What's The Best Camera for Wildlife Photography? Top Rated Birding Cameras Reviewed

When looking for a camera specifically for taking pictures of birds and wildlife, there are a number of factors you need to check.

And let’s face it, you just don’t want to miss that P-E-R-F-E-C-T shot...

No matter which camera you are leaning towards, each option will have specific functions that make it suited for one task or another. You need to know which functions will make your camera the best for wildlife photography.

More on this is a bit...

The products below have specific features which make them the best for wildlife photography. If you are shopping on a budget, you’ll also find out the best affordable camera for wildlife photography as well as high-end models for professional use.

Quick Picks:

  1. Best Overall: Sony a99 II Digital SLR
  2. Best for Low Lighting: Nikon D500 DX-Format Digital SLR
  3. Best for Pros: Nikon D5 DSLR
  4. Best for Birding: Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR
  5. Best Budget Pick: Nikon D5300 CMOS Digital SLR

5 Best Wildlife Cameras Reviewed

1. Best Overall - Sony a99 II Digital SLR

This Digital SLR or SLT camera features a fixed semi-transparent mirror in front of its sensor, making it a more compact and travel friendly product. Despite being one of the smaller options (143 x 104 x 76mm), the power and precision of the camera is not compromised. It still excels in autofocus, which is key for catching images of moving birds and animals.

The Sony a99 II is one of the best wildlife cameras for autofocus thanks to the 79 AF points. These are the points that you will see when focussing with the camera and the more points, the more precise the focus. The autofocus is highly responsive which is perfect for capturing animals or birds from afar and the 12 frames per second burst shooting is ideal for capturing a moving subject.

The sensor has an impressive 43.4 megapixels ensuring high quality images. This full frame (35.9 x 24mm) sensor makes the Sony a99 a popular option amongst professionals as a full frame provides more surface area for the shot. The full frame sensor also makes this camera a great option for low light shots as the sensor is able to capture more light.

Of course, being able to take a high-quality photograph in low lighting is essential for wildlife photography as you can’t always guarantee optimal lighting in the great outdoors.

Further aiding your photography in low-lighting, the camera features an ISO range of 100-25,600 and 50-102,400 specifically for low lighting. ISO refers to the sensitivity of the image sensor to light and the higher the number, the higher the sensitivity. The high ISO range makes this camera great for shots in low lighting.

If you are looking to film, the Sony a99 II is the best wildlife camera for video as it shoots in 4K Ultra HD at 60 frames per second in full HD and 120 frames per second in regular HD. Shooting speed or frames per second are a key factor to look out for when buying a camera for wildlife photography as you are going to be capturing fast moving subjects and you want your images to appear clear and your videos to look sharp.

Plus, the full frame sensor is assisted by image stabilization so you aren’t left with shaky video.

Finally, the magnesium alloy body is moisture- and dust-resistant which is essential for outdoor shooting.

It also features geotagging so you can remember where you captured your favourite wildlife photos and is Wi-Fi and NFC compatible, meaning you can share your photos with your phone easily.

It can be used with a range of Sony lenses as it has a Sony Minolta lens mount which makes it compatible with 143 lenses. Although, some people have noticed that the autofocus does not work as well with third party lenses.

Pros:

  • 42.4 megapixels
  • Full frame sensor
  • Compatible with range of lenses
  • Dust and moisture resistant magnesium alloy body
  • 79 AF points
  • WiFi and NFC
  • High ISO range
  • 4K video
  • 12 FPS

Cons:

  • AF can be compromised with third party lenses
  • Not waterproof
  • No touchscreen

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2. Best for Low Light Conditions - Nikon D500 DX-Format Digital SLR

Coming in slightly cheaper than the Sony a99 II and still of professional quality, the Nikon D500 DX-Format DSLR is next on our list of the best cameras for wildlife photography.

What makes it cheaper and lighter than the more advanced models produced by Nikon, such as the D5, is that it has a crop sensor (23.5 x 15.7mm CMOS sensor) instead of a full frame sensor.

