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, meaning that 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 65 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.
If you're looking for a mirrorless model, the best camera for nature photography that we've tested for most people is the Nikon Z 6II. It's a well-rounded full-frame camera with in-body image stabilization, which should help reduce camera shake and vibrations when shooting at longer focal lengths without a tripod. It also features two SD card slots, including one supporting high-speed CFexpress cards for a practically unlimited photo buffer for RAW and JPEG images.
The camera has a good autofocus system with 273 advertised detection points. While it's less reliable when tracking faces, it has an excellent success rate when tracking moving objects and should do well with birds and small animals. It uses a 24.5-megapixel sensor and delivers excellent image quality with fantastic RAW noise handling capability, meaning it performs well even at higher ISOs in low light or at night. Its max 13 fps continuous shooting speed should also be well-suited to capturing quick bursts of fast-moving action.
That said, its advertised 340 photo battery life is somewhat short for long days of shooting, although battery life can vary drastically depending on your choice of settings and usage habits. On the upside, you can keep using it while it charges via USB, which is handy if you have an external power bank. All in all, this is one of the best cameras for wildlife photography that we've tested thanks to its fast burst shooting, effective autofocus, excellent image quality, and low-light capability.
If you prefer the smaller size and extended focal reach offered by an APS-C sensor, consider the Fujifilm X-T4. While it doesn't have the same low-light noise handling capability as the Nikon Z 6II, it's lighter and more portable, and its smaller sensor means you can get more focal reach out of shorter lenses for farther-away subjects. It doesn't support CFexpress cards, but it still has two UHS-II card slots, meaning that you can have a backup card, and while its RAW image buffer is somewhat small, you can shoot virtually uninterrupted in JPEG. It has a very fast 12 fps max shooting speed when using its mechanical shutter and a fantastic 20 fps speed in silent mode using its electronic shutter. It also has a very good autofocus system with an advertised 425 detection points, though it can sometimes be inconsistent when tracking moving objects. It has in-body image stabilization to reduce camera shake, and its 26.1-megapixel sensor delivers sharp, high-quality images. Its battery life should also last you a long while, though this can vary.
Go with the Nikon if image quality and low-light performance are priorities, but if you want a versatile camera that's more lightweight, the Fujifilm is a great alternative.
The best DSLR camera we've tested for birding and wildlife photography is the Nikon D780. DSLR cameras are a good choice for nature photography because of their optical viewfinders and vast selection of lenses. This model feels very well-built and comfortable to use, with an intuitive menu system and well-spaced controls that provide good physical feedback. Its magnesium alloy body is also advertised to be weather-sealed to protect against elements like rain and dust when you're out in nature.
While its continuous shooting burst speed isn't as fast as some mirrorless alternatives, it still shoots at a fast 8 fps in its high-speed drive mode, which should be suitable for capturing clear shots of birds or other animals. It also has a virtually instantaneous buffer empty time, meaning that even if you fill up the buffer, it shouldn't slow you down. Its overall image quality is excellent thanks to its full-frame 24.5-megapixel sensor, and it performs well even in low light, with incredible noise handling capability at higher ISO settings.
Unfortunately, it doesn't have in-body image stabilization, meaning you have to rely on the optical stabilization of your lens when shooting without a tripod. Still, with its kit lens attached, it does a superb job of stabilizing photos when shooting handheld. It also has a fantastic autofocus system that reliably tracks moving subjects to keep them in focus. All in all, this is one of the best DSLR cameras we've tested, and it's a great choice for wildlife photography.
If you want to save some money, check out the Canon EOS 90D. Unlike the Nikon D780, it uses a crop sensor, so it doesn't perform as well in low light, and it doesn't feel as premium or well-built, though it's still advertised to be weather-sealed, and it's notably cheaper. It still feels very comfortable to use, and its menu system is incredibly easy to navigate. It delivers good overall image quality, though its RAW noise handling capability is just okay at higher ISO levels. On the upside, it has a faster 11 fps high-speed continuous shooting speed. However, its photo buffer is much smaller, and it has a 10s buffer empty time, which may slow you down if you manage to fill it up. The camera also lacks in-body image stabilization, but it still does an excellent job of reducing handheld camera shake with its kit lens attached. It also has a very good autofocus system that tracks moving subjects decently well.
