In this guide we’ll look at the best wildlife photography cameras.
We’ve compared image quality, shooting speed, image stabilization and cost
to give you our top recommendations.
What Is The Best Camera For Wildlife Photography?
More Detailed Wildlife Photography Camera Reviews
The Nikon D850 FX-Format DSLR has a 45.7 megapixel (MP) back-side illuminated (BSI) CMOS image sensor. This cutting-edge sensor is super efficient at collecting light and yields sharp, detailed, colorful images.
The camera’s ISO range is 64 to 25,000 (native ISO) and can be expanded to 32 to 120,400 (extended ISO). I’ll explain what those terms mean below, but in brief, the native ISO range is much more important than the extended range.
The autofocus works down to -4 EV: What all this means in practical terms is that this model takes superb photos even in low light conditions with minimal “noise” (graininess).
Featuring 153 focus points, the autofocus system is extremely good, allowing you to focus with lightning speed even on moving subjects.
The Nikon D850’s silent shooting mode is a useful feature for wildlife photography, allowing you to capture photos quietly without disturbing your subjects. Plus, the tilting LCD touchscreen makes it easier to take photos from awkward angles.
The durable camera body is sealed for protection against dust and moisture, another important consideration for wildlife photography.
Using Nikon’s SnapBridge app, you can transfer your photos to your smartphone or tablet for easy sharing.
Overall, I feel this is the best camera for wildlife photography. If you’re looking for near flawless detail and crystal clear images, this camera is worth a serious look. In addition, the autofocus locks on very quickly, and I’m a fan of the touchscreen, which I’ve found responsive and easy to use.
The Nikon D5 is straight-up amazing. It boasts a 20.8 MP FX-Format CMOS sensor and a 153-point autofocus system. The sensor design, autofocus, and image processing are all top-rate and work together to produce stunning images. Its autofocus is truly a thing of beauty, fast and accurate no matter what you’re shooting.
This model does extremely well under low light conditions, with an ISO capability from 100 up to 102,400 (which can be extended to a whopping 3,280,000). Where you might have relied on flash before, you can now go without This camera can capture superb images in dim conditions with no flash, while minimizing noise.
You’ll also enjoy very fast continuous shooting at 12 fps, so if your subjects are in motion, you won’t miss that perfect moment.
This camera has a durable magnesium alloy body with weather sealing, so it’s resistant to challenging weather conditions. There’s a 3.2” touchscreen LCD monitor. In all, it’s an amazingly well-designed model that is very user-friendly once you’ve got the hang of it.
My favorite element of this camera is quite simply its quality, especially when it comes to the autofocus ad the ISO capabilities.
All these advantages do come at a fairly steep cost. However, if it’s within your budget, the Nikon D5 DSLR is absolutely worth a look.
The Sony a7 is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC), which sets it apart from the DSLRs on this list. I’ll discuss the differences in more detail below.
One major feature of MILCs is that they tend to be lighter and more compact due to the lack of mirror. The Sony a7 III weighs 1.44 pounds, which makes it one of the lighter options here. If you’re hoping to take your camera on long backpacking trips, you may prefer having less weight to lug around, so a MILC fits the bill perfectly!
Another advantage to this model: Its in-built stabilization (SteadyShot), which helps keep your images crisp and clear even if the camera shifts as you’re shooting (for example, if you’re walking, in windy conditions, and so on).
The Sony a7 III has an excellent 24.3 MP CMOS sensor. With a standard ISO range of 100 to 51,200, which can be expanded to 50 to 2,048,007. This camera performs very well under low-light conditions and can handle a high ISO setting without generating tons of noise.
This camera offers fast continuous shooting at 10 fps. It also has a great autofocus system with 693 phase-detection autofocus points to ensure that your photos are sharp and focused. Plus, it has a long battery life. The Sony a7 III is a wonderful mirrorless option if you’re looking for a compact, high-quality camera at a competitive price.
The Nikon D500 is a fantastic all-around camera with a 20.9 MP DX-Format CMOS crop-frame sensor.
What’s the difference between a full-frame and a crop-frame sensor? In essence, a full-frame sensor does better in low light and has a shallower depth of field. However, the crop-frame sensor makes the camera more affordable, and it tends to work great for telephoto photography. So, this camera is well-suited to wildlife photography, and it’s more affordable than a comparable full-frame model.
The Nikon D500 does perform well in low light (crop-frame sensor notwithstanding). Its native ISO range is 100 up to 51,200, with potential to expand to 50 to 1,640,000, and it functions in low light down to -4 EV.
You can shoot continuously at 10 fps, which is fast enough to capture all the action.
The 153-point autofocus system is excellent, locking on quickly and precisely. This Nikon model also comes with a useful 3.2” tilting LCD touchscreen. Its magnesium alloy and carbon fiber body is very durable, and it’s sealed for protection against the elements. Weighing in at 1.9 pounds, this camera feels solid but isn’t huge or unwieldy.
