5 Best Cameras for Wildlife Photography in 2020 (+Lenses)

There is a certain thrill that comes with wildlife photography. Once you find yourself in the right spot at the right time, you better hope your camera is capable of capturing wildlife shots. 

There’s nothing worse than witnessing an amazing display of animal behavior only to find that the images came back blurry. Sometimes those blurry images will be chalked up to lack of skill or having the wrong settings. But sometimes the camera is to blame

If you’re interested in getting into wildlife photography, make sure you get the best wildlife camera that can handle the demands of outdoor use. 

We Recommend

Best value/price ratio

Canon EOS 7D
Mark II DSLR

Best lightweight

Sony Alpha
a7II Mirrorless

Best for the money

Canon EOS-1DX
Mark II DSLR

Best Types of Cameras for Wildlife

Wildlife photographers require a little more out of their cameras. The camera you choose should be able to perform well in an array of lighting conditions, be able to capture motion easily, and also be able to survive the elements. 

The most popular cameras for wildlife photography include: point-and-shoot, DSLR, and mirrorless cameras. Below is a breakdown of what each type offers:

Point-and-Shoot – A point-and-shoot camera with a proper zoom can be a great tool for taking wildlife photos.

  • Point-and-shoot cameras are typically easy to use and offer adequate resolution.
  • Many amateur photographers may find a point-and-shoot camera sufficient to meet their needs.
  • Photographers looking for a bit more control with their camera settings may want to try either a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

DSLR – A DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) camera will allow users more opportunities to control the shot.

  • DSLR cameras have interchangeable lenses and a viewfinder that is able to see exactly what the lens sees. The single-lens reflex allows you to track images in real-time.
  • This is an important aspect of wildlife photography given that the movement of wildlife can be rapid.
  • The body of DSLR cameras are bulkier than other options, but overall the performance of a DSLR camera is hard to beat.

Mirrorless – Mirrorless cameras do not reflect the image from the lens into the viewfinder.

  • Instead, the images are sent directly from the lens to the image sensor and the camera uses an electronic viewfinder (EVF) to project the image into the photographer’s eye.
  • Mirrorless cameras are often lighter and tend to perform just as well as DSLR cameras. You still have the option to change lenses, but the weight of your camera body will be reduced.
  • Mirrorless cameras are a great option for wildlife photographers who travel and are hoping to reduce the overall weight of their camera setup.

Autofocus is The King

An excellent autofocus feature is essential for wildlife photography. Landscape and portrait photographers have the luxury to play around with their camera settings and to manually focus their lenses to create great shots. Wildlife photographers must capture images whenever the moment arises.

Finding a good autofocus is a bit of a challenge. AF systems aren’t necessarily a mechanical process, such as shutter speed. There’s a lot of computing that goes on. You’ll want to find a camera that has the computing power to process the AF system in milliseconds, not only allowing for a fast shutter speed but also detecting the intended subject within your viewfinder.

Here’s a few key aspects of autofocus that you should consider:

Multiple AF Points – The more AF points a camera has the more information the camera has to detect the object in view. Multiple AF points is also useful if you are manually changing the focal point of the frame to be a point other than the center.

Phase-Detection vs Contrast-Detection – Phase-detection AF is generally better for wildlife photography. This is because phase-detection AF is faster and is better at tracking objects. Contrast-detection AF can be more precise but the system has to take time to adjust, making it difficult to take pictures of moving wildlife.

Lens with a Wide Aperture – Choosing a lens with a wide aperture will also help improve the speed of your camera’s AF system. A lens that accommodates an aperture of f/2.8 will be faster than one that has a higher f-stop number.

Shooting Speed is The Queen

Shooting speed refers to a camera’s frame rate. This number is represented as fps (frames per second). When capturing images of wildlife in motion it is often advantageous to use continuous shooting mode to take a burst of photos. 

A camera with a frame rate of 5 fps is fairly fast, but if you are looking to capture those intense moments in nature–such as birds flying, bull elk fighting, or whales breaching the surface–a camera with 10fps or more will ensure that you capture the right image.

Shutter speed is another camera component that is vital for wildlife photography. Particularly for motion shots, you’ll want a camera with a fast shutter speed to capture the images of the animals you see. Now a lot goes into capturing clear images of wildlife. You have to consider the lighting, distance, ISO, as well as the best time to click and capture the object in your viewfinder.

To start though, here are some suggestions on shutter speeds:

  • 1/50-1/400: Wildlife that is stationary or with slight movement.
  • 1/400-1/1,000: Wildlife that is moving steadily.
  • 1/1,000-Up: Rapid movement such as birds in flight.

The Wildlife Camera Price Timeline

0-$500: Most of the cameras in this price range will be point-and-shoot, but there are a few DSLR and mirrorless options under$500. Typically, at this price point, camera sensors are quite small which greatly reduces image quality. Also, the standard lenses that come with cameras in this price range are limited so it may be difficult to capture close-ups of wildlife. A camera in this range may be best for taking photos at the zoo.