Get the Nikon if image quality and low-light performance are priorities. However, if you're looking to save some money on a solid camera and leave more room in your budget for lenses, the Canon is a good alternative.
If you're looking for a bridge camera, the best camera for wildlife photography that we've tested with a fixed superzoom lens is the Panasonic LUMIX FZ1000 II. This bridge camera feels well-built and very comfortable to shoot with thanks to its DSLR-style body, which includes a large textured handgrip and a comfortable viewfinder. Its built-in lens has a 25-400mm equivalent focal length range, so you can easily zoom in on far-away subjects like birds or small animals.
While it can struggle to track faces consistently, the camera's autofocus system does a very good job of tracking moving objects. It has a couple of useful features like 'Focus Stacking', which lets you combine images taken at different focus points for a wider focal range, and 'Post Focus', which lets you change the focus point of an image after it's been taken, both of which may be useful for nature photographers. It also shoots at a speed of 10 fps in its high-speed continuous shooting mode, meaning you can take quick burst photos of fast movement.
That said, it has a small image buffer, especially when shooting in RAW format. It also has a long buffer empty time when shooting in RAW, which may interrupt your shooting, but on the upside, it empties its buffer virtually instantaneously when shooting in JPEG. It also delivers great overall image quality. Overall, this is a great value option if you're looking for a bridge camera for nature photography.
If zoom range is your biggest priority, then check out the Nikon COOLPIX P1000. It's notably bigger and heavier than the Panasonic LUMIX FZ1000 II, making it a bit cumbersome to carry around. However, it has the longest zoom range of any fixed-lens camera at 125x zoom. Its built-in lens has an exceptional 24-3000mm full-frame equivalent focal length and features good optical stabilization to reduce camera shake, though you may still need to use a tripod and a remote shutter when shooting at extreme focal lengths. Still, it should allow you to snap clear photos or close-ups of animals or birds that are very far away. However, its autofocus system is sluggish and unreliable, and while you can take burst photos at a speed of 7 fps to capture fast movement, it only shoots bursts of seven images at a time. Still, it delivers good overall image quality in brighter lighting conditions.
Get the Panasonic if you want a more practical and versatile bridge camera, but if you want the longest zoom on the market, go with the Nikon.
The best camera for outdoor photography that we've tested with a compact design is the Sony RX100 VII. If you need something small and portable for some light nature photography, a compact is a good option since you can easily take it with you wherever you go. It has a small pop-up EVF if you prefer to shoot through a viewfinder, and its built-in lens can zoom up to a max 200mm equivalent focal length to capture subjects that are farther away.
Its overall image quality is excellent, with incredible dynamic range, although it's less suited to shooting in dim conditions due to its smaller sensor. Its autofocus system is also fantastic, with 357 advertised detection points and a subject detection mode that lets you choose between people or animals. It shoots photos at a remarkably fast 20 fps in its high-speed continuous shooting mode to capture quick bursts of fast action. It also features a 'Single Burst' shooting mode that fires off a seven-image burst at speeds of 30 fps, 60 fps, or 90 fps for split-second action shots.
That said, it has a relatively small photo buffer, particularly when shooting in RAW, and it takes a very long time for its image buffer to empty once full, so that may interrupt your shooting. Its battery life is also sub-par, though this can vary with settings and usage habits. It does support use while charging via USB, however, which is handy if you have a portable battery pack. All in all, this is a good option for wildlife photography if you just want a point-and-shoot.
Nov 10, 2021: Checked picks for accuracy and availability; no change to recommendations.
Oct 20, 2021: Checked accuracy and availability of picks; no change to recommendations.
Sep 29, 2021: Added the Panasonic LUMIX GH5 II, the Sony a7 III, and the Sony RX10 IV to Notable Mentions.
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.