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The best camera for wildlife photography in 2021

Best camera for wildlife: image by Patrice Bouchard
(Image credit: Patrice Bouchard)

Picking the best camera for wildlife photography is an essential step to take if you're serious about capturing unforgettable images of animals. A smartphone just won't cut it, unfortunately. So what are the key things you should be looking for when picking up one of the best wildlife cameras?

A good wildlife camera needs to fast, in a number of respects. Being able to shoot a good number of frames per second is critical, as a second may be all you have before a wild animal makes a run for the undergrowth! A camera that can rattle off a good number of shots before its buffer fills up will highly increase your chances of capturing the moment. 

The other part of the picture is autofocus. A good wildlife camera should have a comprehensive spread of autofocus points across its frame, as animals may show up in unexpected places and you may not have time to recompose. Modern cameras with good tracking systems that can maintain focus on a moving subject will be an enormous help when it comes to photographing wildlife. Jump to the what to consider when buying a camera to shoot wildlife section for more information. 

If you can't find what you're looking for here, don't miss our round up of the best trail cameras, and for more general use, our best camera list. But for now, let's get cracking with the best cameras for wildlife photography.

The best cameras for wildlife photography available now

Nikon Z50

(Image credit: Nikon)

01. Nikon Z50

A hugely capable camera for a great price, this is our pick for best wildlife camera

Best for: Enthusiasts | Frames per second: 11 | AF points: 209 | Weight: 450g body-only | Battery life: 320 shots per charge

Fast and lightweight
Great value for money
Pack a spare battery
APS-C sensor

Borrowing loads of great features from Nikon's flagship professional mirrorless cameras, the Z50 is a zippy, lightweight shooter that's great for tackling wildlife photography. A snappy 11fps burst rate meets a comprehensive autofocus system with 253 points that cover the majority of the frame, meaning you'll be able to track even fast-moving subjects. 

Image quality is excellent, and the dynamic range is much better than you might expect from a camera with an APS-C sensor. Controls are comfortable and sensibly placed and the camera is lightweight, meaning you won't have to worry too much about the weight if you're trekking into the woods to find your subjects. One thing we would recommend though is buying and packing a spare battery and portable charger; the shot-per-charge rate of 320 is a little limiting for a day's photography.

See our guide to the best Nikon camera for more Nikon models.

Canon EOS R6

(Image credit: Canon)

02. Canon EOS R6

Full-frame goodness with unreal autofocus, this is the best enthusiast's wildlife camera

Best for: Enthusiasts | Frames per second: 20 | AF points: 1,053 | Weight: 680g (body only) | Battery life: 360 shots per charge

Incredible autofocus system
Sophisticated stabilisation
Expensive
Relatively low megapixel count

In wildlife photography, just as in other disciplines, a full-frame sensor can confer a lot of advantages. The larger sensor area produces better dynamic range, which improves the camera's performance in low light or challenging high-contrast situations. The disadvantage is that full-frame cameras cost more than ones with smaller sensors; if you can afford the outlay, we really recommend the Canon EOS R6. Its autofocus system is simply out of this world, with a dedicated Animal AF mode that is basically a cheat code for wildlife photography. It is also a "Deep Learning" autofocus system, meaning it gets better the more you use it.

Canon has also recently produced some native super-telephoto lenses for the mirrorless RF mount. These include the jack-of-all-trades Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM, which is a professional lens that comes at the kind of price you'd expect. If your budget is looking slimmer, there are also two interesting prime lenses priced more affordably: the Canon RF 600mm f/11 IS STM and Canon RF 800mm f/11 IS STM. They have a fixed f/11 aperture, relying on the high-ISO performance of cameras in the R series to compensate. Canon also says that the fixed aperture should improve autofocus.

Best wildlife cameras: Nikon D5600

(Image credit: Nikon)

03. Nikon D5600

One bump up from beginner, affordable and well-specced

Best for: Beginners and enthusiasts | Frames per second: 5 | AF points: 39, including 9 cross-type | Weight: 465g body-only | Battery life: 820 shots per charge

Excellent battery life
Fast, intuitive autofocus
SnapBridge is janky
Limiting for enthusiasts

If you want a camera that's user-friendly and cost-effective but don't want to opt for the absolute beginner models, consider Nikon D5600. An effective intermediate model, it boasts a 24.2MP APS-C sensor and a snappy autofocus system that's more than capable of keeping up with skittish wildlife subjects. It also has one up on Nikon's other affordable-end offerings: a vari-angle touchscreen. 

