Wildlife photography

Best Camera For Bird Photography Review And Buyer’s Guide

Best Camera For Bird Photography Review

Bird Photography probably one of the most demanding forms of photography. Due to their very nature birds are hard to photograph, they are small, move fast, and usually avoid people.Best Camera For Bird Photography

There are a bewildering number of camera’s on the market, many are suitable for taking excellent images of birds and wildlife but if you talk to experienced wildlife photographers you will find that most of them use virtually the same cameras.

On this page I will tell you about the best camera choices to make and the camera’s that will serve you well.

I was recently in a bird hide with seven other photographers after a rare bird was sighted, all of the photographers had the same camera!

Different types of cameras can be used to take images of birds but if your serious about it and want the best then read on.

Top 4 Best Camera For Bird Photography

ImageNameRatingPrice
Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)Buy on Amazon
Nikon D500 DX-Format Digital SLR (Body Only)Nikon D500 DX-Format Digital SLR (Body Only)Buy on Amazon
Nikon D7200 DX-Format DSLR Body (Black)Nikon D7200 DX-Format DSLR Body (Black)Buy on Amazon
Canon EOS-1DX Mark II DSLR Camera (Body Only)Canon EOS-1DX Mark II DSLR Camera (Body Only)Buy on Amazon

Best Camera For Bird Photography:- Few Tips

You need to consider below points while buying the camera for bird photography.

1) Compatibility with good lenses.

Select a DSLR camera that is supported by a wide range of lenses. This means either Canon or Nikon. Most experienced bird photographers use these two with the bias being towards Canon.

2) Buy the best camera you can afford.

Digital technology is progressing year on year with significant advances between models.

Buy the latest best camera you can afford, within reason, some cameras are designed to do a lot of things you may not ever want to do.

Don’t be seduced into getting top of the range models unless your photographic interests go beyond bird or wildlife photography.

3) Frames (Images) per second. 

Go for a camera that offers a good number of frames per second, this is important in bird photography as you will frequently fire a ‘burst’ of shots when a bird is in action such as taking flight or preening.

The camera must write every photo you take to the memory card. Good cameras have large fast buffers to do this.

You don’t want a camera to ‘freeze’ whilst it’s processing the images you have just taken as for sure you will miss taking photos of further action whilst your waiting.

4) Auto Focus speed.

This is essential to your success as a bird photographer. As a rule you get what you pay for, but if your not sure the best guide is the frames per second mentioned previously.

The more frames per second, the faster the auto focus generally is, so if you choose a camera with a good burst rate the auto focus should be fine for bird photography.

Fast auto focus and frames per second are essential to capture moving birds.

5) Mega Pixels. 

Broadly speaking the more, the better although the quality and size of the sensor is also important.

You need to be looking at around 20 MP. This is pretty much the standard at the moment in enthusiast and professional cameras.

Bird photographers crop their images a lot during post-processing in order to make the bird bigger, if you don’t have enough pixels you wont be able to do this without the image starting to look pixelated.

Birds are often so small and distant that photographers have to crop images heavily during post-processing: Make sure your camera has enough pixels.

6) Crop sensor is good enough.

I say this knowing that there is a huge debate about this, but crop sensor cameras are cheaper and wildlife photographers like them because they appear to make the bird bigger on the produced image.

Full frame cameras do produce slightly better-quality images, but the difference is minimal and difficult to see in most examples.

I would estimate the around 75% of the photographers I know and talk to, some of them professional, use crop sensor cameras.

Don’t feel you need to pay out big bucks for a full-frame, if you can afford it you might want to but otherwise crop-sensor is fine.

Canon or Nikon?

Canon DSLR cameras are the most popular choice for photographing wildlife but there is in reality little difference between them and Nikon. Both companies are constantly locked in a battle to release a better version than the other.

Canon lenses are however generally considered to be better for wildlife photography mainly because there are several cheap alternatives are available and as they are not interchangeable with Nikon cameras.

Therefore most wildlife photographers were preferring Canon for wildlife photography, however this perception got changed over the time.

