Having the best cameras for wildlife and birding ensures you can take the top photography throughout 2020 and beyond. Nothing is more exciting than seeing a new species of bird or a unique type of wildlife through a camera and having the chance to take a photo of it. The cameras available today offer tons of options, from recording and photographing wildlife to merely observing them in their habitat. This article will focus on reviews of the 10 best, so you can select the right option for your needs.
This article will delve into the different types of cameras, including which are the best on the market and what features to look for when shopping for a top-end product. Each of our recommendations is based on value for the money, quality of the product, and how popular each camera is for the birdwatching community at large. We’ll give you all the information you need, including the pros and cons, so that you can select the right camera for yourself.
Here are the best birding / wildlife cameras 2020:
- Nikon D5
- Canon EOS-1D X Mark II
- Canon EOS R
- Nikon D500
- Canon EOS 80D
- Canon EOS Rebel T7
- Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II
- Nikon COOLPIX P1000
- Nikon COOLPIX P950
- Nikon D6
1. Nikon D5
The overall best camera for birdwatching on the market
As the best Nikon camera for bird photography, this model offers all the bells and whistles for the most experienced photographer. It offers the most popular features, such as high-quality autofocus, image processing capabilities, sensor design, and low-light shooting. This ensures you can take images of your target regardless of direction or speed changes. It includes 12 FPS continuous shooting and 4K UHD video, so you can take home images that impress everyone who sees them.
This camera features Nikon’s most powerful processer with a 20.8MP FX-format CMOS sensor. It uses Expeed 5 to match its new innovative sensors, as well as a second processor that is dedicated to autofocusing. Users can be sure to enjoy photos with vibrant colors, exquisite textures and details, and rich tones in any kind of light.
- Offers Nikon’s widest native ISO range of all cameras on the market.
- Includes top speed to capture the best moments in the heat of the action.
- Features 4K UHD video that works in dimmer lights than others.
- Price is higher than most options available.
Our verdict on the Nikon D5 is that it offers the top features while landing at a price point that accommodates that. It’s the ideal camera for anyone who wants the absolute best and doesn’t have an issue paying for that. Professional photographers of birds and wildlife will get the best shots possible while having a good time doing so.
2. Canon EOS-1D X Mark II
Secondary pick for the best birding camera
Now that we’ve gone over the top Nikon, we want to change gears and consider the best Canon camera for bird photography. The Canon EOS-1DX Mark II is a top pick that comes on its own or can be paired with a CFast memory card, a 24-70mm zoom lens, or a secure camera strap. It offers both still photography and video recording with a burst rate of up to 170 RAWs in continuous shooting at 16 FPS. It can also create 4K films using a CFast card in the new 2.0 slot.
This camera comes with a full-frame CMOS sensor at 20.2 MP for the best performance in low light environments. It’s also packed with two Digic 6+ image processors to make it even quicker and easier to take all the shots you want when out in the field. The camera also boasts an ISO range of 100-51,000 for an expanded range of sensitivities on different shots. It also includes anti-flicker shooting, the Intelligent Viewfinder II, and an iTR AF system.
- Offers 4K recording at up to 60 FPS and 8.8 MP frame grab still images.
- Features a magnesium-alloy body with dust and weather-sealed mounts.
- Includes a 3.2-inch touch panel LCD for easy operating when viewing images.
- The camera isn’t compatible with Adobe software without converting images.
The verdict for this Canon camera is that it offers a host of options for someone who is experienced with wildlife photography. It takes still images, can make videos, and can even be used as a webcam to expand its versatility. It offers quick and beautiful photos in nearly any environment, whether you’re shooting birds or other animals.
3. Canon EOS R
Third best camera for wildlife photography
Another option that might be the best camera for bird photography also comes from Canon. This is a full-frame mirrorless EOS camera and the first of the EOS R series. It’s been updated from the last version with a variety of lenses, a new mount, compatibility with EF/EF-S lenses, and superior performance and handling. The camera offers a Digic 8 image processor and images of up to 30.3 MP.
This system offers a 54mm diameter and reduced distance between the sensors and element to create the best performance, image quality, and compact size in one camera. It also offers a 12 pin connection to create a higher volume, faster communication between the camera and whatever lenses are being used. It’s a top of the line option for professionals but comes at a lower price point than the last two cameras we reviewed.
- Offers built-in EVF with 3.69 million dots and a variable angle touchscreen.
- Includes a quick Digic 8 processer and 30.3 MP CMOS sensor.
- Features more than 5,600 selectable AF points and 0.76 magnification.
- The camera is a bit heavier than most other cameras at this price point.
Our verdict for this Canon camera is that it hits the sweet spot between features and a more affordable price. It’s compatible with a wide range of lenses, includes two HDMI output points, and is both water and dust resistant. It has a ton of options that will appeal to a professional bird watcher or wildlife photographer.