The second mirrorless option on my list, the Panasonic LUMIX GH5 combines great image quality with a rugged exterior. The camera’s magnesium alloy body is freezeproof down to -10 degrees, and it is fully weather sealed to protect against water splashes, dust, and humidity.
In addition, the Panasonic includes an image stabilization system to correct for body and lens shake and minimize blur.
This model has a 20.3 MP Digital Live MOS sensor and a fast and effective autofocus system. It offers good low-light performance. I’ve also had good results from its 4K video recording, which is smooth and has great continuous autofocus.
One final area where this camera shines: Its continuous shooting speed. Set to 6K photo mode, this model can capture images at an astonishing 30 fps. 4K photo mode enables speeds of 60 fps. So, if you want to capture super-fast motion (say, a cheetah on the run or a bird in flight), this camera excels at freezing every moment.
One of the best qualities of the Canon EOS 7D Mark II is its 65-point autofocus system, which is top-notch and flexible, making it quite easy to focus on fast-moving subjects. This camera is a great choice if you anticipate photographing moving subjects, whether the wildebeest migration, a pair of bear cubs playing, or a sports game. It is excellent for bird photography and will provide crisp, detailed images of birds in flight.
The camera features a 20.2 MP CMOS APS-C sensor. It has an ISO range of 100 to 16,000 and performs well in low light. Its maximum frame rate is high—10 fps—allowing fast continuous shooting. This model also produces high-quality video.
Its magnesium alloy body is durable and has excellent weather sealing, so it holds up well in difficult weather conditions, from rain and humidity to dust. This durability makes the Mark II a fantastic field camera, well-suited to taking along on rugged camping trips and long days on safari.
The 3” LCD is good but is not a touchscreen. Battery life is decent but not the best, so I recommend a battery grip if you’ll be shooting all day.
Overall, the Canon EOS 7D Mark II is among the more affordable on my list; it’s a solid entry-level DSLR that will have you capturing stunning wildlife shots.
Our third and final mirrorless model, the Sony Alpha a6500 has a 24.2 MP APS-C Exmor sensor and a fast autofocus system thanks to its 425 phase detection autofocus points.
Its standard ISO range reaches up to 25,600 (expandable to 51,200), so this is another camera that will serve you well in the dim light of the early morning or evening.
The Sony Alpha a6500 features an in-body image stabilization system that ensures your images stay clear even if there’s a little camera shake. This is a useful feature if, for example, you’re trying to fire off a quick opportunistic shot while you’re still walking or your safari vehicle is still moving.
This camera is capable of 11 fps continuous shooting speed, which is fast enough to freeze fast-moving animals in action. It has a 2.95” LCD touchscreen.
The camera’s compact and durable magnesium alloy body is sealed against dust and moisture. Its weight (including batteries) is about 1 pound, which makes the Sony Alpha a6500 a light and compact option. Competitively priced, this is a great all-around camera that is well-suited for wildlife, sports, and action shots.
The Nikon D7200 has a 24.2 MP DX-Format CMOS image sensor and a 51-point autofocus system that is effective even in low light, down to -3 EV.
Like the Nikon D500 listed above, this model has a DX-format sensor, which is smaller than Nikon’s FX-format sensor (as seen in the Nikon D850 that tops this list). The DX sensor has a 1.5x crop factor and allows for a smaller, more compact camera at a lower price point than the larger FX sensor.
The Nikon D7200 has a 6 fps continuous shooting capacity. This isn’t the fastest speed out there, but it should suffice for most wildlife photography. The ISO ranges from 100 to 25,600. There’s also built-in WiFi and Near Field Communication (NFC).
Weighing in at 1.5 pounds, this camera is a good size, not too heavy. The Nikon D7200 also offers great battery life, which is a major plus on long days shooting outside.
This is a superb entry-level DSLR for photographers who want to get more serious without breaking the bank.
Wildlife Photography Camera Buyer’s Guide
DSLRs (digital single-lens reflex cameras) vs. MILCs (mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras)
Most of the cameras on this list, with a couple exceptions) are DSLRs, so I’ll give a quick overview. They produce images in part through their use of a mirror (as opposed to mirrorless models).
DSLR models are very popular among both amateur and professional photographers due to the crisp, clear images they produce and their versatility. A good DSLR can snap great photos of landscapes, sporting events, wildlife, portraits, the night sky, and so on, and you can adjust the lenses and manual settings accordingly.
There are three MILCs on my list: the Sony a7 III, the Panasonic LUMIX GH5, and the Sony Alpha a6500. All three are great cameras! Like DSLRs, they capture superb images, but they do it without the use of a mirror. An advantage to this is that mirrorless models are typically a bit lighter weight and more compact.
One disadvantage is that MILCs are sometimes a bit slower at focusing than DSLRs. In addition, since DSLRs have been around longer, it’s typically easier to find compatible equipment and accessories. Finally, DSLR battery life is, on average, longer-lasting.
