Top DSLRs For Wildlife

The most important camera specs to consider for wildlife photography

Top DSLRs For Wildlife

While mirrorless cameras have been closing the gap, DSLRs remain the best choice for wildlife photography. The availability of extreme telephoto lenses, AF performance, fast continuous shooting rates and high ISO capabilities are all advantages for capturing animal interactions and behavior.

Full Frame or APS?
Telephoto reach is the most important requirement for wildlife photography, bringing you close to subjects without disturbing them. While full-frame cameras are in some respects superior to APS-C models, for wildlife photography, the magnification factor of a smaller sensor enhances telephoto reach. For example, comparing a 20-megapixel full-frame camera with a 20-megapixel APS-C camera, the APS-C model will give you approximately 1.5x magnification of your lens’ focal length, making a 400mm lens equivalent to a 600mm lens. Keep in mind that this is only true if you’re comparing two cameras with the same resolution, as a full-frame image from a higher-resolution camera can be cropped for a similar result. Learn more about working with extreme telephoto lenses for wildlife photography.

Autofocus Performance
For wildlife action, AF speed and accuracy are prime considerations. Definitive numerical ratings aren’t available for AF performance, but higher-end DSLRs typically deliver better AF performance than entry-level bodies, and newer models with the most up-to-date AF technology improve upon earlier models.

More AF points are potentially an advantage, but evaluate the entire AF system. Cross-type points provide additional information to the AF processor and, therefore, improved accuracy. Algorithms and processor capabilities also play a major role—newer AF systems with fewer AF points and more powerful processors will potentially outperform older systems with more AF points. Multi-point AF is most useful when your subject is in front of a relatively uncluttered background. Otherwise, it may be more effective to simply use the center AF point, lock focus and then compose, or for stationary wildlife, to activate the AF point over the animal’s eye that’s nearest to the camera.

While cameras with focus-tracking capabilities can greatly enhance your chances of success, they’re not infallible, so it’s good to be able to fall back to basic technique and an understanding of your camera’s available settings. Review your manual’s recommendations for AF mode selection and experiment with your camera’s AF options to see which work best for your style of shooting.

Your lens also has a significant impact on autofocus performance. The availability and number of cross-type AF points may be limited by your lens selection. Professional super-telephoto lenses have faster motors and smarter AF algorithms, as well as finer optics than lower-end lenses. They’re more durable, with better sealing against weather and dust. They also cost a lot more, and are much larger and heavier—but that’s the price of superior performance.

Did you know your camera’s AF system operates with the lens wide open at its maximum aperture? When you activate the shutter, the lens then closes down to your selected aperture immediately before the shutter opens. Most AF systems require a minimum aperture of ƒ/5.6, which usually isn’t a problem. However, if you use a teleconverter to extend your focal length, you’re also reducing the effective maximum aperture of your lens—the stronger the teleconverter’s strength, the greater this reduction—making an AF system that’s compatible with apertures as small as ƒ/8 preferable for telephoto work.

Frames Per Second and Max Burst
While fast continuous capture rates aren’t absolutely critical for most wildlife photography, they’re certainly beneficial. More frames per second increase your chances of recording the perfect expression, gesture or wing position for moving wildlife. In addition to frames per second, the number of frames that can be stored in a single burst is also important. The larger the file, the faster your camera’s buffer will fill, so if large bursts of images are desired, shoot JPEG instead of RAW, as you’ll be able to capture significantly more images per burst. Regardless of your selected file type, to take full advantage of your camera’s speed, use the fastest-rated memory cards that your camera supports.

ISO Equivalence
For best image quality, it’s always preferable to set lower ISOs, but wildlife photography often means shooting in low-light conditions near dawn and dusk when higher ISOs are needed. Considering the minimum aperture requirements of AF systems, plus the creative flexibility of selecting the right aperture for your desired depth of field, cameras that offer wider ISO ranges provide a significant advantage for wildlife photography. Though noise increases at higher ISOs, it’s better to compromise with noise than with sharpness or not getting the shot at all.

More light translates to less noise, and larger sensors collect more light due to their increased surface area. That’s one reason why full-frame cameras are able to offer comparably higher ISO equivalents and provide better image quality at higher ISO settings than smaller sensors.

Suggested Cameras
Following is a selection of DSLRs, both full-frame and APS-C, which we recommend for wildlife photography. While not a definitive list, these models represent the latest options from their respective makers. When selecting a DSLR, also consider the telephoto lenses and teleconverter options available for the models you’re evaluating.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II
Canon’s newest professional DSLR is an excellent choice for wildlife photography. It’s the fastest DSLR currently available, with 14 fps capture using the optical viewfinder or up to 16 fps when shooting in Live View. The AF system is also impressive, with 61 AF points, 41 of which are cross-type, all of which are compatible with apertures as small as ƒ/8.
Sensor: 20.2 MP Full-Frame
AF Points: 61
Max Frame Rate: 16 fps
Max Burst: 170 RAW
ISO Range (Expanded): 100–51,200 (409,600)
Price: $5,999

