Determining the best cameras for bird photography comes down to personal preference and camera capability. The best bird photographers have an eye for composition, attention to detail, and a full understanding of their camera’s features, so it is important that you take the time to get to know whichever camera you select.
More so than most other forms of photography, bird photography relies on speed and instinct. So if you choose a camera that you can’t operate with speed and intuition, you’ll likely find yourself missing many potential moments!
In other words, is having excellent autofocus capability, for example, a very good idea for bird photography? Yes, however, these days with camera interfaces being so complex, it won’t matter how good the camera’s AF is; you could still miss focus on a lot of photos if you’re confused about which AF settings to use, and which buttons/dials control those settings! Indeed, mastering your camera is critical to bird photography.
Newer Mirrorless cameras and the latest DSLRs are the best options for any birder that wants to capture images of the avian subjects they observe in the wild. The technical options that are available with professional cameras give any birder the ability to turn brief sightings into impactful works of art! In the following article, we’ll review the most important points when it comes to choosing the best camera for bird photography, including the following topics:
- Choosing a Camera Brand
- Selecting a Camera Model
- Autofocus Options
- Frame Rate Capabilities
- ISO Options
- Camera Durability
Choosing a Camera Brand
Choosing the brand of camera you want to use for bird photography is all about preference and budget. Despite what avid users of any camera maker might say, any camera maker you go with will have an option that suits bird photography.
The camera you choose will determine the tools and accessories you will buy in the future, (especially the lenses) so choose wisely. The most popular and best brands for bird photography include Nikon, Canon, and Sony cameras. Wildlife and outdoor adventure photographers in general also love Olympus, too! There are camera body and (telephoto) lens options available from each of these brands that will help you capture professional quality images. That is, again, once you are familiar with the camera.
We’ll start talking about specific camera brands’ options next!
Selecting a Camera Model
After you have decided on a camera brand, you will need to choose a model that is able to deliver the types of photos you plan on capturing, and that is within your price range. Models increase in price as the technology and capabilities increase, but you don’t always need the most expensive or fanciest camera to get the type of shots you’re after. Before shopping, make a list of the basic and minimum options you would like in a camera and kit, and then take a look at what your brand of choice offers with those options. Focus on the following features.
Sony has camera body options with both full-frame and APSC crop sensors on the same mirrorless E-mount, for both entry-level and flagship pro levels. They also have the benefit of multiple third-party brands offering excellent telephoto lens options to supplement the name-brand Sony lenses. Sony’s DSLR options, however, are rather outdated by now.
Nikon has excellent options for both DSLR and mirrorless photographers, with both DX (APSC) and FX (full-frame) sensors. Nikon’s DSLR bodies have a lot of excellent lens options from third parties, too. However, the Nikon Z-mount mirrorless camera bodies do not yet have third-party options. You can work around this by using any Nikon F-mount DSLR lens on the Nikon FTZ mirrorless adapter.
Canon also has excellent options for both DSLR and mirrorless photographers, with both full-frame and crop-sensor options too. Again, their DSLR mount cameras have innumerable lens options, but their mirrorless mounts, RF and EF-M, have almost no third-party options. Again, it is easy to adapt any Canon EF mount DSLR lens to mirrorless.
The autofocus capabilities of a camera are what set it apart from other models on the market, and a little bit of what drives up the price. When you are photographing birds you really need to rely on the ability of your camera to autofocus and do so quickly. The split second that it takes for a camera to focus on a subject can be the difference between getting the perfect shot or missing out entirely. There is nothing more frustrating in bird photography than getting a near-perfect shot that is slightly out of focus or watching a moment pass but your shutter doesn’t click because the camera is still “hunting” for focus!
Pay attention to a camera’s autofocus capabilities when you are shopping for the best camera. So when it comes to finding the best camera for Bird Photography, consider the following for their advanced autofocus:
Some of these latest cameras actually have bird detection built into their autofocus system, however, it is not an absolutely necessary feature.
