Looking to capture unforgettable ‘bird in flight’ images? Jon Stapley rounds up the best cameras out there for bird photography.
If you are on the hunt for the best cameras for bird photography, you’re in good company. Lots of photographers are regularly on the lookout for the means to capture exceptional images of wild birds. While capturing an image of a bird on a perch or the ground is all well and good, the true test of a bird photography camera is its ability to capture ‘bird in flight’ or ‘BIF photography’. This is incredibly tricky, and something camera manufacturers have been trying to get right for years.
The best ones will, inevitably, be the cameras for high-end enthusiasts and professionals. The latest pro cameras even include autofocus modes so sophisticated they can detect a bird’s eyes and focus on them even in motion. Naturally, not everyone has the budget for these kinds of cameras for bird photography, so we’ve also included a selection of more budget-friendly bird-photography cameras on this list.
Every camera on this list has been tested by our team, and every model on here is one we personally recommend. When we review cameras, we frequently put them through their paces for some bird photography (often it’s necessary, in order to test out the manufacturer’s claims of better-than-ever bird-tracking autofocus), so you’ll see plenty of sample photos of birds throughout this guide.
For more expert advice, see our guides to getting great shots of fast-moving birds and how to be an ethical wildlife photographer
How to choose the best camera for bird photography
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 continuous burst modes are advantageous too, to ensure you don’t miss the perfect moment.
A question to ask of yourself is how much resolution you want. More megapixels are useful if you plan on printing your images, or if you’re aiming to get really close in to capture the details of feathers. However, a high-resolution camera isn’t the best choice for beginners, as all that detail will be very unforgiving. If your focus is even a hair off of that bird in flight, you’ll know it. Going for a lower-resolution camera also has the advantage of better high-ISO performance, allowing you to keep shooting when the light levels drop.
A good bird photography camera should also be weather sealed, and ideally give you a good selection of fast telephoto lenses with which to pick out your flying subjects. If you want a complete wildlife setup, check out our run-down of the best kit for wildlife photography. Otherwise, let’s dive straight into the best cameras for bird photography!
Best camera for bird photography overall: OM System OM-1
At a glance:
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 earlier this year, 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.
We’ve recently seen a new addition to the OM System camera family, in the form of the OM System OM-5, sitting in the middle of the range above the E-M10 Mark IV and below this camera. If you like the sound of the OM-1 but it’s a little out of your price range, the OM-5 could be a credible alternative – check out our OM System OM-5 review to learn more. Check out our review of the OM System 150-400mm f/4.5 TC1.25x IS Pro too, an ideal lens for serious wildlife photography.
Best for: any bird photographer who wants to take great pictures!
Read our full review of the OM System OM-1.
Best beginner camera for bird photography: Canon EOS R10
At a glance:
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. See our guide to other great Canon RF mount lenses here.
Best for: bird photography on a budget
Review: Canon EOS R10
Best enthusiast camera for bird photography: Sony A7 IV
At a glance:
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.
To find out the very best lenses for the Sony A7 IV don’t miss our comprehensive Sony E-mount lens guide.
Best for: serious enthusiast birders
Read the full review of the Sony Alpha A7 IV
Best APS-C DSLR for bird photography: Canon EOS 90D
At a glance:
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.
For more lens inspiration head over to our Best Canon EF lenses to buy in 2023 article.
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: Fujifilm X-H2S
At a glance:
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.
Head over to our Best Fujifilm X-mount lenses article to read more about the XF 150-600mm F5.6-8 R LM OIS WR and XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR.
Best for: style and physical controls
See why the Fujifilm X-H2S got five stars
Best bridge camera for bird photography: Sony RX10 IV
At a glance:
If you don’t want to fuss with changing lenses, a bridge camera could be your ideal port of call. Compact cameras styled like DSLRs, bridge cameras boast rugged ergonomics and long zoom lenses – and the top of the heap is the Sony RX10 IV. This is probably the best all-in-one camera ever made – its 1-inch sensor has a stacked design, meaning it is capable of incredibly fast readout speeds. This enables all sorts of speedy, bird-friendly features, like a 1/32,000sec top shutter speed, or 24fps burst mode. The RX10 IV also has a pleasingly deep shot buffer; you can keep that burst mode going for 110 RAW files or 249 JPEGs, should you wish to.
The RX10 IV doesn’t have a dedicated bird-photography mode per se, but its AF tracking modes are adept at locating and locking on to moving subjects. We tested it out on bird-in-flight images, and found the camera to acquit itself well.
For a cheaper alternative in similar style, you may also want to consider the Panasonic Lumix FZ2000, which has a shorter 24-480mm equivalent zoom lens. If, however the RX10 IV’s 24-600mm lens is not enough zoom for you, consider the Nikon CoolPix P1000, which uses a smaller sensor and wields a frankly absurd 24-3000mm equivalent zoom lens. Don’t miss our guide to the best used bridge cameras too.
Find out why we gave the Sony RX10 IV the full five stars in our review.
Best Micro Four Thirds camera for bird photography: Olympus OM-D E-M1X
At a glance:
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.
Best for: getting real telephoto reach
Reviewed: Olympus OM-D E-M1X
Best 4K camera for bird photography: Panasonic Lumix G9
At a glance:
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.
Best for: travel and bird photography
Read our Panasonic Lumix G9 Field Test
Best full-frame DSLR for bird photography: Nikon D850
At a glance:
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.
Best for: photographers who prefer a larger grip and chunkier handling
Nikon D850 Review: An all-round sensation
Best professional camera for bird photography: Sony A1
At a glance:
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.
We recently completed a long-term test of the Sony A1. This camera dazzled everyone with its spec sheet on announcement, but sometimes the only way to truly assess if a camera is worth its price tag is to spend a decent chunk of time with it.
Our long-term tester, photographer Callum McInerney-Riley, said, “When shooting people, animals and birds, using the camera’s eye-detection autofocus ensures amazing shots even in challenging situations. Even when other things are competing to be the dominant focal point in the frame, it manages to work out what’s important.”
Best for: professional photographers
Full review of the Sony Alpha A1
Fastest burst camera for bird photography: Nikon Z9
At a glance:
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.
Best mirrorless camera for bird photography professionals
Read our full review of the Nikon Z9
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