You can always use any type of camera to get a shot of your dog or cat at home. It can be a point-and-shoot unit, a phone, or even a disposable camera. But in the real world of wildlife photography, you need a very specific unit that should excel both in resolution and speed.
However, does resolution really matter? How many pixels do you need? Well, it is more than just the megapixel counts. The type and size of the sensor will also influence the quality of photos. This includes low-light performance, noise, dynamic range, and overall details.
In this matter, the Canon EOS R5 will definitely benefit you. It comes with a 45 MP full-frame CMOS sensor which results in stills that will pass even the eyes of meticulous critics. It is even aided with Dual Pixel CMOS AF II and 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization to assure the most amazing performance all the time.
If the burst mode is your concern, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 X is your choice. It has a burst rate of 60fps with a locked AF and 18fps burst with the AF tracking working. Most of all, its buffer can promise 286 RAW shots which means you won’t miss even a single second of your subject’s movement.
To say that the ones mentioned above are the best of the best, however, is impossible. There is a lot of leading brands to choose from including Canon itself, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Fujifilm, and more. All of them have their very own entries in this specific category. But which of those items make the cut?
To narrow down the list, we selected the top 5 best cameras for wildlife photography with the aid of our Photography Editor Evangeline Summers. By focusing on the most important aspects of professional wildlife cameras, we listed the ones that can offer the best performance and value...
1. Canon EOS R5
20fps (electronic) & 12fps (mechanical)
180 RAW (CFexpress) & 87 RAW (UHS-II)
We have featured EOS R5 before and we know it deserves more than that. If you are asking for one specific reason for its entitlement, we will give you two or more.
First is the astounding 36 x 24 mm 45 MP full-frame CMOS sensor and it is the first EOS camera to have the 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization, making it a true darling among Canon cameras. With the said attributes, you get the best details in stills that can compete with other high-end mirrorless and DSLR works.
According to Summers, you can also get 35 MP Frame Grabs out of its 8K footage which is extremely delightful. Even better, when Canon says ‘35 MP’ quality, it really means 35 MP. The grabs come with magnificent details and you get almost the same elements you’ll experience in actual stills.
On the other hand, Summers said that EOS R5’s burst mode and buffer will amaze you.
“EOS R5 can deliver burst shots up to 12fps with the mechanical shutter and 20fps with the electronic shutter. This is more than enough and the good thing about R5 is how deep its buffer is. It has two card slots and depending on what you use, you either get a max buffer of 180 RAW images with the CFexpress card slot or 87 RAW images with the UHS-II SD card slot.”
And since we’re in the talk about videos, R5 can also deliver 8K videos at 30p. However, there is a caveat here which is the infamous overheating among such cams when you shoot anything above standard 4K 30p video. Yet, for very short clips, we still consider the 8K feature as a good add-on.
On the other hand, R5 boasts the Dual Pixel CMOS AF II which is one of Canon’s current pride in terms of its AF system. It covers stills with 5,940 AF points and videos with 4,500 points. According to Summers, you can enjoy this tech at any frame rate and resolution, which is truly amazing compared to other cam models with very limited AF features and capabilities.
“The performance is unbeatable that finding your subjects, regardless of the movements, will bring you to tears. The way the AF locks and stays with the subject is really overwhelming; be it face, head, or eye-tracking.
“Once the camera has recognized the human subject, the focus stays where it should be even if the bride is wearing a veil or momentarily gets her face blocked with a bouquet or hands and whatsoever,” Summers said.
2. Olympus OM-D E-M1X
Micro Four Thirds
Olympus OM-D E-M1 X is fashioned with a 20.4 MP Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor which is much smaller than APS-C and full-frame sensors.
“It is smaller than other DSLRs, though its body is relatively bigger than other MFT models,” Summers said. “The size of the sensor certainly has effects on the quality of the images but it is almost unnoticeable. It also offers one of the best experiences in the category of wildlife photography.”
Further, according to Summers, OM-D E-M1 X is one of those cameras that are built with the outdoors in mind. This explains its weather-sealed body that can meet the demands in the midst of a rainforest or a dusty desert. Most of all, it can complement a wide range of telephoto lenses that you need in such situations.
3. Nikon D850
With so many things happening within the frame, it is no question why wildlife photographers need high-resolution cameras in the field. The speed, on the other hand, is another thing. The thing is, finding a wildlife photography camera that offers the two sections perfectly is almost impossible. But according to Summers, Nikon D850 offers the best trade-off between speed and resolution.
