Wildlife photography is right up there as one of the most popular pursuits for new photographers. There’s so much to capture in the great outdoors; the number of subjects to choose from is staggering. The thing is, nature photography means different things to different people.
The world of wildlife photography includes landscape photography, macro photography and everything in between. Your chosen subject will heavily influence the camera you choose and the gear you use with it.
This page will explore some of the best cameras out there for great nature photography. We’ll discuss their differences and what each camera is best for.
Types of Digital Camera for Nature Photography
The first thing to do is determine the type of camera you’re looking for. The best camera for your nature photography will depend on what you need it to achieve. Read our guide below to get a clearer picture. We feature a number of options for a range of budgets.
DSLR cameras are an incredibly versatile option that can accommodate a wide variety of different lenses. The power of this option lies in the ability to capture flexibly by switching lenses on the fly. Need to take a wide angle shot of a beautiful sunset? Switch to the right lens.
Need great low light performance? Switch to a lens that can deliver great low light performance results. Need to up your dynamic range? You get the picture. DSLR cameras come with built-in versatility. They’re not cheap, but they’re trusted by wildlife photographers around the world.
- The ability to switch lenses makes them super versatile
- The format is mature which means you shouldn’t have any trouble picking up compatible accessories
- Excellent image quality and dynamic range
- The mirror system in these cameras makes them significantly heavier than other options.
- Even low-cost DSLRs are a big investment
As the name suggests, mirrorless cameras don’t use a mirror system to capture shots. As a result, they tend to be much lighter and easy to carry than a DSLR. Portability is an important consideration when it comes to nature photography.
A camera that’s easy to take with you can make outdoor shots much simpler. Some mirrorless cameras come with an integrated lens. While arguably less versatile, the increase in portability is worth it for some photographers. Companies like Sony offer some great mirrorless cameras with integrated lenses, for example.
In our opinion, the best mirrorless cameras for outdoor shots come with a system for using different lenses. A dedicated lens can struggle to offer enough dynamic range, iso range, or general flexibility.
- Generally lighter and more portable than DSLRs
- Some options are still flexible with interchangeable lenses
- More powerful sensor options than a point-and-shoot
- The format is less mature meaning there’s slightly less choice available
- These are not cheap cameras
Some pros turn their noses up at point-and-shoot options. The reality is, however, that not everyone can afford to fork out $2000+ on a brand new premium camera. Brands like Canon, Nikon and Sony offer some point-and-shoots that can still deliver high-quality shots.
These options use a dedicated lens which means you’re sacrificing some versatility and power for a lower price point. These cameras can be a great jack-of-all-trades for photographers on a budget. In the right conditions, they can still get excellent results.
If your needs are more general and you’re not after anything pro-grade, it might be best to choose one of the cameras below. We’ve featured options that are our top choice in this category. They deliver a surprising level of performance considering their format.
- Usually much more affordable
- More compact and lightweight
- Less versatility from a dedicated lens
- Much smaller sensors
- Fewer manual control options
Best Camera for Nature Photography: Our favorite DSLRs and Mirrorless options
1. Nikon D850 DSLR
The Nikon D850 is one of the best cameras out there for nature photography in our opinion. It’s a full-frame sensor DSLR with fantastic low light performance, 4K video and a brilliant af system.
The af system on this DSLR camera comes with a whopping 153 af points. This translates to a camera that can capture stunning detail for your nature photography. The “3-D tracking” makes it easy to follow moving subjects like animals.
The 4k video options are also great for nature photography. This camera can produce some jaw-dropping time-lapse videos of nature.
- Loads of af points for crisp nature photography shots
- High-resolution shots at five fps
- Compatible with Nikon’s NIKKOR lenses
- The autofocus is powerful, but it takes some getting used to
2. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR
A number of features on the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV make it one of the best cameras out there for those interested in nature photography. The powerful shooting speed, battery life and image quality add up to a fantastic package.
