Every birdwatcher has been there. They see a brand-new bird in their region or a particularly rare one and they reach for their camera.
Then they realize their camera just isn’t up the task of capturing the image because a smartphone just won’t do the job.
Then, they decide they need a camera that can let them take their memories home.
And that’s where our best cameras for bird photography come in. They let birdwatchers treasure every moment in the field at their leisure.
There’s something for everyone and nearly every budget here too.
There’s No Perfect Camera
The way to pick a birdwatching camera is to pick the right camera for YOU.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for this and it’s important to remember that camera manufacturers will always be bring out new gear and that doesn’t mean you need that gear either.
There are four main options for cameras for bird photography and each of them has their own pro’s and cons:
- Bridge cameras. These are cameras with a fixed lens that typically have a huge zoom range. They can capture a bird no problem but due to the small sensor in the camera, if you want to print, you’ll have to print small.
- Micro-four thirds sensor camera. Small and light and with interchangeable lenses and with some super birding options. More expensive than bridge cameras but faster and with better image quality.
- Crop sensor cameras. A crop sensor is the half-way point between bridge camera and full frame and the smaller sensor makes your lenses reach further than with full frame but at the cost of both speed and print size.
- Full frame cameras. This is where the pros tend to invest. The sensor is a full 35mm film equivalent and images are likely to be great but be prepared to spend serious money to get the best shots.
Best Cameras For Bird Photography
Best Birdwatching Bridge Cameras
Canon SX70 HS
The Canon is the more wallet-friendly option.
The 65 x zoom offers you reach of up to the equivalent of 1,365mm on full frame and at about 1/20th of the cost of the option on full frame.
So, what’s the downside? This camera isn’t the fastest when it comes to grabbing the shot.
If you want to take photos of birds sitting in trees or on the ground, it’s fantastic.
If you want to capture images of birds in flight? Most of the time, you’re going to get pictures of the sky not the birds.
Sony RX10 IV
The Sony RX10 IV, on the other hand, is the best bridge camera money can buy.
That’s about $1,000 more money than the Canon, however.
The zoom gets out to a maximum of 600mm which isn’t as far but is still the kind of reach most full frame shooters would kill for.
It’s super easy to focus thanks to the touch screen display.
And it’s fast, super-fast, you can shoot up 24 frames a second. So, point it at the sky and shoot away!
The Best Birdwatching Micro-Four Thirds Camera
Plenty of professional photographers use micro-four thirds for shooting birds and wildlife.
The downside of slightly lower quality images and poorer performance in low light is offset by the super-fast camera action and lightweight bodies and lenses.
However, many manufacturers are leaving this space and the best of them, Olympus will not be making any new cameras or bodies.
This is no big deal for now but if you want to buy a system to grow with – you might want to opt for a crop or full frame choice, instead.
Olympus OMD E-M1X
We only have one choice in this area and it’s not cheap. The Olympus OMD E-M1X.
The Olympus is a dream birdwatching camera.
It can rattle off 60 frames a second with electronic shutter engaged and 15 without.
You’ll be able to pick the exact moment in flight that looks best to share with others.
It is best paired with the equally quick Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm F/4.5 lens but if that’s too pricey (and it would be for us) then the Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 100-400mm f/5-6.3 lens is nearly as good.
The Best Birdwatching Crop Sensor Cameras
We’ve got two options in this category and we should point out that they’re both DSLR bodies not mirrorless ones.
This means they’re a little heavier than necessary, but they are cheaper, so are the lenses and they’re very well suited to birdwatching.
The Canon 7D Mark II and the Nikon D7200 are our crop sensor camera picks.
Canon 7D Mark II
The Canon 7D is a mid-range camera which has a lot of powerful features.
The smaller sensor keeps the price down, but it has a lot in common with their most expensive full frame camera.
10 frames per second makes catching birds on the go super-easy. We’d pair it with the super affordable Sigma 150-600mm F/5-6.3 but you can spend up to $12,000 a lens for the best Canon birdwatching lenses!
Cheaper than the Canon the Nikon D7200 is a solid choice with a decent but not spectacular 6 frames per second capture rate.
Here, we’d opt for Nikon’s own brand Nikkor 200-500mm f5.6 lens which is specifically made for this range of Nikon bodies. It’s still expensive but it’s very good.
The Best Birdwatching Full Frame Cameras
We have two full frame camera options for you.
One is an old school DSLR – it’s not cheap but for the longest time it was considered the best birding camera in the world. It’s the Nikon D5.
The other is the new Canon R5 which is mirrorless. We chose this camera for its incredibly affordable super long-range prime lenses.
If you can’t get close to your subject, these lenses bring the birds to you.
The Nikon D5
The Nikon D5 has the fastest autofocus that we can think of.
You will never miss a shot.
It allows for 12 frames per second and the only real downside is that it’s very heavy.
We’d pair this with the nearly equally expensive Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6 but you can spend much more if you want to.
The Canon R5
Cheaper than the Nikon and difficult to get hold of due to its desirability.
The Canon R5 is the cutting edge of mirrorless technology and can also shoot 12 frames per second.
Those lenses may not be the fastest but for daylight shooting? You can’t get reach like this for a sensible price in any other system.
Last Word on Birdwatching Cameras
We hope that our top 7 best cameras for birdwatching have given you some ideas about the kind of camera that you will buy.
We can strongly recommend renting gear before you buy it as it lets you decide whether it really suits your needs or if it’s not quite there.
Also, while we recommend buying new camera bodies because they do wear out over time – you can reduce your costs of owning a great camera by buying secondhand lenses.
Lenses last a lifetime and as long as you test a lens when you buy it and check there’s no fungus, you can take great shots of birds and spend a lot less. If you buy from KEH – they’ll have done this for you and they provide a warranty for their lenses.