Between the photographer and the subject the camera and lens combination will give the photographer the ability to capture what they desire or fail.
When I started shooting football in 1983 at East Carolina University as part of the student newspaper and yearbook staff I could not have gotten most of these photos due to the camera gear. I was shooting with a Nikon FM-2 with either a Nikkor 80-200mm ƒ/4 or the Nikon 500mm ƒ/8 mirror lens.
This photo of Georgia Tech playing Florida state I shot with that Nikkor 500mm ƒ/8 mirror lens. If you look in the highlights you can see those signature round halos. This was probably the best shot ever with that lens. But this was bright sunlight. I was shooting inside the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
This is one of those images from 1983 when ECU played the University of Richmond. Now just compare those images to these from the Mercedes-Benz Dome of Alabama vs Florida State and Georgia Tech vs Tennessee.
First of all these images are far superior in so many ways. They are sharper, better dynamic range and less noise [grain].
Back with film I was never shooting above 1/500. This actually made my images less sharp. Shooting at 1/2000 or 1/4000 will make your images much sharper.
Here I got a series of image and these are just two of that series of the blocked punt that I have pulled for you here.
While I always say it is the photographer that makes the photo and not the camera, there are times that the camera will limit your abilities. For one just getting the fast action in focus is quite difficult. The Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 S is so quick that I almost never have an out of focus photo during the game.
One of the greatest inventions was to separate the focus tracking from the shutter release. I push the back button to focus and use the shutter to fire the camera. Here is how that is setup.
I also use teleconverters for the lens. I have the 1.4X and 2X converters.
The biggest difference that the Nikon D5 and Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 S make with my images is in the quality. Usually the Nikon FM-2 with the Nikkor 80-200mm or the 500mm I was able to fire and get the first shot. I wasn’t able to get now 12 fps action after that. But the photos are now more in focus, better dynamic range, more accurate color, and lower noise at even ISO 102,400 than I was getting with ISO 1600 on film.
If you shoot sports for a living then I recommend the Nikon D5. If this is more of a hobby or $6,500 is a little much, then get the Nikon D500.