R6 was starting to show the wear of the likely over 1m photos that I took on it, including a busted hot shoe. If you have the money to upgrade and you’re shooting the serious sports at the highest level, this camera is incredible. 

  2. R6ii: I recommend this camera above the R6, but for two very specific reasons. Otherwise, the R6 is my recommendation.

    1. If you’re a hybrid photo/video shooter

    2. If you really want to buy new

  3. R6: If you are ready to jump to a truly professional mirrorless camera, the R6 is honestly all of the camera that most working professionals need. The R6 was my primary action camera from November 2020-February 2024. It is a workhorse of a camera, putting out high quality work the entire way. I must have taken over a million photos on mine, and the only real damage to it is in the hot shoe (and I’ve used heavy flashes on it a lot). There are plenty of these floating around used, and if you can afford it, I recommend it. 

  4. 1Dx II: I recommend this especially if you want to do action work and know you’ll be in more challenging lighting situations, as well as if you really want to stay on a DSLR. There are some of these that are pretty affordable. Many of these used have some cosmetic damage, the 1 line is made for some wear and tear though, the camera doesn’t need to be as pretty as the photos do. As a note, the 1Dx III is more expensive than the R6 and I don’t recommend it over the R6 so it’s not on this list.

DSLRs - Oldies but Goodies

  1. 5d IV: It’s a strong all-around camera. There’s a reason this was most Canon shooters workhorse camera 2016-2020, this camera is powerful and can be exactly what you need if you know you want more megapixels and to do portraits or weddings in addition to action work.

  2. 1Dx I: Similar notes to the Mk. 2 but just an older camera. Still great for action work though if you can’t spend over 1k. Considerably lower megapixel count than you’re going to find in most modern cameras, but if you’re trying to do action and you don’t suspect you’re going to blow the photos up large, this was the best of it’s class at launch in 2011.

  3. 5D III: Similar to the 5d IV, but with a worse AF system and low light performance. This was THE wedding photographer’s camera of the 2010’s, there are so many people who built careers off of this camera. Not a bad camera at all, and definitely a workhorse.

Mirrorless - New Tech with Compromises

  1. R7: An action-oriented crop sensor camera. This is a strong camera with a lot of the great tech as the R3 and R6ii, but on a smaller sensor. If you want to be on a crop sensor but upgrade to the newest tech, this could be a great answer for you. So new you probably can't buy used for much less than new yet. I personally use my full frame cameras in crop sensor mode all the time when shooting action, I don’t see any shame in shooting on a crop as long as you understand what it will do better and worse than full frame. 

  2. R: The original Canon full frame mirrorless camera. Perhaps not the best action camera but this still has a great full frame sensor, decent focusing, and can take great photos. 

  3. R10: New cameras in the sub-1k range always make me pause and consider if the camera is worth it, or if someone might be best served by their phone. Action photography is one of those things where having a camera and a good lens can help a lot, however. This camera has the strong focusing and easy-to-understand interface of Canon’s mirrorless cameras, but also many of the constraints you have in more entry level cameras.


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