Wildlife photography is already a challenging discipline. It requires a durable camera that can withstand frequent travel and harsh weather conditions. It also has to be able to deal with rapid movement, make use of inadequate lighting, and capture detail.
Even if you know what to look for in a wildlife photography camera, there are so many options that the choice can seem overwhelming. For example, should you go with a classic point-and-shoot, an innovative DSLR model, or one of the newer mirrorless cameras? Luckily, our guide to the best cameras for wildlife photography is here to help you decide.
First, we’ll look at the features you need in the top wildlife camera and then take an in-depth look at over 20 cameras capable of elevating your wildlife photos with improved clarity, durability, and precision.
What Features Should You Look For in a Wildlife Camera?
In your search for the best cameras for wildlife photography, you will need to keep an eye out for the following features.
- Ability to shoot in low light
Let’s take a closer look at each of these characteristics.
Autofocus is a necessity for wildlife photographers. Because of the quick movements of animals, a camera for wildlife photography needs to be able to focus swiftly and accurately. You cannot focus fast enough with manual settings, so you’ll need an adept autofocus system in your camera.
Specifically, you can look for a greater number of autofocus points in the AF system. These AF points indicate the camera’s precision in pinpointing the area to focus on, which means one with a high number of AF points can better track wildlife. Keep in mind, though, that the AF points don’t tell the whole story, and you should consider the system as a whole.
One of the most critical considerations in wildlife cameras is the sensor. You can make most sensors work in wildlife photography, whether a full frame one or a crop, like an APS or micro four thirds. Each has advantages and drawbacks, so it’s about choosing the best one for your shooting style.
Full frame models, though more expensive, usually provide better image quality and have improved ISO abilities that allow them to shoot better in low light. Because these options are larger and heavier, they’re not as portable or as easy to handle as cameras with smaller, crop sensors.
Crop sensor models can be useful in wildlife photography, too. They’re more affordable, lighter, and you get better reach for your lens, meaning the image will seem more zoomed in, a helpful attribute for photographing wildlife. A crop sensor may work best for entry-level wildlife photographers because its lens extension creates more photo opportunities.
Photo by Katarina G Licensed Under CC0
Maximum Shooting Speed
Shooting speed refers to the number of frames taken per second, and it’s vital to capturing the exact right moment in unpredictable wildlife photography.
Although speed will factor into your decision, it’s not the most significant consideration when choosing a camera for wildlife photography. If you have fast reactions, you can still use a camera with a slower speed.
Max burst mode also helps wildlife photographers get the shots they need, capturing the fleeting expression or position of an animal subject. You will probably want to check how many frames the camera can hold in one burst.
Ability to Shoot in Low Light
Though not true for every animal, most wildlife becomes active during dusk and dawn when the lighting can be challenging. To compensate for low light, you will probably end up increasing the ISO speed of your camera. Unfortunately, ratcheting up the ISO speed can result in more digital noise. That’s why you need a camera with a wide range of ISOs.
Generally, more expensive full frame cameras have more advanced ISO functions though there are plenty of options at reasonable prices and with smaller sensors that can effectively photograph wildlife.
Whenever you make a major purchase, like a camera, price is always a factor, especially because many of the best cameras for wildlife photography come in at a high price point. While you cannot determine everything about a camera for wildlife photography from its cost, you can make certain deductions about its features and lens options.
- Up to $500: Many of these cameras have small sensors and limited compatibility with lenses. Because of these constraints, these options may not be the best for photographing wildlife.
- $500 – $1000: Cameras in this range are usually suitable for novice wildlife photographers. Image quality will not be as high as more expensive models, but you get more options for changing settings, a better sensor, and decent speed.
- $1000 – $2500: These cameras will always be DSLR cameras and mirrorless models with excellent speed, autofocus, ISO, and image quality. These models may work well for a photographer transitioning from a beginner level to more professional-grade photos.
- Over $2500: Believe it or not, for professional-grade wildlife images, photographers may spend up to $5000 for a camera. These cameras are an investment and probably best suited to pros that know how to manipulate the many advanced features these models offer.
What is the Best Camera for Wildlife Photography?
Now that we’ve discussed the features needed in the best camera for outdoors wildlife photography, let’s break down your options by brand. As you sort through this list, you may also want to think about the lenses available for each camera since those play an essential role in wildlife photography, too.
Even outside of wildlife photography, Canon occupies a top spot among photographers for its wide range of models and lenses, depending on the focal length you need. Here are their best cameras for outdoors photography of wildlife.
