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Best cameras for bird photography


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August 12, 2022

The best cameras for bird photography – which is also referred to as ‘bird in flight’ or ‘BIF photography’ – need to be fleet and agile. Birds are some of the trickiest photographic subjects out there, and nailing a sharp, in-focus shot of a bird in flight is an ongoing goal for many photographers.

Autofocus is critical; a camera needs to be capable of locking onto a moving subject and keeping focus as the subject continues to move (this is commonly referred to as Tracking AF). Some modern cameras have started including dedicated bird photography AF modes, which are designed to keep the eyes of a bird in focus for perfect avian portraits. Cameras with fast burst modes are advantageous too, to ensure you don’t miss the perfect moment.

Of course, these tend to be high-end cameras for enthusiasts and professionals. We’ve included a few of those on this list, but have also added some more budget-friendly models, as not everyone has the kind of cash that the flagship cameras require. Every camera on this list has been tested by our team, and every model on here is one we personally recommend.

So, let’s dive straight into the best cameras for bird photography!


Here are our picks of the best cameras for bird photography:

Best camera for bird photography overall:

Price | £1,999/$2199 (body only)

Best camera for bird photography - OM System OM-1

Best camera for bird photography – OM System OM-1. Photo credit: Joshua Waller

At a glance:

  • Mirrorless camera
  • 20MP Four Thirds Stacked BSI Live MOS sensor
  • 50fps with C-AF
  • 1053-point AI detect Quad Pixel AF
  • 5-axis in-body stabilisation (up to 8EV)

The OM-System OM-1 – the first mirrorless cameras from the brand formerly known as Olympus, is an absolute revelation for bird photography. All of its features synergise perfectly for capturing images of birds in flight – its class-leading 1053-point Quad Pixel autofocus, its ability to shoot Raw files at 50fps with continuous autofocus, its comprehensive weather sealing that’s perfect for long birding sessions spent outdoors.

We were hugely impressed by the OM-System OM-1 when we reviewed the camera, especially the fact that its 50fps burst shooting is blackout-free, so you need never lose sight of your flying subject.

Two members of the AP team also put the camera through its paces for a bird photography shooting session and had a chance to test out the dedicated Bird Detection AF mode. We found it enabled us to get sharp shots of birds time and time again.

Pros:

  • Blackout free 50fps C-AF
  • Comprehensive weather sealing
  • Class-leading stabilisation

Cons:

Read our full review of the OM System OM-1.


Best beginner camera for bird photography:

Price | £900 /$979 (body only)

Best camera for bird photography - Canon EOS R10 Camera

Canon EOS R1. Photo credit: Andy Westlake

At a glance:

  • Mirrorless camera
  • 24.2MP APS-C sensor
  • 23fps shooting
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF II
  • No stabilisation

The Canon EOS R10 continues in Canon’s fine tradition of small, tidy cameras that handle well and are pitched towards entry-level users.

What’s of particular interest to bird photographers, however, is that this diminutive camera boasts Canon’s brand-new Dual Pixel CMOS AF II system, which covers one hundred per cent of the viewfinder. This ensures you can nab a subject no matter where it ends up in the frame, simply by moving the joystick under your right thumb.

This feature synergises well with the camera’s other strength for birders, its 23fps burst mode with the electronic shutter (it still manages a respectable 15fps with the mechanical shutter). This may not be as fast as the EOS R7, the bigger brother to this camera that was released at the same time, but it’s still going to be more than ample for most purposes.

Pros:

  • Advanced features in a sub-£1000 body
  • 100% AF coverage
  • Snappy burst modes

Cons:

  • Few RF-S lenses (so far)
  • No in-body stabilisation

Best for: Bird photography on a budget

Review: Canon EOS R10


Best enthusiast camera for bird photography:

Price | £2,400 /$2498 (body only)

Best camera for bird photography - Sony A7 IV

Sony A7 IV. Photo credit: Andy Westlake

At a glance:

  • Mirrorless camera
  • 33MP full-frame sensor
  • 10fps shooting
  • Hybrid autofocus system with 759 selectable points
  • 5-axis in-body image stabilisation

With the A7 IV, Sony did a commendable job of updating and overhauling its do-everything A7 camera and made some additions that will be of particular interest to bird photographers. The autofocus system, while already excellent, has been upgraded to include eye detection and tracking that work not only with humans, but also animals, including birds. This makes it easier than ever to get pin-sharp bird-in-flight images.

