The Best Camera for Wildlife in 2020

The Best Cameras for Wildlife Photography in 2020

With such a wide selection of cameras available how does one narrow the list down to the best cameras for wildlife photography available in 2020?

A pretty daunting task – I can tell you!

I decided that the best way to decide was to go directly to the world’s top wildlife photographers and see what camera bodies and gear they use.  

The following list of 9 cameras, used by award winning photographers, covers all the major brands and a full range of budgets.

While ‘Wildlife‘ is a specific genre it can of course be broken into sub-niches.

For the purpose of my research I stuck with the larger animal side of wildlife (including camera’s that are excellent for bird photography) – ignoring such things as macro photography and plants.

As a result the following check list of criteria may not apply to certain genres.  For example you probably do not need a high shooting rate (frames per second) for macro or plant photography.

Once again the following is feedback and recommendations from top wildlife photographers.

It is highly recommended you consider the following features when looking at cameras suited to wildlife photography:

  • Frames Per Second. 
    Ideally something faster than 8 frames per second is best.
  • Fast Auto-focusing.
    This really needs to be quick and have the ability to lock on.
    Bear in mind that the lens plays a part in this and that modern lenses are, at least theoretically, faster than older models.
  • Megapixels.
    The greater the number megapixels the more detail you will have on file and therefore the more you will be able to crop without losing too much detail.  An important consideration for photographers that specialise in birds – particularly birds in flight.
  • Cameras with a high dynamic range.
    As wildlife is often captured in low light conditions, such as early morning or late afternoon/evening, it’s important to be able to capture detail in shadow and to produce the colours you want.
  • Cameras with good low-light capabilities.
    Usually this translates to the ISO range. But the ISO range is only as good as the images it produces with little or no noise. It’s all well and god to say your camera has an ISO range of  ‘x to y’ but if that ‘y’ end produces grainy photos with shutter speeds faster than half a second it isn’t much use for wildlife in low light.
  • Good weather sealing is important as shooting takes place out doors in all types of weather conditions.
  • Lens availability.
    With the new range of mirrorless cameras lens availability is currently not as varied as the older established lenses used for DSLR bodies. 
    If you are new to photography this may not be as big a problem as it might be to those who are already heavily invested in good glass. 
    Just something to bear in mind.
  • And last but not least – ergonomics.
    The camera must feel good in your hands and be easy to handle for you. Every brand has a layout that they more or less stick to.  You’ll feel more comfortable with one than with another.
Which of the many options is the best camera for wildlife photography

The Top 9 Cameras for Wildlife Photography for 2020

In alphabetical order – by brand.

Canon EOS 1DX Mk ii

Key Specifications:

  • Sensor size: Full Frame 35.9 x 23.9 mm
  • Sensor Type: CMOS 
  • Resolution (Megapixels): 20.2 
  • Processor: Dual DIGIC 6+
  • System: DSLR
  • ISO Range: 100 – 51,200 expandable to 50 – 409,600
  • Frames Per Second: 14
  • Max Shutter speed: 1/8000 sec
  • Autofocus Points: 61 Cross type points.  Reduces to 41 in very low light
  • Screen: Touch screen. Fixed with 1,620,000 dots
  • Weather Sealed: Yes
  • Video: 4k 60P
  • Weight: 1340 grams / 2.95 lbs
  • External Dimensions: 6.6 x 6.22 x 3.26 inches
    167.6 x 158.0 x 82.8 mm
 
 

Pros:

  • Definitely designed with fast action wildlife and sport in mind
  • Incredibly fast and accurate focusing that locks on
  • Drives like a Rolls Royce despite being built like a tank
  • Provides extreme detail even in low light conditions
  • Wide dynamic range
  • Excellent for personal settings with 3 options available
  • Huge files allow for maximum cropping without loss of detail – very useful for birds in flight or where animals are a long way away.
  • Very good 4K video

Cons.