So first we will look at two highly recommended cameras the 7D MkII and the D500 . Then we will look at other two cameras the D7200 and the EOS-1D X MkII, both popular with experienced animal and bird photographers.

 

1) Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)

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Features

  • 20.2 MP CMOS sensor and ISO 100-16000
  • High speed continuous shooting up to 10.0 fps
  • 65-point all cross-type AF system
  • Stunning Full HD video with Custom Movie Servo AF (speed and sensitivity)
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF enables you to shoot video like a camcorder

Body, Build and Quality

The 7D MkII is a full size well built camera making it feel balanced on heavy telephoto lenses. It has a large grip and most of the buttons can be controlled using your thumb or index finger.

The body is sealed against moisture and dust. The LCD has a 3:2 aspect ration with a resolution of 720×480 pixel.

The screen is not a touch screen and does not swivel, unlike a lot of similar ranged recent DSLRs.

Canon 7D MkII Specifications

  • 20MP Dual-Pixel AF CMOS Sensor
  • 10 fps continuous shooting with autofocus
  • 65 all cross-type autofocus sensor
  • 150,000 RGB + IR pixel metering sensor
  • Dual Digic 6 processors
  • Enhanced environmental sealing
  • Compact Flash (UDMA) and SD (UHS-I) slots
  • USB 3.0
  • Built-in GPS
  • Larger-capacity LP-E6N battery
  • Shutter speeds up to 1/8000th seconds

Without a doubt the most popular mid-range camera and many would argue to be the best camera for bird and wildlife photography currently available.

If you have the 7D MkII in your kit you would probably never need or want anything else, it is one of the most capable wildlife cameras available.

Why?

Canon designed this camera specifically for sports and wildlife.

Its affordable, being competitively priced when considering the high specification.

Shoots up to 10 images per second which is great for catching animals that are moving.

Very fast processor (DIGIC 6) means it does everything without ‘lagging’.

65-point autofocusing allows the camera to lock onto moving animals and remain focused. The autofocus on this camera is very fast, ideal for birds in flight or fast moving animals.

20.2-megapixel images, more than enough detail in each image and plenty of scope for cropping images during editing.

150,000 pixel metering system. Measures light coming into the camera and can adjust settings automatically within a 1000th of a second.

Built in GPS tags images with location.

Its weather sealed against moisture.

 

2) Nikon D500

Nikon D500 DX-Format Digital SLR (Body Only)

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Features

  • 20.9MP DX-Format CMOS Sensor.Viewfinder:Eye-level pentaprism single-lens reflex viewfinder
  • EXPEED 5 Image Processor;Monitor Size : 3.2 inches diagonal
  • 3.2" 2,539k-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD
  • 4K UHD Video Recording at 30 fps
  • Multi-CAM 20K 153-Point AF System

This is Nikon’s answer to Canons 7D MkII but it is around £500 more so it looses half a point for that. Performance wise it’s spec is very similar except for it’s massive 153 point autofocusing. Read on for more info.

Body, Build and Quality

The D500 ergonomics are good and the camera feels like the right size, like other Nikons it is a well built camera.

There controls are easy to access and like the Canon 7D MKII you can customize them and this allows you to adjust settings without taking the camera away from your eye which as stated before is crucial in a wildlife camera if your not going to miss shots.

Nikon D500 Specifications

  • 20.7MP APS-C (DX- Format APS-C Crop Sensor)
  • 10 fps continuous shooting with autofocus
  • 153 point AF 99 cross type
  • 180,000 pixel RGB sensor
  • Expeed 5 processor
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC cards
  • Weather sealed body
  • USB 3.0
  • Built-in GPS (Optional)
  • EN-EL15 battery
  • Shutter speeds up to 1/8000th seconds

Shoots up to 10 images per second, which is more than enough for most wildlife photography and is especially good for bird photography.

Fast processor (EXPEED 5) means it processes images faster than the Nikon D7200 but it’s needs this extra power due to the added technology.

