/The Best Cameras For Taking Nature And Wildlife Photography

The Best Cameras For Taking Nature And Wildlife Photography

 

As mirrorless cameras close the gap, DSLR cameras are still the best option for nature and wildlife photography. DSLR cameras offer you the ability to attach an extreme telephoto lens and pull your shot in as close as if you were standing right next to your subject.

The key to nature and wildlife photography is the telephoto lens. If you want to reach out and touch something, you must be close to it. Nature and wildlife photography must appear as if you’re standing right next to it for it to have the impact that most photographers are seeking.

If for example, you’re using a 20-megapixel camera and you have a model that will allow you to magnify your image another 1.5X, you’re going to make the length of your focus more equivalent to 400 mm or 600 mm. Thus, it only stands to reason that the more magnification or telephoto strength you can get, the better.

Another important feature that you’re going to want when doing nature and wildlife photography is speed and accuracy. The higher your shutter speed, the better. Animals are known to bolt and run and you want to capture the very second they choose to stand still for the best possible photo opportunity.

Newer camera models tend to have more technology and thus offer you a better shutter speed and accuracy. High-end models often deliver more AF performance than the entry level models. Multi-point AF models will outperform the older models and you’ll be more likely to have an uncluttered background and be able to put your subject in the center focal point of the photo shoot.

The camera with a focus tracking capability can enhance the opportunity for success. Of course, nothing is infallible, so you’ll want to understand the technology of your camera and be able to manually set the settings as well as rely on the auto settings. Always become familiar with your camera and learn how to use it properly before you go out and anticipate that huge photo shoot.

The more time you take to experiment with your new camera, the better skills you’ll develop when you’re really counting on that important photo. Always remember that your choice of lens will have a huge impact on the autofocus of your camera. Pro super-telephoto lenses will have fast motors and smart AF algorithms. They’re durable and will have strong seals against the elements of weather and dust. They may cost you a bit more but it’s worth it when you consider the beating that outdoor cameras will be taking.

Understanding your frames per second and your max burst is critical to capturing that perfect moment. The faster you can capture the photo, the more likely you are to get that once in a lifetime shot. You’ll want to choose the fastest rated memory card that your camera will support in order to capture that once in a lifetime shot and make the grade for your expectations.

Keep in mind that when you’re taking nature and wildlife shots, you’re shooting in lower light conditions that occur near dusk and dawn. This is why you require higher ISO. You’ll want to consider the aperture requirements for the AF system as well as the flexibility of the various options for your specific camera. Keep in mind also that the higher the ISO, the noisier the camera. Don’t compromise noise for sharpness if you’re planning to get the shot.

The light will translate to less noise level and the larger the sensor the lighter in the surface area. Full-frame cameras are going to offer you higher ISO settings than that of the smaller settings.

Our list:

Here are some of our top choices for cameras for nature and wildlife photography. You’re sure to find one that suits your specific needs and desires if you carefully consider how you’re going to be using your camera.

CameraDisplay SizeBatteryWeight 
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II3.2 inches30 Watt Hours0.66 poundsCheck Price
Canon EOS 80D3 inches1 Watt Hour1.4 poundsCheck Price
Nikon D53.2 inches3780 shots3.1 poundsCheck Price
Nikon D5003.2 inches14 Watt Hours1.9 poundsCheck Price
Pentax K-1-760 shots2.22 poundsCheck Price
Pentax K-3 II3.2 inches14 Watt Hours1.76 poundsCheck Price
Sony a993 inches2 Watt Hours3.4 poundsCheck Price
Sony a77 II3 inches2 Watt Hours1.43 poundsCheck Price
 

1. Canon EOS-1D X Mark II

You’ll love this option for nature and wildlife photography. With 14 FPS you can use the optical viewfinder or if you’re in live mode you can use up to 16 FPS. It also offers up 61 AF points or 41 of the cross-type so you’ll have impressive pictures no matter what your subject.

Pros
  • Excellent high ISO performance
  • Very quick mode changes
  • Very low shutter lag
  • Built-in GPS
  • Good battery life
  • Highly customizable controls
Cons
  • No focus peaking or zebras
  • Very heavy and bulky
  • No focus peaking or zebras

2. Canon EOS 80D

Featuring a 45 point AF set up, you’ll be able to select from a variety of lenses with this model. Your AF system will be compatible with the f/8 apertures or larger so you’ll have plenty to choose from. Just as the newer version of the EOS-1D X Mark II, this AF can also function in lower light settings. It can function in moonlight which is at -3EV. An ideal choice if you’re planning for those dawn and dusk shots.