With this sensor, you can still expect high quality images but with a lighter body and lenses (147 x 115 x 81mm). Having compact equipment is essential for long walks or hikes so this is a great pick for wildlife photography.

Despite the cropped sensor, this lighter camera has many of the same features as more expensive Nikon models, including a 20.9 MP sensor.

The Nikon D500 has an impressive ISO range of 100-51,200 which can be extended through the expansion settings to 20-1,640,000 for when you are shooting in lower lighting. The ISO range means that it is able to shoot in low lighting to a professional standard without the professional price tag, making it the best wildlife camera for low lighting.

The Nikon D500 is also a great camera for filming video and photographing moving subjects, which is ideal for wildlife photography and bird photography when you can’t rely on your subject to stay still for long.

Personally, I love getting high quality shots of a moving animal, such as horses or birds, and I don’t want to see any blurriness in my videos or photos.

With the EXPEED 5 processor and Multi-CAM 20k autofocus, you will be able to capture moving animals with high quality precision and focus. The camera features 153 autofocus points, meaning it can latch on to the target with more precision, and films in 4K Ultra HD at 30 frames per second.

It also shoots images at 10 frames per second allowing you to capture the perfect moving shot.

Another helpful feature is the cameras capacity for two memory cards. The two slots accommodate an XDQ card, which is able to process images faster, and a regular SD card. The design is durable and outdoor ready with a magnesium alloy and carbon fibre body for increased protection.

It is water-drop and dust resistant so it can take on the conditions as long as you are not shooting in a downpour.

It even has a 3.2 inch tilting touchscreen, allowing for ease of control and setting changes, and you can connect it to your phone or other sharing device throughout shooting. Using SnapBridge technology you can link your camera to another device via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and transfer your images continuously whilst shooting.

These are some of the features which keep this camera ahead of the current technology whilst still being affordable.

Pros:

  • Crop sensor for lighter lenses
  • Compact
  • 153 AF points
  • EXPEED 5 processor and Multi-CAM 20K autofocus
  • ISO range 100-51,200 with expansion setting of 50-1,640,000
  • 3.2-inch tilting LCD touchscreen
  • SnapBridge technology
  • Two memory card slots

Cons:

  • No built-in image stabilization

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3. Best Professional-Grade - Nikon D5 DSLR

Specs wise, this is one of the best wildlife cameras on the list, but because of the price and the professional settings, it might not be the best camera for all levels.

For this reason, the Nikon D5 DSLR is the best wildlife camera for professionals or those who are really looking to invest in a powerful piece of equipment.

The 20.8MP FX-Format CMOS Sensor is full frame (35.9 x 23.9mm) for professional use. The EXPEED 5 processor makes image processing extremely fast which is great for bird watching enjoyment.

It can capture 12 frames per second and 200 RAW images per burst with impressive autofocus capabilities. The 153-point autofocus system allows for accurate subject tracking even during high speed continuous shooting.

This camera also performs incredibly well in low lighting with an ISO range of 102,400, expansion of 3,280,000 and exposure value of -4, so images won’t appear grainy when you use a higher ISO.

In addition to its low light capabilities, it supports advanced wireless lighting for expanded flash photography. In terms of video, the Nikon D5 films in 4K UHD at 30 frames per second for high quality video and time lapses.

It comes with a range of accessories including a rechargeable Li-ion battery and two memory card slots for XDQ and CF cards. As well as the extra battery, the camera has a long battery life of 3,780 shots per charge.

It also comes with a warranty despite being extremely robust. The magnesium alloy shell can survive freezing conditions and is water resistant, taking on any kind of weather situation for the more adventurous wildlife photographers.

With these high-quality specs the Nikon D5 is considerably more expensive than other cameras in the list. Also, with a powerful battery and robust shell, it is much heavier at 3lbs.

This can be a downside if you want to keep your backpack light whilst out on your wildlife pursuits. The advanced settings are also designed for professionals, which is great if you know what you are doing, but if you are just starting out they can be a little overwhelming.

