The best camera for wildlife photography in 2023

Best wildlife cameras: Quick menu

The Olympus OM-D E-M1X pro camera mounted with an Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens

(Image credit: James Artaius)

Top picks
1: Best overall Canon EOS R5
2: Best reach Nikon P1000
3: Best bridge camera Sony RX10 IV
4: Best camera trap  Bushnell Core DS No Glow
5: Best APS-C Canon EOS R7
6: Best small setup OM System OM-1
7: Best DSLR Canon EOS 90D
8: Best professional Nikon Z9
How to choose
How we test cameras
FAQs

Whether it's birds in your backyard or the big five on safari, the best cameras for wildlife photography will help you to get sharp and stunning wildlife shots every time. As someone who has been on photo safari to Africa and is lucky enough to live near the world's first drive-through safari park, I've spent a lot of time using these cameras!  

Of course, the best camera for wildlife on the Serengeti is different to the best one for shooting at the zoo, which is different to the best one for photos in your garden. Overall, my personal top pick is the Canon EOS R5, which covers all the bases: it boasts the best autofocus and image quality on this list, it's weather-sealed, there's a great range of lenses, and it even shoots 8K video (from which you can extract crystal-clear stills). 

It comes with a hefty price, though, and it might be far too overpowered for what you need. I absolutely love the all-in-one Nikon P1000 with its ludicrous 24-3000mm zoom, which is an utterly heavenly focal range. But if you need something for your yard, then a trail camera like the Bushnell Core DS No Glow might be a better bet for you. 

I've spent hundreds of hours all over the world photographing wildlife, and here on DCW we've tested all the best wildlife cameras available. Here are my top recommendations right now…

Top picks: best cameras for wildlife photography

Best overall

(Image credit: James Artaius)
Best camera for wildlife overall

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: Full frame CMOS
Megapixels: 45MP
Autofocus: 5,940 Dual Pixel CMOS AF II
Monitor: 3.15-inch fully articulating touchscreen, 2,100k dots
Continuous shooting speed: 12fps mechanical shutter, 20fps electronic shutter
Buffer: 350 JPEG or 180 RAW images
Viewfinder: 0.5-inch OLED EVF, 5,690k dots, 100% coverage
Max video resolution: 8K DCI or UHD at 30p
User level: Professional

Reasons to buy

+
Incredible image quality
+
Exceptional 8K video

Reasons to avoid

-
Recording limits
-
4K video is average

For my money (literally!) this is the best camera that Canon has ever made. It's also the best overall wildlife camera, thanks in large part to its autofocus – which is so good that I described it as a cheat code for wildlife photography. It simply doesn't miss a beat, sticking to subjects like glue so all you need to do is keep them in the frame. I am amazed every time I use this camera at just how spookily good the AF is.

The 45MP stills are crisp and clean, and can be rattled off at up to 20fps – more than enough to keep up with even the twitchiest animals. In-body image stabilization offers up to 8 stops of compensation, which is perfect for shooting on long lenses. And if you need video, the R5 offers stunning 8K 30p – along with the ability to extract a 36MP still image from your footage. Of course, the camera's recording limits are well publicized… but honestly, I've never had a problem in personal use.

Throw in weather sealing, dual memory card slots (one SD and one superfast CFexpress Type B) and some of the most advanced lenses in the industry, and you've got an unbeatable camera.  

Read my full Canon EOS R5 review for more details

Best reach

(Image credit: James Artaius)
Best wildlife camera for reach

Specifications

Type: Bridge
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch
Megapixels: 16MP
Lens: 24-3000mm f/2.8-8.0
AF: Contrast detect
Burst rate: 7fps
Buffer: 7 JPEG or RAW
Weight: 1,415g

Reasons to buy

+
Monstrous 24-3000mm range
+
4K 30p video

Reasons to avoid

-
Only 16MP 
-
Limited ISO sensitivity

When photograping wildlife, the one thing I always want is more reach… unless I'm using this bridge camera! It boasts an integrated lens with an unbelievable 24-3000mm zoom range, which absolutely transforms your shooting ability. Usually I have to take two bodies and two different lenses, one to cover close range (usually a 24-70mm) and another to cover distance (the longest I have, which is 150-600mm). 