“Nikon D850 offers an astounding 45.7 MP resolution which beats the models on this list,” she said. “The success of its sensor to deliver pristine details is partly affected by the absence of an anti-aliasing filter. It is paired with a powerful EXPEED 5 processor so you can expect that detail by detail, stills will come out nothing but perfect: sharp, crisp, and detailed. Most of all, rich and natural colors. Really enticing.”
It has a maximum of 51 RAW shots buffer capacity and up to 7fps/9fps maximum continuous shooting speed. This performance, however, depends on the battery and memory card. So, is it a bad thing? No. For the crystal-clear, high-resolution images it can deliver, 7fps is already a miracle.
On the other hand, as you would expect, Nikon D850 employs the contrast autofocus which, though can perform well, is still unimpressive in terms of speed. Thankfully, if you would just use it for casual photography projects, the Live View allows the touch-shutter function. With this, finding the focus is easy. The touch focus and the Pinpoint AF are also great additions in D850 which allows users to maximize its high-resolution capability.
4. Canon EOS 90D
Canon EOS 90D DSLR is packed with very irresistible features that should tick most of the boxes in this category.
According to Summers, it starts with its APS-C sensor that comes with a raging 32.5 MP resolution. But beyond that, it is also a powerhouse when it comes to the AF system.
“It uses a 45-point cross-type AF system which is basically fast and accurate. To up the game, Canon integrated its famous Dual Pixel CMOS AF in Live View to improve the experience of users. It envelopes 88% of the horizontal frame and its entirety under vertical position. You also get 5,481 selectable focus positions which means convenience on your end,” she said.
5. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
EOS 5D Mark IV doesn’t have the roaring burst rate and buffer of OM-D E-M1 X. It comes with a just 7fps burst rate and 21 RAW shots buffer. Plus, there are newer cameras that can dethrone it but why is it here? Summers said: Quality images.
“The 5D Mark IV compensates in terms of the components that contribute to the details of its shots. First of them is the full-frame 30.4 MP sensor which delivers unrivaled details, exposure, saturation, and overall color quality. Even in low-light conditions and high ISO settings, the amount of noise present comes almost unnoticed.
“Also, even if it just offers a 7fps burst rate, the 5D Mark IV won’t fail to capture subjects with great precision. With its 61-point AF and Dual Pixel AF, it is almost unbelievable how it can get a shot of a fast-moving subject without much blurriness. Even when excessive cropping is applied, you can still get a decent amount of detail which proves how powerful its full-frame sensor is.”
Further, of its 61 AF points, you get 5 dual cross-type included in its already impressive 41 cross-type points under f/2.8 aperture. This makes the AF system extremely pleasing that even at the worst low-light scenarios, the focusing function remains honest. Even in the Live View function, the AF experience is satisfying. This, we bet, would definitely attract not just wildlife photographers, but others as well… if its fixed LCD and buffer won’t bother them.
Best Wildlife Cameras - Buyer's Guide
Each brand brags its own AF system but it is up to you to judge which one will complement you. The bottom line is to find the most responsive system that will directly recognize subjects with no problems and track them smoothly. Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF II has an appealing algorithm that is even designed to work for animals. Also, it is best to check the frame coverage of the AF points.
The lens compatibility of the wildlife camera is as important as the camera body’s resolution. Since wildlife photography would often require you to execute shots from a distance, the variety of lenses your camera could handle is important to consider.
Besides the major features of the wildlife camera, it is also a must to weigh in on the price of the unit. Check if its set of features (viewfinder, Live View, processor, and others) would give you your money’s worth.
The camera’s ability to execute shots continuously in a matter of milliseconds will give you the best stills possible. Given your subjects in wildlife photography are fast-moving animals, a high burst speed will secure the entire moment you want to capture. However, without sufficient buffer, it would be problematic to do so.
Best Wildlife Cameras - FAQs
A professional wildlife camera should be able to deliver stills (and videos) with great quality and details. The speed of the camera, on the other hand, will determine how efficient the camera would be in capturing the movements of fast-moving subjects without missing a beat.
A 12 to 18 MP camera should be enough to give you decent wildlife stills. However, if you plan to convert your shots in large prints, 20 to 30 MP cameras and above would be a better choice.
A 7fps burst rate is enough to meet the standards, though a higher burst rate will benefit you more. A deep buffer, nonetheless, should also be considered for a smooth experience.