  • Big and heavy (add a big game lens and you’re going to get tired)
  • Strangely enough although big the D1X Mk ii is comfortable to hold even for smaller hands
  • Large files take up a lot of computer space

Canon 5D Mk iv

Key Specifications:

  • Sensor size: Full Frame 35.9 x 23.9 mm
  • Sensor Type: CMOS 
  • Resolution (Megapixels): 30.4
  • Processor: DIGIC 6+
  • System: DSLR
  • ISO Range: 100 – 32,000 expandable to 50 – 102,400
  • Frames Per Second: 7
  • Max Shutter speed: 1/8000 sec
  • Autofocus Points: 61  of which 41  are cross type
  • Screen: Touch screen. Fixed with 1,620,000 dots
  • Weather Sealed: Yes
  • Video: 4K
  • Weight: 890 g (31.4oz/1.96 lbs) with battery
  • External Dimensions: 4.58″ x 5.93″ x 2.99″ (116.4 x 150.7 x 75.9 mm)
 

Pros:

  • Weather sealed body
  • Lightweight
  • Very fast focusing and responsive
  • 7 fps burst rate – fast enough?
  • 4K Video
  • Video still frames can be saved as individual images
  • Dual memory cards

Cons.

  • No Mirror-Up option
  • 7 fps might be considered too slow for extremely fast moving action
  • Different format memory cards

Canon 7D Mk ii

Key Specifications:

  • Sensor size: APS -C sensor providing a 1.6 x crop factor
  • Sensor Type: CMOS
  • Resolution (Megapixels): 20.2 mp
  • Processor: Dual DIGIC 6
  • System: DSLR
  • ISO Range: 100 – 16,00 extendable to 100 – 51,200
  • Frames Per Second: 10 fps
  • Max Shutter speed: 1/8000 sec
  • Autofocus Points: Phase detection 65 cross points
  • Screen: Fixed with 1,040,000 dots
  • Weather Sealed: Yes
  • Video: Full HD (1920 x 1080) 24p/30p/60p
    HD (1280 x 720) 30p/60p
  • Weight: 2 lbs/910 grams with battery and cards
  • External Dimensions: 5.9′ x 4.4′ x 3.1″ / 148.6 x 112.4 x 78.2 mm
 

Pros

  • Superb weather sealing
  • Being an APS – C camera you get an extra 1.6 x reach;  very useful for wildlife photography
  • Very fast and accurate auto focus
  • Exceptional birding camera
  • Dual card slots – Slot 1 SDSD/SDHC/SDXC Slot 2 CompactFlash
  • Great value and fantastic for the more budget conscious
  • Highly rated by all who have owned one

Cons

  • Probably soon to be phased out
  • Limited cropping capabilities with the smaller sensor making good composition a top criteria (but that’s not necessarily a bad thing)

Fjifilm X-T3

Key Specifications:

  • Sensor size: APS -C sensor providing a 1.5 x crop factor
  • Sensor Type: CMOS
  • Resolution (Megapixels): 26.1 mp
  • Processor: X-Processor 4
  • System: Mirrorless
  • ISO Range: 160 – 12,800 expandable to 60 – 51,200
  • Frames Per Second: Varies with options to shoot at lower mp range. For comparative purposes work on 11 fps and 42 RAW exposures before camera starts to slow down
  • Max Shutter speed: 1/8000 sec for manual shutter and 1/32000 sec with the electronic shutter
  • Autofocus Points: Phase Detection 2,160,000
  • Screen: Tilting touchscreen with 1,040,000 dots
  • Weather Sealed: Yes
  • Video: Again various options can be selected. Work on DCI 4K (4096 x 2160) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p [100 to 400 Mb/s] and UHD 4K (4096 x 2160) at 50p/59.94p [100 to 200 Mb/s] – there are more options though.  Suffice to say the video is excellent.
  • Weight: 1.19 lbs / 539 g with Battery and memory cards installed
  • External Dimensions: 5.2″ x 3.7″ x 2.3″ / 132.5 x 92.8 x 58.8 mm
 

Pros

  • 1.5 x Crop factor for extra reach
  • Excellent build quality
  • Takes stunning, clear and sharp photos
  • Functions are simple and the camera is easy to use
  • Very compact size
  • Silent shutter – won’t scare the animals off (but don’t get too close)
  • Fuji is renowned for their colours 
  • The Fuji lenses are exceptional