As we said when we reviewed the camera, the handling has also been improved, with a deeper grip that makes the A7 IV much more comfortable to use than previous A7 cameras. Granted, the menus still aren’t that easy to navigate – despite some efforts to make them more user-friendly, some of that famous Sony abstruseness still remains. You may find yourself consulting the manual more than a few times to try and work out what the heck a certain function is or does. Still, once you get to grips with it, the Sony A7 IV is an exemplary camera capable of producing stellar bird images.

Pros:

  • Capable, intelligent autofocus
  • Well-engineered handling
  • Improved menus and touch interface

Cons:

  • No in-camera Raw conversion
  • AF menus complex to configure

Best for: Serious enthusiast birders

Read the full review of the Sony Alpha A7 IV


Best APS-C DSLR for bird photography:

Price | £1,209.99 /$1199 (body only)

Best camera for bird photography - Canon EOS 90D

Canon EOS 90D. Photo credit: Michael Topham

At a glance:

  • DSLR
  • 32.5MP APS-C sensor
  • 10fps shooting
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF
  • No stabilisation

The Canon EOS 90D could well end up being a piece of history – the last APS-C DSLR that Canon ever produced. If that turns out to be the case, then what a camera to go out on! The EOS 90D is an excellent DSLR, with tons of features that lend themselves to birding. An optical viewfinder is unsurpassable when it comes to immersing yourself in the action, and the APS-C sensor is able to capture some very impressive image detail.

While the EOS 90D does have Eye Detection AF, the focusing system overall is less advanced than we’ve seen in other cameras. You may not get quite as high a hit rate as you would with a more recent mirrorless machine. Still, the weather-proofing on the camera is top-notch, and its 1300-shot battery life means you can stay out shooting for long periods.

Pros:

  • 1300-shot battery life
  • Satisfying DSLR ergonomics
  • Excellent image detail

Cons:

  • Physically bulky
  • AF showing its age

Best for: Outdoorsy bird photographers who don’t mind bad weather

Read the review of the Canon EOS 90D


Best Fujifilm camera for bird photography:

Price | £2,499 /$2499 (body only)

Best camera for bird photography - Fujifilm X-H2S

Fujifilm X-H2S. Photo credit: Andy Westlake

At a glance:

  • Mirrorless camera
  • 26.2MP APS-C stacked BSI CMOS sensor
  • 40fps shooting
  • Phase-detection autofocus with AI subject detection
  • 5-axis in-body image stabilisation

The Fujifilm X-H2S is possibly the most advanced APS-C camera ever made and is a clear declaration that Fujifilm is committed to the format. This impressive camera sports a stacked sensor design which allows for super-fast readouts. Translated to Layman’s Terms, this means 40fps burst shooting in full-resolution Raw format, with full autofocus. Which is nothing to sneeze at.

The buffer depths of the X-H2S is hugely impressive; in our tests, it managed to capture 140 of those lovely Raw files at 40fps before starting to stutter. What’s more, if you drop it to 15fps, it’ll pretty much keep going indefinitely.

In a first for Fujifilm, the X-H2S boasts AI-based subject-recognition autofocus, which works for birds as well as other common moving subjects. In our full review of the camera, the bird detection AF was able to consistently nail shots of birds in flight, following them even when they were relatively small in the frame.

One thing to bear in mind is that the X-mount doesn’t have as many native telephoto lenses as others. This will be limiting for birders. There are some great choices though, like the supremely versatile Fujinon XF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens.

