Buyers Guides |Best cameras for bird photography in 2022

The Buyers guide to...Best cameras for bird photography in 2022

How to photograph garden birds - Photo © Alius Imago
Buyers Guide

Bird photography is popular with many photographers, but getting the images you want requires a camera that can keep up with their speed. The best cameras for bird photography are those that offer a combination of fast, precise autofocus performance, a sensor that performs well in low light and compatibility with a wide array of lenses.

These really are the key priorities when choosing a camera for bird photography. Even if you’re shooting robins rather than peregrine falcons, birds are still fast and unpredictable. You need a camera with great AF tracking modes that can lock focus on your subject and accurately track their movements across the frame.

And because you’ll photograph most birds in the low light of dawn or dusk, or within the dappled light of a forest canopy, you’ll want a camera with a sensor that can capture noise-free images in these conditions.

Lens choice is also important. Bird photographers rely on a wide range of focal lengths to get the shots they want, so the best cameras for bird photography are typically made by manufacturers that have also invested heavily in developing their lens systems.

In the guide below we’ll run through our picks for which cameras you should consider based on our real world tests.

The best cameras for bird photography you can buy today

The options on our list for the best cameras for bird photography were chosen based on our experience testing them. If you shoot more than birds, you might also find our guide to the best cameras for wildlife photography useful. For a deeper dive into the many different camera types and features available, check out our range of camera buying guides.

Canon EOS R3

Canon EOS R3

Specification

  • Camera Type: Mirrorless
  • Announced: 14th September 2021
  • Sensor: 24.1Mp Full-frame BSI stacked CMOS
  • Processor: Digic X
  • Lens mount: RF
  • Sensitivity range: Stills: ISO 100-102,400 expandable to ISO 50-204,800, Video: ISO 100-25,600 expandable to 100-102,400
  • Metering: 384-zone metering with Evaluative metering (linked to All AF points), Partial metering (approx. 5.9% of viewfinder at centre), Spot metering: Centre spot metering (approx. 2.9% viewfinder at centre), Centre weighted average metering
  • Shutter speed range: Mechanical shutter: 30- 1/8,000 sec and Bulb, Electronic shutter: 30-1/64,000 sec
  • Still file formats: Raw + Jpeg/HEIF
  • Maximum continuous shooting rate: Mechanical shutter / 1st curtain electronic: 12fps for 1000+ Jpeg or 1000 raw, Electronic shutter: 30fps for 540 Jpegs or 150 raw images
  • Main video resolutions: 6K DCI (17:9) 6000 x 3164 (59.94, 50, 29.97, 25, 24, 23.98fps) raw, 4K DCI (17:9) 4096 x 2160 (59.94, 50, 29.97, 25, 24, 23.98fps) intra or inter frame / light inter frame 4K UHD (16:9) 3840 x 2160 (119.9, 100, 59.94, 50, 29.97, 25, 23.98 fps) intra or inter frame Full HD (16:9) 1920 x 1080 (119.9, 100, 59.94, 50, 29.97, 25, 23.98 fps) intra or inter frame Full HD (16:9) 1920 x 1080 HDR (29.97, 25 fps) inter frame
  • Video conatiner formats: MP4, raw (CRM)
  • Colour sampling: 6K raw 12bit, 4K/ Full HD - 4:2:0 8-bit or 4:2:2 10bit
  • Log: Canon Log 3
  • Autofocus system: Dual Pixel CMOS AF II phase detection with 1,053 points
  • Viewfinder: 0.5-inch 5.76million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder with 120fps display and 0.76x magnification
  • Screen: 3.2-inch 4.15-million dot vari-angle touchscreen
  • Stabilisation: In-body image stabilisation (IBIS) that works with lens IS and enables up to 8-stops of shutter speed compensation
  • Storage: Dual slots, 1x CFexpress, 1x SDXC UHS-II
  • Dimensions: 150x 142.6 x 87.2mm
  • Weight: 822g body only, 1015g with card and battery

It’s pricier than anything else on this list, but the Canon EOS R3 looks set to be one of the best cameras for bird photography you can buy. The R5 and R6 were significant introductions for Canon last year, but the R3 takes things up a notch with the ability to shoot at 30fps, a new Eye Control AF method of AF point selection and excellent AF tracking.

