There’s nothing quite like spending time in nature taking photographs. There’s so much to see, and it can be incredibly tranquil and rewarding. Whether it’s the stunning vistas, wild animals, or miniature details, you can capture some amazing images when in the great outdoors. However, having the right equipment is vital to a successful nature photography shoot. You need to be well prepared, and you should start with having a good camera that’s up to the task. We’ll take a look at some of the best available cameras across a range of categories and budgets, as well as give some good buying advice.
Types of Digital Cameras for Nature Photography
Depending on your experience and budget, the right nature photography camera for you will vary. Essentially there are three main options you have; point-and-shoot cameras, mirrorless cameras and DSLRs. We’ll discuss the merits of each:
Recent years have seen huge improvements in point-and-shoot camera technology, meaning they’re no long just a cheap entry-level range. Modern point and shoots are capable of taking some fairly decent pictures, and are packed full of features. Their benefits for nature photography lie mainly in their portability. Point-and-shoots have compact bodies and are generally very lightweight.
One of the other big improvements is in terms of resolution and zoom range. Many compacts have huge super-zoom lenses that have essentially a wide-angle to telephoto range. If you’re only looking to print in sizes up to 12” x 18” then point and shoots are an inexpensive way of getting into nature photography. However, anything larger than that will see a drop off in image quality.
- Often inexpensive.
- Lightweight and compact, ideal for travelling.
- The small sensors they have mean that just can’t compete with mirrorless or DSLR cameras in terms of quality.
- There’s very little in the way of manual controls, which will frustrate more experienced users.
Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Cameras
Mirrorless cameras have become increasingly popular over recent years, even among professionals. By forgoing the mirror system that DSLR cameras use to capture images, mirrorless cameras are much lighter and more compact than DSLRs, yet they still perform much better than point-and-shoots.
Nature photographers can make good use of a mirrorless. Their portable design means you can take it with you anywhere, and with a range of interchangeable lenses you can achieve a variety of shots. All of the major camera manufacturers now have a good range of mirrorless cameras, and they range from entry-level to professional, and account for budgets in between.
- Lightweight and compact, often with stylish designs. These look and perform great.
- Interchangeable lenses and a bigger sensor than a point-and-shoot give far more flexibility.
- They can be expensive, particularly once you start adding new lenses.
Professional photographers have been using DSLRs for many years now. However, there is a very strong range of entry-level and mid-range DSLRs that would be well-suited to nature photography. Their manual controls, interchangeable lenses, and large image sensors, mean that photographers can really progress their technical skills and knowhow when using one.
Although they are the bulkiest and heaviest cameras around, with a good lens and tripod, you can take some fantastic landscapes, nature action shots, and macro photos. However, they can be pricey particularly when you add a variety on lenses.
- Professional-level photos with a variety of manual options to get the very best results.
- Great for producing large prints of your work.
- DSLRs are quite heavy and bulks, which is not always ideal for travelling.
- The price range can be too much for casual users.
Best Digital Cameras for Nature Photography
Now that you know the type of camera and the different factors to look out for, let’s examine some of the best available digital cameras for nature photography in each category:
Why it’s great:
- Our favorite budget point-and-shoot camera.
- 30x zoom lens.
- Great color and exposure.
Our choice for a budget point-and-shoot camera for nature photography is the Canon PowerShot SX710 HS. This camera is lightweight and compact, yet still has an impressive 30x zoom lens. A 20-megapixel sensor delivers good-quality images across this zoom range. Video capture is also impressive, delivering 1080p video at 60fps. It has a decent 3-inch video screen, as well as built in Wi-Fi that allows for remote control of the camera. Overall, if you’re on a tight budget this is a good choice of camera.
- Quality tends to drop off towards the edge of the frame.
- There’s no panoramic mode.
2. Sony RX100
Why it’s great:
- Our top choice of the advanced point-and-shoot cameras.
- 1-megapixel sensor.
- 6x 28-100mm Carl Zeiss zoom lens.