Pros:

  • Super-fast shooting
  • Impressive buffer depth
  • Subject-recognition autofocus

Cons:

  • Big asking price for APS-C
  • Fewer X-mount telephotos

Best for: Style and physical controls

See why the Fujifilm X-H2S got five stars


Best Micro Four Thirds camera for bird photography:

Price | £2,799  /$2999 (body only)

Olympus OM-D E-M1X

Olympus OM-D E-M1X. Photo credit: Andy Westlake

At a glance:

  • Mirrorless camera
  • 20.4MP Four Thirds MOS sensor
  • 15fps shooting (10fps with C-AF)
  • 121-point phase-detection AF
  • 5-axis in-body image stabilisation (up to 7.5 EV)

While the Micro Four Thirds sensor size (smaller than APS-C and full frame) isn’t for everyone, it does confer some undeniable advantages for bird photographers. The 2x crop factor essentially doubles the focal length of lenses attached to an MFT camera like the Olympus OM-D E-M1X, transforming a 400mm prime into an 800mm powerhouse.

Our review described the E-M1X as something of a niche camera, designed to appeal to “photographers who shoot fast-moving, unpredictable subjects in demanding outdoor conditions.” That makes it pretty much perfect for birding!

Its exceptional stabilisation synergises well with its telephoto capabilities, enabling shooters to get sharp shots handheld at ridiculous focal lengths. Just be aware that it’s a big and bulky camera, especially for Micro Four Thirds.

Pros:

  • Highly effective continuous AF
  • Exceptional stabilisation
  • Great out-of-camera JPEGS

Cons:

  • Bulky body for MFT
  • Small sensor impacts image quality

Best for: Getting real telephoto reach

Reviewed: Olympus OM-D E-M1X


Best 4K camera for bird photography:

Price | £1,499 /$1297 (body only)

Best camera for bird photography - Panasonic Lumix G9

Panasonic Lumix G9

At a glance:

  • Mirrorless camera
  • 20.3MP Micro Four Thirds MOS sensor
  • 60fps continuous shooting (20fps with C-AF)
  • Depth from Defocus contrast-detect autofocus system
  • Five-axis Dual IS II image stabiliser
  • £1,499 body only

Another Micro Four Thirds camera, the Panasonic Lumix G9 confers the same telephoto advantages as the Olympus E-M1X, with the same trade-off of a smaller sensor. However, it’s not only cheaper than the E-M1X, but also has a few nifty features of its own to merit consideration.

One that will interest birders is ‘Pre-Burst’, which allows you to capture a short burst of frames before releasing the shutter. If you’ve ever missed a perfect bird shot by being a little slow on the trigger, the Lumix G9 can help reduce the chances of that happening.

The continuous shooting chops on the Lumix G9 are impressive – while it’s got a headline speed of 60fps, birders will probably want to keep it at 20fps in order to be able to take advantage of the continuous autofocus. Bird photographers will want to play around with the different autofocus modes – we recommend the Custom Multi mode

You’ve also got the clever 6K Photo modes to play with, which extract 18MP stills from movie capture, and the wizardry of Post Focus – which lets you select a focus point after capturing an image – is present and correct. The high-resolution electronic viewfinder with 0.83x magnification is also an excellent example of its type.

Pros:

  • Powerful burst shooting
  • Reliable autofocus
  • Excellent large EVF

Cons:

  • Not the best battery life
  • Smaller sensor

Best for: Travel and Bird photography

Read our Panasonic Lumix G9 Field Test


Best full-frame DSLR for bird photography:

Price | £1,499 /$2796 (body only)

Nikon D850 full-frame DSLR

Nikon D850 full-frame DSLR. Photo credit: Michael Topham

At a glance: 

  • DSLR
  • 45.7MP full-frame (FX-format) CMOS sensor
  • 7fps continuous shooting (9fps with grip)
  • 153-point autofocus system
  • No stabilisation

Many photographers still prefer rugged, durable DSLRs for bird and wildlife photography, and the full-frame Nikon D850 is arguably one of the best you can buy. It makes the best of all of a DSLR’s inherent advantages – so the body isn’t just big, it’s trustworthy and weather-sealed.

You’ve also got absolutely loads of F-mount lenses to choose from, meaning you’ll never be short of superb telephoto glass. The 45.7MP full-frame is no slouch, delivering superb, vibrant images full of detail. Also, if you don’t need that much image quality, you can punch it down to DX Crop mode, which has the added bonus of giving you a little more telephoto reach.

The autofocus system does the job well enough. It’s not as advanced as you’ll find on recent mirrorless models, but the Pinpoint AF mode for small, moving subjects is pretty impressive. The big optical viewfinder is a fantastic way to follow and frame your flying subjects. Built like a tank, the Nikon D850 is a camera that any birder would be happy to spend a lifetime shooting with.

