Whether you’re considering your first DSLR camera for wildlife photography or looking to upgrade your current camera, the following question typically arises:
What are the top-rated and best cameras for wildlife photography?
The list below helps answer this question and provides 7 cameras that can take excellent pictures of wildlife. The list is organized by price since that is what (most) photographers claim as the most important factor when selecting a new camera.
Quick Links: Best Cameras for Wildlife Photography
- The Gold Class: Over $2,500 (2 cameras)
- The Silver Class: $1,000 – $2,499 (2 cameras)
- The Bronze Class: Below $1,000 (3 cameras)
- Comparison Chart for the Best Wildlife Photography Cameras
- 9 Tips When Buying Cameras for Wildlife Photography
- Please read if you don’t understand many of the terms, specifications, and technical details listed throughout this article.
As you view the different cameras, you may ask yourself the following question:
Why were only Nikon or Canon models selected as the best cameras?
My response is that I have only owned cameras made by Nikon and Canon. Both companies have proven to me that they manufacture excellent products that take outstanding photographs. When I talk about either of these companies, I can speak from experience.
I know other manufacturers produce cameras that take excellent wildlife pictures. But at this time, I’m only comfortable recommending DSLR cameras made by Nikon and Canon since it is what I know best.
Lastly, the recommended cameras below just include the camera BODY and do not include any lenses. For help choosing telephoto lenses for wildlife photography, read this article that I wrote:
Gold Class: Above $2,500
Looking at the prices of the Gold Class cameras make many people gasp! But please know that the costs of cameras go down extensively in the Silver and Bronze sections.
These fantastic cameras by Nikon and Canon include the best of everything these companies have to offer. They have the ability to take some of the most stunning, beautiful, and professional photographs on the planet.
I wouldn’t recommend either of these cameras for 99% of people. For most of us, the options in the Silver or Bronze sections are a better fit.
To be honest, the digital cameras listed below are typically good choices for only two types of people.
1. Professional wildlife photographers.
2. Someone with lots of money and they don’t know what to do with it all. These cameras would make a shiny new toy to show off to friends.
1. Nikon D5
The D5 is king at Nikon and one of the best cameras in the world.
The price is not for the faint of heart, but if your serious about wildlife photography or just received an inheritance from your Great Grandmother, then the Nikon D5 may be for you.
Why is it so expensive? What are you paying for?
To put it simply, the D5 has the best of everything that Nikon offers.
It is extremely fast, an incredible AF system, and second to none when it comes to shooting in low light. The ISO can be increased very high and still produce pictures that are not grainy.
The only negative I see with the D5 is the weight. Because of the FX (Full-frame) sensor, the body is over 3 pounds.
- View wildlife photography taken by the D5 on Flickr.
- View a full description of the D5 on Nikon’s website.
Just as the D5 is king at Nikon, the 1D Mark II is the best DSLR camera from Canon.
For the small price of around $5,500 :), you acquire a beautiful piece of equipment that has been expertly engineered to take the best pictures in the world.
It shoots up to 14 pictures per second, captures fantastic photographs in almost any light condition, and has an AF system that knows what to focus on nearly every time. Almost no feature or benefit is missing from the Canon 1D.
If you are serious about wildlife photography, you need to consider this camera.
- View wildlife photography taken by the 1D X Mark II on Flickr.
- View a full description of the 1D X Mark II on Canon’s website.
Silver Class: $1,000 – $2,499
Unless your a professional wildlife photographer or have unlimited amounts of cash to spend, then purchasing one of the Gold Class cameras above is probably not a realistic option.
Don’t worry! Unlike your health insurance or utilities, the cost of incredible, high-quality digital cameras keeps coming down thanks to improved technology.
The cameras listed below are proof. For around $1,500, you can own a DSLR that takes fantastic pictures of birds, mammals, and insects. The extra features included on the Gold Class digital cameras listed above are not worth the cost for most amateur photographers.
My recommendation for most people is to choose one of these Silver class cameras for bird and wildlife photography.
The D500 is arguably the best camera that Nikon offers in its DX – format (crop sensor).
When it comes to photographing wildlife, the D500 performs well. It features 153 AF points, shoots up to 10 frames per second and has excellent ISO capabilities.
It’s very popular among amateurs and continually gets excellent reviews from its users. It’s hard to go wrong with the D500 for wildlife photography!
- View wildlife photography taken by the D500 on Flickr.
- View a full description of the D500 on Nikon’s website.
The Canon 7D Mark II has many similarities, features, and functions as the much more expensive Canon 1D X Mark II listed above.