It's cumbersome, and there's a huge gap in the coverage. It's even worse if I only have one body with me, as I lose even more time having to swap lenses instead of just cameras. But the Nikon P1000 means I don't have to swap anything; I can zoom from an animal a few feet away from me all the way to an animal grazing on the horizon. It's an absolute revelation, and provides the most fun I ever have when taking photos of wildlife.

There is a tradeoff, of course: the sensor is very small (1/2.3-inch) and low in resolution (16MP). This means that image quality is great at small or medium resolution (and with decent light), but not so much if you want to blow up your prints big. Still, it's no problem if you don't print out your images and put them on walls – and you would go bankrupt if you bought a traditional camera body and all the lenses the P1000 covers! 

Read our full Nikon Coolpix P1000 review for more details

Best reach

(Image credit: Gavin Stoker/Digital Camera World)
Best bridge camera for wildlife photography

Specifications

Type: Compact
Sensor: 1-inch
Megapixels: 20.1MP
Lens: 24-600mm f/2.4-4
AF points: 315
Burst rate: 24fps
Buffer: 112 shots (RAW)
Weight: 1095g

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent and fast 24-600mm lens
+
Superb stills and video quality

Reasons to avoid

-
Touchscreen control limited
-
Relatively large and heavy

Like the idea of an all-in-one bridge camera with an all-encompassing zoom range, but want better quality than the P1000 above, then I recommend this superb Sony. Its zoom range can't touch the Nikon, but the 24-600mm coverage is still incredible – and simply can't be touched by an interchangeable lens camera. 

The range may not be quite as ridiculous as the P1000, but the lens is much faster at f/2.4-4.0 and the image quality is better thanks to the larger 1-inch sensor. The autofocus system is also more sophisticated, and it offers faster 24fps shooting to capture all the action. I don't really take much video when shooting wildlife, but I was impressed with FullHD 120p slow-motion.

You're going to pay a premium for all that performance, though, and you can get a good mirrorless camera for the same money. However, as with the P1000 above, you'll spend a lot more cash buying lenses that cover the same focal range. 

Read our full Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV review for more details

Best camera trap

(Image credit: Gavin Stoker/Digital Camera World)
Featuring dual sensors for great shots day or night

Specifications

Type: Trail
Megapixels: 30MP
Video: 1080p
Night vision: Yes
Audio recording: Yes
LCD: Yes
Power: 8x AA batteries

Reasons to buy

+
Dual sensors optimised for day and night
+
Waterproof construction

Reasons to avoid

-
Powered by regular AA batteries
-
No wireless capability

Sometimes it’s not possible to wait for your subject to come to you, which is where a trail camera comes in. These tough cameras are activated by a subject’s movement, enabling you to be tucked up in bed and leave the camera to do the hard work for you. And right now, the créme de la créme is the Bushnell Core DS No Glow. 

This packs two image sensors, with one optimized for daylight capture and the other tailored for nighttime photography – and take my word for it, this is invaluable for those after-dark images. However, you need to be aware that camera traps are the best option for spotting elusive animals and not for image quality. My colleague Gavin summed it up best in his review: 

"Speaking from a photographic perspective, the images we got from the camera most closely resembled video grabs rather than slick or sharply defined images we might want to stick on our walls. While we weren’t expecting an equivalent SLR performance, it’s worth bearing in mind that what this one offers – remote, covert viewing – is something than an SLR can’t. So it’s very much a case of horses for courses." 