4. Nikon D500
The best entry-level camera for nature and wildlife photography
For photographers who are new to the hobby, picking up the most expensive camera might not always be the best option. The Nikon D500 DX-Format Digital SLR has plenty of features to meet the needs of wildlife lovers while being less expensive than some other models on the market. The camera has an understated look but features plenty of technological advances and power to ensure outstanding performance.
Since this is geared toward entry-level photographers, it comes as a full kit. Users will get the camera, as well as a battery charger and battery, two cable clips, an eyepiece, a USB cable, a strap, a body cap, and a user’s manual. It offers 10 FPS shooting for up to 20k0 frames, 4K video recording at 30 FPS, and a 3.2-inch tilting LCD touchscreen. It also has a 20.9 MP CMOS sensor to ensure great photos at a lower price.
- Offers an ISO range of between 100 and 51,200 for shooting in all lighting.
- Includes a 20.9 MP CMOS sensor for top color, texture, and detail.
- Features built-in SnapBridge capabilities to share photos via Bluetooth.
- Might offer less focus than some of the top of the line wildlife cameras.
The verdict on this beginner’s camera is that it has many of the top features without the high price of professional cameras. It can take plenty of photos and videos of birds and other wildlife and even makes them easy to share with friends. It also comes with a plethora of accessories, so that a new photographer can get started right away.
5. Canon EOS 80D
Runner-up for the best beginner’s camera for birding
Another excellent choice for beginners who want to shoot photos of birds is the Canon EOS 80D. It’s has a lower price than our other beginner’s camera and might fit well for those on a budget who want an exceptional camera without a high price tag. The camera features an intelligent viewfinder that makes it even more fun to experience SLR photography.
The CMOS sensor on this camera is 24.2 MP and can take high-resolution images at high ISO speeds, including 12,800 for films and 16,000 for still photos. It has built-in Wi-Fi and NFC technologies, so that remote shooting can be done using the Camera Connect application. Another perk of this beginner’s camera is that it has a 45-point AF system, so you can get action shots as birds dive or deer run across a field.
- Offers a 24.2 MP sensor for high-resolution images and videos.
- Includes an intelligent viewfinder with AF points, a level, and a grid display.
- Features a dual pixel CMOS AF for quick focusing speed and quick tracking.
- Some photographers have experienced issues with dials malfunctioning.
Our verdict on this camera is that it works well for beginners who want to start with something less expensive. It’s a compact camera with a 24.2 MP CMOS sensor and intelligent viewfinder to make shooting photos simple for those of any experience level. It also comes with software to make the camera into a webcam whenever needed.
6. Canon EOS Rebel T7
The best value affordable wildlife camera
When someone wants to take shots of birds or other animals but doesn’t want to break the bank, there are several options. However, the Canon EOS Rebel T7 is one of the most popular choices. It offers a 24.1 MP CMOS sensor, built-in wireless connectivity, and fast autofocus, so you can quickly get shots of your favorite animals. For a budget option, it’s easy to operate and has a selection of features to offer high-quality images.
The processor in the Rebel T7 is a Digic 4+, which is known for reducing image noise and offering fast performance in any kind of environment. While it works exceptionally well for taking still photos, it can also make high definition videos in a variety of frame rates and recording sizes. It also has a wide ISO range, so you can shoot videos in any kind of light.
- Includes a 24.1 MP sensor with an ISO of between 100 and 6,400.
- Comes with webcam software to turn the camera into a webcam for video.
- Offers a nine-point AF system and built-in NFC and Wi-Fi technology.
- Some photographers would prefer that the camera came with a microphone.
When it comes to value cameras, our verdict on this model is that it brings everything you need to wildlife photography. It might not have all the features of the top of the line models, but it does the job when you want excellent photos of wildlife without spending a ton. It also has connectivity with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to share images and videos.
7. Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II
Runner-up for best value modern birding camera
Another Canon camera that works well for taking in flying birds and feeding wildlife is the Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II. It has a slim design, so it can fit into your pocket while being packed with top features like Bluetooth connectivity and a Digic 7 image processor. The processor assists in creating detailed, sharp images in any kind of lighting situation.
This camera offers a selection of eight presets that you can choose from to get the exact pictures you want. It offers a one inch CMOS sensor, photos of up to 20.1 MP, and a 3x optical zoom, so you can get up close on birds, deer, and other wildlife. It has an ISO range of between 125 and 12,800 and can handle continuous shooting at up to 8.2 FPS. It also offers a three-inch touchscreen LCD for convenience when photographing.
- Features a touchscreen panel for easy access to settings and features.
- Comes in pocket size with a slim and lightweight design for transport.
- Offers a fast processor to offer noise reduction at even high ISO settings.