Canon EOS 80D
Another new model from Canon, this APS-C DSLR features a 45-point AF system, all of which may be cross-type (depending on the lens selected). The AF system is also compatible with apertures of ƒ/8 or larger. Like the new EOS-1D X Mark II, the AF system can function in low-light situations down to -3 EV, which is approximately the luminance of moonlight.
Sensor: 24.2 MP APS-C
AF Points: 45
Max Frame Rate: 7 fps
Max Burst: 25 RAW
ISO Range (Expanded): 100–16,000 (25,600)
Price: $1,199

Top DSLRs For Wildlife

Nikon D5
Nikon’s new flagship is ideal for wildlife, promising extremely fast and precise AF, with 153 AF points, 99 of which are cross-type, and 15 that can function at apertures as small as ƒ/8. The AF system also features a dedicated processor, and works in extremely low-light conditions, down to -4 EV. It can capture 12 fps using the viewfinder or 14 fps with the mirror locked up.
Sensor: 20.8 MP Full-Frame
AF Points: 153
Max Frame Rate: 14 fps
Max Burst: 200 RAW
ISO Range (Expanded): 100–102,400 (3,280,000)
Price: $6,499

Nikon D500
The D500 includes the same new AF system as the top-end pro D5, as well as its new EXPEED 5 processor. Though it’s not quite as fast as the D5, it’s still very speedy at its max rate of 10 fps. It also features the same level of weather sealing as the pro-model D810, and though less than the D5’s astronomical ISO max, offers a remarkable ISO range, expandable to 1,640,000.
Sensor: 20.9 MP APS-C
AF Points: 153
Max Frame Rate: 10 fps
Max Burst: 79 RAW
ISO Range (Expanded): 100–51,200 (1,640,000)
Price: $1,999

Top DSLRs For Wildlife

Pentax K-1
The first full-frame-sensor camera from Pentax is built for outdoor photography, with 87 weather-sealing components. The K-1 offers a useful APS-C Crop Mode that not only allows it to accept a wider selection of Pentax lenses (and enhances telephoto reach), but also boosts the max frame rate from 4.4 fps to 6.5 fps. Pentax SR II five-axis shake reduction built in provides stabilization with every lens.
Sensor: 36.4 MP Full-Frame
AF Points: 33
Max Frame Rate: 4.4 fps (full frame)/6.5 fps (crop)
Max Burst: 17 RAW (full frame)/50 RAW (crop)
ISO Range: 100–204,800
Price: $1,799

Pentax K-3 II
Like the full-frame K-1, the K-3 II is well protected against the elements, with 92 seals. The 27-point AF system includes 25 cross-type points and can function in low-light conditions down to -3 EV. Also like the K-1, the K-3 II has image stabilization built in, offering up to 4.5 stops of shake reduction regardless of the lens used.
Sensor: 24.35 MP APS-C
AF Points: 27
Max Frame Rate: 8.3 fps
Max Burst: 23 RAW
ISO Range: 100–51,200
Price: $999

Top DSLRs For Wildlife

Sony a99
Technically not a DSLR, the a99 is built around Sony’s Translucent Mirror Technology, which passes most of the light to the image sensor, but reflects a small amount to the phase-detection AF system. At full resolution, the a99 can capture at 6 fps, but you also have the option of shooting at up to 10 fps with a resulting cropped file of 4.5 megapixels.
Sensor: 24.3 MP Full-Frame
AF Points: 19
Max Frame Rate: 6 fps
Max Burst: 14 RAW
ISO Range: 100–25,600
Price: $1,999

Sony a77 II
Like the a99, the a77 II employs Translucent Mirror Technology, though as a newer model, it offers some advantages for wildlife photography over the a99, like faster capture rates and a more sophisticated AF system with 79 points, 15 of which are cross-type. The a77 II also incorporates weather sealing around the buttons, controls and camera openings.
Sensor: 24.3 MP APS-C
AF Points: 79
Max Frame Rate: 12 fps
Max Burst: 60 JPEG
ISO Range: 50–25,600
Price: $1,199

Updated April 7, 2016
Published July 23, 2013


    I have found the Panasonic Lumix FZ 200 to be ideal for these purposes. It is light, One lens 28 to 600 without aperture loss. Great for birds in flight and animals at some distance, with all the ‘bells and whistles’ to make it a great for hiking etc.

    I’m glad to see you mentioned the Sony’s too. But I strongly disagree with what you said about the A77’s electronic viewfinder not being ideal for birds in flight. I am guessing you are going by something you have read rather than first hand experience.Yes it takes a day or two to get used to but after that you you adapt and the EVF id no problem at all for flight shots. As a matter of fact the EVF is a HUGE advantage for wildlife photography as you can see your exposure before you press the shutter.. That’s huge.

    My Canon EOS 60D has done incredibly well for me and is not too different from the 7D in performance, 2fps less haven’t made much difference so far. Anyway it is the personal skill that counts, more than the equipment I’ve seen plenty of people with expensive full frame cameras that would have been just as well served by point and shoots due to skill, or lack thereof. A writer once asked me what camera I used because it took great pictures and must be expensive; I told him he must be using a really expensive Pelican fountain pen. Point being, gear is great; skill is better!

