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The best camera for wildlife photography in 2020

Best camera for wildlife photography: image by Chris Henry
Best camera for wildlife photography: image by Chris Henry (Image credit: Chris Henry)

Picking the best camera for wildlife photography is more complicated a matter than it might seem. Wildlife photography is a discipline with its own unique requirements, and factors that are hugely important in some genres, like megapixel counts or an articulating touchscreen, don't matter so much.

So what does a wildlife photographer prioritise? Predominantly, the key to wildlife photography is speed. Subjects will often not stay still for very long, and may run away if they detect a photographer near them. This means a fast frame rate is a given requirement, however there are other things to consider. Fast burst shooting isn't much good if a camera has a limited shot buffer and will need to cool down after a few frames. A good, reliable autofocus system is a must, ideally with plenty of autofocus points that cover close to the entirety of the frame. Also, as you'll be out in the wild without access to a plug socket, it's important for a camera to have decent battery life. You also don't want it to be too heavy, as you may be hiking long distances to get to your subject's preferred haunts (our pick of the best camera bags around will help you with that). 

You'll also need a decent amount of range, as many subjects won't let you get close. This means picking either an interchangeable lens camera that can use telephoto lenses, or a compact camera with a generous zoom range. And lastly, price is also a factor of course; not everyone has thousands to drop on a new camera system!

We've taken all these things into consideration when constructing our list of the best cameras for wildlife photography, including price, so whatever your needs and budget, there should be a model on here for you. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the best cameras for wildlife photography that you can buy right now...

(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.

(Image credit: Canon)

02. Canon EOS RP

One of the most affordable full-frame cameras out there, with snappy focusing too

Best for: Novices / enthusiasts | Frames per second: 5 | AF points: 4779 | Weight: 440g (body only) | Battery life: 250 shots per charge

Affordable route into full-frame
Sophisticated autofocus system
Unimpressive burst mode
Lens range lacks super-telephoto

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, and it also improves the camera's ability to create images with shallow depth of field, allowing the shooter to make portraits that pop. The Canon EOS RP is one of the most affordable routes into full-frame right now, and when you pair this with its excellent autofocus system, it makes it a compelling choice for wildlife photography.

One thing to note is that the RF lens range that natively pairs with this camera is still relatively new, and lacks the kind of super-telephoto lens that is best for wildlife photography; however, it is easy enough to mitigate this with the purchase of an EF-to-RF adapter that gives you access to Canon's enormous stable of DSLR lenses. We'd also bet on seeing longer RF-mount telephotos in the future, making this system a solid long-term investment for any wildlife photographer with an eye on the future.

(Image credit: Fujifilm)

03. 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)

04. 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.

(Image credit: Nikon)

05. 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.

(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
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
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.

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