Nature never goes out of style. If you’re interested in capturing photos of Mother Nature in all her splendor and glory, one thing is true – you will never have a boring day.
There is beauty in every mood of hers. There is a joy to be found following her little whims. If you’re down, she can put a smile on your face. If you’re looking for inspiration, perhaps even a fresh perspective, you only need to climb a mountain or walk a trail. I feel nature and landscape photographers are blessed because they’re often out and about in nature, basking in her aura, doing something most photographers would kill for.
But nature photographers are not without their own set of challenges. Mother Nature can be unrelenting at times. She can be beautiful and sinister simultaneously, just as she can be awe-inspiring and dangerous. As nature photographers, pre-guessing her extreme mood swings and bracing for that is just part of the job. Similarly, investing in the right gear is also extremely important.
A typical nature photographer can use different tools to do their job. The camera and the lens are just two obvious items. There’s the tripod, the filter set, the triggers, light meters, the star tracker (for astrophotography), photography and weather apps, and so much more. In this discussion, I will only discuss cameras—specifically, the best beginner cameras for nature photography. I have also written a review of the best lenses for nature photography before.
I have no intention of making this discussion any longer than it should be, so perhaps I will leave the discussion about other items for later. If you’re just itching to get to the best part, here is the list
Best cameras for nature and wildlife photography – Our review
What makes an excellent camera for nature photography?
The best nature photography cameras are no different from any other camera. It’s just that they have a few more features that make them suitable for shooting nature photography and surviving the demands of shooting in harsh conditions. Let’s look at those requirements before diving into the best part.
Resolution is important. Higher resolution means more details. And who doesn’t like more details in their photos? Also, as a nature photographer, you would ideally want to see your pictures printed as large format prints and hung on a wall somewhere. For that larger resolution will be helpful.
Another real-world benefit of higher resolution is cropping. When we often capture a photo, say of a bird in flight or a lion sipping water while eyes gazing straight ahead, at the spur of the moment, we put all our attention on focusing and exposure. This is so we can make the most of the opportunity and get a sharp photo. At times we don’t even get enough time to compose. This is when the extra resolution comes in handy. The extra resolution allows us the liberty to crop our photos during post-processing and yet still end up with enough details to print big.
Full-frame vs. crop sensor
A larger frame means more real estate to capture light, and we all know the benefits that it brings on to the table. A larger sensor can produce better exposures in low-light situations. Also, cameras with larger sensors can produce a larger dynamic range because of their inherent ability to handle noise better.
A larger sensor can also pack more pixels, meaning more resolution without any associated issues. Meaning, even with a lot more pixels, they are not tightly packed and can capture light better.
A larger sensor offers a larger angle of view, which, depending on the lens you’re shooting with, allows you to capture a larger slice of the scene in front. For example, a D850 coupled with a 14-24mm lens will allow you to capture an angle of view of 114.2 degrees to 84.1 degrees. The application of that being you get to shoot large panoramic vistas, cityscapes, and other wide-angle shots.
It must be remembered that you don’t always require a larger angle of view to be captured. For example, when shooting tight portraits of wild animals from a distance, you would ideally want to use a long lens that will narrow down the angle of view.
Weather sealing is a must-have if you head out regardless of the weather conditions. Weather sealing gives your camera the basic seals that ensure water does not seep through the mount, the buttons, and the dials. It also prevents dust from getting sucked through these places.
Most professional photographers use cameras with some form of weather sealing for shooting nature and wildlife photography.
However, remember that just having a weather-sealed camera alone will not do. You also need to have lenses that are weather sealed. For the best set-up, however, you need to use a clear filter that protects the lens’s front element from dust and dirt and prevents water seepage.
Option to use a wide range of lenses
This goes without saying. The camera that you use should be able to take advantage of different lenses. With varying types of lenses, you can play with different perspectives. Using the same camera, you can alternate between a wide perspective, zoom close with a telephoto lens, and focus close to shoot a macro photo.
A compact or point-and-shoot camera may have a versatile built-in lens, but it does not give you the benefits of a larger aperture and a bigger sensor. To take better nature photos, you need to use an interchangeable lens camera with a sensor that’s at least a mirrorless unit.