The 24.1MP full-frame backside-illuminated stacked CMOS sensor inside the Canon EOS R3 has been developed by Canon and is paired with the Digic X processing engine that is also found in the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, R5 and R6.

This sensor and processor combination enables a native sensitivity range of ISO 100-102,400, with expansion options taking the available settings to ISO 50-204,800. In addition, the Canon R3 starts up in just 0.4sec and the shutter lag is just 20ms, but the latter can be extended if it needs to match with another (slower) camera for some reason.

When the mechanical shutter is in use, the Canon R3 can shoot with a shutter speed range of 30-1/8,000 sec, but when the electronic shutter is in use the range extends to 30-1/64,000 sec. It will be very interesting to see the results with fast-moving subjects when the electronic shutter is in action to see if Canon’s clips about rolling shutter are borne out.

It’s also possible to shoot raw or Jpeg files at up to 30fps with full exposure metering and autofocus (AF) tracking when the electronic shutter is selected. That’s perfect for bird photographers who need to capture split-second moments silently.

What’s more, the R3 is the fastest-focusing R-series camera to date at just 0.03 sec, and it can focus in conditions as dim as -7.5 EV.

Price when reviewed
£5880
$5999 / €6689.99
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For

  • 24Mp full-frame sensor with full AF coverage
  • 12fps/30fps continuous shooting with continuous AF
  • Eye Control AF

Against

  • 6K raw video requires lots of storage capacity
  • Control layout different from EOS-1D X mark III and existing R-series cameras
  • Less durable buttons than on the 1D X III

Nikon Z9

Nikon Z9 review

Specification

  • Camera type: Full-frame mirrorless camera
  • Announced: 28th October 2021
  • Lens mount: Nikon Z
  • Sensor: Full-frame (FX 35.9 x 23.9mm) 45.7MP stacked backside illuminated (BSI) sensor
  • Processing engine: Expeed 7
  • Stabilisation: 5-axis sensor shift giving 6EV shutter speed compensation
  • Sensitivity: ISO 64-25,600, expandable to ISO 32-102,400
  • Maximum continuous shooting rate: 20fps for up to 1000+ raw (high efficiency) files or 685 raw (high efficiency *) files, 30fps for up to 1000+ normal-quality Jpegs, or 120fps normal-quality 11Mp Jpegs
  • Autofocus system: Hybrid with phase and contrast detection
  • Phase detection points: 493
  • AF-area modes: Pinpoint (available in photo mode only), single-point, dynamic-area (S, M, and L; available in photo mode only), wide-area (S and L), and auto-area AF, 3D-tracking (available in photo mode only), subject-tracking AF (available in video mode only)
  • Video resolution: 8K (7680 x 4320): 30p (progressive)/25p/24p, 4K (3840 x 2160): 120p/100p/60p/50p/30p/25p/24p, Full HD (1920 x 1080): 120p/100p/60p/50p/30p/25p/24p
  • Video file format: MOV, MP4
  • Video compression: Apple ProRes 422 HQ (10 bit), H.265/HEVC (8 bit/10 bit), H.264/AVC (8 bit)
  • Viewfinder: 0.5-inch 3.69-million-dot, 3,000-nit OLED viewfinder
  • Screen: 3.2-inch 2,100,000-dot 4-way-tilting touch-screen
  • Storage: Dual XQD/CFexpress
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 149 x 149.5 x 90.5 mm / 5.9 x 5.9 x 3.6 inches
  • Weight: 1340 g / 2 lb. 15.3 oz.with battery and memory card but without body cap and accessory shoe cover, Body only: 1160g / 2 lb. 9 oz.