153-point autofocusing, which is a stunning amount of focus points. I am not sure however that you will ever use them all when photographing animals.

Even when photographing small birds in flight most photographers will only use the central cluster or as few as 9. I don’t think I can ever recall using all of the focus points on any camera to capture wildlife.

20.9-megapixel images which is pretty standard and certainly good enough for wildlife photography and the cropping you will no doubt have to do.

180,000 pixel metering system, which is reported to be very good and very responsive. It’s slightly more than the Canon 7D MkII but the difference is not noticeable.

Jargon
 alert (See my tech page for an explanation of ISO): This camera like other Nikons is known to handle dull conditions well and it has a whopping ISO capability of 51200 similar to Canon’s top of the range EOS-1D X Mark II.

It’s unlikely that a wildlife photographer would ever need this level of ISO and most photographers rarely work above 800 as the quality rapidly deteriorates above that.

Its
 weather sealed against moisture.

This is a nice camera, with high specifications. I cannot help thinking Nikon went ‘over board’ on the focus points and the ISO in order to try and out do Canons 7D MkII.

The fact is however, wildlife photographers will not use either to it’s full ability and you are paying more for the camera.

If you do other types of photography it may be useful, however you would be better served with a full-frame camera (larger sensor) in that case.

 

 

3) Nikon D7200

Nikon D7200 DX-Format DSLR Body (Black)

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Features

  • 24.2MP DX-Format CMOS Sensor.
  • Full HD 1080p Video Recording at 60 fps.
  • Multi-CAM 3500 II DX 51-Point AF Sensor.
  • In-Camera Time Lapse, Up to 9,999 Frames.
  • Brand New in original box with all manufacture accessories, MAY come in kit box where lens is taken out.

This is one of Nikon’s less expensive cameras but it is very popular with bird and wildlife photographers.

It’s one of the best value high performance cameras in my line up.

This is one of Nikon’s less expensive cameras but it is very popular with bird and wildlife photographers.

It’s one of the best value high performance cameras in my line up.

Nikon D7200 Specifications

  • 24.2MP APS-C (Crop Sensor)
  • 6 fps continuous shooting with autofocus
  • 51 point AF central 15 cross type
  • 2016 pixel RGB
  • Expeed 4 processor
  • Dual Compact flash
  • Weather sealed body
  • USB 2.0
  • Built-in GPS (Optional)
  • EN-EL15 battery
  • Shutter speeds up to 1/8000th seconds

Shoots up to 6 images per second, which is one of the slowest cameras in my reviews.

I find in practice that I hardly ever fire bursts of more than 4 off at a time so depending upon what your planning on using the camera for the low figure may not be to much of an issue.

Fast processor (EXPEED 4) means it processes images fast enough to keep up with anything your trying to do without any lag.

51-point autofocusing, which is good for a camera in this range. This would be good for photographing birds in flight or running animals.

The Nikon focus system is considered by some to be slightly slower than Cannon but this is open for debate.

24.2-megapixel images which is a lot of pixels meaning you can crop images smaller and still retain detail. This is especially important when photographing small animals at a distance such as birds.

2016 pixel metering system, this is reported to be one of the primary weaknesses of this camera. The metering is used for measuring light coming into the camera.

Animals often move from dark to light areas quickly so wildlife photographers are usually reliant on the cameras automatic system to adjust settings quickly.

The choice of metering settings are also limited on this camera but I have to stress that’s it’s perfectly possible to use this camera to get excellent images.

Nikon cameras are well known to handle low light conditions better than Canon and that is true of this camera with excellent image quality in dull conditions.

This is a budget camera, it’s probably one of the lowest priced cameras capable of excellent results.

If you are on a budget this may be the camera for you, although I would recommend you consider a second hand Canon 7D MkII as this is a much more capable camera and will come at a similar price.

