What is the Ultimate Canon Wildlife Camera?
You may have noticed that all DSLR camera models have dropped off the top wildlife cameras list. Canon is focusing on mirrorless models, they are outstanding performers, and it is time to move to the mirrorless line-up for all new camera purchases.
While any camera can technically be used to photograph wildlife, those serious about the pursuit should invest in a model that will reward the long hours in the field (and long hours of travel) spent getting a wildlife subject in front of the lens. When everything works out and the perfect animal is in front of you, you want a camera that is exceptionally good at capturing the moment. Otherwise, the time and effort may be wasted, and both of those have value – you can't buy more time.
Wildlife is frequently unpredictable and often moving quickly. That means a fast frame rate is useful for capturing the perfect moment of action, and it also means a top-notch AF system is essential.
Wildlife photographers will often need to use AI Servo AF mode to track a moving subject and in that case, having a camera with a substantial number of AF points is especially helpful, allowing for proper subject framing while an AF point is held on the subject's closest eye. The mirrorless camera models have been gamechanging in this regard, capable of focusing throughout most of the image circle.
Wildlife is typically found outdoors and that means an unsafe and unpredictable environment for a piece of electronic technology such as a camera. Durability and weather protection have greater value in cameras used in the field than those used in many other scenarios.
Wildlife is generally most active early and late in the day, times when light levels are at their lowest. For that reason, a camera's low light performance matters for wildlife photography, and I strongly-favor full-frame imaging sensors for their low light performance. In addition, the ability of a full-frame camera to throw the background out of focus is of great value for wildlife photography, giving the photographer an edge in this highly competitive field.
Some prefer an APS-C imaging sensor format for the narrower angle of view it provides, allowing tight subject framing with shorter focal length lenses. While there is some merit in this reasoning, remember that the imaging sensor's pixel density is the true measure of reach/magnification. For example, a 50 MP full-frame image can be cropped down to an APS-C angle of view with a 20 MP image remaining. Currently, many APS-C models are available with higher pixel density imaging sensors than the highest resolution full-frame models, and therefore, can have at least a modest reach advantage.
Here are my favorite wildlife cameras.
1. Canon EOS R3
The Ultimate Professional Canon Camera, Incredibly High-Performing
When getting the shot is imperative, the extreme EOS R3 is the camera to pick up.
While the R3's 24 MP resolution is not high for a full-frame camera, the quality of those pixels is so high that it outperforms higher resolution models. Also, the R3 otherwise outperforms all other models.
The 30 fps continuous shooting rate is sure to catch the perfect moment and the large, blackout-free, high-speed refresh viewfinder ensures that action is perfectly framed. An out of focus image is of no value, and to that regard, the R3's incredible Eye-Tracking and subject detection AF ensures that your perfectly timed and framed shot is also perfectly focused.
This professional-grade camera is sure to put a smile on your face every time you pick it up and again when you review the results. If there is action involved, this is a camera I want in my hands.
2. Canon EOS R5
Phenomenal Camera, Outstanding AF System, Up-To-20 FPS, Ultra-High Resolution
With the R5, Canon brought their much-loved 5-series to the EOS R-series mirrorless interchangeable lens camera lineup. The success of these models was reflected in inventory levels, with these cameras continuously backordered for about half a year.
The EOS R5 features the best image quality available in a Canon camera combined with impressive overall performance, including outstanding AF performance (including Eye AF) and a continuous shooting rate reaching 20 fps. The R5 is a game-changer. A pair of R5 bodies are my primary cameras, and I like nothing better.
3. Canon EOS R6
Most of EOS R5 Features with Lower Resolution (Imaging Sensor and EVF) and Price
The R6 brings us most of the R5 features for a lower price. Also lowered is the resolution of the imaging sensor and the electronic viewfinder. While low in comparisons, the 20 megapixel resolution is adequate for a large percentage of uses.