Read our full Bushnell Core DS-4K No Glow review for more details

Best APS-C

(Image credit: Alis Volat)
The best APS-C wildlife camera

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: APS-C
Megapixels: 32.5MP
Lens mount: Canon RF / RF-S
AF zones: 651
Burst rate: 30fps (electronic – 15fps mechanical)
Buffer: 46 RAW / 184 JPEG
Weight: 612g

Reasons to buy

+
32.5MP resolution
+
Great image stabilization
+
Oversampled 7K video

Reasons to avoid

-
Conservative buffer
-
Control wheel is quirky

Want some serious firepower but don't want all the bulk – or the cost – of a full frame camera? An APS-C camera is a great combination of power, portability and price – and if I'm taking an APS-C body on a wildlife shoot, it's going to be the Canon EOS R7. 

Following the footsteps of much-loved wildlife DSLRs like the Canon EOS 7D Mark II, this is a camera built for speed and to take advantage of the 1.6x crop factor of Canon's APS-C sensor. This transforms a 200mm lens into an effective 320mm lens, giving you greater reach than the same lens on a full frame camera. It accepts Canon's mirrorless RF and RF-S lenses, but my favorite thing about EOS R cameras like this is that I can also use my Canon EF lenses from my old DSLRs via an adapter (which offers native performance). 

With bursts of up to 30fps, the R7 matches the speed of the flagship Canon EOS R3 sports camera – making it perfect for photographing animals of all shapes and sizes. Powered by the same phenomenal autofocus system as the R3 and R5, offering great stabilization, and capable of 4K video oversampled from 7K, I've taken some of my favorite ever animal images on the R7. 

Read my full Canon EOS R7 review for more details

Best small setup

(Image credit: James Artaius)
The best wildlife camera for small setups

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: Micro Four Thirds
Megapixels: 20.4MP
Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds
AF points: 1,053
Burst rate: 120fps (no AF/AE), 50fps (full AF/AE)
Buffer: 92 RAW / 92 JPG at 120fps`
Weight: 511g (body only)

Reasons to buy

+
Has the smallest and lightest lenses
+
Excellent image stabilization
+
2x crop factor doubles focal lengths
+
IP53 weather sealing

Reasons to avoid

-
Uninstinctive menus
-
Only 20.4MP

When I go on safari, and when I travel overseas period, I use my OM System / Olympus cameras – and the OM-1 is the best of them all. The reason is simple: since it has a small-but-mighty Micro Four Thirds (MFT) sensor, not only is the body incredibly compact and lightweight – more importantly, so are the lenses. Even APS-C cameras are stuck using chunky lenses, but MFT optics can be literally half the size and weight of their full frame equivalents. 

Part of the reason is the 2x crop factor of the MFT sensor, which doubles the effective focal length of the lenses. So if you mount a 50mm lens it gives you an equivalent 100mm focal length, and so on. When you're going on a wildlife shoot, taking a lens that's half the size and gives you double the reach of a full frame lens is an absolute game changer. But that's only part of what makes the OM-1 such a brilliant camera. 

It's the only body rated to IP53 for weather sealing (OM cameras are the only ones I trust absolutely in horrific conditions), it boasts up to 8 stops of rock-solid image stabilization (which was great when I was riding in the back of a Jeep, or when my 300mm lens with teleconverter suddenly became a 1200mm!), it captures 4K 60p 12-bit ProRes RAW… it even boasts amazing computational tricks like handheld astrophotography and software-based ND filters. In short, it can do anything!

Read my full OM System OM-1 review for more details

Best DSLR

(Image credit: Canon)
Best DSLR for wildlife photography

Specifications

Type: DSLR
Sensor: APS-C
Megapixels: 32.5MP
Lens mount: Canon EF-S
AF points: 45
Burst rate: 10fps
Buffer: 25 shots (RAW)
Weight: 701g

Reasons to buy

+
Vari-angle touchscreen
+
Un-cropped 4K video

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited buffer capacity
-
Aggressive JPEG noise reduction

While I'd say that the Nikon D850 is the best DSLR overall, when it comes to DSLR wildlife photography I'm choosing the Canon EOS 90D. Boasting the same 32.5MP sensor architecture at the heart of the new EOS R7, you still get great resolution – but you also benefit from the 1.6x crop factor that makes your lenses even longer. 

