Few niches are as challenging and personally/ professionally rewarding as wildlife photography. It is a very popular photography niche that offers limitless opportunities for skill, knowledge expansion, while enabling interaction with nature at its finest and beastliest.
Wildlife photography requires that the photographer be perpetually alert, so as to be able to capture what might end up being the shot of a lifetime. That is, of course, easier said than done.
The wildlife photographer might be engaged in capturing the magnificent and timeless dance of birds or bumblebees somewhere in a jungle. He or she might also decide to hunt for the perfect shot of animals out in the wilderness, or take shots of flowers small or mighty at a park next door.
When things are working as they should, being a wildlife photographer can be a source of great joy and fulfilment. When enough skill and nobility of purpose are applied to the task and sublime equipment made use of, the most magnificent results can often be produced. Such results can build our appreciation and understanding of the ever-charming lady known as Mother Nature!
Now, wildlife photography involves the use of cameras and pricey ones at that. A phone camera is simply not suitable, as it requires the user to get up close and personal with the object or animal being photographed. This might not be ideal in the wild with its many hidden dangers.
Things To Consider Before Buying A Wildlife Photography Camera
There are some important factors worth carefully considering before choosing a camera that is specifically tailored to wildlife photography. Merely buying the most expensive camera on this planet will not do, if it does not tick a distinctive list of features that all wildlife photography cameras are supposed to possess.
These features are detailed below.
Buying a wildlife photography camera that can take the most excellent shots of everything and anything of interest in the outdoors is no easy task. It requires doing a bit of research beforehand and then picking a camera that has a select list of very important features.
Big Sensor Size
The sensor size ultimately determines the image quality. A camera might have the most praiseworthy lens on the market, but the sensor size can mean the difference between a punchy photo and a middling one that looks like it was taken by a third grader jumping around on a trampoline!
In a field like wildlife photography, the sensor size is rather vital and matters more than the lenses being used. This is simply due to the fact that it makes it possible to closely photograph the subject from quite a distance away and without appreciably sacrificing quality. More, using sensors of the highest possible quality, in turn, enables the use of lenses that are both lighter and more compact, thus enabling the wildlife photographer to go farther and do more without tiring.
Speedy And Efficient Autofocus
Wildlife photography is an exotic niche. Its subjects are rarely still and that is why there is a need for cameras with very fast and insanely accurate autofocus features, with this enabling the taking of very clear images of objects that are in motion. Evaluating the autofocus system before a purchase is thus a priority. A system with more AF points than the competition used to be able to deliver more performance, but that is no longer the case these days, due to technological advances.
Before making a purchase, some AF features worth being on the lookout for include phase-detection and advanced focus tracking, with these two helping deliver shots of incredible quality. The quality of camera lenses can also affect both the availability and performance of the AF points and that bears taking into consideration.
Frames Per Second
Apart from a camera system being equipped with very accurate auto-focus, it should as well be able to take fast and continuous shots of a moving subject. Such a subject might be an antelope on the run or the leopard that is hunting it. It might as well be nothing more threatening than a pair of garter snakes engaged in a timeless mating ritual. As most animals rarely stay still so that the perfect shot can be taken at ease, systems with very high continuous capture rates are very desirable.
To complement the very fast capture rates, a memory card that is rated for fast speeds must be used. Otherwise, there is a likelihood that the camera will slow down at the least opportune moment, triggering the missing of an image that could have won a slew of awards.
Most wild animals are highly active at night or during low-light conditions as seen at dawn or dusk. They tend to shun the heat of the sun and stay hidden until it has gone over the horizon. Since these animals are most active when there is not much natural light, a camera with a very high ISO range is required.
Such a camera should also feature an expansive ISO range, with this improving low-light performance and permitting the shooting of relatively clear pictures even in conditions of near-total darkness.
Build Quality Plus Size And Weight
Apart from having all the features detailed above, the best wildlife photography cameras must also possess one last important feature- durability. Outdoor conditions are not exactly for the fainthearted and searching for the perfect shot can involve trekking for miles over the most inhospitable terrain.
The best cameras meant for wildlife photography must have great build quality and be able to stand up to a fair amount of abuse. They must be additionally weather-sealed too. Otherwise, such a camera is just an expensive piece of junk.
Some shooters prefer using lightweight and portable cameras that do not leave them too exhausted when they at last approach their destination. Others prefer making use of high-end cameras that cost a very pretty penny and weigh a ton. As tastes and preferences vary, finding the perfect balance between portability and performance is definitely called for.
