I am always asked one question more than any other: what is the best camera for wildlife photography? Digital SLRs are numerous now, with plenty of options on the market. But there are also mirrorless cameras to throw into the equation.
Navigating this minefield of camera technology is incredibly complicated, especially if you are new to the field.
Wildlife photography is difficult, too. We put our cameras through tough conditions and demand a lot (with regards to performance) from them. Your digital camera needs to deal with fast movement, low-light conditions, and the physical demands of the outdoors.
There are a number of things you need to think aboutwhen looking for the best camera for wildlife photography. This guide will help you make that decision and get the right camera for your needs.
Short on time? Jump to my wildlife photography camera recommendations!
Before we get to my recommendations, let’s first look at things that you need to consider when choosing a camera.
Table of Contents
Features of the Best Cameras for Wildlife Photography
Crop Sensor or Full Frame
Cameras come in two forms: cropped or full-frame sensors.
Full-frame cameras are typically more expensive, offering advantages such as better image quality and ISO capabilities (meaning they can shoot well in lower light conditions – a great thing for wildlife photography).
Cropped sensors are cheaper, but they also offer increased reach for your lens when using full-frame lenses. This is to say that the image will appear more ‘zoomed in’ at a given focal length than it would on a full-frame sensor.
This is because the sensor is smaller, and looks through a smaller area of the lens’ projection. Consequently, it is a great feature of a good wildlife photography camera.
If I were buying my first camera for wildlife photography specifically, I would strongly recommend you choose a crop sensor camera.
The extra reach opens you up to more opportunities for photos. It’s incredibly frustrating to find that you can’t get close to wildlife, and until your field craft skills are up to scratch theextra reachwill be a major advantage.
The cost is also a major plus point. In fact,even though I have been shooting with full frame cameras for a number of years now, I’ve been strongly considering buying a Nikon D500 (read our review here) – it’s a crop sensor camera that performsextremely well for wildlife.
The bestcamera for wildlife photography will have a great autofocus system. You basically have no chance of achieving a sharp photo if you’re manually focusing; so 99.9% of the time you’ll find yourself using autofocus with wildlife. Consequently, your camera needs to be good at doing just that: focusing.
Autofocusneeds to be accurate and fast. This comes with an increased number of autofocus points in the camera’s AF system. A higher number of points means a camera has a better abilityto be accurate when choosing the area it focuses on, and it also means you will be able to track moving wildlifemore successfully.
Further Reading:Understanding Autofocus Points and Modes
When choosing a camera, look at the number of AF points available to you. You can’t see a specific rating for them, but a higher number the better. Budget cameras will, of course, have less than more expensive options.
Low Light Capabilities
Wildlife tends to come out of the shadows at dawn and dusk. Most animals aren’t that active in the middle of the day – they’re more likely to be predated. The bigger predators willthen spend less time moving around as they’ll have successful hunts at dawn and dusk.
This doesn’t run true for every animal, but in general this is a pattern seen in nature.
What does this mean for you as a wildlife photographer? You need to be active yourself at dawn and dusk. The best wildlife cameras are ones that can perform well in poor light.
As the light drops and animalsstart to emerge, your camera will perform less well. You’ll find yourself needing to increase the ISO speed to make the sensor more sensitive to light and brighten your exposure.
This brings with it digital noise and, whilst this can be removed in post production, there is only so far you can go until you ruin your photo.
The best cameras for wildlife photography tend to have good ISO capabilities, which in turn means great low-light performance. That may mean looking at a full frame camera, but you’ll be paying more for it.
To determine how good a camera is with handling higher ISO speeds, take a look at comparison images on the internet and keep your eye out forat whichleveldigital noise tends to increase dramatically.
However, don’t panic. There are ways you can photograph wildlife in low light without paying through the nose for full frame cameras.
Further Reading: How to Photograph Wildlife in Low Light
Finally, a faster continuous shooting speed (the number of frames per second the camera takes) is handy for wildlife photography – particularly if you are working with fast-moving subjects.
If your camera is slow, shooting around 3 frames per second, you’re more likely to miss the perfect shot that happens in the gaps between each time the shutter fires. Shooting in burst mode is highly recommended for wildlife photography.
Top DSLR cameras will shoot 12 frames per second and beyond. The top mirrorless cameras will go 20 frames per second and more, which iscrazy fast.
You don’t necessarily need anything like this – but it definitely helps. You can still take good wildlife photos at even 1 frame per second, but you need to be quicker at reacting to each moment.
The Best Camera for Wildlife Photography 2022
We’ve covered the things you need tobe aware of when choosing a camera, so now here are some recommendations for the best cameras available as of this moment in 2022 for wildlife photography.
A new kind of beast from Nikon: the Nikon Z 9 promises to be a popular choice amongst professional wildlife photographers.
There’s no doubting it – this is a seriously “pro” rig, with a price tag of £5,300 reflecting that.
But with a 45 megapixel sensor, this camera can shoot up to 20 frames per second in raw format (or 30 fps for JPEGs). That’s some serious firepower.
As part of Nikon’s mirrorless line-up, the Z 9 comes with a Z-mount and is able to utilise lenses from its state-of-the-art range. But do not fear – you can still use your more “traditional” glass with a converter.
You think Canon are lagging behind Nikon? Oh no. Just check out the Canon R5, with a 45 megapixel sensor at its core and a 20 frames per second shooting speed.
Sound familiar? This is Canon’s answer to the Z 9. It has up to 8-stops of image stabilisation built in (with compatible lenses), and shoots 4K 120p video.
Canon’s arsenal of lenses available in RF-mount, or traditional EF-mount, are all available for use on the R5 and is the absolute perfect choice for those with the budget to match the “more affordable” £4,300 price tag.
It has been around for a little while now, but it’s still an absolute monster. The Nikon D850 was described as possibly the best all-rounder camera for nature photography.
Whilst this camera is excellent for wildlife photography, it’s also capable of shooting stunning landscapes as well. You can read our review on this camera, but the specifications speak for themselves: with 7 frames per second shooting speed at a huge 45.7 megapixels, this camera is definitely a wildlife photographer’s dream.
It also has great low light performance, and its full frame sensor produces excellent results and beautifully high quality images.
A 24 megapixel full-frame mirrorless camera, the Sony a9 II combines high performance with a compact size. It has a speedy 20 frames per second shooting speed and 693-point auto focus system.
Initially I hadn’t been recommending this camera, purely because suitable lenses for wildlife photography did not exist. However, Sony have now released a number of telephotos (including the 200-600mm) that make the a9 series a great choice.
A fantastic crop sensor option for Canon users, the 7D Mark II offers 10 frames per secondshooting speed with a20 megapixel sensor. With a high number of AF focus points, this is a great camera for staying on target and focused.
It’s older technology arguably, being a DSLR camera, but that does not mean it is a bad choice. In fact, it just means you’re able to get more “bang for your buck.”
These cameras were once the latest and greatest, and they still shoot the same images they did back then.
But, actually, a much better choice is the Canon 5D Mark IV if you can stretch your budget. It’s got a 30 megapixel sensor and shoots 7 frames per second.
This is the camera I shoot with still now in 2022, and it’s very popular amongst wildlife photographers. The increased resolution gives you more flexibility, and the camera handles really well.
On a Budget?
If you are looking for cheaper cameras, then I recommend reading our article The Ultimate Guide to Wildlife Photography on a Budget. You don’t need to pay big bucks to be a wildlife photographer!
If you’re looking for a new lens, then I recommend reading our article ‘What’s the Best Lens for Wildlife Photography?‘.