Best cameras for bird photography

best cameras
A photographer in the woods. Photo by welcomia/Shutterstock

DSLRs

Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Few cameras in the history of digital photography have withstood the evolutionary pressure of market dynamics as has Canon’s 7D Mark II. It came on the scene in the fall of 2014, at first blush eons ago in digital R&D time. But don’t be fooled. Right up to this minute, the camera remains a favorite among bird photographers, and with good reason. It’s a beast under the hood, with dual DIGIC processors delivering continuous shooting of more than 1,000 JPEG images and 31 RAW photos. Its reliable phase detection AF system offers assurance that the photographer can chase with confidence those images of erratically flying birds.

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Canon EOS-1D X Mark II

Canon’s flagship professional camera, released in 2016. For continuous shooting of a moving bird, for example, it can capture 14 frames per second with full AF/AE tracking or 16 fps in Live View mode. The 20.2 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor and dual DIGIC 6+ image processors produce images with incredible detail. The camera also boasts excellent dynamic range and reduced color noise. Pair it with a telephoto or zoom lens and you’ll have the tools to shoot bird photos with the best of them.

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Nikon D500

This is the flagship body in Nikon’s DX format. It brings all the right tools to the challenging birds-in-flight task — exceptional auto-focus tracking and a blazing 10 frames-per-second shutter speed. Image quality is outstanding. The foundation of the quick AF tracking system is the 153-point AF module’s nearly edge-to-edge coverage. It grabs and locks on moving targets, giving photographers the confidence to wait for that perfect moment before engaging the shutter. With three years on the market, the D500 has cemented its outstanding reputation. Strap on Nikon’s versatile 200-500mm zoom lens and walk confidently to your favorite birding destination.

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Nikon D850

While the coveted shutter speed specs don’t quite rival that of Nikon’s D500, the D850’s 7 frames per second (9 FPS with the pricey battery grip) still delivers reliable, competent performance. But it’s the D850’s massive 45.7-megapixel RAW file size that drives interest. And it’s justified, as the extreme resolution afforded by the huge re-designed light-soaking sensor gives the photographer the ability to reveal unprecedented image detail from small, distant segments of the photo. It’s no longer a given that the faraway bird looming small in the frame makes the image a throwaway.

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Nikon D7500

While not quite in the performance league as the D500, the D7500 offers a competent feature set that makes it worthy of consideration for those wanting to graduate from consumer- level cameras. In many ways, it’s an ideal next-step creative vehicle. The camera is the first in Nikon’s D7000 line to be powered by the new Expeed five-image processor. It has a good 51-point autofocus system that feeds into an extended buffer to expand continuous shooting capacity. The beefier buffer comes in handy when ripping a multi-frame burst of a bird in action. Excellent ergonomics and the comprehensive weather seal offer protection in harsher elements.

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William Jobes

William Jobes

William Jobes is a print and broadcast journalist from Langhorne, Pennsylvania, whose experience includes news and sports photojournalism, as well as reporting and editing on staff at several major daily newspapers. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Star, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and USA Today, among others.  He is the recipient of numerous journalism and photography awards and honors, including several Emmys. He has written several articles for BirdWatching, including Hotspots Near You in Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

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