Another powerhouse camera for bird photography, the Nikon Z9 is expensive, but it offers everything you need from a camera and put it into a compact (yet twin-gripped) weather-sealed body. A resolution of 45.7Mp promises to capture a high level of detail without over-stretching the camera’s noise control.

There’s also 20fps full-resolution shooting for raw files, 30fps for Jpegs and 120fps shooting at 11Mp, paired with what looks like an excellent AF system. Like the Z7 II, there are 493 AF points but there are 405 Auto-area AF points, which is five times more than the Z7 II has.

The Z9 also draws on deep-learning artificial intelligence (AI) to enable simultaneous detection of up to nine different types of subject including people (eyes, faces, head and upper body), animals (whole bodies and heads and eyes for cats, dogs, birds and ‘other animals’) and vehicles (cars, motorbikes, ‘planes and trains). The subject tracking can also be customised to suit your subject.

This is truly a camera that’s designed to get fast-paced action sharp as well as capturing fine-details.

Price when reviewed
£5299
€6299

For

  • New 45.7Mp full-frame sensor sensor
  • Advanced AF system
  • Durable, weatherproof build

Against

  • No mechanical shutter
  • Firmware updates to come in 2022 to get the full video feature set

Olympus OM-D E-M1X

Olympus OM-D E-M1X review

Specification

  • Camera type: Mirrorless
  • Sensor: 20.4Mp Four Thirds Type (17.3 x 13.0mm) CMOS
  • Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds
  • Sensitivity range: ISO 64-25,600
  • Processing engine: 2x TruePic VIII
  • Autofocus system: Hybrid with 121 cross-type points (800 in magnified view)
  • Max continuous shooting rate: 18fps with AF tracking, 60fps with AF locked on first frame with electronic shutter
  • Pro Capture High Mode: 60fps
  • Pro Capture Low Mode: 18fps
  • Burst Mode in S-AF: 15fps for 143 raw files
  • Burst Mode in C-AF: 10fps for 283 raw files
  • Max video resolution: 4K (4096 x 2160) at 24p
  • Viewfinder: Electronic with 2,360,000 dots
  • Screen: Touch-sensitive vari-angle 3-inch LCD with 1,037,000 dots
  • Storage: 2x SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-II)
  • Dimensions (WxHxD): 144.4 x 146.8 x 75.4mm
  • Weight: 849g (body only), 997g (including 2 batteries and memory cards)

The OM-D E-M1X is a doubled-gripped mirrorless camera. It uses Olympus’s Pro Capture mode for shooting stills of very fast action. Thanks to the dual processors, there’s also no blackout in the viewfinder when this is in action.

In Pro Capture High mode, the shooting rate is 60fps, but the focusing is fixed at the start of the sequence. Switch to Pro Capture Low, and you can shoot at 18fps with continuous focusing.

Pro Capture mode is designed to help you record fleeting moments that are easily missed. To that end, when it’s activated the camera starts writing images to the buffer as soon as the shutter release is half-pressed. Once the shutter button is pressed fully, the 35 images that were buffered immediately before it was pressed are recorded along with 100 from immediately after.

There’s also a standard sequential shooting mode that uses the mechanical shutter. When this is in action, the maximum shooting rate in single AF mode is 15fps for 143 raw files. In continuous autofocus mode, the maximum is 10fps for 283 raw files.

A High Res Shot mode also delivers larger and more detailed images. The 50Mp Handheld mode captures the images quickly but then takes a little longer to render the final shot than the Tripod mode. Comparing the results with standard images reveals a nice jump in the level of detail.

Similarly, the 80Mp tripod mode delivers impressive results. It gives a significant boost to the size of print that you can make. That compositing also has a beneficial effect on the dynamic range as there’s more detail visible (and extractable) from the shadows.