- Battery life is likely to be shorter than other cameras on the market.
The verdict on this Canon camera is that it comes at a low price point without slouching on potential features. It’s a point and shoot camera that can be used by individuals of all skill levels, and it’s so small that it can be transported anywhere. It even includes a time-lapse video function to turn long videos into short films to share.
8. Nikon COOLPIX P1000
Best mid-range camera for wildlife photography
When it comes to catching beautiful shots of ducks, bluebirds, and robins, a mid-range camera is a good choice for those who want features at a decent price point. This Nikon COOLPIX P1000 has a unique design with a 3,000 mm optical zoom, which is the largest you’ll find on any COOLPIX camera. It also offers the chance to shoot video with stereo sound, a hot shoe, and HDMI out.
This camera includes Dual Detect Optical Vibration Reduction to help stabilize movements horizontally and vertically, which can help with extreme levels of zoom. It lets you compose a gorgeous shot through its 0.39 inch, 2.36 million dot viewfinder, which is ideal for handheld photography. For those who are interested in shooting birds, it even offers a mode specifically for that purpose, so you can get the action shots you want. It also offers a remote control to make it easier to switch settings without moving the camera.
- Includes a variable-angle LCD screen to make it easy to frame tricky shots.
- Offers the ability to shoot 4K UHD videos with sound and quality imagery.
- Features a 3,000 mm optical zoom for taking shots of faraway animals.
- Some photographers may find the camera is larger than expected.
The verdict on this mid-range camera by Nikon is that it works exceptionally well for anyone who wants a massive boost to zoom power. It offers 4K UHD video recording, 16.7 MP, and features an image stabilization system. It can also be purchased with a tripod, a remote, or a camera strap for those who need them.
9. Nikon COOLPIX P950
Runner-up for best mid-range camera for bird photography
The second mid-range camera we’re going to showcase is also from Nikon and is the COOLPIX P950. While the other option didn’t come with accessories, this model has a telephoto lens and comes with an SD card, an SD card reader, and a carrying case. It features an illuminated CMOS image sensor, sensitivity of up to 6,400 ISO, and 16 MP.
The birding camera offers an 83x optical zoom with a compact body. It has an extensive focal length range from wide-angle 24mm to huge 2,000 mm distances. It can also take photos up close at up to one centimeter. This camera also has vibration reduction to prevent the camera form sharking when taking distant images. It can help you create sharp images of raccoons, rabbits, and more.
- Comes with included accessories ideal for a beginning wildlife photographer.
- Includes an extra-low dispersion lens element and an illuminated sensor.
- Features built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity to share images.
- Might not include all the features wanted for experienced bird photographers.
Our verdict on this mid-range camera is that it comes at a reasonable price for most while offering a selection of features and accessories. It has an easy option for switching between autofocus and manual focus when taking photographs and an LCD screen with almost complete frame coverage.
10. Nikon D6
Top-rated high-quality birding camera
The last birding camera on our list might be a bit expensive, but it’s also top quality. The Nikon D6 FX-Format has one of the most potent autofocus systems available and comes with a new cross-type, selectable AF sensor. It also boasts the latest image-processing engine and can be used for all sorts of photography. With extensive sealing, it keeps out dust and water in adverse conditions.
One of the extras on this camera is the anti-theft lock that will prevent anyone from taking the device when you’re remotely shooting. It also offers rear and top control panels that can be illuminated under low light to grant easy access to adjustments. In addition to offering top-notch still images, this camera can also take continuous shots at 14 FPS using a mechanical shutter.
- Allows customized presets, menus, buttons, and shortcuts for convenience.
- Offers an ISO range that reaches up to 102,400 for the best images.
- Includes a 105 point sensor AF system to take shots without recomposing.
- Price of this model may be out of the budget for most wildlife photographers.
The verdict on this last wildlife camera is that it offers a considerable amount of features and can handle all of your photography needs. It has high ratings and is quite popular among those who want the best device for taking snaps and videos in the outdoors. It’s the most powerful Nikon model on the market and the chops to handle almost anything.
Guide to Buying a Modern Birding and Wildlife Camera
Have you ever experienced taking shot after shot of a rare bird only to go through each of the images to find that none of them live up to expectations? If the answer is yes, it’s likely time to choose a new camera. Lack of image stabilization, poor autofocus, and subpar image quality can all indicate a device that isn’t working at its best.
There’s a lot to consider when choosing a birding camera, from autofocus to sensors, ISO, and megapixels. This can result in confusion if you aren’t a professional. That’s why we want to share all the information you need to know to make sure the camera you choose is a high-quality device that can do everything you want. Below are some of the things to keep in mind when deciding on the right camera.
