Best Cameras for Wildlife Photography:

Technical specs

Written by me Bryan Conners who has been playing with camera's and photographing wildlife longer than I care to remember!



"There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs."
Ansel Adams
On this page I explain some of the technical stuff without all the jargon!

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.
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.
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.

Using focus points for wildlife
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.
Sensor size in wildlife photography
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.
ISO can be a problem in wildlife photography
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.
Things are getting better!

Modern cameras are much better at handling ISO noise. Not so long ago anything above a setting of 100 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.

Read my guide on setting exposure for wildlife photography.
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.
Al servo is used for wildlife photography
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.
Take a look at my other articles below....

Bird image with blurred background or bokeh
My guide to exposure in wildlife photography. Learn about the three crucial settings.
Al servo is used for wildlife photography
Understand the technical features that make a good wildlife camera.
No photography jargon on this page
Choose the best camera for wildlife photography by reading my no jargon guide.
Fast camera autofocus is essential to focus on moving birds
The top six essential things that every camera must have in order to take quality images of birds.