OEM vs. third-party lens options
Cameras with a large number of OEM lens options would always be my first choice. OEM lenses work flawlessly with the cameras because the technology is tailor-made. These cameras and lenses are made to work with each other flawlessly because the camera manufacturers know the underlying technologies used to make them. There is no reverse engineering involved, such as with third-party lenses. With third-party lenses, the biggest complaint that photographers have is that they are often inferior to their OEM brethren. I don’t think that this is always the case. Some excellent third-party lenses designed by Sigma are available for Nikon and Canon mounts. These lenses will never give you a reason to be disappointed that you picked them.
Mirrorless Micro four thirds
OM SYSTEM OM-5
The OM SYSTEM OM-5 is one of the best beginner cameras for the purpose of shooting nature photography. It has just the right combination of features and the right build quality and is backed up by a decent enough OEM lens collection to be an ideal starter camera for shooting nature photography.
Let’s quickly go through the main specs of the camera.
First is the resolution bit. A 20.4-MP Live MOS micro four-thirds sensor powers the OM SYSTEM OM-5. I feel that, resolution-wise, this is a nearly-there camera. You wouldn’t need any more resolution unless you’re printing very large. And if you’re printing large, don’t worry. The camera’s five-axis image stabilization system can produce an image that’s 50-MP when you’re hand-holding. And if you could pair a tripod, the camera can create 80-MP behemoths. I don’t care how big your drawing room wall is. This is still a lot of resolution that you can play with.
The one thing that I definitely like is the weather sealing bit. I always prefer to have a camera that’s weather sealed when I am out and about in nature. Not having weather sealing means I am limited to the days and the weather conditions I can shoot in. With the OM SYSTEM OM-5, I don’t have to worry about the season or the weather conditions.
If there is something I don’t like about the camera’s construction, then the hand grip would be one of those. This isn’t one of the best handgrips we have seen recently. It does not give me a reassuring feeling when I hold it with my right hand, especially when wielding a heavy lens mounted on the camera.
For those of you interested in wildlife photography, unfortunately, the OM SYSTEM OM-5 has its limitations. That is even though the camera sports a ten fps continuous shooting speed and a buffer capacity of 149 RAW frames. What the OM SYSTEM OM-5 lacks is in the area of subject detection. It comes with face detection, which works for human subjects, but the lack of animal face detection means it struggles with wildlife and birds in tight situations.
The third thing I like about this camera is its built-in 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization system. A lot of modern mirrorless camera systems come with built-in image stabilization systems. But when this camera is paired with select lenses also with image stabilization built-in, it can combine the two and produce a beefed-up version. With such lenses, up to 7.5 stops of image stabilization are possible. It’s an incredible advantage when shooting hand-held shots.
There are many things to like about the FUJIFILM X-T5. It’s an all-around camera suitable for both videographers and photographers. But we’re specifically talking about still photography capabilities cameras. So, we’ll stick to it.
The 40-MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS 5 HR BSI sensor is quite a mouthful to pronounce. There are a few highlights that we can take from that. This is a high-resolution sensor capable of capturing a lot of details. The second is that this is a BSI sensor, which means the camera can produce better low-light images with greater dynamic range.
For someone shooting landscape photos, 40-MP will sound sweet. You can crop and yet retain a lot of detail in your images for printing large.
I love the fact that the FUJIFILM X-T5’s mechanical shutter mechanism can produce an excellent 15 fps. But I would have loved to see a higher buffer rate which would have allowed me to shoot a lot more images at that frame rate. The camera can shoot only about 19 RAW frames at full resolution before the buffer fills up. Also, the fact that the camera uses SD card slots (albeit dual) rather than the faster CFexpress cards further aggravates matters.
One of the things that the FUJIFILM X-T5 is known for is its mechanical controls. From shutter speed to ISO to exposure compensation, you have a bunch of mechanical controls. For someone who has spent years shooting with a film camera, this will be like returning to the old days. There are practical benefits to these mechanical controls as well. You don’t have to lift your eye off the viewfinder to adjust shutter speed or dial exposure compensation.