Cons

  • Lens selection is not as prolific as Nikon or Canon (but the available lenses are excellent)
  • May be on the small size for those with large hands

Nikon D5

Key Specifications:

  • Sensor size: Full Frame 35.9 x 23.9 mm
  • Sensor Type: CMOS
  • Resolution (Megapixels): 20.8
  • Processor: Expeed 5 Image Processor
  • System: DSLR
  • ISO Range: 100 – 102,400 expandable to 50 – 3,280,000
  • Frames Per Second: 12 fps for up to 200 frames
  • Max Shutter speed: 1/8000 sec
  • Autofocus Points: Phase detection 153 (99 cross type) points
  • Screen: Fixed Touchscreen with 2,529,000 dots
  • Weather Sealed: Yes
  • Video: 4k at 30p, full HD at 24p, HD at 60p
  • Weight: 3.11 lbs / 1415 g with battery installed 
  • External Dimensions: 6.3 x 6.2 x 3.6″ / 160 x 158.5 x 92 mm
 

Pros:

  • Incredible low light capabilities
  • Dual card slots
  • Option of purchasing a body with either dual Compact Flash or XQD card slots
  • Massive buffer of 102 RAW files or 200 jpegs
  •  12 Fps for up to 200 frames!
  • Best buffer on the market
  • Exceptional focusing and tracking for birds in flight
  • Focus point movement with joystick makes moving focus point easy to do on the fly

Cons.

  • With fewer pixels cropping is not as versatile as the Nikon D850 (see below) – making composition important for subjects like birds in flight
  • Heavy and a day’s shooting will be tiring

Nikon D850

Key Specifications:

  • Sensor size: Full Frame 35.9 x 23.9 mm
  • Sensor Type: BSI CMOS 
  • Resolution (Megapixels): 45.7 mp
  • Processor: Expeed 5 
  • System: DSLR
  • ISO Range: 64 – 25,600 (expandable to 32 – 102,400)
  • Frames Per Second: 7 (9 with battery grip) for up to 51 exposures.
  • Max Shutter speed: 1/8000 sec
  • Autofocus Points: Phase detection 153 (99 Cross type) points.  
  • Screen: Tilting touch screen with 2,360,000 dots
  • Weather Sealed: Yes
  • Video: 4k 30P/Full HD (1920 x 1080) 24p – 120p/HD (1280 x 720) 50p/59.94p
  • Weight: 915 grams / 2.01 lbs
  • External Dimensions: 5.7″ x 4.9″ x 3.1″ / 146 x 124 x 78.5 mm
 

Pros:

  • Produces incredible detail and is amazingly sharp
  • Double card slot – XQD and SD cards
  • Excellent buffer with up to 51 shots before the camera slows down
  • Incredible resolution
  • Large files allow for extensive cropping
  • Very fast focusing
  • Focus locking is out of this world
  • Large screen for easy viewing
  • View finder has 100% coverage

Cons.

  • Uses 2 different cards XQD and SD.  Considered by some to be unnecessary
  • Large files will use up computer space and RAM quickly – you may have to upgrade your computer hardware (nice problem to have 🙂 )
  • Another camera that is on the heavy side that coupled with a large lens could prove tiring after a day’s wildlife outing

Nikon D500

Key Specifications:

  • Sensor size: Nikon’s DX (APS – C ) with 1.5 x crop factor
  • Sensor Type: CMOS 
  • Resolution (Megapixels): 20.9
  • Processor: EXPEED 5 Image processor
  • System: DSLR
  • ISO Range: 100 – 51,200 expandable to 50 – 1,640,000
  • Frames Per Second: 10 fps for up to 200 exposures before buffer slows down
  • Max Shutter speed: 1/8000 sec
  • Autofocus Points: 153 (99 cross type) points. 
  • Screen: Tilting touch screen
  • Weather Sealed: Yes
  • Video: 4K (UHD) 30p/25p/24p, 1080/60p/50p/30p/25p/24p, 720/60p/50p
  • Weight: 1.89 lbs / 860 g  with battery and memory cards inserted
  • External Dimensions: 5.8″ x 4.5″ x 3.2″ / 147 x 115 x 81 mm
 