Price when reviewed
£2199
$1999
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For

  • One of the fastest cameras you can buy
  • Pro Capture Mode offers lots of flexibility
  • High Res Shot mode is very impressive

Against

  • It's very big and heavy for a Micro Four Thirds camera
  • Four Thirds sensor
  • Need more smaller, lighter, more affordable long telephoto lenses

Panasonic Lumix G9

Panasonic G9 Review

Specification

  • Camera type: Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera
  • Sensor: 20.3 million Four Thirds type (17.3 x 13mm)
  • Burst Mode: 20fps with AF-C, 60fps with AF-S
  • Autofocus: 225-point Contrast detection
  • Video: 4K (3840 x 2160) at 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, 24p with no cropping
  • Dimensions (W x H x D) : 136.9 x 97.3 x 91.6 mm / 5.39 x 3.83 x 3.61 inch (excluding protrusions)
  • Weight: 658g / 1.45lb including 1 SD card x and battery, 586g / 1.30lb body only

The Panasonic Lumix G9 is Panasonic’s flagship Micro Four Thirds stills-camera and it sits alongside the GH5 at the top of the company’s G-series interchangeable lens camera line-up.

Like the GH5, the G9 is a mirrorless camera with a Four Thirds Type sensor and a Micro Four Thirds lens mount. Panasonic says the camera is aimed at enthusiast outdoor and wildlife photographers.

While the GH5 is largely known as a video camera, it’s also a very capable stills camera. The fact that the Panasonic Lumix G9 has the same sensor and processing engine, but has been tuned for stills rather than video is, therefore, good news for photographers. It also feels like a high-quality camera, being light yet sturdy with a good-sized grip while the touch-control is accompanied by a healthy array of physical controls.

The G9 has the same 20.3Mp sensor and Venus 10 processing engine as the GH5. However, Panasonic tells us the G9’s sensor and processor have been tuned very differently to suit the G9’s stills-shooting focus. To boost detail resolution, the sensor also has no optical low-pass filter.

While 20Mp images will suffice for many situations, the G9 also has a High Resolution mode that enables 80-megapixel images to be created in JPEG and raw formats in-camera. In this mode the camera takes a sequence of 8 images in quick succession, shifting the sensor a little between each shot. These images are then merged to create a single larger image with more detail.

This is a tripod-only mode and it takes approximately 4 seconds to process the image – that’s about half the time that the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II takes in its Pixel Shift mode.

Panasonic has also given the G9 a very high-quality electronic viewfinder, an articulating touch-screen and a blistering continuous shooting rate. Further good news is that the AF system can keep up with the frame rate so you can shoot sport and action.

Price when reviewed
£1499
$1698 / €1729
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For

  • Compact weather-sealed body
  • Stabilisation system rated at 6.5EV
  • High-quality EVF and screen

Against

  • Sub-full-frame sensor
  • Awkwardly positioned joystick controller
  • 400-shot battery life in standard mode

Fujifilm X-T4

Fujifilm X-T4

Specification

  • Camera type: Mirrorless
  • Announced: 26th February 2020
  • Sensor: 26.1MP X-Trans CMOS 4 APS-C sensor
  • Processing engine: X-Processor 4
  • Lens mount: X-Mount
  • Sensitivity range: ISO 160-12,800 expandable to ISO 80-51200
  • Viewfinder: 3.69-million-dot high resolution EVF (100% coverage)
  • Screen: Vari-angle 3-inch 1.6 million dot touch screen LCD
  • Autofocus system: Intelligent hybrid with up to 425 selectable AF points
  • Continuous shooting: Mechanical Shutter: 15fps, Electronic Shutter: 20fps continuous shooting at full resolution with AF
  • Max video resolution: C4K (4096×2160) at 59.94p/50p/29.97p/25p/24p/23.98p 400Mbps/200Mbps/100Mbps, 4:2:0 10bit internal SD card recording; 1080/240p
  • Storage: 2x SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-II
  • Dimensions (WxHxD): 134.6x92.8x63.8mm (37.9mm at the thinnest point)
  • Weight: 607g including battery and card, 526g body only

It may have the same 26.1MP X-Trans CMOS 4 sensor and X-Processor 4 processing engine as the Fujifilm X-T3, but the Fujifilm X-T4 has some great new features that should appeal to bird photographers. New to the flagship model is 5-axis in-body image stabilisation with a shutter speed compensation value of 6.5Ev, a quieter shutter, a bigger battery, a great new Film Simulation mode and a vari-angle touchscreen.

