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The best camera for wildlife photography in 2020

best camera for wildlife photography
(Image credit: Diana Parkhouse)

What makes a specific camera the best camera for wildlife photography? You may think that pretty much any camera will do the job, but in truth, wildlife photography is a particular discipline that has its own requirements, and some cameras will be much more suitable than others.

So what do these requirements include? Well, wildlife photography is a fast discipline. You’ll be attempting to capture subjects that will not stay still for very long, and may flee if they realise you are near them. This means that a camera with a fast frame rate is critical. As you’ll be out and about you also want to have solid battery life, and a camera that isn’t too heavy to carry for long distances (our pick of the best camera bags around will help you with that). 

The ability to use telephoto lenses and shoot at range is critical, meaning you want to either pick an interchangeable lens camera with plenty of telephoto optics available, or a compact (i.e. fixed lens) camera that has a decent maximum focal range. A fast autofocus system is an absolute must, and ideally one that has plenty of AF points that cover the majority of the frame.

There are plenty more factors to consider, and we’ve tried to cover a broad range of them with our list. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the best cameras for wildlife photography that you can buy right now...

Best camera for wildlife photography overall

(Image credit: Nikon)

01. Nikon D500

An amazingly specced camera for the price, Nikon’s D500 is the best bet for wildlife photography

Best for: Enthusiasts | Frames per second: 10 | AF points: 153, including 99 cross-type | Weight: 760g body-only | Battery life: 1,240 shots per charge

Large shot buffer
Well-built and durable
Still quite expensive
Some AF issues in Live View

It’s built like Nikon’s pro DSLRs, but comes at a significantly lower price point. Nikon’s D500 is a dream come true for many photographers, and, for the money, it’s currently the best camera for wildlife photography. Its burst rate of 10fps is paired with a generous shot buffer that allows the camera to keep shooting and shooting, even in RAW mode, with up to 200 continuous shots possible. Its sensor is APS-C not full-frame, which does mean reduced dynamic range but provides the advantage of increasing the effective focal length of telephoto lenses – a boon for wildlife photographers. Ruggedly built and dependable, this is the workhorse wildlife shooter for all seasons.

Best high-end camera for wildlife photography

(Image credit: Canon)

02. 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
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.

Best budget camera for wildlife photography

(Image credit: Nikon)

03. Nikon D5300

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: 480g body-only | Battery life: 600 shots per charge

Available for a good price
Generous AF system
No touchscreen
Middling battery life

While Nikon’s true entry-level range is its D3000 series of cameras, we reckon the D5300 is a better buy for the wildlife photographer on a budget. This highly capable DSLR provides a generous 24.1MP of resolution and 5fps burst shooting, as well as an autofocus system that’s surprisingly sophisticated for a camera of this class. Add in access to the extensive Nikon F range of lenses and you’ve got a camera that equips you with all the tools you’ll need to get started with wildlife photography, all at a really competitive price. It’s weather-sealed too, so you need have no fear of the elements.

Best point-and-shoot camera for wildlife photography

(Image credit: Sony)

04. 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.

Best DSLR camera for wildlife photography

(Image credit: Sony)

05. 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

All right – technically it’s an SLT camera, but Sony’s A-mount does so many things right that it’s up there with the best DSLR cameras for wildlife photography. It’s 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.

Best mirrorless camera for wildlife photography

(Image credit: Sony)

06. 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
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.

Best Nikon camera for wildlife photography

(Image credit: Nikon)

07. 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
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. 

Best Canon camera for wildlife photography

(Image credit: Canon)

08. 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.

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