Top 10 Best Cameras For Wildlife Photography
At last, we come to the meat of the matter- the best cameras for taking the most awesome photos of the great outdoors. The units listed below are a little bit on the expensive side, to say the least, but then good things don’t come cheap. Here are the best 10 wildlife photography cameras that deliver a performance worth cooing over:
Calling the Sony a77II DLSR camera a beast would be merely stating the obvious. This camera came about as a result of Sony choosing to put together imaging systems of such quality as to rival other more established actors in the industry. The Sony a77II is from Sony’s high-end Alpha line, depending on its configurations and has consistently made the list of the top wildlife photography cameras on this planet. This beast features a sensor and image processor with few if any peers, can crank out 24MP photos at 14fps and has an ISO sensitivity of up to 25,600.
The Sony a77II supports a splendid array of zoom lenses and is absurdly feature-packed. It makes for a potent instrument that is meant for wildlife shooters who are new to the game and want to be equipped for all eventualities. Overall, while it might be too complicated for some, it sure is a potent force multiplier any day of the week!
Impressive level of performance.
Exceptional low-light capability.
No 4K video mode.
Accessories can quickly get expensive.
Lacks touchscreen functionality
Smartphone connectivity not the best.
Very complex menus system
The Nikon D850 has a perfect review score on sites like Amazon. It is also an Amazon Choice product and a heavyweight that simply takes no prisoners! It has a 47.5MP image sensor, 4K and 8k support, boasts a tilting touchscreen, sports an EXPEED 5 sensor and a very low ISO range for the clearest low-lit images. All these and more help make the Nikon D850 the champ in more ways than one!
Sure, it does cost almost as much as a used car, especially when used with its associated lenses, but when money is not an issue the Nikon D850 is the go-to choice!
Outputs exceptional images
The touchscreen is very easy and intuitive to use.
Very fast autofocus
Designed for maximum performance
Nikon’s iOS wireless app sucks big time
Lacks focus peaking on 4K videos
A little pricey
Too complicated for noobs.
The Canon EOS 1DX Mark II is a little long in the tooth, but still packs a punch that belies its size. First released last century -in 2016 actually!- it was quickly acclaimed as the best wildlife photography camera money could buy and for good reason.
This unit quickly made itself invaluable due to its support for a wide array of lens options and is able to take 20MP photos at a maximum of 16fps. Its ISO range is from 100 to a totally staggering 409,600 and it has a form factor that tends to attract gaps of awe. Sure, it costs an arm, leg and half a liver, but it does appear to be worth it to the last cent. Want the best and cost to be damned? Then go for the Canon EOS 1DX Mark II!
Impressive low light performance.
Nearly magical dual-pixel autofocus
Easy on the eyes
Can have a steep learning curve.
The Nikon D5 is king of them all and is thus priced accordingly. It features a maximum of 153 AF points, has an ISO setting that ranges to an unbelievable 3,280,000 and sports an FX-format high-res sensor that does its job calmly and spectacularly. Lurking beneath the hood is a rather innovative and class-leading EXPEED 5 image processor. This effortlessly delivers the clearest and sharpest 20MP images known to man, regardless of the set ISO sensitivity.
The Nikon D5 makes itself as versatile as a Swiss army knife by featuring a battery grip and no less than two rather than one shutter release buttons. This feature makes vertical shooting in portrait mode as easy as doing the same in the default landscape mode. The Nikon D5 is clearly meant for folks who are serious about their pictures and willing to spend heaven on earth for perfection!
Excellent ISO performance
Can be addictive!
The Nikon D500 is a sweet piece of work! It can record video in 4K, has an LCD touchscreen and a host of customization options. A 20.9MP sensor is coupled to an EXPEED 5 image processor, with this resulting in the taking of images so sharp as to make most razors look dull! A 153-point AF system is standard and the featured ISO range can be extended to a totally incredible 1,640,000.
The Nikon D500 is rugged enough to take any abuse that is thrown at it, has connectivity options like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, comes with dual card slots and when paired with NIKKOR lenses will consistently deliver class-leading performance. No wonder it is currently an Amazon’s Choice item, though it does have a reputation for sucking battery juice like its candy!
Enables the taking of really sharp images
Lighter than most.
Great build quality
Zaps through battery juice
Terrible wireless connection to smartphones
The Canon EOS 80D is yet another entrant on this list that offers solid performance. This relatively compact DSLR camera is equipped with an intelligent viewfinder that makes finding elusive subjects a breeze, apart from sporting a 45-point all cross-type AF that can almost make pictorial magic happen! A 24.2 MP CMOS sensor is standard, with connectivity options like NFC and Wi-Fi enabling the speedy transfer of images to connected mobile and computing devices.