On that shutter, Fujifilm has given the X-T4 a new mechanical shutter unit. This is dampened and 30% quieter than the X-T3’s mechanical shutter. Crucially, it also enables continuous shooting at up to 15fps (frames per second).

Using the mechanical shutter at high shooting rates avoids the risk of rolling shutter effects when photographing some moving subjects.

However, the X-T4 can also shoot at fast rates with its electronic shutter – just like the X-T3. That means it’s possible to shoot at up to 30fps with a 1.25x crop applied.

As for AF performance, in Single point AF mode there are up to 425 selectable AF points arranged in a 25 x 17 grid. Alternatively, it can be set to 117 points in a 13 x 9 grid, and the size of the points can be varied.

In addition to Single point AF, there’s Zone AF which allows the AF points to be selected in 3 x 3, 5 x 5 or 7 x 7 groups, and Wide/Tracking AF.

All this combined with Fujifilm’s image-quality knowhow makes the X-T4 the company’s best X-series camera to date, not to mention one of the best mirrorless cameras you can buy today.

Price when reviewed
£1549
$1699
Check current price

For

  • In-body image stabilisation
  • Vari-angle touchscreen
  • Excellent viewfinder

Against

  • Complex array of continuous shooting options
  • Some may miss the metering mode switch/dial of the X-T3

Nikon Z50

Nikon Z50 review

Specification

  • Camera type: Mirrorless
  • Sensor: 20.88Mp APS-C / DX (23.5x15.7mm) CMOS
  • Processing engine: Expeed 6
  • Lens mount: Nikon Z mount
  • Sensitivity range: ISO 100-51,200; expands to 204,800
  • Viewfinder: 0.39-inch 2,360,000-dot OLED electronic viewfinder
  • Screen: Tilting 3.2–inch 1,040,000-dot touchscreen
  • Autofocus: Hybrid (phase and contrast detection) AF with 209 AF points, Eye AF and Subject Tracking. Firmware V.20 adds Eye-detection AF for Animals as well as humans
  • Continuous Shooting: 11fps with continuous AF and exposure metering
  • Video: 4K at 30fps and Full-HD at 120fps
  • Storage: SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-I
  • Connectivity: Snapbridge 2.6; Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 126.5 x 93.5 x 60 mm / 5 x 3.7 x 2.4-inches
  • Weight: 450g / 15.9oz with battery and memory card but without body cap, 395g /14oz body only

The Nikon Z6 and Z7 are great, but not all photographers want a full-frame camera. The Nikon Z50 offers that alternative for Nikon users wanting a mirrorless camera, and it has plenty to offer experienced photographers thanks to a solid build and a comprehensive feature set.

Its autofocus system is excellent and is capable of capturing fast-moving subjects in pin-sharp focus, even in gloomy conditions. Further good news is that the Z50 has both Subject Tracking and Eye AF modes. Eye AF is a must-have feature at the moment and it’s incredibly useful for portraits and social event photography.

Subject Tracking works in Auto-area AF mode and it’s useful for subjects that move erratically. Pressing the OK button in Auto-area AF mode activates a tracking point which is visible on the screen and in the viewfinder.

You then position this box over the subject and press the OK button again to start the tracking. As the subject moves, the Z50 tracks it around the frame, keeping it sharp in Continuous AF mode.

