Wildlife photography is all about documenting wild animals in their natural habitats, but doing so safely requires specific gear and a lot of patience. The best cameras for wildlife photography will allow you to be ready at a moment’s notice, whenever your wild subject decides to step into frame.
How We Picked the Best Cameras for Wildlife Photography
When selecting the cameras that appear in this guide, I considered a variety of brands and products that would fit a few different budgets and experience levels. Ultimately for most wildlife photographers, the lens that they attach to their camera is more important than the camera body. It’s also where they end up spending the bulk of their budget. With this in mind it was still important for us to include cameras that have excellent autofocus capabilities, large sensors, and the ability to shoot fast.
Best Cameras for Wildlife Photography
Best Overall: Sony A1
Why It Made The Cut: The Sony A1 has super-fast burst rates, its large sensor can push out high-resolution images, and it has an excellent electronic viewfinder.
— Megapixel Sensor: 50.1
— Shooting Speed: 30 fps (frames per second)
— Autofocus: 759 points
— Powerful, accurate autofocus, including Eye AF for animals and birds
— Can shoot 8K or 4K video
— Fast burst mode capabilities
— Slightly awkward ergonomics
The Sony A1 is one of the best cameras on the market for wildlife shooters, especially when paired with one of Sony’s excellent telephoto lenses. It’s a powerhouse of a camera with its 50-megapixel stacked CMOS sensor and precise autofocus system that features 759 AF points (covering 92 percent of the image frame). It’s specifically great for wildlife shooters, since it has the ability to lock onto an animal's eyes and track them as they move through the frame. It can shoot 30 fps, performs well in low-light scenarios and has robust weather sealing, so a bit of inclement weather won’t hurt it. Although it’s certainly an expensive tool, if you are a professional wildlife photographer you will find that the robust features justify the high price tag.
Best For Beginners: Sony DSC-RX10 IV
Why It Made The Cut: The Sony RX10 IV features an integrated 24-600mm f/2-4.4 lens, making it a great bridge camera for beginning wildlife photographers who aren’t ready to invest in a pricey piece of glass.
— Megapixel Sensor: 20.1
— Shooting Speed: 24 fps
— Autofocus: 315 points
— Integrated zoom lens
— Dust- and splash-resistant
— Can shoot 4K video
— Limited touchscreen controls
— Somewhat pricey
If you are just starting with wildlife photography, a camera like the Sony RX10 IV can be a great choice because of its integrated zoom lens. It’s built around an excellent 1-inch sensor, has a 25x zoom capability, and offers 4.5 stops of Image Stabilization — meaning you can get decent shots even if you are shooting without a tripod. Although the camera lacks the higher-end autofocus tech found in more expensive Sony cameras, it does have 315 phase-detection AF points and is capable of shooting 24 fps with autofocus tracking. Although it’s certainly a camera that is best-suited for beginners, it isn’t exactly a bargain — but it’s a highly capable tool for those who are new to wildlife photography.
Best Value: Nikon Z6 II
Why It Made The Cut: With its weather-sealed body, full-frame sensor, and highly capable autofocus, the Z6 II is an excellent mirrorless camera for the photographer looking for an affordable mirrorless camera body.
— Megapixel Sensor: 24.5
— Shooting Speed: 14 fps
— Autofocus: 273 points
— 4K video capabilities
— Well-designed ergonomics
— Two card slots
— In-body image stabilization reduces camera shake when shooting handheld
— Not the best battery life
— Menu can be difficult to navigate
The Nikon Z6 II is an extremely capable camera with a reasonable price-point for shooting wildlife—meaning you can use your extra budget to splurge on a nice telephoto lens. It features face and eye detection for animals, in-body image stabilization, has a weather sealed body and is a great tool for shooting video as well. Compared to the original Z6, it adds a second card slot so you can shoot JPEGs and RAW files while you are out in the field — a big win for anyone who has ever had a card fail after a big day of shooting. Its battery life isn’t the strongest, so if you are planning to use this as your main wildlife camera be sure to pack some extra batteries for your shoot.
Best for Day or Night: Bushnell Core DS No Glow
Why It Made The Cut: Unlike a traditional camera, a trail camera lets you capture up-close photographs of wildlife, without fear that you will spook them. The Bushnell Core DS features two sensors — one optimized for daytime shooting and one for capturing wildlife creatures late at night.
— Inexpensive way to capture wildlife
— Hands-free operation
— No wireless capability
— Max video resolution is 1080p
A trail camera is activated by the movements of subjects, making them a great choice for a photographer who prefers a hands-off approach to wildlife photography. The Bushnell Core DS has two sensors, one optimized for daytime shooting and a second that’s good for capturing wildlife at night. Although this camera won’t provide the awe-inspiring shots that you might capture with a massive telephoto lens, the ability to mount it, walk away from it, and let it do its thing does mean that you will likely end up with a very different perspective of the creatures that you are trying to capture. It’s waterproof and runs on AA batteries, but lacks any wireless capabilities — so it’s important to leave it somewhere that you won’t have trouble getting back to.
Best DSLR: Nikon D500
Why It Made The Cut: Although it’s an older model, the 2016 Nikon D500 remains an excellent option for wildlife shooters thanks to its impressive 200 RAW image buffer and fast auto-focus.
