The best camera for wildlife photography is a little different to the best camera for anything else. Wildlife photography is a highly particular discipline, requiring both patience and split-second reactions. While there are good wildlife photography cameras to suit all budgets, you do need to be a little more selective than perhaps you might normally. In this guide, we've picked out the best cameras for nailing wildlife shots every time.
What are the features a good wildlife photography camera needs? While the particulars of this could be debated endlessly, there are a few that pretty much everyone will agree on. Here's a quick run-through of the most important things to look for when choosing a wildlife photography camera.
• A good burst mode. This is going to be highly desirable no matter what kind of wildlife you're photographing. Animals don't sit still on demand, and may exhibit the behaviours you want to capture for just fractions of a second. A camera that can capture a lot of frames within that second is going to be your best bet for nailing the shot.
• Decent buffer depth. There is another part of the burst mode equation, and that is a camera's buffer depth. This refers to how many continuous shots a camera is capable of capturing without stopping. A bigger buffer means more shots, means a longer burst, means a greater chance of capturing the moment you want. Be aware that cameras will generally be able to capture a larger buffer of JPEGs than RAW files, so if you don't mind losing a little editing flexibility, this can be a good option. The write speed of the memory card is also a factor, so it's a good idea to get the fastest card you can.
• Fast and efficient autofocus. You need to be able to nail the focus on a fast and unpredictably moving subject. A sophisticated autofocus system with good coverage of points across the frame is the key to achieving this.
• Lens or lens range. Ideally, you want to fill the frame with your wildlife subject, but most wild animals are pretty tough to get close to. That means you'll need some telephoto range. So if you're picking a compact camera, it needs to be one with a decent zoom lens already attached – probably a bridge camera. If it's an interchangeable-lens camera, whether DSLR or mirrorless, then it's worth checking out the range of lenses available for the relevant mount, and seeing the options for telephoto lenses within your budget.
We’ve split our selection of the best cameras for wildlife into four categories for different types of users, with sections for beginners, enthusiasts and professionals. We've also included a dedicated section for camera traps, also called trail cameras, which are a special kind of camera designed to be left in the wild for extended periods. See our guide to the best trail cameras for more of these.
With all this in mind let's take a look at our round-up of the best cameras for wildlife photography...
Best camera for wildlife photography
Wildlife cameras for beginners
If you’re looking to travel relatively light but still want to fill the frame with your subject, then look no further than the Cyber-shot RX10 IV from Sony. This is the best bridge camera you can buy, with the RX10 IV packing in a hugely flexible 24-600mm f/2.4-4 zoom lens, a excellent 1-inch sensor, an advanced AF system and 24fps shooting. While Sony’s chucked everything at the RX10 IV and it’s an incredibly capable piece of kit, all this tech does come up a price. That said, if you wanted to get this kind of focal range and features in a DSLR or mirrorless combination, you’d be paying significantly more.
While Panasonic has brought out a few new cameras in this particular wheelhouse, namely the FZ2000 and the FZ1000 II, we reckon this is the optimal buy for relatively newbie wildlife shooters. Still widely available, the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 offers an amazing level of functionality for its price, with an impressive 16x optical zoom lens that delivers the goods, even if the maximum aperture does fall pretty sharply once you push the zoom beyond 170mm. With multiple different burst modes to play with and satisfying, DSLR-style handling, the FZ1000 offers plenty of functionality for any nature photographer, and its video features are no slouch either, with 4K 30p video that looks great and can also be used to extract high-quality stills.
Best wildlife camera traps
Sometimes it’s not possible to wait for your subject to come to you, which is where a trail camera comes in. These tough cameras are activated by a subject’s movement (and even body heat), allowing you to be tucked up in bed and leave the camera to do the hard work for you. Our top pick is the Bushnell Core DS No Glow. This packs two image sensors, with one optimized for daylight capture and other tailored for nighttime photography. With an incredibly tough waterproof construction, you can happily leave it outside to battle the elements, while you can also capture 1080p video up to an impressive 60p.
Unlike the Bushnell Core DS No Glow, the Solar Dark from Spypoint doesn’t solely rely on battery power. As the name suggests, it can be solar powered to extend its life out in the field. Alternatively it can also draw power from either a rechargeable Lithium ion battery or 6 AA batteries. The 12MP resolution is modest, but images pretty good as long as you keep your expectations in check, while there’s plenty of other features here that add to the appeal of the Solar Dark. This includes the ability to detect subjects up to 110ft away, time lapse movies and 720P video.