Sony has released a number of cameras in the RX100 range over the years, but the original is still one of the best travel point-and-shoots on the market. The small and compact body houses some impressive features and performance, such as the 20.1-megapixel sensor and excellent 3.6x Carl Zeiss zoom lens. This camera is ideal for slipping into your travel bag when you’re heading outdoors, and is sure to deliver some good results.
- Updated models are available, and have improved features such as an electronic viewfinder and 4K video capture.
Why it’s great:
- Our best choice of budget mirrorless cameras.
- Excellent image sharpness and color.
- 1fps continuous shooting.
Sony has a fantastic range of mirrorless cameras, and our favorite budget one in the range in the Alpha a6000. The features are what sell this camera; a 24-megapixel sensor is coupled with a strong electronic viewfinder and tilting 3-inch screen. It has a strong dynamic range, which is great for nature photography. When continuous shooting, you can expect speeds of up to 10fps, and the autofocus is good at keeping up with a moving target.
- The kit lens that comes with the a6000 isn’t the greatest, and to get the best results you’ll need to buy a good prime lens.
Why it’s great:
- In terms of advanced mirrorless cameras for nature photography, this is out top recommendation.
- 2-megapxiel sensor.
- 3-inch adjustable touchscreen monitor.
As we’ve mentioned already, the Sony mirrorless range is very strong. The a6500 is perhaps the most rounded of all the range, which is why it’s our top pick for a nature mirrorless. The key features are its 24.-megapixel sensor, fantastic autofocus, 4K video capture, and a weather resistant body. All of these will serve you well when you’re out in the elements taking nature photographs.
- The price is quite high, and you could get a decent DSLR for a similar cost.
1. Nikon D5500
Why it’s great:
- 24-megapixel sensor.
- Excellent image quality and ISO range.
- 3-inch touchscreen and built-in Wi-Fi.
Nikon’s D5500 is a great DSLR for those on a budget. It has a fairly compact design, yet that doesn’t stop it from performing very well in terms of nature photography. Its 24-megapixel sensor and wonderful ISO performance allows the user to take high-quality images consistently. It has all the features you could want from a modern DSLR; a 3-inch touchscreen, built-in Wi-Fi, and a night vision mode. If you’re just starting out with DSLR photography, this is an excellent choice.
- Live view focus speeds are rather slow and the Wi-Fi connectivity is a little basic.
Why it’s great:
- Excellent image quality and color reproduction.
- Fantastic autofocus performance.
- Live view performance is very strong.
One of our favorite mid-range DSLRs is the Canon Rebel T7i (also known as the 800D). It does everything you could want from a nature photography point of view, with a strong 24-megapixel sensor, great live view performance, and excellent dynamic range. It really is the complete package and has everything we’ve talked about so far. This camera won’t let you down, and it would be our number one recommendation for those who can afford it.
- The price is rather high, although the cost is totally justified.
Important Features for Nature Photography
Once you’ve chosen the type of camera that is best suited to you, it’s important to know some of the key features that you’ll want to look for when choosing your camera. These features will allow you to take some high-quality nature photographs.
The resolution of your camera will largely depend on the size of the sensor. There are a variety of sizes available; point-and-shoot and mirrorless cameras will often have smaller sensors than DSLRs. Look out for the number of megapixels as well as the sensor size when making your choice.
Live view is a feature that relates to the LCD screen of the camera. Not only is it useful for seeing your framed shot without looking through a viewfinder, but it also shows a variety of useful information related to your shot. Look for a good LCD screen and strong live view performance.
When you’re taking photographs of nature, you’ll ideally want to be shooting in RAW format. This gives you the freedom to make a variety of changes to your image in post-production. RAW files capture far more detail than JPEG and mean you can alter different variables after you’ve taken your picture.
A camera’s dynamic range is its ability to capture detail in both light and dark areas. The better the dynamic range, the more detail you can capture. This is particularly useful when you’re photographing a variety of aspects in nature.