The ISO range here is wide enough to permit the taking of low-lit pictures that moves both the soul and spirit. Great build quality, reasonable pricing, intuitive screen, and a headphone jack for monitoring audio quality help make this unit a total blast for both noobs and pros to the wildlife photography scene. As for cons, it doesn’t appear to have much, what a beast!
Has a nice heft to it
Incredible autofocus performance
Can be too complicated for noobs
This is a nifty 24.3MP mirrorless camera that offers performance some far bigger DSLR cameras are incapable of matching. This small fella uses a speedy X-Processor Pro for processing images and can shoot in burst mode at up to 14fps. The camera sensor is an APS-C type X-Trans CMOS III that cranks out images as cheerfully as if it is being paid in gold bullion for it!
However, while this camera is as compact as they come and yet powerful and versatile for any purpose, finding the right lenses for it can be a little bit troublesome. Overall though, it is clearly worth its relatively modest price and then some!
Electrifying electronic viewfinder!
Excellent image quality
Poor battery life
Lenses can be hard to find
The Nikon D7200 is a thing of beauty. Brains aplenty are packed within and it features a 24.2MP sensor that takes images like it was born to do it! Noise-free pictures are practically guaranteed, courtesy of the EXCEED 4 image processing sensor and with NFC and Wi-Fi being fully supported, sharing images to a connected unit is a breeze.
The Nikon D7200 excels in capturing the most lovely in bright or dark environments, has no less than 2 memory card slots and despite its power is astonishingly easy to set up and use out of the box. Depending on configurations, this unit can cost over $1,000, which is money well spent if we do say so! As for cons, there is none we can swear to!
All-round great quality
The most awesome picture quality
Easy to use
This unit is ideal for newbies who are still new to the game, afraid of putting a foot wrong and getting chewed up for! It supports a potent APS-C type sensor, and this coupled with the Dual Digic 6 image processor helps it deliver professional quality photos like a boss! The AF system in this unit is quick and agile enough to track all manner of wildlife subjects and permits more accurate focus. The ISO sensitivity maxes out at a more than adequate 51,200 and the frame rate is pegged at a sufficient enough 10fps.
The Mark II has an AF system that has been tweaked to go above and beyond the call of duty in low light shooting conditions, especially at dusk and dawn. This, combined with its relatively low price make it a steal. On the minus side, the battery performance is not really ideal, but we can live with that. Also, the unit can be really complicated to use and wringing the most use out of it requires the purchase of some expensive lenses. But that is to be expected.
Lots of user customization options
Totally incredible picture quality and low light performance.
Average battery life
Lenses and other accessories can be pricey
The Nikon 1 V3 should be the poster boy for mirrorless cameras! It is small but mighty, has a fair amount of renown regarding is speed and power and looks good on the eyes. While only able to produce 18MP images and HD videos, it has a splendid trick up its sleeve. This is a sinfully advanced hybrid 175-point AF system that once subject-locked can shoot at a steady 60fps.
Weight is less than a pound and its small size means that it is almost possible to slip into one’s front pocket! Want to unleash its power and get noticed rather fast? Then pair this camera with any Nikon-branded lens that features image stabilization and your pictures will practically take themselves! However, rightly or wrongly, this unit has a reputation for producing noise-filled images.
Supports simultaneous photo and video shooting
Image quality is not really class-leading
Not very intuitive to use
Is wildlife photography safe?
Yes, wildlife photography is perfectly safe as long as due caution is exercised and precautions are taken.
How many cameras are needed for wildlife photography?
Just one would do. Those who are richer than Croesus are however free to buy a trainload of cameras and use these as they see fit!
Is wildlife photography for everyone?
More or less. Wildlife photography often requires walking for long distances in hot or humid climates, or very cold ones. Thus, it is usually recommended that wildlife photographers at least be a little on the fit side.
Is there money in wildlife photography?
Yes of course! Depending on the quality of the image and what it shows. It can sell for 4, 5 or even 6 figures.
Apart from cameras and related accessories, what other equipment is needed for wildlife photography?
Well, snacks should be packed, as well as water, a first aid kit, and spare batteries. A radio or satellite phone for use in areas where there is no cell phone coverage might be required.
Wildlife photography is no walk in the park and requires some pretty specialized equipment like cameras. While there are plenty of cameras floating around, only a few are suitable for use in wildlife photography. The best of these cameras are covered in this Top 10 review and while on the expensive side can easily turn any wildlife photographer into a god with a camera!