$500-1,000: Cameras between $500-1,000 are great options for amateur wildlife photographers. Cameras in this range will provide more opportunity for control, allowing users opportunities to change lenses, manually adjust settings, and manually focus the lens. Image quality in this range will be decent, but may still not meet professional standards.

$1,000-2,500: Cameras above $1,000 will come with an array of features and settings that allow photographers ample opportunities to take more control over their photos. Cameras in this range will almost exclusively be either DSLR or mirrorless. Features will vary from one camera to the other, but overall you’ll see improved performance (AF, Shutter Speed, ISO) and also improved image quality.

$2,500-Higher: For professional grade photos, you’ll have to pay for a high-end camera and a high-end lens. This could easily put your camera setup cost over $5,000. For most amateur photographers the nuances of these higher-priced cameras are too fine to justify the expense. But if you’re planning on making money off your photos or having your photos enlarged (either digitally or in print), the image quality of more expensive cameras is hard to replicate.

How to Choose the Right Wildlife Camera?

Cameras are complicated machines. So what exactly should you be looking for in a camera? What works for portraits and landscape photographers, may not be what’s best for wildlife photographers. If you’re passion is capturing images of wildlife, then here’s what you should look for in a camera:

Sensor Size – For superb image quality and better low-light performance, cameras with a full-frame sensor are the obvious choice. But a smaller crop sensor, such as APS-C, can also take great photos. In fact, APS-C sensors sometimes have an advantage when it comes to taking pictures of subjects in the distance. For wildlife photographers, it is a matter of preference when it comes to which sensor to choose.

Autofocus – Excellent autofocus and image tracking is a must for wildlife photography. Look for a camera that features phase-detection AF with a number of AF points. You want your camera to be able to gather the necessary information from the image in view to quickly focus on the intended subject and track its movements. Look for cameras with at least 50 AF points.

Shooting Speed (FPS)– Capturing stellar shots of wildlife requires speed. Having a camera that is intuitively fast will help you snag those amazing moments of wildlife in action. A frame rate of 5 fps is a great start, but if you plan on taking photos of rapidly moving wildlife go for cameras that feature a frame rate of 10 fps or more.

Best Cameras for Wildlife Photography

1. Nikon D7200 DX-format DSLR Camera

The Nikon D7200 is an excellent low-cost DSLR camera that can compete with many pricier options. 

Wildlife photographers who are hobbyists will be very impressed with the images that this camera produces. 

The 24.2 megapixel APS-C sensor will ensure picture quality despite users who may still be struggling to balance their camera settings. 

Overall, the Nikon D7200 DX-Format DSLR Camera is a very forgiving camera. 

Novice photographers are expected to make mistakes as they learn the ins-and-outs of photography, but the Nikon’s AF is intuitive enough to compensate for any user errors.

Check the price of Nikon D7200 DX-format DSLR Camera here

Best for: Beginner Wildlife Photography Enthusiasts
Matching wildlife lens: Nikon AF-P Nikkor 70-300mm Lens

What we liked

  • Great entry-level DSLR
  • 24.3 megapixel resolution for improved image quality
  • APS-C CMOS sensor great for zooming-in on wildlife
  • Wi-Fi & NFC capabilities makes image sharing easy
  • Excellent frame-rate for the price (6 fps)
  • Fast accurate AF

What we didn’t like

  • Fixed LCD screen
  • Nikon image sharing app could be improved
  • Low-light performance

Sensor: 24.2 MP DX Format APS-C CMOS Sensor
Frames per second: 6 fps
AF points: 51-point AF System
ISO range: 100-25,600
Weight: 1.5 lbs (Body Only)
Video: Full HD 1080p
Weather Sealed: Yes

2. Sony Alpha a7II Mirrorless Digital Camera

The Sony Alpha a7II is a formidable camera for its size and price point. 

Its mirrorless design allows it to be a compact full-frame camera, excellent for photographers looking to reduce weight without diminishing photo quality. 

Photographers will be impressed with the Sony specific InBody Steadyshot for improved image stabilization and a crystal clear EVF that tracks like an SLR camera. 

The Sony Alpha a7II is a great camera for wildlife photographers interested in shooting larger animals. 

Pro bird photographers may find the AF a bit slow when it comes to shooting birds in flight, but overall the Sony Alpha a7II is an exceptional camera.