Mirrorless cameras may be the norm these days, but there's still a lot to love about DSLRs – such as the traditional optical viewfinder, the beefier and better ergonomics, and that unmistakably meaty clunk of a mirror mechanism. Plus, I just think that DSLRs feel more robust and better able to withstand the knocks and scrapes of outdoor photography. 

My favorite thing about the 90D, though, is the battery life; at around 1,300 shots, it simply leaves mirrorless cameras in the dust. Not to mention that there are no gaps in the well-established EF lens lineup – and they're more affordable than modern lenses (especially on the second-hand market). Add in uncropped 4K video and Canon's ultra-reliable Dual Pixel CMOS Autofocus, and this is a formidable wildlife camera.

Read my full Canon EOS 90D review for more details

Best professional

The best wildlife camera with a professional body

Specifications

Type: DSLR
Sensor: Full-frame
Megapixels: 45.7MP
Autofocus: 493-point hybrid phase/contrast detect
Screen type: 3-inch bi-directional tilting touchscreen, 1.04m dots
Maximum continuous shooting speed: 120fps
Buffer: 1,000 RAW
Movies: 8K 60p
User level: Professional

Reasons to buy

+
Amazing buffer capacity
+
8K 60p video resolution
+
120fps burst shooting
+
Pro grip

Reasons to avoid

-
Screen not fully articulated
-
Nikon Z8 may be better for some

There's one thing that every interchangeable lens camera on this list has in common: a small body. However, when you're shooting wildlife photography, you're often using physically longer and heavier lenses – and those don't balance ideally on small bodies. This is when you need a camera with a professional form factor, featuring an integrated vertical grip. 

This extra heft not only makes it easier to balance big lenses, it also duplicates the shutter and exposure control dials in the vertical position – enabling seamless shooting when you spin the camera around to portrait orientation. On top of that, the grip supports a larger and higher capacity battery so you can shoot for longer when out in the field. 

Size advantages aside, I think the Z9 might be the best camera that Nikon has ever made. Its 45.7MP sensor delivers great-quality stills, and its stacked design also offers incredible speed – you can shoot all the way up to 120fps! (Resolution is capped at 11MP at this speed, but they were still more than good enough for my needs.) The 8K 60p video is unreal, and while the autofocus is a step below Canon's it is still awesome for animal photography (and if you don't need the grip, the Nikon Z8 is newer, smaller and cheaper).

Read my full Nikon Z9 review for more details


How to choose

When you're looking for the best camera for wildlife photography, there are several things to consider. 

First you need fast, efficient autofocus. A surprising number of wildlife subjects are pretty stationary, but being able to focus quickly on a subject that's moving unpredictably is crucial. 

Also important is a fast burst mode. Being able to shoot a lot of images continuously is desirable no matter what kind of wildlife you're photographing. Animals rarely stay still and may exhibit the behaviors you want to capture for just fractions of a second. 

Related to this is buffer depth, which refers to how many continuous shots a camera can capturing without stopping. A bigger buffer means more shots, which means a longer burst, which means a greater chance of capturing the moment you want. The speed of your media is key here, too, so make sure to use the best memory cards.

I would say that the most important consideration of all, though, is lens selection. This isn't a consideration with bridge cameras or trail cameras, which have "fixed" integrated lenses. However, for interchangeable lens camera bodies, you need to add your own lenses – so you want a good range to choose from! Depending on what you shoot, you're probably going to need the reach of a telephoto lens in particular. Take a look at the best lenses for bird photography and wildlife

(Image credit: James Artaius)

How we test cameras

We test camera resolution, dynamic range, and noise under scientifically controlled conditions using two key testing tools: Imatest Master and DxO Analyzer. All DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are subjected to these tests and, in some instances, high-end compact cameras as well.