Over the last few years, the megapixel ratings on cameras have skyrocketed upward. While eight MP might have been impressive at one time, cameras today can shoot up to 40 MP and beyond. Even the smartphone you carry in your pocket can often offer images of 16 MP. But do you know why checking the megapixel rating is so important?
When it comes to megapixels, a single one is the same as a million pixels. Every pixel is a tiny part of the camera’s sensor. Knowing that, a camera with 16 MP will have 16,000,000 photo sites and can create images with 16,000,000 pixels. As you go up, those numbers increase to create even more full-featured images.
You may have noticed that some cameras have a full-frame sensor while others have an APS-C sensor. While full-frame sensors are more than two times the size of APS-C sensors, they have the same number of photos sites. This boils down to every photo site on a full-frame sensor being much larger than the other sensor. Because of this, the full-frame sensor lets in more light, which can create less noise in photos and better performance in dim environments.
When photographing birds or animals, the larger sensor offers more vibrant and brighter colors that are similar to real life. Even though many cameras rely on the number of megapixels in their marketing, sensors are also an essential part of the camera.
Size of Sensors
Another thing that matters when it comes to sensors is size. If this weren’t true, a smartphone camera would offer the same performance as a camera that costs thousands of dollars. Most cameras on smartphones feature 1.33-inch sensors, which is 35 times smaller than a full-frame sensor. That means the large sensor can let in six times the light of the smartphone camera even if the megapixels are identical.
Camera sensors are measured in millimeters with a full-frame being the same size as a 35mm film camera. When photographing birds, vibrancy, and lack of graininess are essential, so large sensors are the best option. Going with the largest sensor you can afford is typically going to give you the best possible results.
Point and Shoot or Interchangeable Lenses
If you want to get creative with the photographs you take, being able to switch between different lenses is crucial. For instance, a smaller lens is going to take a wider shot, while a larger lens can capture small details in a bird or an animal that is far from your location. Another option is a zoom lens, which gives you both options, but these often have a limited aperture.
Aperture refers to how closed or open the lens window is in the camera, and it is measured in f/stops. A rating might look like f/3.0, which indicates the maximum aperture of the lens is three. Keep in mind that the lower the number is, the more open the lens is going to be. The lower aperture also lets in more light for a brighter image. You can also use a small aperture to create a focal point for better photography.
When lenses can be swapped out, you can change the viewing field and f/stop whenever you like to get the perfect photo. However, keep in mind that lenses can be expensive, and carrying around more than one or two can be cumbersome while taking photos. This is one of the reasons that the point and shoot camera was initially designed.
Point and shoot cameras have a single built-in lens that cannot be changed. Most of the time, they are going to have a reasonable zoom range, so you can take both close-up and wide-angle shots. Unfortunately, many have a high f/stop, so the photos aren’t going to be professional quality. Also, when shooting in areas with little light, opening the aperture helps remove grain from photos. Choosing between point and shoot or interchangeable lenses comes down to creativity, portability, and price.
When taking photos of wildlife or birds, getting a clear focus can be challenging since the animals move around. Modern cameras typically include several autofocus points to make it easier to home in on a target. Some of them will also include cross-focus areas that can detect movement vertically and horizontally in the same area for even quicker focusing.
When it comes to taking photos of birds, most of the high-end cameras will have plenty of autofocus to provide clear images. However, if you plan to take 4K video and then pull stills from it, look for a camera with the most autofocus points possible, so that every frame gets the same level of focus.
Performance in Low Light
It would be nice if any camera could take a perfect photo in any light, but that isn’t the case. When light conditions are subpar, many cameras start to introduce noise and grain into the images. This occurs for several reasons, such as smaller sensors taking in less light and f/stops not opening wide enough to let in the amount of light needed for the sensor. Having a low f/stop and large sensor helps, but using ISO is also useful.
ISO works to brighten an image artificially in the camera body. Every camera has an ISO range and a specific rating that offers the clearest and cleanest photos of wildlife. Some cameras go above and beyond to boost the number without adding noise to your images. Those who will be taking photos in low light should choose an extensive ISO range and a sizeable sensor.
Most of the time, snapping photos of birds requires you to be at a distance. When a lens is zoomed in more, the movement will be more noticeable in any photos that you take. While it can be impossible to keep a camera still by hand, a tripod is an option. However, those who prefer to avoid carrying another piece of gear around will want to look into image stabilization.
This feature removes any movement and shaking from the image when a camera isn’t perfectly still. While stabilization does crop an image to some degree, it’s handled through the camera. There is even image stabilization for video, so you can take fantastic videos and pull amazing still images from them.
Putting It All Together
When choosing the right bird and wildlife camera, there’s a lot to keep in mind. However, the 10 cameras above represent some of the best, and you should be able to find one that meets your needs based on experienced, style, and budget. Once you have the perfect camera in your hand, you might be surprised by how clear and colorful the images you get are!