Canon EOS 7D Mark II and Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
The Canon EOS 7D Mark II is a crop sensor option that makes the most of its ten frames per second speed, 20 megapixels, and a high number of AF points. It easily keeps images in focus, catches every moment you want to shoot, and has excellent lens extension.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is one of the most popular cameras for professional photographers. This model carries 30 megapixels and seven frames per second. With a compact size, it feels comfortable to hold and travels well, but it’s a bit more expensive than its 7D Mark II counterpart thanks to its more advanced features.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II
This Mark II camera is one of the quickest DSLR cameras available with a speed of up to 16 frames per second. It keeps up with the rapid and erratic movements of wildlife and also features an accurate autofocus system. Its full frame sensor allows for high-quality shots, and it includes impressive ISO abilities for shooting in poor light.
This camera does run on the expensive side, so it may not be a wise choice for amateur wildlife photographers. However, for professionals, it’s a relatively secure investment with the power to enhance your work.
Canon EOS 90D
Canon offers this reasonably affordable option that features a crop, APS-C sensor with a speed of 10 frames per second, a sufficient rate more than capable of capturing animal movements. This one is similar to the Canon 7D Mark II with an adequate number of autofocus points and slightly higher megapixels at 32.
If your searching for a crop sensor option with plenty of lens choices, this Canon model makes an excellent pick.
Canon EOS R
This mirrorless option boasts a full frame sensor with 30 megapixels and up to eight frames per second in speed. This rate may not be as quick as other cameras for wildlife photography on this list, but the AF system and ISO capabilities of this camera for wildlife photography balance out any possible deficiencies.
Its autofocus system claims to cover about 88% of the frame, giving you a better chance to catch your animal subjects’ momentary expressions or behaviors. Plus, this camera’s wide range of aperture settings allows for shooting in low light conditions.
These two Fujifilm models are particularly adept in wildlife photography with plenty of lens options and focal length to enhance your photos even further.
At an incredibly reasonable price for a wildlife camera, this Fujifilm selection has an amazingly lightweight and compact construction. Its 26-megapixel APS-C sensor is an upgrade over the other Fujifilm option on this list. It’s capable of shooting at its highest resolution at eight frames per second, or up to 30 frames per second at low resolution.
This camera for wildlife has an adept AF system, too, along with suitable function in low lighting and good lens options.
Before the X-T30 model, this camera was the top choice for Fujifilm wildlife photography. It has an excellent 14 frames per second speed and a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor. While not as portable as the X-T30, this model still performs well in the field and is compatible with lenses that can enhance your photography even more.
Its ISO range falls within a standard range for wildlife cameras, making it capable of shooting in poor lighting.
Like Canon, Nikon consistently attracts photographers across all disciplines thanks to its vast selection of models, lenses, and teleconverters. The options on this list include some of the best cameras for wildlife photography on the market with both full frame and crop sensors.
This crop sensor APS-C camera for wildlife photography offers great battery life and gives you the extra lens reach typical of crop sensors and an autofocus system that makes the Nikon D500 a perfect choice for moving targets, like wildlife. The Nikon D500 also boasts capable ISO speeds that can handle poor lighting and a shooting speed of up to 10 frames per second.
The Nikon D500 shares the same AF system as the Nikon D5 model, making it more than capable of gathering precise shots.
This camera is an all-around option that works well for nature and landscape photography. It offers a speed of seven frames per second and a full frame CMOS sensor with 45.7 megapixels that gets you high-quality images and accurate focusing. It also has improved light-gathering abilities that make the most of low light situations.
This camera’s silent shooting features distinguishes it from other models, especially in wildlife photography, when even the slightest sound can disturb a subject.
Here’s one of Nikon’s best choices with 12 frames per second speed and a full frame sensor with 20 megapixels. You get fantastic, high-quality images, even in low light, with an exceptional ISO performance. In fact, it has one of the best ISO ranges of any camera on this list.
This DSLR cameras option also features an abundance of AF points that make it one of the most accurate cameras for wildlife photography. This camera is a pricier selection but an investment that’s perfect for more experienced wildlife photographers. Many pros also consider it one of the best cameras for sports.
This lightweight camera travels well and maintains durability in the field. It also has a full frame sensor whose lens captures lots of light for high-quality photos. Its 24 megapixels, swift speed of 6.5 frames per second, and ISO capabilities are also adequate for wildlife photography, even at low light.
Nikon Z 6
One of Nikon’s mirrorless cameras, this model features a full frame sensor of 24 megapixels and 12 frames per second. The Nikon Z 6 has plenty of AF points that lead to more precise focusing that works well to capture animal movement. Its ISO range adapts well to low light situations, like dawn and dusk, when most wildlife becomes active.
This option costs as much as any average wildlife camera and includes many of the features necessary for wildlife photography.