The FUJIFILM X-T5 has a 5-axis sensor-shift type in-body image stabilization system (IBIS). This system can minimize camera shake up to seven stops. The system is compatible with Fuji’s X series lenses, including non-stabilized ones. This is really helpful when shooting hand-held. Though you would ideally be shooting on a tripod when shooting landscape images, no one can sometimes resist the urge to take a quickie while hand-holding the camera. It’s at times like this that IBIS comes in very handy.
Speaking of image stabilization, the FUJIFILM X-T5 features an interesting Pixel Shift Multishot technology. This is a bit similar to what we saw in the OM SYSTEM OM-5 above. Pixel Shift Multishot technology uses the IBIS technology of the camera. It records a total of 20 individual frames with just a single press of the shutter release. Once the images are recorded, the camera uses the Pixel Shift Combiner software built into it to combine the images and create a single 160-MP file. You can take this 160-MP DNG file and then do further refinements.
The Sony a6600 is a digital camera powered by a 24.2-MP APS-C Exmor CMOS sensor paired with a BIONZ X image processor. 24.2-MP may not be a lot when compared to MP behemoths such as the Nikon D850, but this isn’t too bad either. You can certainly shoot some great landscape images with this camera.
The a6600 comes with in-body image stabilization. The technology is powered by a sensor-shift design and offers up to five stops of shake correction. Any compatible lens automatically becomes stabilized with this. This is useful when shooting hand-held and especially when shooting with long lenses.
Speaking of shooting with long lenses and wildlife photography, the a6600 has robust autofocusing functionality, ensuring the camera can easily track humans and other subjects. It has eye-detect for both human and animal subjects. These are handy when shooting wildlife and getting a sharp image of the subject.
That said, the buffer capacity of the a6600 isn’t the best in the business. The buffer is only 46 RAW images. So, you must time your shots accurately and then pause to allow the buffer to clear.
But the a6600 seems to have done really well in the battery life department. It can shoot a little over 800 images on a full charge. I know it’s not the same as you would come to expect from a DSLR, but it’s still good, and I can live with that. I also know that depending on how much you use the rear LCD screen will determine the battery life and the number of shots that you can squeeze out. This will vary a little from person to person.
Finally, the a6600 is a weather-sealed construction. The magnesium alloy chassis contains a number of seals for moisture and dust, which ensures that the camera can be used in any weather conditions without any issues. As a nature photographer and someone who started off shooting with a non-weather sealed APS-C Nikon camera, I understand how frustrating it’s when the weather turns bad and you’re not prepared for it. This is why I have always rated weather sealing as a priority for nature and wildlife photographers when choosing a camera.
The Nikon Z50 is an APS-C sensor-powered mirrorless camera that sits above the Z30. The sensor is paired with an EXPEED 6 image processor. Capable of producing large fine JPEGs and RAW images of resolution 20.9-MP, the Z50 is a capable camera that you can use for nature and landscape photography.
One of the strongest areas of the Z50 is its dynamic range. It’s really impressive. Scenes with many bright and dark areas, such as landscape shots, pose a challenge for a landscape photographer to balance.
With the larger dynamic range, the camera also seems not to be adding any additional amount of noise. You don’t have to use a higher ISO all the time. You can shoot at a lower ISO and then push the exposure during post-processing. The camera will increase the exposure without amplifying the noise any more than it would have had you shot the image with a higher ISO in the first place. On the bright side, however, the camera can retain a lot of detail in the highlights when you shoot at a lower ISO.
Now, for the exciting bit, the camera has a dual-gain ISO. When you set the ISO at 400, the higher gain clicks in, and there is some noticeable advantage in noise when it does so.
The camera has a decent burst speed of 11 fps when shooting at full resolution. However, please note that there is a single memory card slot, and even then, that’s only UHS-1 compliant.
The performance of the 209-point hybrid autofocus system is decent. The camera can lock on subjects with a degree of confidence for the most part. However, when tracking subjects, the Z50 shows some erratic performance, sometimes losing the subject only to reacquire it later.