Inside the Nikon Z50 is a new 20.88Mp APS-C format sensor which is paired with the Expeed 6 processing engine. Together, these enable a native sensitivity range for stills of ISO 100-51,200 with expansion settings going all the way up to ISO 204,800. Meanwhile, the video range is ISO 100-25,600.

Thanks to the Expeed 6 processing engine, the Z50 can shoot at up to 11 frames per second with continuous autofocusing and exposure metering. This rate is achieved in Continuous High Plus mode while the maximum rate in Continuous High mode is 5fps.

The Nikon Z50 also delivers great video, capturing 4K at 30fps and Full HD at a range of frame rates.

Find the best deals on the Nikon Z50 at Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Price when reviewed
£849
$989
Check current price

For

  • Superb build and handling
  • AF fast and accurate in low light
  • Weatherproof

Against

  • No joystick
  • Can't use the screen to set the AF point while you look in the viewfinder

Canon EOS R6

Canon EOS R6

Specification

  • Camera Type: Mirrorless
  • Announced: 9th July 2020
  • Sensor: 20Mp Full-frame Dual Pixel CMOS AF II
  • Processor: Digic X
  • Lens mount: RF
  • Sensitivity range: Stills: ISO 100-102,400 expandable to ISO 50-204,800, Movies: ISO 100-6,400, expandable to ISO 204,800
  • File formats: Raw + Jpeg/HEIF, MP4
  • Maximum continuous shooting rate: Mechanical shutter: 12fps, Electronic shutter: 20fps
  • Maximum video resolution: 4K video at up to 60fps, Full HD at up to 120fps. 4K video crop: 1.07x at 25p (1.19x with the Digital IS on), 1.52x at 60p
  • Autofocus system: Dual Pixel CMOS AF II phase detection with 6,072 points in stills and 4968 points in movie mode
  • Viewfinder: 0.5-inch 3.69million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder with 120fps refresh rate
  • Screen: 3-inch 1.62-million dot vari-angle touchscreen
  • Autofocus: Dual Pixel CMOS AF II with Advanced Animal AF (recognising dogs, cats and birds) supported in all video modes with 100% coverage and up to 1053 'AF segments'
  • Stabilisation: In-body image stabilisation (IBIS) that works with lens IS and enables up to 8-stops of shutter speed compensation
  • Storage: Dual slots, 2x SDXC UHS-II
  • Dimensions: 138.4 x 97.5 x 88.4mm
  • Weight: 598g / 680 g with card and battery

The popular EOS R6 combines the speed of the Canon EOS 7D Mark II with the full-frame sensor appeal of the Canon EOS 6D Mark II in a mirrorless body.

The Canon EOS R6 has a Dual Pixel CMOS AF II sensor and claims an autofocus speed of just 0.05sec. The whole sensor is covered with 6.072 AF points, all of which are available for selection. There’s also face, eye and animal AF tracking available, which combined with the 12fps (frame per second) maximum continuous shooting rate with the mechanical shutter and 20fps maximum shooting rate with the electronic shutter, is likely to appeal to keen wildlife, sport and action photographers.

What’s more, the EOS R6 is a low-light supremo. Its AF system can function at down to -6.5EV, which is incredibly low. Shooting in dim conditions can also necessitate slow shutter speeds, but that’s OK because the Canon R6 has 5-axis in-body image stabilisation built-in. This works in harmony with the stabilisation in Canon’s IS lenses (except the RF 600MM F11 IS STM or RF 800MM F11 IS STM) and is claimed to offer up to 8 stops of shutter speed compensation. That’s a new high for the photographic industry.

Really, the R6 autofocus system is nothing short of amazing. It transforms photographing wildlife, people and pets.

Price when reviewed
£2500
€2899.99
Check current price

For

  • Similar 20Mp full-frame sensor to the Canon EOS 1D X Mark III
  • 12fps/20fps continuous shooting
  • Superb autofocus system

Against

  • Slight crop in 4K video mode
  • 6Mp lower resolution than the Canon EOS 6D Mark II
  • Serious heat generation issues with 4K video
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