Determining the best cameras for bird photography comes down to two things: sheer camera performance, and a bit of personal preference. The best bird photographers have a creative eye for good composition and excellent timing, but they also need a full understanding of their camera’s features in order to “get the shot”, and of course, their camera needs to not let them down when the critical moment arrives! This is why it is so it is important that you take the time to get to know whichever camera you select, and make sure it is up to the challenge of bird photography.

Compared to most other forms of photography, bird photography relies on multiple factors of speed, and precision. 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 autofocus 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!

Mastering your camera is just as critical to bird photography as having the best camera!

Newer mirrorless cameras, as well as the latest DSLRs, are the best options for any photographer that wants to capture stunning images of the avian subjects they observe in the wild. The options that are available for pros and hobbyists alike will provide any birder the ability to turn a a brief glimpse of a rare, beautiful bird 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 mostly about personal preference and budget, and only a little bit about the sheer speed & performance. Despite what influencers and avid fans of any  particular camera brand might say, all of today’s latest cameras in the “prosumer” and professional categories have more than enough speed, precision, and reliability; there is no hands-down winner. HOWEVER, each brand can differ significantly in the way its controls and custom functions are arranged on the camera, (the ergonomics & interface) …so it is CRITICAL that you get familiar with a camera before committing to purchasing it!

The camera you choose will also determine the tools and accessories you will buy in the future, especially the lenses, so this is another reason to choose wisely at first. The most popular and best brands for bird photography include Nikon, Canon, and Sony cameras. However, the most compact and lightweight flagship professional system is from Olympus! (OM Systems)

Canon EOS R8, ($) Canon RF 100-400mm ($650)
100% Crop (24 megapixels, f/8, 400mm

Each brand has a decent variety of  (telephoto) lens options available that will help you capture professional quality images. However, once again your personal preference (and budget) will need to be considered; certain brands have better options in the affordable and/or lightweight+portable categories, while other brands may have more big, exotic, expensive lenses. All of these lenses are capable of phenomenal results, so just choose whichever suits your needs right now, and maybe a little bit into the near future.

We’ll start talking about specific camera brands’ options next! The thing to remember is that each brand’s different cameras usually have similar control layouts and menu organizations, but the difference between one brand and another can be night-and-day. So, you’ll want to become familiar and comfortable with whichever brand you’re deciding to stick with for the long-term.

Selecting a Camera Model

Nikon P950 ($800)

If you have decided on a camera brand, you’ll need to choose an exact camera next, of course. You want a model camera that is able to deliver the types of photos you plan on capturing, and is also within your price range. Cameras increase in price as the technology and performance increase, of course, but you don’t always need the most expensive or biggest, heaviest camera to get the photos you’re imagining.

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

  • Framerate (FPS, Frames Per Second)
    10-20 FPS is more than adequate for most birds; 20-30 FPS can be nice for subjects like hummingbirds!
  • Buffer Depth
    Framerate doesn’t mean very much if a camera can only sustain that speed for a fraction of a second! Some cameras list their “burst rate” as 10 or 20 FPS, or higher, however, you MUST read the fine print because it may state that the camera’s buffer will fill up after just 15-20 clicks! A slow buffer can plague any type of action photography because if it never clears fast enough, you will frequently find yourself waiting for the camera to clear up space so it can regain its maximum speed! (Fast memory cards are also a must for bird photography!)
  • Autofocus Tracking Reliability
    It is difficult to measure an AF system based on its speed or accuracy alone. One without the other is meaningless, of course, and the holy grail is when a camera’s AF system offers both speed and precision on a consistent basis.
  • AF Subject Detection
    Most of the current-generation mirrorless cameras (and some DSLRs) have specific algorithms built into their AF systems that actually are trained by AI (well, OK, it’s just machine learning) to detect specific subjects such as birds, insects, or almost any type of animal. This is not critical to bird photography, but it certainly can make life a whole lot easier!