Check the price of Sony Alpha a7II Mirrorless Digital Camera here

Best for: Wildlife Photographers Who Like to Travel Light
Matching wildlife lens: Sony FE 70-300mm Lens

What we liked

  • InBody Steadyshot for more stable images
  • Customizable buttons to make it easier to toggle your settings
  • 24.3 megapixel full-frame sensor at a great price point
  • Lightweight, especially for a full-frame camera
  • Fast & superior electronic viewfinder (EVF)
  • Smartphone connectivity with Wi-Fi & NFC

What we didn’t like

  • Battery life 
  • No silent mode to quiet the shutter

Sensor: 24.3 MP Full-Frame Sensor
Frames per second: 5 fps
AF points: Fast Hybrid AF with 117 Phase-Detection Points and 25 Contrast-Detection Points
ISO range: 100-25,600
Weight: 1.2 lbs (Body Only)
Video: Full HD 1080p
Weather Sealed: Not advertised

3. Canon EOS 7D Mark II DSLR Camera

The Canon EOS 7D is a great step-up for hobbyists looking to take their wildlife photography more seriously. 

This camera offers users a range of control options and internal functions that rival cameras twice the price. 

The Canon EOS 7D Mark II has an instinctive ISO that rarely leaves photos grainy. The autofocus system is also exceptional, making it easy to track movement.

Perhaps the best thing about this camera for wildlife photographers is the shooting speed of 10 fps. Paired with this camera’s ISO and AF system, wildlife photographers are sure to capture incredible action shots even in low-light settings.

Check the price of Canon EOS 7D Mark II DSLR Camera here

Best for: Semi-pro Camera Great for Wildlife Photography and Bird Photography
Matching wildlife lens: Canon EF 100-400mm Lens

What we liked

  • Rapid frame rate of 10 fps
  • Cross-point AF system for image tracking
  • Excellent ISO that works well to prevent grainy images
  • User interface is intuitive and easy to use
  • Very quiet shutter
  • Weather seal is great for outdoor use
  • Performs well in low-light situations

What we didn’t like

  • Battery life
  • Fixed LCD screen
  • No Wi-Fi or NFC connectivity

Sensor: 20.2 MP APS-C CMOS Sensor
Frames per second: 10 fps
AF points: 65-point All Cross-Type AF System
ISO range: 100-16,000
Weight: 1.8 lbs (Body Only)
Video: Full HD 1080p
Weather Sealed: Yes

4. Nikon D500 DX-Format DSLR Camera

The Nikon D500 is a great camera for serious bird and wildlife photographers. 

This camera has an expansive 153-point AF system that easily tracks objects in motion. 

The wide ISO range also performs very well, allowing the camera to take excellent photos in low light

Although the Nikon D500 is not a full-frame camera, its APS-C sensor is still a top performer

Paired with a quality lens, this camera is great at taking photos of wildlife at a distance. Bird and wildlife photographers will not be disappointed by the images the Nikon D500 produces.

Check the price of Nikon D500 DX-Format DSLR Camera here

Best for: Semi-Pro Wildlife and Bird Photographers Looking for 4K Video as well
Matching wildlife lens: Nikon AF-S FX Nikkor 200-500mm Lens

What we liked

  • Incredible 153-point AF system
  • Rapid 10 fps shooting
  • Very fast buffer
  • Shoots 4K Video
  • Excellent weather sealing
  • High resolution tilt touchscreen 
  • High ISO performance

What we didn’t like

  • Nikon Snapbridge Wireless Connectivity App needs improvement
  • Video AF

Sensor: 20.9 MP APS-C CMOS Sensor
Frames per second: 10 fps
AF points: 153-point AF System
ISO range: 100-51,200
Weight: 1.7 lbs (Body Only)
Video: 4K Ultra HD 2160p
Weather Sealed: Yes, and dust & water-drop resistant

5. Canon EOS-1DX Mark II DSLR Camera

The Canon EOS-1DX Mark II DSLR Camera is an extraordinary camera

For most photographers there are very few downsides to this camera in terms of image quality and performance. 

With a wide ISO range, a 14 fps shooting speed, and a smart & fast autofocus, the Canon EOS-1DX Mark II delivers incredibly precise photos that are sure to amaze. 

Wildlife photographers and bird photographers will both benefit from the features of the Canon EOS-1DX Mark II, but be prepared for the sheer size of the camera. It’s difficult to have a camera that performs as well as this one in a compact body.

Check the price of Canon EOS-1DX Mark II DSLR Camera here

Best for: Professional Grade Wildlife and Bird Photography
Matching wildlife lens: Canon EF 100-400mm Lens

What we liked

  • Full-frame sensor
  • Super fast frame rate at 14 fps
  • Great low-light performance
  • Huge ISO range 100-51,200
  • 4K video with excellent tracking
  • Incredible AF capabilities
  • Built-in GPS

What we didn’t like

  • Large camera body
  • Heavy
  • Limited touchscreen functionality

Sensor: 20.2 MP Full-Frame Sensor
Frames per second: 14 fps
AF points: 61-point AF system
ISO range: 100-51,200
Weight: 3 lbs (Body Only)
Video: Full HD 1080p
Weather Sealed: Yes

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