Pros
  • Very good hue accuracy
  • Great battery life
  • Impressive Dual Pixel Auto-Focus
  • User-friendly screen/menu
  • In-camera HDR mode
  • Low shutter lag
Cons
  • No 4K video shooting
  • No clean HDMI output
  • Single SD card slot

3. Nikon D5

As Nikon’s flagship for nature and wildlife, this camera offers up fast and precise AF. You’ll appreciate the 153 points of which 99 are a cross type and the other 15 can function as apertures as small as a f/8. The AF also has a dedicated processor that will work very well in low light such as down to -4 EV. It captures 12 FPS with the viewfinder or an amazing 14 FPS with the mirror in the lock position.

Pros
  • 4K video capture
  • ISO range 100 to 102,400
  • Fast Auto Focus
Cons
  • Screen does not tilt or rotate
  • Lacks CF or SD

4. Nikon D500

This version offers up the same AF system as the top of the line professional D5 and the EXPEED 5 processor. While not as fast as a D5, you’re sure to appreciate that it’s still very fast and offers up a maximum rate of 10 FPS. Featuring excellent weather sealing as the professional models such as the D810, you’re sure to appreciate the amazing ISO range of this Nikon model.

Pros
  • Auto – AF fine tuning
  • Touchscreen
  • 1.5 crop factor
  • Weather sealed
Cons
  • APS-C Sensor in terms of high ISO
  • No pop-up flash

5. Pentax K-1

Ideal for outdoor photography, you’re sure to appreciate all that this camera has to offer. With 87 weather components to ensure a full seal, you’ll appreciate the enhanced telephoto reach as well as the maximum frame rate from the 4.4 FPS to the 6.5 FPS. It has a five axis shake reduction so you’re sure to shoot a stable photo regardless of the lens that you’re using.

Pros
  • Terrific dynamic range in RAW files
  • Excellent ergonomics
  • Very good high ISO performance
  • On-demand AA filtering
Cons
  • Warm Auto white balance indoors
  • Slow buffer clearing
  • No 4K video capture

6. Pentax K-3 II

Just as the full frame K-1, this K-3 offers great protection against the weather elements and environmental elements. It works well in lower light conditions down to -3 EV so dawn and dusk are no issues. With image stabilization built in even the shakiest cameraman can operate this successfully. It has up to 4.5 stops for reduction regardless of which lens you’re choosing to use.

Pros
  • Excellent high ISO image quality
  • In-camera shake reduction
  • Weather-sealed design
  • Dual SD card slots
Cons
  • No Wifi functionality
  • Limited autofocus during video recording

7. Sony a99

While this model isn’t technically a DSLR, the a99 focuses on Sony’s Translucent Mirror technology. This ensures that it will pass the light to the image sensor and reflect a small portion of this light to the phase detector in the AF. Using full resolution, the a00 captures up to 6 FPS and you’ll have the option to shoot at up to 10 FPS resulting in cropped files of 4.5 megapixels.

Pros
  • Very good high ISO performance
  • Articulating LCD
  • Fast USB transfers
  • Sensor-shift image stabilization
Cons
  • No built-in flash
  • Poor battery life
  • No flicker reduction for fluorescent lights

8. Sony a77 II

Just as its sibling the a99, this model uses the Translucent Mirror Technology in a newer version. With many great advantages for nature and wildlife photography, you’re sure to appreciate how quickly it captures the speed and movement of the subject. The AF offers up to 79 points and 15 of these are cross types. It also has excellent weather sealing around all of the buttons, the controls and the camera itself so it’s an ideal choice for any outdoor photography as it’s well sealed against the elements and the weather.

Pros
  • Fantastic AF with superior tracking
  • Excellent LCD
  • Excellent overall image quality
Cons
  • Some issues at high ISO
  • GPS tagging has been removed

 

Conclusion

When considering the right camera for your nature and wildlife photography, you’re going to want to consider where you’ll be using your camera the most and what your specific needs are going to be.

Will you be doing professional or amateur photography or will you simply be taking pictures as you go through life? How fast will you need your lens to work and how much weatherization will your camera require?

If you live in an area that gets more moisture than other areas you’ll want your camera to have the proper weatherization to ensure that all of the electronic components are safe from the elements of weather and dust as well as dirt.

Your next consideration is likely going to be your budget. We’ve included cameras in several budget categories to ensure that you have plenty of great options. You’ll appreciate that regardless of your budget these cameras are all top of the line high-quality cameras that will deliver.

You’ll appreciate the ease of operation and the many benefits that each style and version of these cameras offer. Whether you’re new to the art of photography or a pro you’re going to love how many great cameras there are to choose from. It’s not unusual for a photographer to have several cameras to choose from, a different style for each type of photography that they desire to do. Nature and wildlife photography is a great art and pastime.

Gary Nguyen is a 24-year-old photographer and writer from Romania. Some of his works have been published in The Guardian, New York Times, Telegraph, and many others. Learn more