iPhone Sports Photography - Should You Even Bother?

It's become more difficult than ever for spectators to bring decent camera gear into pro arenas. The one device that doesn't raise any eyebrows is our smartphone. But is it worth the effort to try to capture sports action with an iPhone?

Well, that depends.

Sharks-Pressure-1024.jpeg San Jose Sharks match captured with an iPhone 12 Pro Max. Photos by Derrick Story.

The iPhone does a great job for certain kinds of shots, such as wider overviews, crowd activity, and portraits of friends and family in attendance.

But if you want those pro-caliber action shots, it can't compete with a top-drawer DSLR or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. That said, you can come away with some memorable images.

Get the Best Seats Possible

Honestly, the closer the better when it comes to capturing action with a mobile device. The minute you have to start pinch-zooming for a decent composition, the photo game is over. But, if you can frame a decent shot with the 2.5X optical camera on the iPhone, you have half a chance.

Good Lighting Is Important

Bright, well-lit arenas allow for faster shutter speeds (to freeze the action) and for lower ISOs (to help control image noise). Many professional hockey and basketball venues have very good lighting. You can take advantage of this to squeeze a bit more image quality out of your smartphone camera.

Burst Mode Increases Your Odds

Anticipating when something is going to happen and recording a short burst of frames might yield that magic moment. The iPhone allows you to keep the best frame in a series and delete the others. I highly advise taking advantage of this feature.

Sharks-Entry-1024.jpeg I love the mood of this image, but the lighting and motion presented problems for the iPhone. Wish I had my OM-1 mirrorless for this one.

Realize that Some Shots Just Won't Meet Your Expectations

There are often great moments when the lights go down and something special happens. Go ahead and try. But realize that the iPhone is challenged by moving object in dim lighting. You may luck out, but don't count on it.

Final Thoughts

When I don't have my regular camera rig with me, I get the most that I can out of the iPhone. My hit rate goes way down for sporting events, but even if I get one or two mementos from the event, I feel it's worth the effort.

You can share your thoughts at the TDS Facebook page, where I'll post this story for discussion.