Pros

  • Designed specifically for sports and wildlife photography
  • Smaller and lighter version of the Nikon D5 
  • Extra reach with the crop factor with no discernible loss in image quality
  • DX (APS-C) provides 1.5 x crop factor
  • Smaller and lighter than the Nikon D5 – you won’t get as tired carrying it around with a big lens
  • Extremely fast focusing and locking on
  • One cannot say enough about this camera – it is that good

Cons

  • Sorry folks I’m going to have to disappoint you here.  The only negative reviews I found on this camera got the thumbs down (indicating the review was not useful or relevant)  from others.
  • I suspect that some of those bad reviews were intentionally put there by people for reasons known only to them.

Nikon Z6

Key Specifications:

  • Sensor size: Nikon FX (full frame) 
  • Sensor Type: BSI CMOS 
  • Resolution (Megapixels): 24.5 mp 
  • Processor: EXPEED 6
  • System: Mirrorless
  • ISO Range: 100 – 51,200 expandable to 50 – 204,800
  • Frames Per Second: 12 fps
  • Max Shutter speed: 1/8000 sec
  • Autofocus Points: Phase detection 273 points
  • Screen: Tilting touchscreen with 2,100,000 dots
  • Weather Sealed: Yes
  • Video: UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p
    Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/119.88p
  • Weight: 1.29 lbs/ 585 grams (body only)
  • External Dimensions: 5.3″ x 4.0″ x 2.7″ /134 x 100.5 x 67.5mm

Pros

  • Small and compact – you won’t get tired using the Z6 all day
  • Whole new range of lenses available
  • The wider and shorter Z mount technology and Z lenses allows for f stops as low as 0.9 giving you the most incredible bokeh
  • In body image stabilisation of up to 5 stops!
  • Great camera for wildlife photography 
  • Fast and accurate focusing
  • Exceptional in low light

Cons

  • Limited lens options available – for now
  • Requires an adaptor to use the older Nikon lenses on the Z mount 
  • Only 1 card slot (XQD) – best hope the card never fails
  • Electronic communication with third party lenses, such as Tamron and Sigma, not currently available. This should happen over the course of time.

Sony a9ii

*I was originally going to review the Sony a9 but after contacting a couple of renowned wildlife photographers who use the Sony a7R iv and Sony a9 I was advised that I could best serve my readers by reviewing the recently released Sony a9 ii.

They say this is the camera that they will be switching to soon as it exceeds all expectations!

Key Specifications:

  • Sensor size: Full Frame
  • Sensor Type: Exmor RS CMOS Sensor
  • Resolution (Megapixels): 24.2 mp
  • Processor: BIONZ X Image Processor & Front-End LSI
  • System: Mirrorless
  • ISO Range: 100- 51,200 expandable to 50 – 204,800
  • Frames Per Second: Up to 20 fps
  • Max Shutter speed: 1/8000 with manual shutter and 1/32000 with electronic shutter
  • Autofocus Points: 693-Point Phase-Detection AF System
  • Screen: Tilting touchscreen with 1,440,000 dots
  • Weather Sealed: Yes
  • Video:
    XAVC S
    UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 24.00p/25p/29.97p [60 to 100 Mb/s]
    Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 24.00p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/119.88p [50 to 100 Mb/s]
    AVCHD
    Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 50i/59.94i [17 to 24 Mb/s]
  • Weight: 1.49 lbs / 678 g with battery and memory cards inserted
  • External Dimensions: 5.07″ x 3.8″ x 3.05″ / 128.9 x 96.4 x 77.5 mm
 

The Sony a7R iv is a very highly rated camera and rather than review both the a7R and the a9 ii I thought a video providing a comparison of the two would be more helpful.

The video below gives a pretty good comparison.

You won’t go wrong with either of these amazing cameras.

Enjoy!

