Wildlife photography is an increasingly popular pastime; its growth is mainly driven by the proliferation of photographic features previously only reserved for high-end professional cameras. Many cameras are now capable of snapping clear photos of wildlife, but some are better suited for this use than others. There are a few factors that you should consider when choosing a camera for wildlife photography. Fast continuous shooting speeds allow you to capture clear stills of fast-moving wildlife, while short image buffer clearing times keep interruptions in your shooting to a minimum. Silent shooting modes are also crucial since you don't scare any skittish animals into movement by causing an unexpectedly loud noise. A responsive, accurate autofocus system with a broad coverage area is also important if you're looking for the best camera for birding.
Keep in mind that your chosen lens can significantly affect a camera's suitability for wildlife photography. Using a telephoto lens with a long maximum focal length is important in allowing you to capture clear shots of far-away animals, but that isn't the only point you should consider when choosing a lens for this use. Maximum aperture, autofocus performance, stabilization performance, and image quality depend on the lens you use, so camera performance can differ significantly depending on your chosen lens and settings. For these reasons, we test our cameras with their standard kit lenses.
We've tested over 55 cameras and below you'll find our recommendations for the best cameras for wildlife photography based on their design, available features, and prices. You can also see our picks for the best cameras for photography, the best digital cameras, and the best cameras for beginners.
The best camera for nature photography that we've tested with a mirrorless design is the Nikon Z 6II. This full-frame model features a fast and accurate autofocus system that should do a good job of tracking small birds and wildlife. Its in-body image stabilization feature is also helpful when snapping photos at an extended focal length without using a tripod. If you use a CFexpress card slot, it has a virtually limitless photo buffer in JPEG and RAW, allowing you to take full advantage of its fast 13 fps maximum shooting speed and capture clear stills of fast-moving subjects.
Image quality is also excellent, with good noise handling capability and a minimal loss of sharpness even when shooting at high ISO levels, which is good for nighttime photography. Depending on your settings and usage habits, it should offer sufficient battery life for most of a day's use. It's also remarkably comfortable to use and has a solid-feeling magnesium alloy body that's rated as being weather-sealed. However, we don't currently test for water resistance.
Unfortunately, this is a large, heavy camera, making it a bit of a hassle to bring with you to remote shooting locations. Its tilting screen also doesn't offer the same range of flexibility as that of a fully-articulated display, though it is very sharp and more than bright enough to see under direct sunlight. Overall, this camera's amazing image quality, fast continuous shooting speed, and effective, consistent autofocus system make it a great option for sports and wildlife photography.
If you value the smaller physical size and additional focal reach that comes with a crop-sensor camera, consider the Fujifilm X-T4. Compared to the Nikon Z 6II, the crop-sensor camera's image quality isn't quite as sharp at high ISO levels, but its body is notably smaller and lighter, making it easier to toss in a bag and carry around. While it doesn't support the use of high transfer-speed CFexpress cards and has a somewhat limited RAW photo buffer, its maximum continuous shooting speed of 20 fps is remarkably fast and should help you snap clear stills of fast-moving wildlife. Its autofocus system also delivers consistent, rapid tracking performance, and it features an effective in-body stabilization feature that should help you take clear photos without the use of a tripod. The Fujifilm also feels amazingly well-built and has a weather-sealed body, allowing you to use the camera in adverse environmental conditions, though we don't currently test for this. Unfortunately, it isn't as comfortable as the Nikon, with some controls not offering much physical feedback.
Get the Nikon if you want a camera that offers better image quality and superior ergonomics, but consider the Fujifilm if you value portability but don't want to give up a dense feature set.
Of the DSLRs we've tested, the best camera for nature photography is the Nikon D780. Unlike mirrorless options, going with a DSLR gives you access to a wider selection of lenses, including telephoto options that would be well-suited to wildlife photography. While we don't currently evaluate lens systems, Nikon generally offers many DSLR lenses to choose from. The D780 also feels remarkably well-built, and its optical viewfinder gives you an unfiltered look at your subjects.
Its full-frame 24.5 MP sensor delivers excellent image quality with a good amount of dynamic range to bring out more detail in high-contrast scenes. It also has incredible RAW noise handling capability, so photos stay sharp and noise-free when shooting at higher ISO levels in more dimly-lit conditions. While its 8 fps continuous shooting speed isn't as fast as some mirrorless alternatives, it's quick for a DSLR, and it has a virtually instantaneous buffer empty time, so you can shoot without interruption. It also has a remarkably reliable autofocus system for tracking moving subjects like birds.
Unfortunately, it's quite heavy and bulky, so it's not the most convenient to carry around for long days of shooting. It also lacks in-body image stabilization, which may mean less stability when shooting in low light without a tripod, though it still does a good job of stabilizing images with its kit lens. It's also weather-sealed to protect from rain, though we don't currently test for this. If you're looking for a DSLR for wildlife photography, this is one of the best DSLR cameras that we've tested, and it should be well-suited for this use.