Pros:

  • High-quality professional images
  • Fast processing
  • Accurate autofocus and tracking
  • High ISO range for low light shooting
  • Extended battery life
  • Comes with accessories
  • Handles rough conditions
  • Warranty

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Heavy
  • Not entry level

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4. Best for Birding - Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR

The Canon EOS 7D is a mid range camera which combines the benefits of an entry level and a professional camera to provide a solid option for those who neither want to invest in an expensive camera nor sacrifice image quality.

Because of its high-speed image processing and fast shooting capabilities, this is the best camera for birding as it allows you to capture fast moving images in high resolution.

At 10 frames per second in full resolution and with the dual DIGIC image processor combined with Canon’s fast AF system, this camera captures a moving subject with ease. It features the same autofocus technology as Canon’s more pricey models, providing six shooting options which tailor the autofocus system and keep images sharp despite motion.

Using burst shooting, this camera is able to capture 31 RAW images per burst. RAW images preserve the information captured directly by the camera instead of compressing or processing them to make printable versions like JPEG. This means your images will reflect what you are really seeing, showing the beauty of wildlife photography to its full effect.

The autofocus is further enabled by 65 AF points and a wide focus area so that you can capture a target even if it is not centred in the frame. In addition, it includes EOS Intelligent Tracking and Recognition AF meaning that the camera will find and focus on your subject for you, making this camera the best wildlife camera for birding, ideal for a subject which is often hard to focus on.

With regards to filming, the Canon EOS 7D captures video in full HD at 60 FPS and even has a HDMI port for external recorders, as well as microphone and headphone ports for better recording and monitoring.

The cropped sensor (22.4 x 15mm) provides 20.2 MP and an ISO range of 100-16,000 which can be expanded to 51,200 providing high quality images in low lighting. It also has a flicker sensor which allows for more consistent exposure in case of sudden changes in lighting.

Finally, this model includes GPS for geotagging your adventures and is water and dust resistant so is ready to go with you in harsher conditions. Compared to more expensive options, it is lightweight with a sturdy magnesium body.

It has two memory card slots for CF and SD memory, providing more memory capacity, but no touch screen or Wi-Fi sharing options, features which have become essential for most modern day DSLR cameras.

Pros:

  • Fast shooting and processing at 10 FPS
  • 31 RAW images in burst shooting
  • Full HD video at 60 FPS
  • Ports for HDMI cable, microphone and headphones
  • Water and dust resistant
  • GPS
  • Dual memory card slots

Cons:

  • No touchscreen  
  • No Wi-Fi sharing options

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5. Best Budget Buy for Beginners - Nikon D5300 CMOS Digital SLR

The best wildlife camera for those who are shopping on a budget is the Nikon D5300.

Remember that you can’t expect the same quality as some of the other products in this list, but for such a low price, this camera is still an intriguing option.

Weighing just 1.1lbs, the Nikon D5300 is ideal for long nature hikes where you don’t want to be carrying extra weight. When I first became interested in photography, I was really put off by the idea of having to carry around a heavy camera to get the wildlife shots I wanted.

This is what makes the Nikon D5300 the best wildlife camera for beginners, as you won’t feel weighed down by heavy equipment and can start taking photos without having to make a heavy investment.

This entry level camera has a Scene Mode which is great if you are new to photography as it controls all the settings for you delivering the best image automatically. You can also use the Special Effects Mode to play with photo effects whilst you are shooting, giving you more of an idea of what you can create with editing in the moment.

With a 24 MP sensor and 39-point AF system, you can expect high-quality images despite the low price. This model also comes without the anti-aliasing filter which has been featured in previous models. This means that image resolution will be higher as the camera won’t automatically blur edges, something which is great for wildlife photography as you want your subject to appear sharp.

Despite being in the lower price bracket, this camera still shoots impressive HD video of 1080/60p at 60 frames per second. In continuous shooting, it can take 5 frames per second, so you can still capture those moving wildlife shots, and has EXPEED 4 processing.

