7 Best Mirrorless Cameras for Wildlife Photography

best mirrorless camera wildlife photography

The world of photography has come a long way in the past few years, and in this article, we will be exploring the best mirrorless cameras for wildlife photography.

It seems technology is developing at warp speed when it comes to cameras. Times have changed, and so has the quality of the cameras on the market today.

best mirrorless camera

As wildlife photographers, we work hard to capture that “perfect photo”.

We wait long hours, or sometimes even days, for a few moments with our subjects. We put up with extreme temperatures or bad weather, drive long distances, and often endure uncomfortable positions to take our photographs.

So, when everything lines up, we want to be able to capture that unique moment. It’s aggravating to miss a shot because your camera didn’t focus quickly enough, have a high enough frame rate, or because you misjudged the proper exposure.

Today’s mirrorless cameras are the answer to our “photographic prayers” and can help us produce wildlife photographs like never before.

Read more: Mirrorless vs DSLR Cameras for Nature Photography

Why go mirrorless

When using a DSLR, the light is reflected off a mirror in the camera body and bounces that light back into the viewfinder. When you take a photo, the mirror moves, and the light hits the sensor to capture the photograph.

best mirrorless cameras

As the name suggests, mirrorless cameras have no mirror. Instead, the light passes directly to the sensor and displays the image on the screen.

This has many benefits, particularly for wildlife photographers:

1. Electronic viewfinder

The first benefit is that ‘what you see is what you get’.

All mirrorless cameras have an EVF – an electronic viewfinder. This feature allows a photographer to look through the viewfinder and preview the image in real-time before taking the shot. As the light changes or your settings change, you will immediately see those changes.

This feature is extremely useful, allowing the photographer to see if the exposure or depth of field is correct. Mirrorless cameras also allow you to have a histogram visible when looking through the viewfinder, which aids in obtaining proper exposures.

If you are interested in wildlife videography, mirrorless cameras allow the EVF to be used in video mode with 4K or 8K.

2. Lighten the load

Since there is no mirror, mirrorless cameras are usually smaller and lighter than DSLRs.

best mirrorless camera wildlife photography

Carrying heavy equipment can be backbreaking work for wildlife photographers, whose subjects can often be found in hard-to-reach locations. These cameras can help lighten the load.

3. Reduce camera shake

On DSLR cameras, especially with long lenses on a tripod, the mirror slapping up and down can cause significant shake and result in unsharp images.

No mirror means no vibrations from the mirror slapping. Also, cameras now have in-body stabilization, aiding in the control of camera shake when handheld by adding to the traditional lens stabilization.

4. Noise reduction

Wildlife usually don’t like noise, and wildlife subjects may find the sound of the shutter irritating.

Mirrorless cameras offer the photographer the option of turning off the sound of the electronic shutter. It is heaven not to have to listen to that “click, click” sound anymore.

I think wildlife like the idea of us photographing them without invading their privacy too much, and noise reduction allows us to get more intimate with our subjects.

5. Fast focus

Mirrorless cameras also have faster and more reliable focus even in low light. The best feature is the animal eye tracking, which is found in most, but not all, mirrorless cameras.

best mirrorless camera wildlife photography

Just like it sounds, these cameras can determine what is an eye on your subject and keep focus for sharper and more reliable focus on the eye. Remember, if the eye isn’t sharp, toss that photo!

6. Fast frame rates

Many of the mirrorless cameras currently on the market have faster frame rates, allowing photographers to have more “keepers” during heavy action, such as running animals and birds in flight.

Most mirrorless cameras also have a higher megapixel count, allowing for higher-resolution photographs and the ability to crop more.

The dark side of mirrorless

There are some downsides to mirrorless cameras, too, albeit not many.

These cameras do drain their batteries very quickly. All photographers should carry an extra set of batteries at all times. Some cameras have the option of adding a battery grip for longer battery life.

Mirrorless cameras can have a slow startup time when initially turning on the camera. There can also be a lag time when the camera is on and not in use.

mirrorless camera wildlife photography

This can lead to missing a shot if you were not anticipating it and it happens too quickly to get your camera to turn on. It has happened to me many times, and it can be irritating.

The best mirrorless cameras for wildlife photography

Sold on mirrorless yet?

When purchasing a new mirrorless, consider factors such as frame rate, resolution (megapixel count), and focus capabilities. If you also shoot video, that should be a consideration as well.