Notes About Camera Brands (And Lens Options) For Bird Photography

Tamron 150-500mm, ($1,400) Sony A7C ($1,500)

Sony’s E-mount has numerous camera body options with both full-frame and APSC crop sensors, for both entry-level and flagship pro levels. The Sony autofocus system is finally arriving at all different price levels, too. So, although their flagship pro cameras have the highest specs in terms of speed, even their beginner-oriented, budget-friendly models will be very fun to work with.

The mirrorless E-mount also has the benefit of multiple third-party brands offering excellent telephoto lens options to supplement the name-brand Sony lenses.

Nikon P950 ($800)

Nikon has excellent options for both mirrorless and DSLR 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 as many third-party options, although they are on the way. You can work around this by using any Nikon F-mount DSLR lens on the Nikon FTZ mirrorless adapter.

Also, Nikon has one of the most unique bird & wildlife cameras on the market, with a staggering 24-2000mm built-in zoom lens! (Yes, that’s not a typo, that’s 2000mm equivalent, read our Nikon P950 review here. There is also the Nikon P1000, which zooms to 3000mm!)

bird photography guide for beginners anticipate motion 02
Bird Photo by Pye Jirsa

Canon also has excellent options for both mirrorless and DSLR users, 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, currently have zero third-party options, unless you use an adapter.

Canon EOS R8, ($) Canon RF 100-400mm ($650)

Thankfully, Canon also has some unique lens offerings; their 100-400mm full-frame super-telephoto lens is ultra-compact, and their unique (ultra-compact, for their focal lengths!) 600mm and 800mm lenses are highly affordable compared to flagship pro options.

Best Camera For Bird Photography | Autofocus

Indeed, the autofocus capabilities of a camera are the biggest technical, measurable factor that can set it apart from other models on the market. When you are photographing birds you really need to rely on the ability of your camera to not just lock onto a subject fast, but also track it as it flies through the air!

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” to lock focus!

So, above all other technical specs, pay close attention to a camera’s autofocus capabilities when you are shopping for the best camera. Thankfully, you don’t need the most expensive flagship camera to get an excellent AF system! However, you will want to look into the absolute latest-generation cameras, because they have the best up-to-date technology in terms of subject detection and tracking.

Many of these latest cameras specifically have bird detection &tracking built into their AF system, and they can work like…witchcraft! Again, this is not an absolutely necessary feature.

Camera Frame Rate (FPS, Burst Rate)

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!

Camera ISO Requirements for Bird Photography

bird blue hour photography

A camera also needs to have great high ISO performance in low light, because so often bird photographers will find themselves working around sunrise and sunset, and/or using a telephoto lens with a relatively slow aperture.

ISO should actually be near the top of any bird photographer’s wishlist, and this is one reason why we sometimes recommend using a full-frame camera, instead of an APSC or Micro Four Thirds camera, despite the “extra reach” telephoto advantages of the latter two.

Even a typical, normal bird photography conditions during mornings and afternoons will often fall within the ISO range of the 400 to 800, if you are trying to freeze fast action with a lens that is slower than, say, f/2.8 or f/4.

Of course, there may also be many situations when photography takes you into blue hour, at ISO 3200 or even 6400.  If you

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.

Camera Durability

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, and this is yet another reason why we strongly recommend at least stepping up above the most basic, entry-level cameras.

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. This is one area where the Olympus (OM systems) brand stands out in particular; they make some of the most durable, rugged cameras on the market, and they do it at a fraction of the budget (and weight!) of other brands, especially compared to full-frame cameras.

By the way, don’t forget to try and make sure the lens you buy is weather-sealed, too!

Other Camera Considerations For Bird Photography

There are a few more subtle, camera-specific factors to consider when looking for the best camera for bird photography. One factor that used to be a major drawback of mirrorless cameras was EVF (electronic viewfinder) lag time. It used to be relatively slow, and thus, following a bird through live view (as opposed to an optical viewfinder) could become utterly impossible at times.

Thankfully, this particular issue is one of the reasons why we strongly recommend just sticking with the absolute latest camera models. Indeed, even the older “flagship” cameras can be worse in this regard compared to some of the latest entry-level options!

Also, as we mentioned, the

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!