It has a decent ISO range of 1-12800 with an expansion of 100-25600 for low lighting. This range is lower than other products here but still impressive for such an economical camera.

Finally, this light, compact camera features a 3.2-inch LCD screen which you can rotate all the way around to the front of the camera. It also has Wi-Fi for image sharing and built-in GPS so you can track where you captured your wildlife photos.

Pros:

  • Best for budget
  • Very light at 1.1lbs
  • Long battery life
  • Multiple angle LCD screen
  • Can be used with a range of Nikon lenses
  • GPS
  • Wi-Fi
  • Comes in different colours- black, grey or red

Cons:

  • Lower ISO range
  • Lower quality images and video than more expensive models
  • Less advanced settings
  • No touchscreen

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What Specifications Make a Good Wildlife Photography Camera?

Most cameras have numerous qualities and specifications which make them suited for different tasks.

When looking for a wildlife photography camera, there are a few aspects that you need to focus on.

Here we go:


Sensor & Megapixels

One thing that you need to look into is the sensor and megapixels.

The more megapixels you have, the higher the image resolution will be...

However, the quality of the sensor depends on more than megapixels and, for this reason, more megapixels doesn’t always mean better images.

You also need to pay attention to the type of sensor, for example, whether it is a cropped or a full frame sensor.

monarch butterly on colorful flowers

Full Frame Sensors

Full frame sensors are used for professional quality photos but can be heavier and more expensive than a cropped sensor.

Generally, full frame sensors provide more range for wide angle photography, which is useful for wildlife photography when you want to capture a greater area or decide your own focus point.

Cropped Sensors

Cropped sensors can be better for capturing individual subjects as focal length is increased by cropping the image.

This means that cropped sensors can be better for bird photography and fast-moving subjects.

Also, they are usually cheaper than full frame sensors and the lenses are smaller and easier to transport.


ISO Range

Another advantage of full frame sensors is that they generally have a greater ISO range, which means these cameras are able to shoot more effectively in low lighting.

A high ISO range is something that you need to look for with a wildlife photography camera as you can’t depend on natural daylight to deliver the perfect lighting.

By increasing the ISO number, you allow more of the light to be registered by the lens, producing brighter photos.

bluebird perched on small branch close-up


    Autofocus

    Autofocus is also crucial for wildlife photography as you want your camera to register your subject and keep it centered in the frame and looking sharp.

    This is especially important for bird photography and any moving subject.


    Weigh Your Options

    If you are going on long walks or hikes as part of your wildlife photography, you might want to prioritise weight.

    Generally, the more expensive, professional cameras are heavier but they are also made from more durable material which is essential if you are shooting in harsh conditions.


    How Do I Choose the Right One for Me?

    All of the cameras in this review provide high quality images and feature the specs required for wildlife photography. Picking the right one for you might depend on what kind of wildlife photography you enjoy.

    If you are specifically interested in bird photography, try something with a fast image processor like the Canon EOS 7D Mark II so that you can take photos quickly before your subject flies out of the frame.

    If you are new to photography and looking for a starter camera or are shopping on a budget, try the Nikon D5300.

    If you know you are going to be taking a lot of photos in low lighting, try something with an impressive ISO range like the Nikon D500.

    For capturing moving animals, the autofocus on the Sony a99 II is really impressive as displayed in the video below. Check it out for a preview of the kind of shots you can achieve with this camera:


    Conclusion

    It is hard to pick a stand-out camera from a selection like this...

    But for overall performance at a reasonable price, the Sony a99 II is my pick for the best camera for wildlife photography.

    It has a powerful full frame sensor, high ISO range and excels in autofocus. With these professional qualities, it is still half the price of the most expensive option on the list, the Nikon D5, making it a great option for beginners and experienced photographers alike.

    Of course, if you are not looking to spend thousands on a decent wildlife photography camera, the best budget option has to be the Nikon D5300. For a fraction of the price, you can still expect high quality images with this light and easy to use camera.

    As all of the cameras here feature the crucial specifications you need for wildlife photography, you really won’t go wrong with anyone of them.