 

 

4) Canon EOS-1D X MkII

Canon EOS-1DX Mark II DSLR Camera (Body Only)

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as of August 3, 2019 8:10 am

Features

  • Fastest shooting EOS-1D, capable of up to 14 fps full-resolution RAW or JPEG, and up to 16 fps in Live View mode with new Dual DIGIC 6+ Image Processors. The magnification is approx. 0.76x (-1m-1 with 50mm lens at infinity) / 35.1° angle of view
  • Achieves a maximum burst rate of up to 170 RAWs in continuous shooting at up to 16 fps, and 4K movies using CFast cards in the new CFast 2.0 slot
  • Improved AF performance through 61-point, wide area AF system with 41 cross-type points, improved center point focusing sensitivity to -3 EV and compatibility down to f/8
  • Accurate subject tracking for stills and video with new EOS Intelligent Tracking and Recognition AF with 360,000-pixel metering sensor. Working temperature range: 0°C - 45°C / 32°F - 113°F
  • 4K video (4096 x 2160) up to 60 fps (59.94), with an 8.8-Megapixel still frame grab in camera. Full 1080p HD capture up to 120 fps for slow motion

This is one of Canon’s top of the range models which carries a hefty price tag.

It is a very advanced camera with a lot of features that would probably never be used by the average wildlife photographer. But if you have the money to spare…. go for it!

Body, Build and Quality

The 1D X MkII is a solid camera, it feels like it’s built from rubber and metal and it is. It weighs in at a hefty 1.2 kg leaving you in no doubt this is as professional camera as you can get.

Its weight balances well with big telephoto lenses used by wildlife photographers.

Most of the controls require button and command dial movement and cannot be done single handed which is not so good for photographing animals and birds as they don’t always hang around and wait for you.

Canon EOS 1D X MkII Specifications

  • 20MP Full Frame Sensor
  • 14 fps continuous shooting with autofocus
  • 61 point AF with 41 cross-type
  • 360,000 RGB + IR pixel metering sensor
  • Dual Digic 6+ processors
  • Enhanced environmental sealing
  • Compact flash and CFast 2.0 card support
  • USB 3.0
  • Built-in GPS
  • Larger-capacity LP-E19 battery
  • Shutter speeds up to 1/8000th seconds

This is a cutting edge camera with the best features money can buy.

Shoots up to 14 images per second which is 4 faster than the 7D MkII. Great if you want to capture action shots such as birds bathing or animals jumping.

Very fast processor (DIGIC 6+) means it processes images fast and keeps up with the stunning 14 images per second with pausing.

61-point autofocusing, less than the 7D MkII but working slightly different and faster.

The camera has more sensitivity when tracking moving birds or animals but this camera is also designed for other types of photography so the functions are more diverse.

20.2-megapixel images which is the same as the 7D MkII, however this is a full frame camera meaning in simple terms the individual cells of the sensor are slightly further apart.

The result of this is better quality images and a camera that handles low light conditions much better. This is perhaps is the biggest pro of this camera over the 7D MkII.

360,000 dedicated pixel metering system. Much more than the 7D MkII and over twice as efficient at metering the light coming into the camera.

In reality you would probably not notice the difference in general day to day wildlife photography.

Built in GPS tags images with location.

Its weather sealed against moisture.

Being a top of the range camera the EOS 1-D X MkII has a lot more features than the 7D MkII.

Many of these features are not likely to be used by most wildlife photographers, however if your photography interests are more diverse, then this camera will tick a lot more boxes.

 

Best Camera For Bird Photography Buyer’s Guide

So what is ISO and what do autofocus points do? I explain here in simple terms what all the jargon means and what features are important in a wildlife capable camera.

This is not a guide on how to use your camera it’s more about explaining what all the terms mean and what is important when choosing a camera.

Autofocus and focus points.

The autofocus systems on DSLR cameras have never been more intelligent or more accurate than they are now.

When you frame an animal or bird you press the shutter button and the camera will use its technological wizardry to instantly focus on the subject using the focus point that you have selected previously.

How many focus points do you need for wildlife?

You can select any number of focus points for wildlife photography but despite modern cameras having up to 153 points you will inevitably 90% of the time be using just one!