Overall the Z50 is an excellent camera for shooting various kinds of nature photography, from landscapes to wildlife and flora to fauna.
The Nikon D500, despite being a dated model, is still a relevant camera in 2023 for anyone looking for an APS-C DSLR for shooting nature and wildlife photography. Even though a smaller sensor powers it, the D500 gets many of its features (especially autofocusing) from the D5, which was Nikon’s flagship camera before the D6 took place. Specwise, therefore, the D500 cannot be pushed into the category of entry-level cameras.
Let’s quickly talk about the major features of the camera.
First up is the construction quality. The f500 is a solid-looking construction. It’s made out of magnesium-alloy materials along with carbon composites. The camera is weather sealed, which means you can take it with you in any weather condition without any issues.
Second is the autofocusing system of the camera. The D500 uses a 153-point AF module that has 99 cross-type AF points. This AF system is paired with a 180,000-pixel RGB metering sensor. The good thing about this is that the AF points are spread across the viewfinder, allowing you to use them when tracking a subject, even at the corners or edges of the frame.
However, note that only 55 of these autofocus points are manually selectable. To select the AF points manually, this extremely useful joystick control is very intuitive and precise to use.
More cross-type AF points mean the camera can more easily handle autofocusing in low-light conditions. Plus, considering that 15 of the autofocusing points work at a maximum aperture of f/8, you can use the Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 with a 1.4x teleconverter and be able to still autofocus with the camera.
But the real benefit of this camera is in shooting wildlife photography with its fast continuous shooting speed. At its best, that’s ten fps; the D500 can shoot a maximum of 200 RAW frames before the buffer starts to slow up. Enough to track an osprey, make a dive, and then fly away with the catch in its talons, leaving with hundreds of frames to choose from. Also, when shooting that sly snow fox or the impala, easily startled by a twig breaking, you can switch to the Quiet continuous mode that shoots a smaller three fps.
The D500 has a range of autofocus area modes to select from. From the standard Single-point autofocusing mode to the x-Point Dynamic area to the 3D tracking mode, you can use any AF area mode to fine-tune the subject tracking and autofocusing performance.
Though face detection in the D500 is geared toward human faces, it does not produce nearly the same smoothness when shooting animals.
The Nikon Z5 isn’t a new camera. It has been around for a few years now. The thing that separates the Z5 from something like the Z50, apart from the ‘0’ in the name, is that the Z5 is a full-frame camera, and an APS-C sensor powers the Z50.
The Z5 is powered by a 24.3-MP full-frame CMOS sensor paired with an EXPEED 6 image processor. Though the camera has IBIS, it’s not a BSI sensor, which means it will not be in the same league in low-light performance as some of the other high-end cameras with IBIS such as the Z6 and the Z7 or their newest iterations, the Z6 II and the Z7 II.
However, the camera shows some interesting results when you compare the results shot using a higher ISO and then images shot at a lower ISO and exposure adjusted in post-processing. That means when shooting in low-light conditions, you can easily expose the brightest bits in the scene and pull the shadows later on during post-processing.
The burst speed of the Z5 rules it out as an effective wildlife photography camera. I would, however, recommend this for shooting landscape and nature photography in general. Speaking of which, the Z5 is weather sealed and can withstand a bit of rainfall or a dusty environment without any issues. Make sure to use a lens that’s also similarly weather sealed and use a clear filter on the lens to prevent water seepage through the front.
A good thing about this camera is that it comes with IBIS. The 5-Axis sensor-shift image stabilization system comes in handy when shooting a range of shots with the camera hand-held.
The Z5 is now an older model. We have full-frame BSI sensors available now that offer better low-light performance. That said, the Z5 isn’t a pushover by any stretch of the imagination. You can undoubtedly shoot great images and capture stunning detail with them.
Considering that it’s available at a much lower price point than some of the high-end mirrorless cameras, this can be an excellent choice if you’re looking to pick something affordable.
If you’re looking to buy a new camera do have a look at our independent quiz we created to help all photographers choose the right camera
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