The 5 Best Birding Camera: A Bird Watchers Buying Guide

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Today, technology plays a more important role in birdwatching than ever before. Many have discovered the joys of capturing birds not only through the lenses of binoculars but through the lens of a camera.

Bird photography of all kinds can be a gateway into the wonderful world of birds.

By taking footage or snapping images of our feathered friends, adults and children alike can gain an intimate insight into the lives of backyard birds, and other wild birds in the ecosystems of their areas.

But if you are looking for the best birding camera, it is important to make the right choice.

We can photograph birds in a wide range of ways, and making the right selections when it comes to the tools we use to do so can help make sure that it is as enjoyable and satisfying an experience as it should be.

Product Name
Best for Beginners
Nikon D5
Largest Optical Zoom
Nikon COOLPIX P1000
Best Budget
Canon EOS 80D
Image
Nikon D5 DSLR 20.8 MP Point & Shoot Digital Camera, Dual XQD Slots - Black
Nikon COOLPIX P1000 16.7 Digital Camera with 3.2" LCD, Black
Canon Digital SLR Camera Body [EOS 80D] with 24.2 Megapixel (APS-C) CMOS Sensor and Dual Pixel CMOS AF - Black
Customer Rating
Effective Still Resolution
Effective Still Resolution: 20.8 MP
Effective Still Resolution: 16 MP
Effective Still Resolution: 24.2 MP
Photo Sensor Size
Photo Sensor Size: Full Frame (35mm)
Photo Sensor Size: 1/2.3-inch
Photo Sensor Size: APS-C
Video Capture Resolution
Video Capture Resolution: 2160p
Video Capture Resolution: 2160p
Video Capture Resolution: 1080p
Size
6.3 x 6.3 x 3.7 inches
5.76 x 7.14 x 4.68 inches
3.09 x 5.47 x 4.14 inches
Best for Beginners
Product Name
Nikon D5
Image
Nikon D5 DSLR 20.8 MP Point & Shoot Digital Camera, Dual XQD Slots - Black
Customer Rating
Effective Still Resolution
Effective Still Resolution: 20.8 MP
Photo Sensor Size
Photo Sensor Size: Full Frame (35mm)
Video Capture Resolution
Video Capture Resolution: 2160p
Size
6.3 x 6.3 x 3.7 inches
Largest Optical Zoom
Product Name
Nikon COOLPIX P1000
Image
Nikon COOLPIX P1000 16.7 Digital Camera with 3.2" LCD, Black
Customer Rating
Effective Still Resolution
Effective Still Resolution: 16 MP
Photo Sensor Size
Photo Sensor Size: 1/2.3-inch
Video Capture Resolution
Video Capture Resolution: 2160p
Size
5.76 x 7.14 x 4.68 inches
Best Budget
Product Name
Canon EOS 80D
Image
Canon Digital SLR Camera Body [EOS 80D] with 24.2 Megapixel (APS-C) CMOS Sensor and Dual Pixel CMOS AF - Black
Customer Rating
Effective Still Resolution
Effective Still Resolution: 24.2 MP
Photo Sensor Size
Photo Sensor Size: APS-C
Video Capture Resolution
Video Capture Resolution: 1080p
Size
3.09 x 5.47 x 4.14 inches

Last update on 2022-10-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

How do I Choose a Birding Camera?

When choosing the best birding camera for you, the first and most important thing to think about is how and where a camera is to be used.

Are you looking for a camera that you will take with you on your birdwatching adventures, to take pictures of the birds you encounter on the go?

Or are you looking for a camera that you can set up in your backyard or garden, to capture birds in flight on or around a bird feeder, bird house, or bird bath, for example?

The type of camera that you should choose very much depends on where and how you will deploy it. But birding cameras will usually fall into one of these two broad categories – those you carry about with you as you are birdwatching, and those that you set up in a particular location.

Once you have decided which of these two types of birding camera you are looking for, there are, of course, a range of further decisions that you will have to make.

If you are looking for a birdwatching camera to take out and about, you will need to think about the type of images you would like to capture.

You will need to decide whether you are aiming for perfection, and want to take a more professional approach, or would be happy with something much more amateur and just want to have some fun.

Remember, you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune to take good photos of birds and have a lot of fun. Your images don’t have to be top-notch if having fun and forging a deeper understanding and appreciation for the birds you snap is your main goal.

However, if you get into bird photography as a hobby, then it is likely that you will want to think more deeply about the technology and the camera that you choose will become far more important.

If you won’t be wielding the camera yourself and will instead be setting one up in your garden, then the considerations are somewhat different. Again, however, your personal goals and priorities will be important.