In addition to lab testing, I conduct real-world tests with these cameras out in the field. You can only evaluate animal autofocus by photographing animals, so that's what I do! Whether it's an African safari, a domestic safari park, or photographing animals for my personal portfolio or client work, I test everything from focus accuracy and handling to burst rates and buffer depths to ease of use and video overheating. 

1. Resolution (ISO-12233): We use a resolution chart based on ISO-12233 from Applied Image inc to indicate the limit of the camera’s vertical resolution at the centre of the frame. The higher the value, the better the detail resolution.

2. Dynamic range (DxO Analyzer): This is a measure of a camera’s ability to capture detail in the highlights and shadows. We use DxO’s transmissive chart, which enables us to test a dynamic range of 13.3 stops.

3. Noise (DxO Analyzer): We use the dynamic range transmissive chart to analyze the signal-to-noise ratio for RAW and JPG files at every sensitivity setting using DxO Analyzer. A higher value means the signal is cleaner.

For trail cameras and compact cameras with built-in lenses, our team relies on real-world tests, using the cameras in the field and comparing results and handling characteristics to rival products that our team of testers has used.

FAQs

What is the best camera for a beginner wildlife photographer?

Assuming that a beginner wants to shoot somewhere like a zoo or safari park, a great place to start is with one of the best bridge cameras. These all-in-one systems have built-in lenses, and enormous zoom ranges that enable you to shoot from long distance or close up. They're simple to use and deliver good results. 

Bridge cameras like the Nikon Coolpix P1000 have crazy-long zoom ranges! (Image credit: Nikon)

How many megapixels do I need for wildlife photography?

There is no set amount – it all depends on your skill level and what you intend to do with your wildlife photographs. 

Obviously, more megapixels is better; the more pixels you have, the more detail will be in your photographs when your subject fills the frame. On top of that, if you don't have a long enough lens to make your subject fill the frame, you also have more megapixels to crop in without losing image quality. 

At the same time, professional wildlife photographers shoot successfully on cameras with 20MP! There is no substitute for having the right lenses, shooting skilfully, and most importantly knowing your subject and making sure you're in the right place at the right time.

What is the difference between a trail camera and a wildlife camera?

A trail camera, specifically, is an unmanned camera (sometimes called a "camera trap") that you set up in a location to capture images remotely. It can be triggered by things like motion or body heat. 

A wildlife camera, in general, is any kind of camera used to photograph wildlife. This can be a dedicated trail cam, or a DSLR or mirrorless camera with specific specs catered towards animal photography. 

Canon Wildlife Coastal Photography

(Image credit: Future)

Take a look at these wildlife photography tips to get the best out of your camera and lenses. If you're serious about shooting in the field, check out the best portable hides and camouflage gear. And be aware of these common wildlife photography mistakes!

James Artaius
Editor

The editor of Digital Camera World, James has 21 years experience as a journalist and started working in the photographic industry in 2014 (as an assistant to Damian McGillicuddy, who succeeded David Bailey as Principal Photographer for Olympus). In this time he shot for clients like Aston Martin Racing, Elinchrom and L'Oréal, in addition to shooting campaigns and product testing for Olympus, and providing training for professionals. This has led him to being a go-to expert for camera and lens reviews, photo and lighting tutorials, as well as industry news, rumors and analysis for publications like Digital Camera MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon MagazineN-Photo: The Nikon MagazineDigital Photographer and Professional Imagemaker, as well as hosting workshops and talks at The Photography Show. He also serves as a judge for the Red Bull Illume Photo Contest. An Olympus and Canon shooter, he has a wealth of knowledge on cameras of all makes – and a fondness for vintage lenses and instant cameras.