The D5600 is a few years old now, but is still a highly capable DSLR, and in truth the time gap has only really caused its price to go down. Having access to Nikon's stable of F-mount lenses is a tempting prospect no matter how old your camera is! One of its headline features is the SnapBridge connectivity, designed to allow you to establish a low-energy, always-on connection with your smartphone. Many users won't be too bothered about this, which is just as well, as it can be unreliable, especially if you're an iPhone user. Still, this is some of the best value for money you can get for a DSLR right now.

(Image credit: Fujifilm)

04. Fujifilm X-T4

A sublime mirrorless shooting experience, with fast burst and a good buffer

Best for: Enthusiasts | Frames per second: 20 | AF points: 425 | Weight: 607g body-only | Battery life: 500 shots per charge

Fast burst and 100-shot buffer
Fantastic image quality
AF sometimes unreliable
Buffer reduced for RAW

A beautifully designed APS-C camera, the Fujifilm X-T4 is one of the best mirrorless cameras around right now, with a feature-set that provides the wildlife photographer with loads of options. Its burst modes are seriously impressive, going up to 15fps with the mechanical shutter, or 20fps with the electronic shutter (and a 1.25x crop), and thanks to its generous shooting buffer, you can fill your card up with more than 100 JPEG frames at these speeds before the camera needs to slow down. Perfect for making sure you nail that subject! The buffer is a little more limited when shooting in RAW, but happily Fujifilm's cameras produce some of the best fresh-off-the-sensor JPEGS out there right now.

The deal is sweetened by a generous 6.5-stop image stabilisation system, and the X-T4 also produces excellent 4K video, making it a great choice if you plan on switching between the two modes of shooting. It's a little expensive for an APS-C camera, but the amount of functionality you get more than justifies the price, in our view.

(Image credit: Canon)

05. Canon EOS-1D X Mark II

The very best of the best, at the premium price you’d expect

Best for: Experts | Frames per second: 16 | AF points: 61, including 41 cross-type | Weight: 1340g body-only | Battery life: 1,210 shots per charge

Super-fast shooting
Extremely tough and versatile
Expensive
Heavy and bulky

The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is the current gold standard for professional photographers. It shoots and shoots with speed and accuracy, and if you don’t mind paying the premium price tag, it’ll produce superb results when photographing wildlife. It’s an absolute beast of a camera, able to keep churning out shots at 16fps with the mirror locked up, or at 14fps with autofocus enabled. Access to the Canon EF range of lenses ensures you’ll always have glass for the occasion, with some of the best telephotos in the business on its books. It’s the camera equivalent of a pneumatic drill – if you know what you’re doing, you’ll get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

(Image credit: Sony)

06. Sony RX10 IV

Sony’s premium bridge compact is a wildlife wonder with a big lens

Best for: Enthusiasts | Frames per second: 24 | AF points: 315 | Weight: 1095g body-only | Battery life: 400 shots per charge

Far-reaching, high-quality lens
Blistering burst mode
Very expensive
Poor battery life

The fourth iteration of Sony’s big RX10 bridge camera, the RX10 IV pairs a 1-inch sensor with a 24-600mm f/2.4-4 lens for amazing versatility and image quality. All this range would already be ideal for wildlife photography, but the fact that the camera is capable of shooting at an impressive 24fps with autofocus, to a maximum buffer of 249 frames, really seals the deal. The autofocus system is fast enough to keep up thanks to its 315 AF points, with Sony claiming focus-acquisition times as snappy as 0.03sec. All this comes at a premium price – if it’s too dear for you, consider previous models in the RX10 range, which you should be able to find at a much friendlier price.