This is another full-frame camera. This gives users increased flexibility to capture everything they’re shooting. With a continuous shooting speed of up to 7 frames per second, moving subjects should be no match for the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.
This option from Canon is weather sealed, offering some much-needed protection when shooting outside. The Canon EOS line is well-known for its stunning range of lenses. Nature photography is all about versatility, so it’s important to choose a camera with a sensor that can handle the right lenses.
The 30.4 megapixel, CMOS sensor on this Canon EOS camera can handle a huge catalogue of high-performance lenses.
- Great frame rate for fast-moving, continuous shots
- Weather sealed for outdoor protection
- Powerful, flexible sensor
- Great image stabilization
- The 4K 1:7 zoom ratio can make 4K videos a bit fiddly
3. Sony a6500 APS-C Mirrorless Camera
Over the past few years, Sony has done a phenomenal job of cornering the mirrorless camera market. Their range of cameras in this category has a great reputation – and for good reason. The Sony a6500 APS-C is a great option for nature photography.
The interchangeable lens system, fantastic iso range and staggering number of af points make this our top choice for mirrorless camera.
There are 425 af focus points on the a6500. This makes it astonishingly easy to tune into your subject with a high level of detail. Combine this with Sony’s “lock on” and image stabilization features, and you’re dealing with a device that’s perfect for capturing moving subjects.
Color accuracy and light performance are important in any genre of photography. In wildlife photography, the range of colors and lighting conditions on display is huge. The high dynamic range on this camera makes it easier to achieve an excellent level of color accuracy in multiple conditions.
- Weather sealing protects from moisture and dust
- 425 point af system
- Powerful APS-C sensor
- Frame rate of up to 11 fps
- The touch-screen LCD isn’t very responsive
4. Olympus OM-D E-M1X Mirrorless Camera
Outdoor photography can involve a lot of moving around. Readjusting your grip on your camera can cause a surprising number of delays and image noise. The body of this option from Olympus handles ergonomics with a capital ‘E’.
The body of this camera is equally comfortable to hold whether in a vertical or horizontal orientation. The comparatively lightweight body of this model really shines when it comes to telephoto shots. It’s possible to attach a huge telephoto lens to this bad boy and still take shots using just one hand.
This is among the best cameras we’ve seen for portable, telephoto shots.
The ISO range on the OM-D E-M1X is nice and wide, giving you plenty of flexibility for both low light and bright light scenarios. Moving subjects are also easy to handle thanks to the fantastic image stabilization system that keeps moving subjects in focus.
Speaking of focus, this camera uses 121 af points with cross-type phase detection. This further boosts this device’s ability to capture fast-moving subjects.
- Super-fast focusing with 121 af points
- Flexible ISO range
- Great ergonomic design
- Two batteries for excellent battery life
- The UI for menus is a bit overwhelming at first
5. Nikon COOLPIX P900
If you’re going to use a dedicated lens setup, this camera definitely packs a punch. The 83x optical zoom on this model is amazing for getting up close and personal from a distance. This is great for photography involving birds and similar animals.
This shooting speed on the P900 is fantastic for a point-and-shoot. You can take shot after shot with virtually no lag at all. Continuous shooting is easy with this camera. The ISO range here is among the best we’ve seen on a camera in this category.
Even night-time shots come out crisp and detailed. A lot of outdoor photography involves stunning time lapse sequences. The P900 has a fantastic set of automatic time lapse options that produce beautiful videos with excellent levels of consistency.
The built-in GPS is a nice touch for nature photography that involves multiple locations. Wi-fi and NFC connectivity is also included out of the box.
This is a relatively expensive option in the world of point-and-shoot photography. However, the increased price brings the power and responsiveness that outdoor photography calls for.
- Fantastic x86 optical zoom
- Great built-in Wi-fi and GPS
- Fast continuous shooting
- Quite heavy for a point-and-shoot
2. Panasonic FZ80K
This is an excellent option if you do a lot of landscape photography. The FZ80K features a wide angle lens capable of capturing natural landscapes in all their glory. The built-in panoramic wide shot features make it super-easy to capture shots you’re proud of.
