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


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.

best cameras for wildlife photography

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 does 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

nikon d5

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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.

 

Best Cameras for Wildlife Photography

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2. Canon EOS 1DX Mark II DSLR

canon 1d

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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.

 

Best DSLR cameras for Wildlife photography

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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.


3. Nikon D500 DSLR

best wildlife photography cameras

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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!

 

wildlife cameras that take best photographs

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4. Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera

canon 7d

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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.

 

best dslr cameras for photography birds

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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.


5. Nikon D7200 DX-format DSLR Body

nikon d7200

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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.

 

best cameras for photographing wildlife

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6. Canon EOS Rebel T5i DSLR Camera

canon rebel t5i

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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.

 

best DSLR cameras for taking wildlife pictures

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7. Nikon D5300 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera

nikon d5300

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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.

 

wildlife cameras for taking pictures

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Wildlife Photography Camera Comparison Chart.

CameraApproximate PriceFrames Per SecondAF PointsISO RangeSensor TypeWeight
Nikon D5$6,50012153100 - 102,400Full (FX)3.1 lbs.
Canon 1DX Mark II$5,5001461100 - 51,200Full2.95 lbs.
Nikon D500$1,80010153100 - 51,200Crop (DX)1.68 lbs.
Canon 7D Mark II$1,2001065100 - 16,000Crop (APS-C)1.81 lbs.
Nikon D7200$800651100 - 25,600Crop (DX)1.49 lbs.
Canon Rebel T5i$50059100 - 12,800Crop (APS-C)1.16 lbs.
Nikon D5300$475539100 - 12,800Crop (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!

puffins flying

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.

 

  1. By having a crop sensor, the digital camera is going to be significantly lighter and more comfortable to carry.
  2. Since the sensor is smaller, it gives you a 1.5x reach due to the crop factor.
  3. 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.

 

 

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!

 

For each of the best wildlife photography cameras listed above, I provide links to some of the best places to buy and shop for cameras online (Amazon and B&H Photo).

 

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’s 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.

best cameras for photographing birds and animals

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.

 


 Next Steps

 

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!

 

Scott

16 responses to “The 7 Best Cameras for Wildlife Photography (2019)”

  1. Michael Breskin says:

    Thanks very much. This was very informational. It would be great if you could also include in this article, the best telephoto lenses in each of the camera classes you described. I feel it would round out this article to its best. The information provided was great at well.

    Thank you,
    Regards,
    Michael Breskin

  2. Luther says:

    Hi birdwatchinghq,
    Amazing photographs Frank. They speak volumes for the efforts that went in taking them. And of course you’re right – you certainly CAN take better photos with any decent equipment.

  3. RANJAN says:

    dear scott,
    thanks for the wonderful detailed comparision and explanation at each step. I have photography as one of my hobbies and do all kind of photography including birding especially in winter when lot of migratory birds flock the nearby lakes. Started off with nikon d 60 with 55-200mm, then D7000 with tamron 150-600mmG1 Presently would like to upgrade to a better camera. In my view D 500 would have been better for birding , but for the every day photography Z6 would be better but poorer birding in crop mode of 10 mega pxl. Any suggestions ?

  4. Jim says:

    As a frequent traveler to South Africa, and also photographing at home in Australia, with an avid interest in birds as well as the “big stuff” – I have a comment regarding the above selection. Lenses – The long lenses for full frame and APSC cameras are just too physically big. If I need to carry, or use from within a vehicle, a 2 – 3kg 60cm long (extended) lens just doesn’t work. I still need to crop 75% or more of the shots from 800mm equivalent so smaller lenses simply mean more cropping, so your MP count plummets (using 10% of a 20MP field = 2MP)
    General photography – no issues with the choices. Find me an APSC specific long lens and it changes as well.

  5. Richard says:

    Hi Scott, I’m researching what camera to buy as a beginner wildlife photographer in South Africa and found your article very helpful, thank you.

  6. Sachin says:

    Its just nic info…..!?

  7. I’m having problems focusing on the bird and not the leaves around it. I also want to blow up my pictures to the 30×40 range. Currently have a Canon Rebel Ti6. Looking to upgrade my camera.

  8. Karen says:

    I have been using Sony Cyber Shot cameras since 2001. I been more active in bird photography since 2003. The Cyber Shot cameras have not held up very well, ie: have had 2 new cameras in the last 4 years, although they have taken some amazing shots!. I am now in need of a new camera and have looked at your website. Trying to decide…uuug. Any suggestions for me coming from a Cyber Shot to what???

  9. Yvette says:

    Hi Scott, and thank you for this informative article. I am REALLY a beginner birder, and definitely NOT a photographer, and have already found that I’d like to get a pic mostly to use for identification purposes. I’m looking at the cheap Nikon D5300, but the next problem is a lens. Any further info on those options?

    Thanks!

    • Scott says:

      Yvette, you’re welcome! Thanks for reading and commenting. Unfortunately, I don’t have an article ready to publish yet specifically for lenses, but should be coming at some point. If you are taking pictures for ID, my recommendation is to look at some sort of telephoto lens that you can easily carry. This will allow you to get close enough for the picture and not dread carrying a giant, heavy lens.

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