Pros:

  • Exceptional battery life
  • Huge catalogue of F lenses
  • High-quality, high-resolution sensor

Cons:

  • Ageing AF system
  • Slower burst than newer cameras

Best for: Photographers who prefer a larger grip and chunkier handling

Nikon D850 Review: An all-round sensation


Best professional camera for bird photography:

Price | £6,500 /$6498 (body only)

Sony Alpha A1 Review

Sony Alpha A1 Review. Photo credit: Andy Westlake

At a glance:

  • Mirrorless camera
  • 50.1MP full-frame Exmor RS CMOS sensor
  • 30fps burst shooting
  • 759-point phase-detection autofocus
  • 5-axis in-body image stabilisation

Sony’s spectacular mirrorless flagship, the Alpha 1, is good at pretty much everything, so naturally it’s a superb choice for bird photography.

When we reviewed this full-frame behemoth, our Technical Editor Andy Westlake ran the Sony A1 through its paces on a bird photography assignment. The result? A triumph.

The A1’s Eye AF algorithm is sophisticated enough to recognise the eyes of birds as well as people, and the auto AF-area selection is capable of handling birds in flight, able to acquire focus on the moving subject in a blink of an eye, and unerringly track it even through a messy background.

The other features of the Sony A1 lend themselves nicely to bird photography, too – the dual card slots, the 30fps burst rate, the 15 stops of dynamic range. It handles extremely well, and the image quality is exceptional in both JPEG and Raw formats – though be aware that the high-resolution sensor means you’re going to be chewing through a lot of gigabytes very quickly.

It can be worth knocking down to the 21MP APS-C crop mode if you’re worried about filling up your cards. Otherwise, the only real downside of the Sony A1, inevitably, is the price – at £6,500 new, it isn’t one for casual hobbyists.

Pros:

  • Auto AF-area good enough for birds
  • Incredible overall speed
  • Large, detailed EVF

Cons:

  • Roof-shattering price
  • Some controls awkward with gloves

Best for: Professional photographers

Full review of the Sony Alpha A1


Fastest burst camera for bird photography:

Price | £5,299 /$5496 (body only)

Best camera for bird photography - Nikon Z9 mirrorless

Best mirrorless camera for bird photography. Photo credit: Andy Westlake

At a glance:

  • Mirrorless camera
  • 45.7MP full-frame stacked CMOS sensor
  • 120 fps burst shooting at 11mp, 30MP full-res JPEG, 20fps Raw
  • 493-point hybrid autofocus system
  • 5-axis in-body stabilisation
  • £5,299 body-only

Nikon’s sports and action flagship, the mirrorless Z9, is the best burst-shooting camera ever made. Not only is it capable of shooting at a wizardly 120fps, but it can do so with continuous autofocus and tracking. It may not seem physically possible, but nevertheless, Nikon has managed it – the trick is the stacked CMOS sensor, which uses a memory layer beneath its light-sensitive pixels to deliver ultra-fast readout. This design also eliminates the rolling effect that can plague electronic shutter mechanisms, and as such, Nikon has gone ahead and got rid of the mechanical shutter altogether.

The AI-powered subject-detection autofocus is also a thing of beauty, capable of intelligently recognising all sorts of different subjects – yes, including birds. What’s more, you don’t need to pre-select birds the way you would with a Canon EOS R3 or Sony A1. The Z9 is smart enough to recognise them automatically.

The completely silent shooting is another feather (no pun intended) in the Z9’s cap, as it means you also run no risk of shutter sounds scaring birds away. You can tell this is a camera for pros by the ease with which it gets out of your way and lets you focus on shooting –- the Nikon Z9 will nail the shot time and time again. It’s is one of the best choices you can possibly make for bird photography.

Pros:

  • Fastest-ever burst shooting
  • Futuristic AI-powered AF
  • Highly efficient Raw format
  • Excellent viewfinder and screen

Cons:

  • Big, heavy, expensive
  • Needs pricey memory cards

Best mirrorless camera for bird photography professionals

Read our full review of the Nikon Z9


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