Pros

  • Enhanced exterior body with an improved user interface and better (more easily accessed) controls
  • Improved autofocus and image stabilisation
  • Smooth handling
  • Much improved weather sealing
  • Larger grip
  • Excellent eye tracking – a wonderful feature to have for birds and wildlife
  • Fast focusing and locking creating critical focus on even the fastest moving subjects
  • Completely customisable
  • Produces superb images

Cons

  • A somewhat disappointing 24.2 mp for so much camera

Not Everyone Will Agree With This List ...

There are hundreds of great wildlife photographers out there but only a handful work for outfits like National Geographic and many continue to win international awards year after year.   

It is these successful and world acclaimed wildlife photographers that I have looked at to compile my list of top 10 best cameras for wildlife photography.

The one thing all of them have is an ability to take great photos – regardless of the make or model of the camera they use.

As these cameras are used by the world’s best current crop of wildlife photographers – who am I to argue?

A consensus among all of the top photographers is that no camera is bad. 

They have all used different brands at different times and been more than happy with them at each phase of their photography career.

Many have switched brands because they have been approached to become ambassadors for a brand; and who wouldn’t switch brands for an entirely new and free set of gear, a salary and the opportunity to travel the world – doing what you love most?

I am acutely aware that I have left out newer models that will be equally good, or “better”, and that within months there will be more cameras to choose from.

Any of the cameras listed here will last you a long time and will continue to produce fantastic shots time after time for many years to come.

Grab one, anyone, and get out there and take photos of our wildlife before they all become extinct! 

Pair Your Camera With the Best Lens

While the top wildlife photographers shoot with different bodies for a variety of reasons they all agree 100% on one thing.

And that is high quality precision lenses do make a huge difference.

There’s no getting away from it folks, if you want to get the very best out of any camera, you need to buy the best lens you can afford. 

Generally speaking that means a prime lens with a wide aperture, f2.8 if possible.  However certain cameras that produce sharp photos even at a very high ISO can comfortably sacrifice the wide aperture – cameras such as the Canon 1DX Mkii, the Nikon D850  and the Nikon D5 fall into this category

Bodies will come and go but lenses last forever – thank goodness otherwise photography would be too expensive for us mere mortals.

Invest in high quality lenses at the outset and you won’t need to upgrade your lenses – even when you upgrade your body.

Unless of course you change brands or systems.

The following is a list of recommended lenses for each of the brands listed above.  I have taken these recommendations from professional photographers who invest thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) in their gear. 

The lenses listed below are expensive, but remember there is always the option of hiring your lens of choice for a specific photo safari. 

I will probably do a separate post in the near future for more affordable lenses for the rest of us.

That aside it doesn’t matter if you have one of the crop sensor (DX in Nikon terms) bodies or a full frame body (FX in Nikon Terms) – use the best lens you can afford for optimum results.

A good quality lens is an investment not an expense.

Best Wildlife Photography Lens for Canon

Canon Ambassadors recommend a range of lenses depending on what genre they specialise in.

The most highly recommended long range lenses are:

  • Canon EF 400 mm  f/2.8L IS ii USM
  • Canon EF 200 – 400 mm f/4L IS USM
  • Canon EF 70 – 200 mm f/2.8L IS ii USM
  • Canon EF 600 mm f/4L IS iii USM 
  • Canon EF 600 mm f/4L IS ii USM
  • Canon 100 – 400 f/4.5 – 5.6L IS ii USM

Best Wildlife Photography Lens for Fujifilm

Under the Fujiilm brand:

  • XF 100 – 400 mm f/4.5 – 5.6 R 
    (Note: turn ISO mode to ISO 2 in menu when shooting faster than about 1/80 sec which is probably 99.99% of the time when shooting wildlife)

Third party lenses can be used with an adaptor.

Best Wildlife Photography Lens for Nikon

The Nikon Ambassadors recommend the following lenses:

  • Nikkor 200 – 500 mm f/5.6E ED VR
  • Nikkor 400 f/2.8E FL ED VR
  • AF-S Nikkor 800 mm f/5.6 FL ED VR
  • AF- S Nikkor 180 – 400 mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR

Best Wildlife Photography Lens for Sony

There’s a good range of lenses available for the Sony A9 ii including options from Sigma and Tamron.