What to Look for When Choosing a Birding Camera

When choosing a birding camera, of either type, regardless of your goals, here are some of the important things to consider:

  • Your budget, price, and value for money.
  • The types of birds, or bird behaviors that you hope to capture. (The camera that you need to capture perched or feeding birds may be different from that required for extreme close-ups, or for capturing birds in flight, for example.)
  • The environment you are birding in. Think about the weather and the elements. What will the camera you choose have to withstand? Will the camera be weatherproof? Will it operate well in the environments it will encounter?
  • The size/ weight of the camera. Sometimes, a smaller or more lightweight option might be required, if you wish to place a camera in a tight spot, or need one that will give ease of mobility when you are catching birds in flight.
  • Image quality. Of course, this will be a key concern for keen wildlife photographers. But as an amateur, good enough may well do. So it is important to balance cost and value for money with the quality of the images that can be created when making your choice.
  • Ease of use. Are you a beginner or more experienced with higher skill levels when it comes to bird photography? How easy do you find it to use technology? Some of the best birding cameras might be great for experienced photographers, but not all that easy for beginners to get to grips with at first.
  • Stealth. Are you in search of a quiet camera? Remember, some may click or whirr which may not be ideal if you are trying not to scare off the birds you are trying to capture in your images.
  • Additional requirements. Do you need the camera to record sound as well as images? Does it need night vision? Do you need a live stream or want images to view back later?

What Types of Cameras Do Birdwatchers Use?

Birdwatchers use a staggering range of different types of cameras. When trying to find the best birding camera, this can make it difficult to decide which one is right for you.

When looking for a camera to take out and about on birdwatching forays, you might choose:

  • A simple smartphone—yes, even the simplest modern smartphone camera can be sufficient to take some great photos of birds. But of course, it all depends on your goals, and precisely what you are aiming for.
  • A digital camera (which, of course, covers a wide range of cameras, from the entry-level options for beginners right up through to the most professional, high-end options with all the bells and whistles).
  • An action camera such as a Go-Pro (to shoot video rather than just photographs).

When looking for a static camera like a bird feeder camera, you might select:

  • A DIY kit option (made with a raspberry pi, for example).
  • An old smartphone rigged up in the right location.
  • A trail cam.
  • A home security camera.
  • Or, again, a Go Pro or other action camera.

What Cameras Do Professional Bird Photographers Use?

Professional bird photographers use a wide range of different cameras. There is no one clear and concise answer to this question.

However, professionals will likely choose cameras based not only on their own situation and personal preferences but also very much by looking at the technical specifications of the cameras in question.

They are likely to look at:

  • The number of megapixels.
  • Sensor types.
  • The size of sensors.
  • Lenses (and the ability to interchange lenses when required).
  • Aperture.
  • Autofocus.
  • ISO range.
  • Image stabilization.

While, if you are more of a birding beginner, you won’t necessarily have to worry too much about all the technical specifications, understanding a little more about the more technical elements of bird photography can be a good idea to understand how best to achieve the results that you are looking for.

And understanding the above can help you make the right choice, and understand the characteristics and good and bad points of each camera you are considering.

How Much Does a Good Birding Camera Cost?

Asking how much a ‘good’ birding camera costs is a bit like asking the length of a piece of string. This very much depends on what you mean by the term ‘good,’ and what exactly you want to achieve with your birding camera.

As mentioned above, many amateurs will be perfectly happy with the performance, use, and image quality even when using very affordable options.

While experienced and professional photographers will be much more discerning and demand higher quality and better performance all around.

Personally, for example, I have been delighted by some of the images I have captured using our extremely affordable DIY wildlife camera kit.

And have had a lot of fun taking pictures of birds in my area using my smartphone.

My husband has a mid-range Olympus digital camera which he has used to capture some truly stunning shots. And that was rather more expensive.

So, in short, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on a birding camera—but for the very best results, you can spend a lot. It all depends on you and your priorities.

Whatever you are looking for, in my option, it is best to look for longevity, and think about a camera that will not just work for you today, but which should work for you as your knowledge expands and as you progress on your bird photography journey over several years.

It is best to buy the best you can afford now, to prevent needless consumerism and cut costs and consumption long-term.

Remember, all technology comes at a cost—not just a financial cost but also a true cost to our planet, people, and the wildlife around us, including the birds who share our space.

This is why it is so important to buy less, but buy better, and to think very carefully before we buy anything new.

The 5 Best Birding Cameras to Consider

Remember, the best birding camera is the camera that does well what you want it to do. Thinking carefully about what you want your birding camera to do and thinking about all of the above should help you find a camera that ideally meets your specific wants and needs.

But here are some options that are highly regarded within the birdwatching and bird photography community:

Nikon D5

Nikon D5 DSLR 20.8 MP Point & Shoot Digital Camera, Dual XQD Slots - Black
  • 20.8MP FX-Format CMOS Sensor
  • EXPEED 5 Image Processor
  • 3.2" 2.36m-Dot Touchscreen LCD Monitor

Last update on 2022-10-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This is a highly regarded all-rounder for bird photography. It is a model which offers reasonable ease of use for less experienced photographers while still offering many features for those at a higher level. The images it takes truly can be exquisite.

Popular features include high-quality autofocus, image processing capabilities, and sensor design.