(Image credit: Sony)

07. Sony a77 II

Sony’s SLT camera is a capable fast shooter that can be had for a bargain

Best for: Enthusiasts | Frames per second: 12 | AF points: 79, including 15 cross-type | Weight: 647g inc. batteries | Battery life: 480 shots per charge

Fast burst shooting with autofocus
Excellent build and ergonomics
A few years old
Noise issues at high ISOs

Sony's A-mount SLT range doesn't get as much love as it used to, which is a shame, because cameras like the A77 II do so many things right that they're up there with the best DSLR cameras for wildlife photography. This model is capable of shooting at up to 12fps with autofocus enabled, and it’s designed with the kind of intelligent ergonomics that make DSLRs so intuitive to use, with a generously sized handgrip and intelligently laid-out controls. Its autofocus system is sophisticated and accurate, and while the fact that it’s a few years old means it’s missing some of the latest bells and whistles, this also means the a77 II can be picked up for a bargain price.

(Image credit: Sony)

08. Sony a6500

Sony’s super-fast APS-C shooter, more affordable than the big full-frame models

Best for: Enthusiasts | Frames per second: 11 | AF points: 425 | Weight: 453g inc. batteries | Battery life: 350 shots per charge

Super-fast and accurate
Lightweight
Some confusing menus
Minimal physical controls

While Sony has many fantastic full-frame mirrorless cameras in its Alpha 7 range, we like the a6500 for its combination of lightweight build, super-speedy shooting and incredible autofocus coverage; a massive 425 points spread across the frame ensures that the a6500 will be able to lock onto even the most elusive of subjects. The a6500 is also incredibly lightweight, and its APS-C sensor pushes the focal length of your lenses just a little bit further, which is a boon for photographing wildlife. An incredibly feature-packed camera for its size and price point, the a6500 is a superb achievement of imaging technology.

(Image credit: Nikon)

09. Nikon D850

The full-frame workhorse of the Nikon stable will always get the job done

Best for: Enthusiasts/experts | Frames per second: 7 (9 with optional battery grip) | AF points: 153 | Weight: 1005g inc. batteries | Battery life: 1840 shots per charge

Basically does everything well
Outstanding RAW shots
Expensive
Some Live View autofocus issues

You’ll find no shortage of Nikon photographers eager to tell you why they swear by the D850 – it’s basically a premium all-rounder, a solid DSLR that does pretty much everything really well, and is undoubtedly one of the best cameras for wildlife photography. With 45MP of resolution, class-leading dynamic range, a weather-sealed construction, excellent noise-reduction systems and truly outstanding image quality, especially in RAW files, the camera is just an absolute workhorse. You can connect to SnapBridge for instant image transfer from the camera to your phone, and thanks to the generous battery life, you can shoot for absolutely ages. An all-around winner. 

(Image credit: Canon)

10. Canon EOS 7D Mark II

One of the best APS-C DSLRs around

Best for: Enthusiasts | Frames per second: 10 | AF points: 65 cross-type | Weight: 910g inc. batteries | Battery life: 670 shots per charge

Useful dual card slots
Fast autofocus
No Wi-Fi
No touchscreen

When Canon updated its EOS 7D camera, it didn’t just bump up the resolution, it remade the camera from the ground up to make it an absolutely superb APS-C DSLR in practically every category. It can burst shoot at up to 10fps and its lightning-fast Dual-Pixel autofocus system can keep up with everything. Add in a sophisticated metering system, a rugged body and a host of other useful functions (albeit no Wi-Fi, and an LCD that isn’t touch-sensitive), and you have a seriously competitive DSLR for capturing wildlife. Canon did an excellent job of overhauling the EOS 7D – the EOS 7D Mark II is outstanding.

Best camera for wildlife photography: What to consider

As previously mentioned above, a good wildlife camera needs to fast, in a number of respects. But there are other factors to consider too that aren't related to speed. Photographing wildlife is going to involve spending a lot of time outdoors, possibly walking from place to place. A good wildlife camera therefore needs to have good battery life, while also not being too heavy (our picks of the best camera bags around would be a good idea to look over to help carry your system), and having some weatherproofing is no bad thing if it starts to rain. 

You need a long lens for wildlife, as many animals won't allow you to get too close. If you're picking an interchangeable-lens camera then it's a good idea to check what the telephoto lens options are. A compact camera will be cheaper, but its maximum telephoto range will be the inflexible limit you're working with, and it'll also likely have a smaller sensor, which can hurt the dynamic range of images.

When coming up with our list of the best wildlife cameras, we've taken all this into consideration, as well as factoring in price. So, no matter your requirements and your budget, we're confident we'll find a great wildlife camera for you.

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