Yes that right only the one in the centre. Usually you will focus using one point on the part of the animal you want to be in focus. In bird photography it’s nearly always the eye.

The only benefit of having multiple focus points on a camera is with fast moving animals such as birds in flight.

Modern cameras can track the target from focus point to focus point keeping it in focus. Even with birds in flight you would tend to use only the centre cluster of nine or so points.

In general, the efficiency and speed of the focusing system is linked to the price you pay for the camera and you want it as good as you can afford as animals move a lot and only rarely will you be photographing something that stays still for two seconds.

Don’t forget.

The focusing speed and accuracy of a camera is also dependant upon the lens you use. Some lenses are known to be slow whilst others much faster.

Buying Tip!

Don’t be seduced into buying an expensive camera because it has lots of focus points as more than likely you will only ever either use one of them or the central cluster.

It is important though that the focus points it does have are fast and efficient. Canon 7D MkII wins in this department as it has a top of the range system on a mid-ranged camera.

Technical Fact!

The centre autofocus point is usually the fasted and most accurate of all of the focus points.

Using multiple focus points and leaving the camera to work out which one is best rarely gives satisfactory results in wildlife photography.

The exception to this is birds in flight on a clean background. You simple do not need lots of focus points on a wildlife camera but you do need fast and accurate ones.

Full frame sensor and Crop sensors

A sensor is the plate in the camera that is covered in light sensors and receives the image projected on to it. Some cameras have full-size sensors and others have smaller cropped sensors.
Full frame cameras are general more expensive and the image quality better, they handle high ISO without too much ‘noise’.

Crop sensors are popular with wildlife photographers because they have the affect of magnifying the image and many crop sensors produce excellent quality.

Buying Tip!

When buying a camera for wildlife photography don’t think you have to buy a full frame sensor camera to get good quality. Many crop sensor cameras produce excellent images and they are much more affordable.

ISO

There is lots written on ISO and it’s something that a lot of nature photographers struggle with due to their use of zoom lenses that limit the light received by the camera.

ISO simply increases the sensitivity of the sensor to light, so on a dull day you can use ISO to make the image that the camera produces, brighter, bringing out detail that otherwise would not be visible.

It’s all linked to getting the exposure right which is a fundamental task in all photography.

Because zoom lenses used in wildlife photography do not allow a lot of light to get through you will often need to dial up the ISO to get your exposure correct.

ISO basically magnifies the electronic signal within the camera, the downside of this is that it creates ‘noise’ small imperfections like dots in the image, this seriously degrades the quality of the image, so the photographer has to balance exposure with image degradation due to noise.

Full frame cameras create less noise so you can have it set higher, crop sensors are not so good.

Most wildlife photographers work on the rule of not going above 800 with ISO and have the setting on auto so it automatically adjusts.

Image processing software like Adobe Lightroom is getting better at removing noise during processing but it tends to make the image look soft if to much processing is applied.
Things are getting better!

Modern cameras are much better at handling ISO noise. Not so long ago anything above a setting of 400 would start to show noise on an image.

Every year manufacturers find ways of improving and I have recently taken images at 3000 which were perfectly acceptable.
Sometimes because a fast shutter speed is more important you just have to accept high ISO settings.

Buying Tip!

When buying a camera for wildlife photography don’t worry about big ISO numbers as you will mostly have it set to a around 800.

Full frame cameras are better in dull conditions as you can go much higher, say 1600. How well a camera handles ISO is more important than its maximum ISO setting.

Al Servo (Canon) or Continuous Focus (Nikon)

Continuous focus keeps the camera focused on a moving object if you hold down the shutter button. A wildlife camera without continuous focus would not be much use.
Although obviously in days gone by many images were taken doing this manually it’s almost unthinkable now.

As far as I am aware all modern DSLR camera’s have it but like a lot of features how fast and efficient it is can vary and that is usually linked to price.

Buying Tip!

Most DSLR cameras now have Continuous focus or Al Servo but the speed and accuracy of it is usually linked to the price of the camera.

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