— Megapixel Sensor: 20.9
— Shooting Speed: 10 fps
— Autofocus: 153 points
— Excellent image buffer
— Fast and accurate autofocus
— Older model makes it more affordable
— Limited video capabilities
— Can be difficult to find one in new condition
A great way to save some money when shopping for a wildlife camera is to consider older model DSLRs, which you may be able to pick up on the second-hand market for a fraction of the price. Although the Nikon D550 was released way back in 2016, it remains an excellent tool for shooting wildlife, thanks to an image buffer that can shoot at 10 fps up to 200 RAW frames. It’s great in low-light, has a fast and accurate autofocus system, and because it is an APS-C camera, your long lenses end up having a 1.5x crop factor.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Camera for Wildlife Photography
Although having the highest-end camera with the most expensive long lenses may be enticing, it's not actually a requirement for capturing exquisite images of wild animals. In fact, there are a number of consumer-focused cameras on the market that can be a great choice for shooting wildlife, and doing so without breaking the bank. The wildlife that you are wanting to document will also help dictate what kind of camera will be the best tool for the job.
Sensor Size: In this buying guide you will find a mixture of full-frame sensor cameras and APS-C cameras. Generally speaking, a full-frame sensor will give you more megapixels, which means a better-performing camera in low-light situations, more flexibility when editing and the ability to print your images larger. An APS-C sensor camera will give you a 1.5-1.6x crop — meaning your telephoto lenses will have additional reach when mounted to an APS-C sensor camera body.
Autofocus: Having a camera with superb autofocus is one of the most important things when it comes to shopping for a camera for wildlife photography. Many of the cameras in this guide include advanced features like animal Eye AF — which makes it much easier to get a sharp image of your subject in its natural environment. Look for something that has AF points that cover the majority of the frame — which is one of the reasons that so many shooters have switched over to mirrorless cameras for wildlife photography.
Frames per Second Shooting Capabilities
The ability to shoot quickly without filling your camera’s buffer is a huge feature for wildlife photographers — as the subjects that they are shooting typically only appear briefly before disappearing again. Having the ability to shoot as many frames as possible as an animal passes through the view of your camera will help you get more keepers when you are out for a day of shooting. Make sure you invest in fast memory cards that can keep up with your camera though — slow memory cards will mean that you are watching the moment pass you by without actually being able to capture it.
Choosing a nice lens is just as important (if not more important) than a camera body when it comes to wildlife photography. If you are planning to photograph wildlife, you will need some nice telephoto lenses for capturing your subjects — since this is one style of photography where you obviously can’t get super close. Stick with brands that have a robust lens selection that you can use with the camera body. If you are just starting out, consider a bridge camera that comes with a built-in long capability zoom.
Q: How much do cameras for wildlife photography cost?
The cost of a wildlife camera varies greatly depending on things like megapixel count and whether you choose a mirrorless camera or a DSLR. For a camera body you should expect to pay a few thousand dollars, but where things tend to get pricey for wildlife photographers is in lens selection. Because you are shooting subjects that you cannot get close to, it’s important to invest in super telephoto zoom or prime lenses that will allow you to “get close” while being physically far away from your subject. Looking for something more budget friendly? Consider a trail camera, which can be operated without you being physically present and capture images during the day or night.
Q: What zoom do I need for wildlife photography?
Most wildlife photographers like shooting with long telephoto zooms or primes — but the lens length that you will choose has a lot to do with what kind of wildlife you are shooting. Photographing large animals like bears or moose requires much longer lenses because you obviously don’t want to be getting too close to your subjects. A 150-600mm is a popular and versatile choice for many wildlife photographers, but depending on what you are shooting, a longer lens might be necessary.
Q: Are mirrorless cameras good for wildlife photography?
A: Mirrorless cameras are a nice choice for wildlife photography because they have the ability to shoot silently, they tend to be lighter and many feature advanced autofocus capabilities and subject tracking. A number of brands even include features like advanced animal eye tracking — making it easier to nail your shots out in the field.
Q: Does more megapixels equate to a better camera?
A: A camera that has more megapixels ultimately means that you will have more flexibility when you edit your images, perform better in low-light conditions and will give you the option to print larger images. However, having a high-megapixel camera doesn’t necessarily mean it's better. Determining what camera is the best camera for you has a lot to do with what you are shooting and what you intend to do with the images after.
Q: What size camera lens do I need for wildlife photography?
In many ways the lenses that you use when shooting wildlife are more important than the camera. The lenses that are used by wildlife photographers tend to be telephoto zooms, superzooms, or telephoto primes. A 150-600mm is a popular and versatile choice for many wildlife photographers, but it’s not unusual for wildlife photographers to favor lenses that are 800mm, or even 1200mm.
Final Thoughts on the Best Cameras for Wildlife Photography
When shopping for a camera for wildlife photography there are a number of excellent options that will fit every budget. Keep in mind that to make the most of your camera, you will also need to get some high-quality long lenses to capture your best frames — and so in some cases an older model DSLR or a mirrorless camera with fewer megapixels might be a better choice than the most powerful professional level camera.
The cameras that appear in this guide were selected through a mixture of hands-on experience, editorial reviews and user experience.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.