Frame Rate Capabilities
The frame rate of a camera determines the number of photos it is able to take per second. When you are trying to capture action shots of birds in flight, or feeding, you want to be able to snap as many photos as possible to capture the fleeting moments of the bird’s wings “pose”.
Therefore a high frame rate is especially important to any bird photographer and should be high on the list of desired options in a camera. So when it comes to finding the best cameras for Bird Photography, consider the following for their high frame rate, many of which have 10-20 FPS (frames per second) or more!
- Nikon Z9
- Sony A1
- Canon EOS R3
- Canon EOS 1DX Mark III
- Sony Alpha a7R IV
- Olympus OM-D E-M1X
- Fujifilm X-T4
ISO Options and Requirements for Bird Photography
Solid high ISO performance in low light is often near the top of anyone’s wishlist when it comes to a new camera. It’s not too different for bird photographers. You are typically shooting bird photography during the mornings and afternoons within the 100 to 800 ISO range. There may even be situations when photography takes you into blue hour at 1600 or even 3200. This obviously depends on your lens aperture as well as your personal artistic preference, but having a camera with good high ISO performance will increase your flexibility.
Thankfully, literally every camera made in the last 5+ years that has a full-frame sensor is going to offer excellent low-light high-ISO performance. Many of the APSC crop-sensor cameras, such as the Fuji X-T4 and Nikon D500, have ISO performance almost as good as full-frame sensors.
Most major camera makers now make sturdy weather-sealed cameras, but there are some elements of the camera that you need to be conscious of when you are using it outdoors. Not all cameras are built for the elements or tough enough to withstand heavy outdoor use.
Take a look at camera brands and bodies that specialize in making camera bodies for nature photography or outdoor use, with weather-sealing to make the camera “splash proof”. Most camera bodies these days are made of metal, too.
By the way, don’t forget to try and make sure the lens you buy is weather-sealed, too!
Best Lens For Bird Photography
This article was focused on the best camera body for bird photography, however, the right lens is equally important! Thankfully, all of the camera bodies we have mentioned have a lot of excellent telephoto lens options available for them.
Canon, Nikon, and Sony all have some truly phenomenal name-brand lens options for their mounts, whether you are looking for an affordable variable aperture lens such as a 70-300mm or 100-400mm, or a flagship, expensive “big gun” lens like a 500mm or 600mm lens.
For each of these name brands, there are also excellent third-party lens options, whether for mirrorless or DSLR mounts. Sigma and Tamron both make excellent options in the 30-700mm, 100-400mm, and even 150-600mm telephoto zoom range.
For both Olympus and Fuji mounts, there are also excellent name-brand lenses. However, they are fewer in number and may be limited in range for your budget. Third-party options are relatively limited as well.
If you want some more great tips about choosing the right lens and focal length for bird photography, check out this article here!
[Related: Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 Di III VC VXD Review | An Affordable Super-Telephoto Zoom For Sony Mirrorless]
Conclusion | The Best Camera For Bird Photography
To summarize, remember, it doesn’t matter how good or expensive a camera you buy for bird photography. No matter what, you must spend a lot of time mastering that camera if you want to be good at bird photography!
Also, remember that for bird photography the most important features to look at are autofocus speed and accuracy, shooting rate, (FPS or framerate) high ISO image quality, and of course, durability in bad weather. If you make sure to buy a camera with these qualities, you will not be disappointed!
If you are still deciding between one brand or another, honestly, they’re all excellent these days! You really can’t go wrong between Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, or Fuji. The best thing you can do is to actually hold a camera in your hands. Do the camera controls make sense to you? Does it feel easy, even effortless, to operate? The best way to discover this is to try out a camera or two via rental!
Hopefully, all of these options gave you a good idea of what the best cameras for bird photography look like. With this information, you can build a camera gear kit to take with you as you head out to shoot, and focus on the creative side of photographing birds!