Sony’s own range includes:

  • Sony FE 70 – 200 mm f/2.8 GM OSS
  • Sony FE 100 – 400 mm f/4.5 – 5.6 GM OSS
  • Sony FE 200 – 600 mm f/5.6 – 6.3 G OSS

A Final Word on The Best Camera/s For Wildlife Photography

The following is a short list of just some of the photographers whose work I looked up and a few I corresponded with in compiling this.

Nick Nicholls, Nick Brand, Neil Aldridge, Cristina Mittermeir, Marina Cano, “Tin Man” Lee, Villiers Steyn, Tracey Lund, Frans Lanting, Joel Sartore, Charlie Hamilton James, Lance Van Der Vyfer, Trevor McCallpeat, Colby Brown … and many more

I have one last question for you:

What camera do you think is the best camera for wildlife photography and why?

I know the one I would select from the above list – if you’re interested to know give me your answer to the above question and I’ll tell you my choice in the comments below.

If you’re new to wildlife photography be sure to check out my post on wildlife photography tips and techniques.

 

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4 thoughts on “The Best Cameras for Wildlife Photography in 2020”

  1. Wow! So much information in one place. A lot to wade through when I have only 2 major concerns. Weight and size are important to me. I can’t stand lugging about all the heavy equipment. If I had no limiting budget, what would your recommendation be for the lightest smallest camera from the above list?

    Reply
    • Wow Jackie that is a great question, and a difficult one. Difficult because I’ve never had a “no limit” budget (are you single 😉 ?) Hahaha

      I had to think about this seriously and try and take emotion out of it.

      If I was to go with my heart I might opt for the Fujifilm XT3 (I just love the look and feel of it) but if I was thinking clearly then it would be the Sony a9 ii.
      At under 1.49 pounds (678 grams if you prefer metric) and those small external dimensions it answers your question perfectly. Of course the size will be impacted by the lens you put on it but any of the 3 lenses listed will be smaller and lighter than their DSLR counterparts.

      And as an added bonus you do of course get magnificent results every time!

      I so wish I had a no limit budget.

      Thanks for your great question – and ruining my morning as I now cannot stop thinking what it would be like to own that beauty.

      Lawrence

      Reply
  2. Great write up Lawence, but what I would add is if Wildlife is only part of your photography, say Landscape also part, you are better of with the 2 best high resolution FF frame cameras out there.
    Nikon D850 if you are still a DSLR fan, or Sony A7rlv if you have seen the light and changed to mirrorless.
    The reason I’m saying this is the cropping ability of these high resolution cameras,
    Now I have the A7rlv the difference in cropping over the A7rlll is noticeable,
    My recommendation would be if Wildlife and Sports are your main aspect, still go FF but Canon 1dxll Nikon D5 or the new models due out,
    Mirrorless the Sony A9ll the only way to go.
    But as I said at the start if wildlife only part of what you do go for resolution so there’s only 2 choices as stated.
    Also buy the highest rated lens you can afford.

    Reply
    • Hello Lindsay – thanks for stopping by and adding your very valid contribution.

      I absolutely agree with you in terms of having the two genres of wildlife and landscapes as an interest. The high resolution cameras provide much better cropping opportunities with the higher pixel count.
      I think I mention that above – if not I will fix it, so thank you for that.

      I did start reviewing the Sony a7R iv but was then told by those in the know that Sony users and those switching to Sony will soon ALL migrate to the Sony a9 ii. Hence my reason for reviewing that camera which by all accounts is one heck of a machine. I want one!

      For me the choice between the Canon 1DX Mkii and Nikon D5 would boil down to size (and in particular weight) – on that basis the Nikon D5 wins out (but I also confess to having a slight bias). However I would still buy the Sony a9 ii over both of those if I was buying today. That would be such an awesome shopping trip to go on and would make myself and the salesman very happy.

      Thanks once again for your comment. Please feel free to share my site on your social media for additional comments and discussions.

      Lawrence.

      Reply

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