To help you with the decision-making process, we’ve put together a shortlist of some of the best mirrorless cameras currently on the market (in no particular order) that we consider well-suited to the wildlife photographer.

1. Sony A1

Although this 35mm full-frame mirrorless camera has been around for a few years, the Sony A1 is still one of the best mirrorless cameras on the market.

It has both an electronic and mechanical shutter, and boasts a 50.1 MP resolution in a small, compact body weighing approximately 1 lb. 10 oz. (737 g).

best mirrorless camera

The camera is capable of shooting up to 30 frames per second (fps) in Lossless Compressed Raw and 20 fps in Uncompressed Raw. The buffer can hold up to 96 frames, which allows over 3 seconds of continuous shooting before the buffer fills.

Boasting 759 focus points, the Sony A1 provides fast and precise autofocus and tracking. The camera uses a Fast Hybrid Auto Focus system which combines contrast detection AF and phase detection AF for precision and quick responses from fast-moving subjects.

Add the Animal Eye Detect and the Bird Eye Detect to make sure your subject is in focus. And with 5.5 stops of image stabilization, camera shake is greatly reduced when hand-holding. The camera comes with a 2.95-inch adjustable-angle touch LCD screen.

Although this mirrorless camera comes with a hefty price tag of $6,499.99, it is well worth the investment.

While Sony has great lenses for wildlife photography, both Sigma and Tamron produce lenses compatible with the Sony A1.

2. Sony A9 III

This full-frame mirrorless camera has the world’s first global shutter. But what is a global shutter?

Unlike a rolling shutter that reads an image from the sensor “line by line” from top to bottom, the global shutter reads that image in one “snapshot” so that all the pixels are exposed simultaneously. The global shutter is the closest thing to what our eyes actually see with no distortion.

sony mirrorless camera

Why is the global shutter useful? Imagine taking a photo of a bird in flight. With a traditional shutter, there can be slight movement in the time it takes for the image to be recorded line by line. This could lead to some distortion of fast-moving parts, like the wing.

Using the Sony A9 III with the global shutter prevents this distortion.

The Sony A9 III is a 35mm full-frame mirrorless camera with a 24.6 MP resolution. It also boasts a maximum frame rate of 120 fps with a buffer, according to Sony, of 1.6 seconds.

Holding that shutter down will fill up your memory cards quickly, but that “shot” you always wanted? You will certainly be able to get it with this camera.

This frame rate may be overkill in most situations, but when you have fast action, you will be glad you had this frame rate. And when you get your shot of a lifetime, you can view it on the 3.2-inch adjustable-angle and touch LCD screen.

Something new to the Sony Pro Camera collection is the Pre-capture Mode. This provides one second of pre-release capture for up to 120 fps.

best mirrorless camera wildlife photography

Basically, this helps to capture photographs of that split second before you can react and press the shutter, when the bird takes off or the hare starts to run.

I have this camera in my arsenal, as well as the A1. I thought the focus was top-notch with the A1, but this just blows that camera out of the water.

Like the A1, the A9 III has 759 focus points and uses the Fast Hybrid AF system. But the focus is faster, more precise, and the eye tracking is much more accurate, especially with low-contrast subjects.

Camera weight is a light 1 lb. 5.8 oz. (617 g). To reduce camera shake when hand-holding, the A9III has an impressive 8 stops of image stabilization.

The A9 III has a price tag of $5,999.99.

3. Canon R3

When you look into the viewfinder of this camera, the Canon R3 monitors the photographer’s eye to set or move the autofocus point.

After calibrating the camera to your eye, just look at your subject through the EVF, select and shoot. This feature is useful for effectively focusing on and tracking fast-moving subjects like birds in flight and that running cheetah you are itching to photograph.

Currently, this camera is the only one using this technology.

Canon’s flagship mirrorless camera, the R3, is a 35mm full-frame mirrorless camera which has 1,053 AF points and quick and precise autofocusing, especially in low-light situations.

best mirrorless camera

This 24.1 MP camera can shoot up to 30 fps (20 fps with the mechanical shutter). Add 5 stops of image stabilization and a 3.2-inch adjustable-angle touch LCD screen to this workhorse, and you will undoubtedly get some of your bucket list photographs.