The main difference is that the 7D has an APS-C sensor instead of a Full-size sensor. Th sensor size explains why the 7D is much less expensive, but also is smaller in weight and dimensions. As far as ergonomics go, the 7D is a much better option than the 1D X Mark II.
For most us that want to photograph wildlife, this camera provides tremendous value and can take extraordinary pictures. It shoots fast (10 FPS), has a customizable AF system, and is relatively light to carry.
Bronze Class: Under $1,000
If you want to take wildlife photographs that someone will want to look at other than your mom, then you will need to at least spend enough money to buy one of these DSLR cameras. Unfortunately, your cell phone or point and shoot camera are not going to provide the type of quality and features you need.
These three digital cameras will do the job that is required by most amateur wildlife photographers. If you find that you love taking pictures and keep improving your talent, you can always upgrade your camera in the future. At least you would know what features and functions that you find most useful.
For the price, the D7200 may be the best overall value on this list. It’s one of the best cameras that Nikon offers in its DX format and well suited for wildlife photography.
At the time of this writing, it’s only a few hundred dollars more than the entry-level Nikon D5300 below. If you can swing the price difference, then this camera is a significant upgrade. The D7200 offers more frames per second, AF points, and a better ISO range.
- View wildlife photography taken by the D7200 on Flickr.
- View a full description of the D7200 on Nikon’s website.
In full disclosure, I want to mention that this is the camera I own and use for bird photography. I hope that soon I can upgrade to a DSLR camera with a few more bells and whistles. Until then, my Rebel T5i works fine.
This camera is perfect for beginners and those on a limited budget (which describes me pretty well). It takes high-quality bird photographs and probably serves the needs of most amateur and beginner photographers.
The Canon Rebel T5i is similar to the Nikon D5300 below, but the Rebel T5i outperforms in a few ways:
- The LCD screen on the Rebel T5i is a touchscreen; the Nikon D5300 is not.
- The T5i has a hybrid AF system, which means a slightly faster AF.
The D5300 is my pick for Nikon’s best camera for beginners and limited budgets. For the low price of around $500, you will be able to take respectable wildlife photographs and learn the hobby.
It is very similar compared to the Canon Rebel T5i listed above. Here are a few of the differences:
- The Nikon D5300 is lighter and smaller across all dimensions.
- Significantly more AF points (39 vs. 5)
- Slightly longer battery life.
- View wildlife photography taken by the D5300 on Flickr.
- View a full description of the D5300 on Nikon’s website.
- The 8 Best Binoculars for Bird Watching
Wildlife Photography Camera Comparison Chart.
|Camera||Approximate Price||Frames Per Second||AF Points||ISO Range||Sensor Type||Weight|
|Nikon D5||$6,500||12||153||100 - 102,400||Full (FX)||3.1 lbs.|
|Canon 1DX Mark II||$5,500||14||61||100 - 51,200||Full||2.95 lbs.|
|Nikon D500||$1,800||10||153||100 - 51,200||Crop (DX)||1.68 lbs.|
|Canon 7D Mark II||$1,200||10||65||100 - 16,000||Crop (APS-C)||1.81 lbs.|
|Nikon D7200||$800||6||51||100 - 25,600||Crop (DX)||1.49 lbs.|
|Canon Rebel T5i||$500||5||9||100 - 12,800||Crop (APS-C)||1.16 lbs.|
|Nikon D5300||$475||5||39||100 - 12,800||Crop (DX)||1.1 lbs.|
9 Tips When Buying A Camera for Wildlife Photography.
While shopping for a new camera to photograph birds and animals, there are a few features that you NEED to make sure the camera possesses.
Don’t worry – Just use the suggestions and guidelines listed below, and you should be in good shape.
1. Autofocus (AF)
As you look through the viewfinder on your camera, you will see the autofocus points. These are what the camera uses to focus on your subject.
Autofocus is VERY important for photographing birds and other wildlife. It’s rare when an animal is sitting still for long. Nothing is more frustrating than missing an incredible shot because your subject was moving and your camera couldn’t focus in time.
Cameras will advertise a certain number of autofocus points. As a general rule, the more AF points the camera has, the better the Autofocus will perform. But as you can imagine, this adds to the cost to produce and manufacture.
This video helps to explain in more detail:
2. Low Light Performance
As a general rule, if you want to see the most wildlife, you need to head out in early morning and before sunset. These times of days are when birds and animals are most active.
But if your camera doesn’t perform well in challenging light situations, you will be disappointed with the quality of your pictures. Specifically, as you increase the ISO* speed, you want your camera to take photos without lots of digital noise.