Olympus offers two crop sensor models that work for wildlife, plus they provide a generous range of lenses to choose from, each with a different focal length.
Olympus OM-D E-M1X and Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
This camera includes a micro four-thirds crop sensor capable of shooting 18 frames per second, a fantastic speed for wildlife photography. As a crop sensor model, you get excellent lens extension and zoom effects that help pick up the detail of your animal subjects.
It has an average number of autofocus points for a wildlife camera, making it a dependable option for accurate shots.
The OM-D E-M1 Mark II model is comparable to the OM-D E-M1X model with a similar AF system, shooting speed, and sensor. The Mark II camera costs a bit less than the other Olympus camera and has a more limited ISO range, which means the Mark II is not quite as precise in its focusing abilities.
Panasonic and Pentax
Panasonic offers two of the most durable cameras on our list and still manages to pack in some exceptional features to streamline wildlife photography. Meanwhile, the Pentax option is perfect for novice photographers.
Panasonic LUMIX GH5
This durable camera stands as one of the toughest options on this list, able to withstand the intense and frequent travel often required of wildlife photographers. Its design guards against moisture and dirt, and it can continue to function in extreme temperatures.
The micro four-thirds sensor can capture images at 12 frames per second with a resolution of 20 megapixels. With a suitable amount of AF points, this camera focuses well on your subject, and its ISO range allows you to shoot even in poor lighting.
Panasonic LUMIX S1R
Here’s a mirrorless option with a full frame sensor and a whopping resolution of 47 megapixels. While its speed of up to nine frames per second is not the quickest on this list, it’s still fast enough to capture wildlife effectively. This model includes a high number of AF points and a wide ISO range for better focus and low light photography.
Because this camera and its mirrorless system are fairly new, not many of the available lenses suit wildlife photography. However, the selection will probably expand over time.
Pentax K-3 II
This camera is an effective crop APS-C sensor option with a speed of 8 frames per second and a resolution of 24 megapixels. Its ISO range is not quite as expansive as other options on this list, but it gets the job done efficiently and at a lower price point.
This camera makes a smart pick for a beginner thanks to its affordability and durability. Plus, its technical aspects function well enough to photograph wildlife.
Sony’s machines rank highly on many best camera lists since they offer versatile models with advanced features and lots of lens options. You can choose from a full frame or crop sensor and a few different operating technologies. Here are their best cameras for wildlife.
One of Sony’s mirrorless cameras, this model has a full frame sensor with 24 megapixels and an insane shooting speed of 20 frames per second. With plenty of lenses to enhance your photos, this camera is perfect for capturing every detail, even with fast-moving wildlife. It also has tons of autofocus points that work hard to make sure your photos are on point.
Another unique perk to this camera is its silent operation, which makes a perfect fit with wildlife photography and its timid subjects that may become disturbed by even the slightest sound.
Because of its higher price, this camera is a good investment for professional photographers. Many pros consider this model the standard for wildlife cameras.
Sony a7 III
This Sony model features a full frame sensor with a high resolution of 24 megapixels, like the Sony 9. However, this camera shoots a bit slower at ten frames per second. That speed still works well for photographing wildlife, and, because this camera also has a bunch of AF points, your images will stay on target.
Overall, this model is comparable to the Sony a9, outside of its speed and cost, which is significantly less than the a9.
This APS-C crop sensor option from Sony has several advantages: affordability, high resolution of 24 megapixels, and 11 frames per second. It also pairs well with Sony’s wide variety of lenses and teleconverters that allow you to maximize this camera’s capabilities.
Even though its ISO range has some limits, it’s sufficient enough to make the most of poor light conditions during dusk and dawn.
Sony a99 Mark II
This camera uses unique translucent mirror technology that capitalizes on its incredible 42-megapixel, full frame sensor. These features mean your images will be clear and focused. At 12 frames per second, its speed helps you catch every moment during a shoot, even the unexpected ones.
This model boasts a high number of autofocus points, too, which will help you track wildlife and get precise shots.
Photo by Dawn Armfield Licensed Under CC0
The benefit of having this many options is the versatility for every level of photographer, from beginner to professional. Ultimately, the camera you select will be the one that fits best with you and your shooting style. That said, there are several shared features all effective wildlife cameras have in common.
You will want to investigate the camera’s sensor, autofocus performance, shutter speed, ISO abilities for low light shooting, and cost. The camera should also be durable, portable, and hold up to frequent travel and challenging field conditions. You may need to look into compatible lenses and teleconverters, as well.
Each camera on this list has a balance of features that will help wildlife photographers capture every expression, behavior, and gesture of their fascinating animal subjects, leaving no feather, fur, or scale out of focus.