It works well even in low light levels, offers 12 FPS continuous shooting and 4k UHD video, and contains Nikon’s most powerful processor. It also has the widest native ISO range of any Nikon camera on the market and the body can fit a variety of lenses.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II

Canon EOS-1DX Mark II DSLR Camera (Body Only)
  • Fastest shooting EOS-1D, capable of up to 14 fps full-resolution RAW or JPEG, and up to 16 fps in Live View mode with new Dual...
  • Achieves a maximum burst rate of up to 170 raws in continuous shooting at up to 16 fps, and 4K movies using CFast cards in the new...
  • Improved AF performance through 61-point, wide area AF system with 41 cross-type points, improved center point focusing...

Last update on 2022-10-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Another of the best high-quality all-rounders for bird photography is this option from Canon.

The Canon EOS is highly regarded for its durable magnesium-alloy body with weather-sealed mounts, impressive ISO range, anti-flicker shooting, autofocus features, high-quality image processors, and more.

The camera performs well in a range of light levels and offers both still photography and video recording. It is also possible to add a new Cfast card to create 4K films It’s an excellent choice!

Nikon COOLPIX P1000

Sale
Nikon COOLPIX P1000 16.7 Digital Camera with 3.2" LCD, Black
  • 3000 millimeter optical zoom-the most powerful zoom lens; Ever put on a Nikon Coolpix camera
  • 4k ultra hd video with HDMI out, stereo sound and an accessory hot shoe
  • Rock steady dual detect image stabilization and great low light capability. Vibration reduction: Lens shift VR (still pictures) /...

Last update on 2022-10-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

A highly regarded mid-range birding camera, this has the largest optical zoom on any Coolpix camera. It has a range of great features at a decent price point to suit those at a range of different levels and with a range of different goals.

Special stabilization features help to make it easier to photograph with a close zoom range, and there is a mode specifically designed to help you capture birds in action. You can also use this camera to shoot 4K UHD videos, as well as to take simpler shots.

Nikon D500

Nikon D500 DSLR Camera (Body Only) (1559) + Sony 64GB Tough SD Card + Camera Bag + Hand Strap + Portable LED Video Light + Memory Card Wallet + 12 Inch Flexible Tripod + More
  • Bundle Includes: Nikon D500 DSLR Camera (Body Only) (1559), Sony 64GB TOUGH SD Card, Deluxe Padded Camera Bag, Hand Strap,...
  • Key Features: 20.9MP DX-Format CMOS Sensor -- EXPEED 5 Image Processor -- 3.2" 2539k-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD -- 4K UHD Video...
  • Multi-CAM 20K 153-Point AF System - Native ISO 51200, Extend to ISO 1640000

Last update on 2022-10-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

If you are looking for a more entry-level birding camera, this is a popular choice—suited for many who are new to the hobby or those with a more limited budget. It is less expensive than many other options on the market, yet still offers a range of impressive features for wildlife lovers to get the shots they want (all at an affordable price).

For the price point, the ISO range is great. There is also a sensor for good color, texture, and detail. You can shoot 10 fps for up to 20k0 frames, and 4k video at 30 fps.

Canon EOS 80D

Sale
Canon Digital SLR Camera Body [EOS 80D] with 24.2 Megapixel (APS-C) CMOS Sensor and Dual Pixel CMOS AF - Black
  • The EOS 80D camera’s Intelligent Viewfinder helps bring the thrill of SLR photography with each use
  • The Intelligent Viewfinder displays AF points and AF mode, has a grid display, a horizontal electronic level, plus numerous other...
  • For next level AF operation, the EOS 80D camera has a wide area, 45 point, all cross type AF system with low luminance performance...

Last update on 2022-10-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Another choice for beginners or those on more limited budgets is this popular birding camera. This comes at a very reasonable price especially considering the great options and features it offers for beginners.

The CMOS sensor is pretty good and can take high-resolution images at high ISO speeds in film or still photos. It has a 45-point autofocus system which is great for taking perfect shots of, for example, birds in flight It’s great for beginners!

In Conclusion

Personally, however, I think it is always well worthwhile considering second-hand or reclaimed options before buying new ones since even somewhat older models can still be great for beginners or intermediate wildlife photographers.

And if you want to set up a birding camera in your garden, I would highly recommend taking a DIY approach as we are delighted with our simple kit which was very inexpensive and delivers just what we are looking for.

After all, we may want to have the latest technology. But safeguarding and protecting the birds we love and other wildlife on this planet we call home should always be the highest priority.

If we don’t think very carefully about what we buy, and consume too much, too quickly, and without much thought, we might not be able to enjoy watching and photographing our favorite birds for that much longer.

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Elizabeth Waddington

Elizabeth Waddington is a conservation, rewilding, organic gardening and sustainability specialist who loves everything nature-related. She loves helping others around the world connect with the wildlife and wonders around them. When not creating wildlife-wise, eco-friendly designs, or writing about the topics that inspire her, she loves spending time watching the birds on and around her own rural property, or heading out on camping or hiking adventures to spot birds and other wildlife in a range of habitats.