The best Nikon cameras and lenses for wildlife photography
Wildlife photography is immensely popular. The thrill of capturing an image of an animal in the wild, in its natural habitat or in front of a beautiful vista, is incredibly appealing.
And besides — who doesn’t love animals?
Of course, wildlife photography can also be incredibly challenging. Wild animals aren’t sitting still for portraits, making it tough to get a good snap; and, they’re not coming to you, meaning you’re taking your equipment into the wild.
That means it’s critical that you’re carrying the right camera and the right lenses for wildlife photography.
Let’s break down three of the most important things you need to consider when choosing the best equipment for wildlife photography:
- Megapixel count
- Focus speed
- Lens selection
The best wildlife photography cameras have a high megapixel count
The megapixel has a bit of a bad rap when it comes to photography. After all, the camera sensor, the camera software and your choice of lens all have a greater impact on the quality of your photo than your camera’s megapixel count.
But when shooting wildlife, the MP count does matter, because you’re more than likely shooting from a distance. That means, even when using a great telephoto lens, you’ll appreciate the fine detail a high megapixel count can provide — not to mention the ability top crop your images and/or produce large-format prints.
Thus, the farther away you are, the higher your megapixel count should be in order to capture animals with great detail.
You’ll capture fantastic shots of creatures great and small with Nikon’s D5, which features a full-frame, 20.8 MP sensor, along with impressively fast autofocus performance — which we’ll talk about in our next section.
To extend your range even farther, you can aim higher on your MP count; recent advancements have made 30-50 megapixel cameras, and even some 50+ megapixel cameras, more accessible than ever.
The Nikon D850 is one of the best Nikon cameras for wildlife photography — and one of the best Nikon cameras, period. It captures 45.7 megapixels, shoots at 7 fps, and has all of the other features you’d want in a great wildlife camera, including fast autofocus, high dynamic range, and great battery life.
For an entry-level model, you can’t go wrong with Nikon’s venerable D7200; though it may lack some of the features of it’s higher-end counterparts, it features a 24.2 MP sensor and fantastic battery life and of course, gives you access to all of that great Nikon glass.
Speed is critical in wildlife photography
Birds and animals move fast, especially when startled by the approach of a photographer — which means your equipment needs to be fast as well.
“Speed” in photography can mean many things, including how quickly light enters the sensor (shutter speed) and aperture diameter (lens speed). In this case, though, we’re referring to two things:
- How quickly your camera can focus, enabling you to capture sharp images of those fast moving creatures; and
- How many shots you can capture in a short burst.
For the first, you’ll want a camera that offers a combination of a high-speed autofocus processor, with a high number of autofocus points, for the best wildlife performance.
For continuous shooting or burst photography, look for models that can capture 8 to 10 frames per second, with a continuous autofocus feature to keep subjects in focus as you track them.
The Nikon D500 may not have the high megapixel count of the D850, but it offers 10 fps continuous shooting, along with Nikon’s excellent 153-point autofocus system. As an ASP-C (crop sensor) model, it’s also on the more affordable side than the full-frame D850, making it an excellent entry point for a Nikon wildlife camera.
Quality glass trumps all: The best wildlife photography lenses
All the megapixels and all the speed in the world won’t matter much if you’re shooting wildlife with a low-quality lens.
Looking for “good lenses for wildlife photography” still leaves you with a lot of options, though. Here are a few things to look for when looking for a wildlife photography lens:
- Focus speed: Although your camera body software controls much of the autofocus performance, you’ll still want a lens with a good quality motor and autofocus firmware to keep up with your subjects.
- Flexibility: When shooting wildlife, you’ll likely find yourself some distance from your subject. You’ll want a zoom lens that can capture wildlife at different distances with equal quality. A 300mm focal length is a great starting point.
- Aperture: The larger the aperture (lower f-stop number), the better; for wildlife, most shooters want a camera that shoots at f/2.8 to deliver sharp, quality images of moving creatures, even in low-light situations. However, most telephoto lenses operate at f/5.6; it’s a fair-trade off for the extra range you’ll get from shooting with a longer zoom.
- Ruggedness: Since you’ll be outdoors, you’ll want something that can handle adverse situations. Look for vibration reduction, rugged build quality and weather proofing in a wildlife lens.
The best Nikon lenses for wildlife photography
Nikon has long been a favourite of wildlife photographers thanks to their wide range of lenses, capable of capturing great shots in just about any situation. For wildlife, a telephoto lens is the way to go, and Nikon makes a number of great wildlife telephoto lenses, including the following:
- The AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II is a great wildlife lens; although the 200mm zoom won’t give you as much range as other lenses, it does give you the benefits of the f/2.8 fixed aperture — as well as vibration reduction and a silent, fast autofocus motor.
- For more range, the AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens offers a variable maximum aperture to bring you closer to your subject, and offers four levels of vibration reduction to reduce camera shake as you track your subjects.
- For maximum range, the AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm ƒ/5.6E ED VR is a “super-telephoto” lens that allows you to capture great detail at significant distances. Its sport mode makes it an ideal choice for panning and capturing fast-moving animals, such as birds in flight.
With a fast focusing, high-megapixel camera and a great lens, you’ll be capturing stunning photos of birds and animals in their natural habitats before you know it.