An autofocus (AF) system uses a sensor to determine the correct focus for your photo. In a MILC or a DSLR set to live-view mode, autofocus is achieved on the imaging sensor itself. DSLRs generally have a reputation for faster autofocus, but recent MILC models have caught up in this department. Autofocus can be done in two ways:
- Phase detection
- Contrast detection
For our purposes, phase detection autofocus is generally better, especially for moving subjects.
DSLRs will usually employ phase detection autofocus. Up-to-date MILCs may use a hybrid approach combining phase and contrast detection, or they may use on-chip phase detection.
Fast and effective autofocus is important for any wildlife photographer, so I’ve made my above selections with that in mind! Both the DSLRs and MILCs above have fast and precise autofocus systems.
Full-frame vs. crop-frame sensor
As I’ve mentioned above, there are a few key differences between full-frame and crop-frame sensors, or as Nikon calls them, FX-format and DX-format sensors. Nikon’s FX is full-frame, while DX is crop-frame.
In essence, a full-frame sensor does better in low light and has a shallower depth of field. However, the crop-frame sensor makes the camera more affordable, and it tends to work great for telephoto photography. So, crop-frame sensor cameras are still well-suited to wildlife photography, and they’re more affordable than comparable full-frame models.
How fast is your camera? How many shots can you squeeze out in just one second? Continuous shooting mode (or burst mode) allows you to capture a bunch of shots close together, which is very useful if you’re photographing active, playful, or fast-moving wildlife. I’d look for at least 5 or 6 fps capability or higher.
Low-light capability is a huge consideration for many wildlife photographers, given that countless animals are most active between dusk and dawn rather than in broad daylight. Even in dark conditions, you should be able to get detailed, clear, bright images with the right camera.
The brightness of your images depends on three main factors: Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Together, these three things are known as the “exposure triangle” and they determine how bright or dim your image appears.
Aperture and shutter speed both have to do with how much light enters the camera. ISO measures the camera’s sensitivity to light.
What does all this mean when you’re shooting in low-light conditions? To get a clear and bright image, you will need to allow more light to enter your camera (via a wider aperture or slower shutter speed), and/or increase your camera’s light sensitivity (higher ISO setting).
I’ve noted each camera’s ISO range in my reviews above, and you’ve probably noticed that the ranges are quite vast! Some cameras are capable of ISO 51,200 or even 102,400, which is very high and will lead to a brighter image than a lower ISO setting (such as 3200 or 800). You can alter ISO manually depending on the situation.
Realistically, you probably won’t want or need to boost the ISO all the way up to its theoretical max. One downside to high ISO is that it produces “noise,” meaning that your image becomes grainy.
During the day when there’s plenty of light, you should use a lower ISO setting. Wildlife photography, however, often occurs when animals are most active at dawn or dusk. Or, you might be interested in photographing rarely seen nocturnal animals.
In these cases, you’ll naturally wind up shooting in dim conditions. You’ll need a high ISO setting to increase the light sensitivity of your camera, and you’ll want to accomplish this without tons of noise. And of course, you’ll want to avoid using flash so you don’t startle or disturb the wildlife!
That’s why I’ve recommended cameras with large ISO ranges that perform well at moderately high ISO settings. The Nikon D5 in particular is an amazing camera for nighttime photography. Its native ISO range is 100 to 102,400.
Native ISO vs. extended ISO
What do I mean by “native” ISO range? When you change the ISO setting, you’re changing the amplification of the sensor reading. This sensor reading can only be amplified up to a certain point. However, with the “extended” ISO range, you bump up ISO even more through software. Extended ISO isn’t about the camera sensor itself; rather, it uses the camera processor.
To be honest, I don’t really recommend using the high extended ISO in most circumstances. Like magnification, extended ISO is one of those things that marketers hope will appeal to buyers, but it’s definitely not the most important ability of your camera.
So, although I’ve listed both native and extended ISO ranges in my short reviews up above, you should give more weight to the native ISO.
Weight and size
The ideal weight and size of your camera will depend on your own needs and priorities. Consider how you plan to travel with your camera: Will you be primarily traveling by car? If so, you might be just fine bringing a larger camera and multiple lenses. If, however, you anticipate hiking or backpacking trips, then you may wish to select a lighter weight model.
A camera’s ergonomics are also important if you’ll be spending long days snapping away. Ideally, you’ll be able to try holding a few cameras yourself before you make your final choice so you can see what kinds of cameras feel most comfortable in your hands.
Durability and waterproofing
Wildlife photographers are often out in the field, hiking or taking long, dusty drives out to the best observation spots. Factors like rain, humidity, and dust don’t usually mix well with technology, so make sure your camera can stand up to common weather-related hazards.
The cameras I’ve chosen for this list are all tough and durable, capable of withstanding the elements.
You final selection will likely come down to a complex consideration of several criteria: I’d encourage you to focus on image quality, autofocus function, and low-light performance for wildlife photography, plus of course your budget! I hope this guide has at least narrowed down the astonishing and often overwhelming assortment of cameras out there—While the Nikon D850 is perhaps my personal favorite, I don’t think you can really go “wrong” with any of the great cameras on this list.