Our Top 3 Picks
Wildlife photography is demanding of skills and of gear as well. If you’re determined to try your luck in it, you want to get the best wildlife camera possible.
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Cropped Sensor Cameras
Unlike in many other fields of photography, in wildlife, you might want to use cropped sensors over full-frame.
The 1.5x/1.6x crop allows you to use shorter, and thus lighter and cheaper telephoto lenses for the same framing.
Let’s take a look at the best APS-C camera options available:
Old and cheap, but still very capable
Canon EOS 7D
When Canon announced the original 7D in 2009, it outshined every other available APS-C camera. Its new sensor provided great dynamic range and detail.
The autofocus system has set a new standard for semi-pro DSLRs. It implemented video recording better than ever before.
The 7D held its position on the top until it’s successor, the 7D MkII came out. Still, today it’s still outstanding in some respects.
It is fully weather-sealed, rugged, and feels fantastic to hold.
Autofocus works well. Though it does not have a ton of points, it’s spread out and sensitive. Subject tracking works fairly accurately.
The viewfinder is big, bright, and provides 100% coverage of the frame.
If you’re on a tight budget, the 7D is the best wildlife camera choice for you.
Needless to say, it was discontinued years ago. You can find one on the used market for only a few hundred dollars.
An inexpensive modern option
It gives you a great grip, weather resistance, and practical controls.
In addition, it has a lot of great features, including Wi-Fi, sensor shifting and stabilization, and GPS.
You can choose from 27 autofocus points, of which 25 are more sensitive cross-type.
ISO performance maxes out at an extraordinary 819.200.
You can get a KP for double the price of a Canon 7D. That is still inexpensive and very reasonable for a modern semi-pro DSLR.
Canon’s latest cropped-sensor offering
Canon EOS 90D
The 90D was released very recently as the successor of the 80D in September 2019.
It offers improved resolution and image quality over Canon’s previous APS-C cameras.
The body is slightly smaller than the 7D, but it still has a nice grip and weight.
You can operate this camera conveniently with lots of buttons, a joystick, and a touchscreen.
It offers Dual Pixel autofocus in Live View and 45 cross-type points in the viewfinder.
You can shoot 4K videos with it, using the full width of the frame.
Best autofocus in a cropped-sensor Canon camera
Canon EOS 7D MkII
Although it starts getting old, the 7D MkII is still considered as the top of Canon’s cropped-sensor DSLR lineup.
Its main selling points are the rugged, weather-sealed body, the burst rate, and the autofocus system. These are key to a wildlife photographer.
The AF system is comprised of 65 cross-type points widely scattered out. It’s blazingly fast and accurate. You can track a subject throughout the whole frame without problems.
Ergonomics are similar to the original 7D. Materials are slightly better, but they were top-notch already.
You can use two cards (a CF and an SD) simultaneously, this is a professional touch.
Nikon’s flagship APS-C camera
The Nikon D500 is presumably the best cropped-sensor camera on the market today.
It offers everything a wildlife photographer might need.
First, it’s well-balanced, and ergonomics are great. The grip is solid, the materials used are superb.
You get a lot of buttons, a joystick, and a touchscreen, which allow for quick and easy operation.
The autofocus system is effective. 99 cross-type points offer excellent tracking and snappy focusing throughout most of the frame.
ISO performance is best among all APS-C cameras, reaching 1.638.400. That’s just one stop below the D5’s industry-leading sensitivity.
Like in the 7D MkII, you get dual card slots, this time an XQD and an SD.
Burst shooting goes up to 10 fps. Unlike in similar cameras, it continues for at least 20 seconds without slowing, thanks to the enormous buffer.
If you don’t need the extra reach offered by APS-C sensors, but rather more detail and better ISO performance, choose a full-frame camera.
In our opinion, these are the best options:
An inexpensive, well-packed modern option
Sony Alpha A7 III
In recent years Sony evolved into one of the most important and innovative camera brands. The third generation of the A7 series is a mature, fully-fledged mirrorless camera.
Despite its countless features, the device remains very small and lightweight. It’s comparable to an entry-level DSLR in that respect.
Sadly, this comes with a few disadvantages. First, with bigger lenses, it feels really unbalanced. And you will use bigger lenses in wildlife photography.
Second, the grip (although bigger than on previous A7 models) is too small. It’s very hard to grab the camera comfortably.
A battery grip mostly solves these problems, as well as adding a significant increase in battery life.
On the other hand, the features of the A7 III compensate.
You can shoot continuously at 10 fps, saving the images to two SD cards.
The autofocus works great. Tons of focusing points cover most of the frame. Tracking is refined and accurate. And Sony’s fantastic eye AF (which functions for animals and humans as well) just wins the game.
The A7 III represents an excellent value. If you’re not willing or able to invest the price of a car in a full-frame camera, this is the best choice. We voted it to be the Best Mirrorless Camera to Buy in 2019.
A champion of high-resolution burst
The D850 is not particularly a wildlife camera, not even a sports camera. But its features are so strong and generally great that it still fits among our favorite 5 choices.
You get immense detail from the 45.7MP sensor. The lack of anti-aliasing (AA) filter adds even more sharpness.
Furthermore, its dynamic range of 15 stops is the best you can get in a digital camera (and on par with the recently announced Sony A7r IV).
It focuses quickly and keeps the subject sharp while shooting full-resolution raw files at 9 fps. To get that speed, you will need to purchase fast XQD or UHS-II SD cards.
In spite of all that, the 850 is very reasonably priced, and it’s a great all-rounder full-frame camera.
Sony’s best offer for action and wildlife
Sony Alpha A9
Sony’s A9 is close to the limits of today’s camera technology.
It packs incredible processing power and top-of-the-line features in the same size as the A7 series.
You get 20 fps full-resolution burst with continuous autofocus.
693 phase-detection focusing points are spread out across the whole frame, providing 95% of coverage.
The reason why this camera is not on the top of our list is the construction.
Wildlife photography sometimes puts you in very wet and dirty situations. While the A9’s body offers some protection, it is not weather-sealed enough to resist a torrential storm or getting dropped in the mud.
If you don’t mind that, you get a terrific camera.
Canon’s flagship DSLR
Canon EOS 1DX MkII
Canon’s best DSLR is a proper sport and wildlife camera.
It couldn’t differ more from the A9 on the exterior. The 1DX mkII is the biggest and heaviest on our list.
In turn, it offers the best framerate and autofocus Canon can offer in a DSLR.
You can shoot 4K at 60 fps with this camera, although with some weird limitations.
This great wildlife camera camera shoots at 14 fps with autofocus and 16 fps without it.
With the 1DX MkII, you also get the best out of EF-mount lenses, especially Canon’s L ones.
Nikon’s best camera to date
The top player on our wildlife cameras list is Nikon’s flagship DSLR.
Having a similar size and weight as the 1DX MkII, this is no light camera either.
It features better autofocus coverage and higher AF sensitivity than its Canon counterpart.
In burst shooting, it slightly lags behind, but it compensates in buffer size. It allows you to shoot 200 raw images in a row at 12 fps.
ISO extends up to an incredible 3.276.800, but you won’t use that much when photographing wildlife.
In wildlife photography, you potentially spend days away from a power source. The D5 helps you in that case.
Its battery is rated to a whopping 3780 shots. That’s three times more than the 1DX MkII’s battery life.