If you spot a feature in the landscape you’d like to hone in on, the 60x optical zoom should be more than enough to get in close and personal. Low light performance is decent on this model; evening and sunset shots look beautiful with minimal effort. Continuous shooting is possible at up to 10fps.
Panasonic has designed this machine to be an excellent “all-rounder” and it appears to have worked. This is a surprisingly versatile device that will do a fantastic job in most outdoor photography environments.
- Brilliant landscape pictures
- 60x optical zoom
- Relatively powerful sensor
- The lens fogs up quite easily
Wildlife Photography – Features to Look out For
If you’re still unsure which model to go for, take a look at our guide below. It outlines some of the most important features to look out for when looking at new cameras.
Frames Per Second
The fps of a device determines how well it captures shots at speed. The higher the fps, the better your results when shooting continuously. A good baseline to look out for is 5fps. Anything lower than this and you’re likely to be disappointed.
Sony is well-known for producing super-fast cameras capable of 12+fps. If you’re likely to be shooting lots of moving subjects, a higher fps is worth considering.
Depending on the type of work you’re doing, the ability to save RAW files when shooting can significantly boost your options in post production. The RAW format gives you much more flexibility when editing the look of your photos later on.
Your camera’s sensitivity to light is determined by its ISO range. The higher the range, the more flexible it will be for a wide variety of lighting conditions. A “normal” range is typically around 200 – 1600, but more premium options can go much higher.
Poor battery life can really let you down when taking photos outside. If you’re miles away from a charging point, you need a machine that can run for a long time. Look for options with:
- Fast charging times
- Long-lasting batteries
- Multi-battery extras
Cameras with light, affordable batteries are a great option; packing a couple of spares when on the move can save you a lot of time and headache.
When shooting outdoors, you’re likely to encounter a wide range of colors and lighting conditions. Cameras with a good dynamic range are capable of maintaining high levels of accuracy in a broader spectrum of lighting conditions. Check each model’s dynamic range state before purchasing.
Live view is the view you get through the LCD of your device. It provides you with crucial information when composing your shot. It’s best to pick models with high-performing live view LCDs. Consider the following:
- Does the LCD pivot and rotate to accommodate multiple shooting positions
- Is it a touchscreen? Does this matter to me?
- How accurate is the image displayed on the LCD?
Use these questions to find the best model for your requirements outdoors. A laggy or inaccurate viewfinder can really let you down in certain contexts.
It seems obvious, but it’s worth mentioning just in case. The megapixels on offer don’t paint the whole picture. However, low resolution cameras are likely to let you down when tackling the long list of challenges presented by wildlife shots.
You may have noticed when reading through this page that there’s a whole lot of choice out there. If you’re a beginner, this may feel a bit overwhelming. The thing about outdoor photography is that it’s very varied; the type of photos being taken can differ hugely from person to person.
To help narrow down your search, try asking yourself the following questions:
- Do I need a camera that takes great close-up shots, great wide shots, or both?
- Am I likely to be working in lots of different lighting conditions?
- Am I interested in animal photography, or do landscapes appeal to me more?
- Will I be taking photos in one or two places, or am I likely to be moving around lots from place to place?
- Can I afford to splash out, or do I need a more conservative option?
These questions are designed to get you thinking about your requirements for nature photography. The clearer you are about what you actually need your device to do, the easier it will be to find the right model.
Another consideration worth mentioning is how future-proof you need your new tool to be. If you’re planning on expanding your kit as you become more familiar with the art form, a model that accepts multiple lenses might be your best bet.
There’s no point buying a >$300 point-and-shoot if you plan on building up to pro-grade shots in a couple of years. A more versatile DSLR or mirrorless model can come with built-in “future proofing” for lens upgrades further down the line.
Whichever brand and model you go for, we hope you have fun shooting with it!