    I am also a A77 Sony user, and I can say that this camera is excellent for AF using the EVF. I captured numerous Eagle shots this Spring and the camera responded beautifully. My photography buddy, was using a Canon and even tho we were using similar zoom lens, he was not matching the AF speed nor FPS that my A77 attained. The picture quality was excellent. I agree with the previous comment that you need to try it before passing judgement.

    Another long-winded regurgitation of previously published drivel. If you want to shoot wildlife – especially birds – don’t over spend. Get a Canon 60D and a Canon 400mm f5.6 L (less than $2500 in total) and you have everything you need.

    I have to whole-heartedly agree with mypinyum. Maybe also get a cannon 2x teleconveter also. I have a 60D and 7D with this setup and I get great results. I mostly use the 7D due to the extra speed.

    One thing. that list of TOP DSLR, i don’t understand
    why is the D800/E listed (I don’t know about Canon)
    The D800/E, isn’t that a studio cam?
    If not, why is the D3x then not listed?
    Coz its the same as the D800/E, just less mpx, bute one frame more, 5(7)
    Both cam are for studio/landscape and for architectural fotography, imho.

    I also work whit Sony77 and find it a very good camera, one thing that is disappointing is the iso performance, higher than 800 is no option, I hope that next generation will be able to shoot at 3600 in a acceptable way

    Sorry for the question from a newbie… I’d like to start wildlife/landscape photography and I can’t decide between a Nikon D7100 and a Nikon fx.
    The second one has the advantages of a full frame camera, but from what I read on the reviews it looks like the shutter is less precise and a little slower.
    Anyone has experience in using both? The shutter problem can be a “real” problem in everyday use?
    Thanks a lot!!!!

    hi, i am a beginner and planning to buy a DSLR. Now if i buy Nikon D5200 i have a choice to spend $1200-1300 on lenses, where as if i buy D7100 i will have less money to spend on lenses but d7100 supports autofocus. so i may be able to buy cheaper lenses with no autofocus. A recommendation or opinion would be highly appreciable. Thank you.

    I am wanting to buy a camera for wildlife photography, in particular bird photography, and know nothing about cameras. (But I am about to start a diploma in photography, so will be all over it soon) I’ve been practising for some time with average cameras, but I obviously require the bells and whistles for exceptional bird in flight photographs. I am willing to spend up to $5-$6,000. Any specific recommendations?


    I had the FZ200. I took some very nice photo of wildlife with it. It’s simple to use. I definitely recommend this for any beginner..However, once you get into wildlife photography I found that the FZ200 will let you down a bit if you’re trying to take moving subjects and manual focus is a real hassle. I broke mine unfortunately but it has nothing to do with the build quality of the camera. If I had the chance, I would send mine repair in the future. but now, i’m ready to switch to dslr

    As a professional photographer I can impart this tidbit of knowledge. Megapixels is important and a decent body, but in almost all cases it is the Lens. Canon’s 70-300 series of lens is OK but unless you get the L version of the lens you will probably be disappointed. I have used my Canon 70-200mmm f/2.8 L lens with a matching 1.4 & 2x converter and it was much better than the 70-300 4-5.6.

    Sigma makes great long lens zooms if you can find them cheap otherwise invest in a good name brand long lens over 300mm.

    I’m new to photography always had the interest but never the time, so can anyone tell me if you use a remote for still life., Like deer? there are a lot on my property and I want to be able to capture everything I can, but they get spooked so I was hoping I could set up my tripod and a new camera with a remote control device. any suggestion?

    @Terry Julien How can you possibly decide that before the D500 has been released? D750 is an amazing camera – I have one, but if you read the article … you would realise the extra reach of DX and higher burst rates (Not to mention the next generation processor and twice as many focus points) is likely to make the D500 far superior to the D750 for wildlife… but as it hasn’t even been released yet, we have to wait and see.

    I agree with Ken Copen. Canon 80D mentioned and not 7D MKII? Why now? 64 cross-type autofocus points. F/8 autofocus compatible (I use 100-400 L II + 1.4X III) and get autofocus w/that combination … granted, it’s center point only, but hey, I use center point and recompose routinely anyway.

    Yes,very surprised at Canon 7D Mk ii and Olympus OMD EM5 MK ii from MFT missing. Anyone wishes to add / make further comments? Plz add. I am considering one or other to go for soooon!.

    I have a 7Dii. What an absolutely great camera for the money. I am just struggling however with capturing a horses moment of suspension, and think I may need to go for the 1DXii for that slightly faster burst rate. I do have to say though that the 7Dii is absolutely fantastic VFM, especially as prices have dropped recently to less than ??1000. The 1DXii is now over 5 times the price and I am struggling to justify that, even though I need the frame rate.

    Time is gone for DSLR cameras now. You should buy this world’s best camera which can take photo all around in 360 degree when you just throw it in the air. When the camera reaches at its highest point it takes a snapshot in every direction you can think of. The camera is in the shape of a ball and it has total 36 lenses spread all over the surface of the ball to capture photos all around in three dimension. Visit for more. Capture images of animals in all directions in a single shot.

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