If you want a DSLR but prefer to save some money, consider the Canon EOS 90D. It's a crop-sensor camera, so its low light performance and noise handling capability aren't as good as the Nikon D780's, but it's more affordable and a bit less bulky. Like the Nikon, it's weather-sealed, though this isn't something we test. At 11 fps, its high-speed continuous shooting speed is a bit faster, but it has a smaller buffer and a 10s empty time when full, which may interrupt your shooting. It has a slightly less consistent autofocus system, though it's still very good overall, and JPEG image quality is good. That said, it doesn't have in-body image stabilization, and its materials don't feel as robust as the Nikon.
Go with the Nikon if you'd like a full-frame DSLR that's better suited to nighttime and low-light photography, but if you want something cheaper, the Canon is a great alternative.
The best camera for wildlife photography with a bridge design that we've tested is the Panasonic LUMIX FZ1000 II. This camera has a built-in optically-stabilized zoom lens, helping you capture fairly clear images at extended focal lengths. You can achieve its max continuous shooting speed of 12 fps in its silent shooting mode, which should be helpful when trying to snap images of skittish animals. Image quality is great, with a wide dynamic range and good noise handling capability, though image sharpness can degrade at high ISO levels.
The camera's autofocus system does a decent job tracking moving subjects and features some fairly unique functions. 'Post Focus' allows you to change the focus point of an image after you take it, while 'Focus Stacking' stitches together a series of photos taken with different focus points and generates an image with an expanded focus range. However, we don't currently evaluate these features. The camera feels well-built, is comfortable to use, and has an intuitive menu system along with a fully articulated touchscreen display that's bright enough to be easily seen under direct sunlight.
That said, this camera is bulky and somewhat heavy, so you may find it to be a bit of a hassle to carry around in a bag or handheld during long days on the go. It isn't weather-sealed and might not be the best option for shooting wildlife in poor weather conditions. However, note that we don't currently test for water resistance. Overall, if you're looking for a comfortable-to-use bridge camera with a relatively broad range of features, this is a good option.
If you're looking for a bridge camera that you can use to snap photos of wildlife at very long distances, consider the Nikon COOLPIX P1000. This bridge camera is very large and heavy, making it far more of a challenge to carry around than the already sizeable Panasonic LUMIX FZ1000 II. The tradeoff of its enormous bulk is its built-in, optically-stabilized superzoom lens with a remarkable full frame-equivalent max focal length of 3000 mm. It should allow you to easily snap close-ups of far-away wildlife. Image quality is good overall with a fairly wide dynamic range and good noise handling capability, but sharpness can degrade even at moderate ISO levels. The lens' maximum full frame-equivalent aperture of f/15.7 is also limited, making this camera a poor fit for low-light photography. Its autofocus system delivers terrible tracking performance and may struggle to maintain focus on moving wildlife. Its fastest shooting mode also only allows for 7 fps bursts, followed by a brief interruption to let its image buffer clear.
Get the Panasonic if you're looking for a far more versatile bridge camera, but consider the Nikon if maximum focal reach is your main concern.
If you're looking for a point-and-shoot, the best camera for outdoor photography that we've tested is the Sony RX100 VII. This compact camera is remarkably lightweight and portable, with a screen that flips out if you want to shoot at lower angles and a pop-up electronic viewfinder for photographers who prefer to shoot through a viewfinder. Its built-in lens has a max 200mm equivalent focal length, so you can capture far-off subjects.
It has a remarkably fast continuous shooting speed that can capture photos at a speed of 22 fps in its silent drive mode, which is great for shooting wildlife. It also has a burst mode that can shoot seven photos in succession at a speed of 30 fps, 60 fps, or 90 fps to capture very fast movement, though we haven't tested this feature. Its autofocus system does a fantastic job of tracking moving subjects as well, ensuring that they stay in focus. Image quality is excellent overall, particularly in JPEG, though it doesn't perform as well in low light due to its smaller sensor.
While its compact size makes it easy to take anywhere, its lack of a proper handgrip makes it difficult to maintain a secure hold on the camera. It can also be uncomfortable to use for those with larger hands. The camera also has a disappointing battery life, although this can vary drastically with real-world conditions and settings. On the upside, you can keep using it while it charges. All in all, if you're looking for a compact for wildlife photography, this is a solid choice.
Sep 08, 2021: Reviewed accuracy and availability of picks with no change to recommendations.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best cameras for wildlife for most people to buy, according to their needs. We factor in the price, feedback from our visitors, and availability (no cameras that are difficult to find or almost out of stock in the US).
If you would like to choose for yourself, here's the list of all our camera reviews, ranked by their suitability for sports and wildlife photography. Be careful not to get caught up in the details. There is no single perfect camera. Personal taste, preference, and shooting habits will matter more in your final selection.