Best wildlife cameras for enthusiasts
With Canon throwing a lot of weight behind its mirrorless efforts, some were surprised to see the EOS 90D arrive in 2019. But the EOS 90D is quite a step forward over the EOS 80D it replaced, with an all-new 32.5MP APS-C sensor that delivers excellent results, while the ability to record un-cropped 4K footage is another bonus. While the traditional 45-point phase-detect AF system is good, it’s when you use the rear screen that it really shines thanks to the inclusion of Canon’s excellent Dual Pixel AF technology. Married to this is a polished touchscreen interface that’s really intuitive and a battery life that’s good for an incredibly 1,300 shots. Try doing that with a mirrorless camera.
Read more: Canon EOS 90D review
Nikon’s high-end APS-C DSLR has been around for a while now, but that shouldn’t dull its appeal for wildlife photographers out there, especially as the price has dropped quite a bit in the last year or so. Borrowing a lot of tech from the then flagship Nikon D5 DSLR, the D500 is a camera geared towards action. The 20.9MP sensor might not have the resolving power of some other sensors, but it delivers clean images even at higher ISOs, while the 153-point AF is very sophisticated for the price. A burst shooting speed of 10fps is pretty good, but what really impresses is the buffer which can handle a staggering 200 RAW files. Factor in the tough metal body and 1.5x crop of the APS-C sensor and you’ve got a great wildlife camera.
Wildlife cameras for pros
The OM-D E-M1 X ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to wildlife photography. First up is the tough build that sees exceptional weather-sealing - perfect for those times when you’ll be shooting in harsh conditions. Then there’s the ability to shoot at up to a staggering 60fps (though this will be a little slower if you want to take advantage of some of the E-M1 X’s advanced AF settings), while the buffer is excellent at 286 shots (and that’s with RAW files). The MFT sensor is physically smaller than APS-C and full-frame rivals which does compromise things a little when it comes to image quality. The payoff is though that lenses are much more compact, with fast telephoto lenses considerably smaller than rivals.
It might be showing its age a bit now and be outgunned by the EOS R5 in many areas, but the EOS 5D Mark IV deserves its place on the list as photos taken with the EOS 5D series of cameras have probably won more wildlife competitions than any other camera ever. The full-frame 30.4MP sensor delivers a good balance between detail and high ISO performance, while the Dual Pixel AF system means that the AF system during live view is fast and reliable. The buffer could be a bit deeper and we’re not fans of the heavily cropped 4K video, but shoot with the EOS 5D Mark IV and you can see why pros love it.
While we could have recommended the flagship Nikon D6, we think the D850 is the better option for the wildlife photographer. It might not have quite the tank-like build of the D6, but we think this is perhaps the most complete DSLR ever made. The full-frame 45.7MP sensor is excellent and provides plenty of flexibility should you need to crop in on you subject, while the 153-point AF system is one of the best around (if a little biased to the centre of the frame). The 7fps might seem a little slow compared to some, but that should be ample for most subjects while the handling is some of the best around. Pair it with a quality, fast lens and this is a combination that will really reward.
As sports and wildlife photography share a lot of the same priorities, it makes sense that Sony's sports flagship is also a great choice for wildlife. The Sony A9 II is an absolute speed demon, able to rattle off hundreds of frames at 20fps, and with possibly the best and fastest autofocus system in the business. It's also got Sony's Animal Eye AF system, which can lock onto an animal's eyes with astonishing speed, making for those perfect wildlife portraits. Having the APS-C crop mode is also super-handy, allowing you to give yourself a little extra-effective telephoto reach whenever you need it. The camera's controls are hugely customisable, the shutter is totally silent. There really is a lot to like here!
The weather-sealing of the A9 II has been upgraded from the original A9. It's probably not as robust as a DSLR, but it's definitely better, with a double-sided battery compartment cover and media slot for extra protection. You have to be more careful when changing lenses out in the field than you would with a DSLR, as your sensor doesn't have the additional protection of the mirror and shutter curtain. But when it comes down to it, wildlife photography is all about nailing the shot in a fraction of a second, and the Sony A9 II is one of the best cameras around for achieving that.
• The best professional cameras right now
• The best mirrorless cameras today
• The best trail cameras you can buy
• The best DSLRs to buy
• DSLR vs mirrorless: which is best?
• The best telephoto lenses
• Best 150-600mm lenses
• Best macro lenses