*ISO stands for International Standards Organization. It refers to your camera’s sensitivity to light.*
Once again, this is a feature that performs better and better as you pay more money for a camera. I recommend trying to test out the camera you are considering or look at photos online that each camera took at dawn or dusk to check quality and performance.
This video helps to explain in more detail:
3. Lens Compatibility
One reason I love wildlife photography is that you never know where the day will take you. One moment you will be photographing butterflies, the next moment you will be trying to shoot ducks from across a pond.
Make sure to buy a camera that is compatible with many different lenses.
Nikon or Canon manufacture all of the cameras on this list. One reason (among many!) for this is because these cameras are compatible with many lenses, from macro to super telephoto!
4. Weight and Size
This feature is often overlooked but very important to consider.
The camera you choose for wildlife photography will be with you A LOT. While trudging through the woods or up a mountain, it is going to be hanging from your neck or attached to you in some way.
If it’s too heavy or bulky or doesn’t fit your hands well, it can be discouraging. You will be spending a lot of money on a digital camera; make sure it is comfortable to use!
5. Waterproof and Durable
You are going to drop your camera. Trust me; it is going to happen. You might slip on a wet rock, fall down a small ravine, or trip on roots you didn’t see.
The best cameras are not invincible, but they can take a bit of punishment before they break. You want to make sure that a little rain is not going to ruin the camera or the first bump against a tree is not going to disrupt an internal sensor.
6. Fast Shooting Speeds
A lot can happen during one second, especially when it comes to photographing birds and other wildlife.
By not having a camera that has fast shooting speeds, you could miss the perfect shot!
Many lower priced DSLR cameras can do a minimum of 3 frames per second (which is still pretty good). Some of the best cameras can shoot 10+ frames per second.
If you choose a camera with a slower shooting speed, you will just need to do a better job of reacting and taking photos at the best moments.
7. The Type of Sensor
When selecting a digital camera, it’s important to pay attention to the size of the image sensor (often referred to as the camera’s format).
They come in two different sizes: Crop Sensor of Full-frame Sensor.
Crop sensors are smaller than full-frame. Many wildlife photographers prefer a more modest sensor for a few reasons.
- By having a crop sensor, the digital camera is going to be significantly lighter and more comfortable to carry.
- Since the sensor is smaller, it gives you a 1.5x reach due to the crop factor.
- Digital cameras with a crop sensor are much more affordable and include most of the best cameras on this list!
Full-frame sensors are usually the preferred choice for professional photographers. These large sensors give more surface area for gathering light and perform better in low light settings than a Crop sensor.
Cameras with full-frame sensors are typically much larger and more expensive than crop-sensor cameras.
- When looking at Nikon cameras, the DX format is equivalent to a crop sensor. The FX format is the equivalent to a full-frame sensor.
- An APS-C sensor means that it’s a crop sensor.
This video helps to explain in more detail:
8. Pay Attention to the Warranty
It’s always helpful to know how long the warranty is good for and what it covers before you buy your new digital camera.
It seems that most companies adjust their warranties often and they can differ from country to country, so I hesitate to provide any specific guidance as to what Nikon or Canon offer.
Personally, I make sure that my camera has a separate insurance policy that provides comprehensive coverage. These plans are very affordable and usually offered by whoever provides your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.
9. Shop Local!
My preference would be for you to shop near your home and support a local business with the purchase of your camera. You may even build a great relationship with someone who can teach you more about wildlife photography or the new camera you purchased.
I think it’s also a great idea to hold and test a camera before purchasing. It’s important to make sure you like how the camera fits in your hand. Unfortunately, that is not possible while buying online.
Best Camera For Wildlife Photography Conclusion
Finding the perfect digital camera to take pictures of wildlife takes a bit of research and planning but should be fairly straightforward.
First, make sure to determine your price range and budget. Nothing is more important because that narrows down the number of camera choices.
Next, read the tips provided above to learn as much as possible and whats important when choosing a camera for wildlife photography.
The last step is to start searching for your camera of choice. The models provided in this article should give you some great options.
If this article was valuable, please consider doing one of the following three things:
1. If you decide to purchase one of the DSLR cameras online, please use one of the affiliate links provided. At no cost to you, I would receive a small percentage from that retailer. This lets me know that you found this article helpful and covers the costs to run Bird Watching HQ. I would also be forever grateful. 🙂
2. Share this article! I don’t care what social network you prefer, pass it around!
3. Use the comments below to keep the conversation going. I would love to hear your thoughts and responses:
- What is your favorite camera for photographing wildlife and birds?
- What things should my readers be aware of when shopping and searching for the best cameras for wildlife photography?
Thanks for reading and happy birding!