Top-of-the-line APS-C Performance and Image Quality, Feature-Loaded, Compact
With a fast frame rate, excellent AF system, ultra-high resolution, and an extensive feature set, the M6 Mark II is a great choice for a wide variety of uses.
Wildlife photography requires the right lens, especially one with the right focal length or focal length range. At the same time, the lens is typically the limiting factor in a camera's image quality – the easiest way to improve your camera's image quality is to put a better lens in front of it. The Wildlife Lens Recommendations will help you select the right lens for your wildlife camera.
Return to the Camera Recommendations.
If you prefer a DSLR model, here are the Canon DSLR wildlife camera recommendations:
The Ultimate Professional Canon Camera
The 1D X Mark III does not have the highest resolution sensor, but it is the best camera in most other regards. This is Canon's most rugged and weather sealed camera, ready for whatever the outdoors brings on. The 16 fps frame rate is awesome and of great value when photographing birds in flight, animals running and simply catching eyes between blinks. The 1D X Mark III's AF system drives very fast and accurate focusing with a large array of focus points to use for tracking the subject.
The 1D X III is frequently the first choice for those capturing the action at the Olympics, the Super Bowl and (put any other major event here), and it is just as competent in the wilds. This camera is not small, light or inexpensive, but when getting the image matters greatly, this one reliably brings home the required imagery. If there is action involved, this is a camera I want in my hands.
High Resolution, Great Technology, Superb Overall Camera Choice
While not as rugged or fast as the 1-Series camera, the 5D IV is still a great performer. The 7 fps frame rate is modest for wildlife use, but often adequate. Much more impressive is this camera's image quality including a much higher resolution full-frame sensor (more "reach") and a great dynamic range. The 5D Mark IV is loaded with features and the latest AF technology (including Dual-Pixel AF) and 4K video. This camera has a friendly weight and size, yet it comfortably controls lenses up to the largest available. The price tag being much lower than the 1D X III is a huge friendly factor.
Delivers Ultra-Sharp, Ultra-high Resolution Images
While I didn't place the EOS 5Ds R at the top of this list, the 5Ds R was my most-frequently-used wildlife camera for many years. The 5Ds R has subset of the 5D IV's features (albeit a large subset), and with a 5 fps drive rate, it trails the 5D IV in that regard also.
So, why choose the 5Ds R for wildlife photography? The quality of the ultra-sharp 50 megapixel images this camera delivers is awesome. I may miss some images on occasion due to the slower frame rate, but I'm addicted to the quality of the images I get. And, I usually get a very adequate set from each encounter.
Focal length limited situations happen to all wildlife photographers, but when that situation happens with the 5Ds R, the cropping headroom provided by the 50 megapixel images is a huge asset this camera brings to the table. Sometimes, with a fast-moving subject, I use a modestly wider focal length than ideal to ensure that I don't cut off any important parts of the subject, relying on cropping for the final composition.
I captured a huge number of favorite wildlife images with this camera. Check out my 5Ds R sample image gallery for examples.
High Frame Rate, Advanced AF System, Pro-grade APS-C DSLR Camera
When it was introduced, the 7D Mark II was referred to as a baby 1D X as it is practically a 1-series camera with an APS-C format imaging sensor. The 7D Mark II has a very fast 10 fps burst rate coupled with a very good AF system and a high resolution imaging sensor providing reach. This is an excellent camera choice for wildlife photography.
A Really Good Camera at a Modest Price
If selecting a DSLR model, the Canon 90D is one of my top choices for general purpose cameras, and wildlife photography is a pursuit often undertaken by someone with a camera of this class. The 90D, featuring a dense 32.5 megapixel imaging sensor, Dual Pixel AF, and a host of other technology features, is a solid performer with a modest price. This is a great entry-level choice, and even more-advanced photographers will find the 90D getting the job done for them.
As said before, wildlife photography requires the right lens, especially one with the right focal length or focal length range. The DSLR Wildlife Lens Recommendations will help you make the right choice.
Return to the Camera Recommendations.