While this camera weighs approximately 2.24 pounds (1,015 g), this rugged and weather-sealed camera has been designed to withstand nature’s harshest elements.

Canon has a variety of RF mount lenses designed specifically for their mirrorless cameras. In addition, if you still have lenses in your camera bag you would like to use with your new mirrorless camera, Canon has the EF-EOS R Adaptor.

The Canon R3 has a price tag of $4,999.00.

4. Canon R5

Introduced in 2020, the Canon R5 is still a great camera for those new to the Canon mirrorless scene.

The Canon R5 has a 45 MP full-frame sensor. It has up to 20 fps with the electronic shutter and 12 fps with the mechanical shutter.

This camera was the first Canon mirrorless camera to have animal eye detection. The Canon R5 can effectively track animals although, based on reports from many wildlife photographers, it is not recommended for birds in flight.

best mirrorless camera wildlife photography

1,053 AF points are providing easy and precise autofocus and tracking.

Hand-holding is an ease with 5 stops of image stabilization. Any photographer will enjoy viewing their photos on a 3.15-inch adjustable-angle touch screen.

Designed for use in a variety of weather conditions, this 1.63-pound (738 g) mirrorless camera has a great price tag of $3,399.00.

A great camera for video, the Canon R5 is able to record 8K movies.

5. Canon R7

For those photographers wanting an APS-C (1.6x crop factor) camera, the Canon R7 is a good choice.

The price is right at $1,499.00, and you get a good bang for your buck.

best mirrorless camera wildlife photography

This compact and light (approximately 1.3 pounds) mirrorless camera is ideal for those new to wildlife photography or those photographers wanting a complementary camera to their 35mm full-frame camera bodies.

An impressive 32.5 MP resolution and at 30 fps with the electronic shutter will allow a photographer to capture quality photographs with the added bonus of additional reach without sacrificing resolution due to cropping.

Like all the other Canon mirrorless cameras, the Canon R7 has animal subject detect to help you get that once-in-a-lifetime shot, an adjustable-angle LCD touch screen, and 4K video.

Easily handheld, the Canon R7 has 5 stops of image stabilization.

This mirrorless camera is compatible with older Canon lenses as well as the RF lenses. Combine the R7 with the 200-800mm RF or 800mm RF for maximum reach to get the photograph you have always wanted.

6. Nikon Z8 and Nikon Z9

Weighing 30 percent less than its older sister, the Nikon Z8 is basically the Nikon Z9 in a smaller and more compact package. The Z8 weighs 32.1 ounces (910 g) versus the 47.27 ounces (1340 g) for the Z9.

There are very few differences between the camera models, but the most notable one is the battery life. The Z8 uses the EN-EL15 series battery versus the longer-lasting EN-EL18. If you are used to the Z9’s battery life, be prepared to charge your battery more often.

nikon mirrrorless

Another big difference is the price tag. The Z8 is much less expensive at $3,499.99 compared to the $5,499.95 for the Z9.

While both cameras are weather sealed, the Z9 is a more robust and rugged camera able to withstand harsher elements.

Both the Nikon Z8 and Z9 are 35mm full-frame mirrorless cameras with a resolution of 45.7 MP. They both shoot at 20 fps in RAW and 120 fps in JPEG.

Like the Z9, the Z8 has Eye AF for quick focus on your subject’s eye. In addition, they have 20 custom options for defining your subject area so you can tailor your focus area to your subject.

The Nikon Z8 and Z9 have approximately 5 stops of image stabilization for sharper results when handholding.

nikon mirrorless camera

Newly introduced in the Z8 model is Pre Release Capture. When you engage the shutter, up to one second of images are recorded before the shutter releases. This is very useful with birds in flight and fast-moving or erratic subjects.

This Pre Release Capture is included in new versions of Nikon Z9 firmware.

For those movie buffs, both cameras are able to record 8K movies.

Combined with Nikon’s lineup of lighter weight PF and Z-Mount lenses, the Nikon Z8 and Z9 will give you a great camera setup. Most newer F-mount lenses can be used by attaching the FTZ-II adapter.

7. OM System OM-1 Mark II

This camera is a Micro Four Thirds camera, which is a mirrorless camera that has a smaller sensor than both the full-frame and crop sensor cameras. They are smaller and lighter than other mirrorless cameras without sacrificing high-quality images.

As an option for a wildlife photographer to increase reach without the added weight of heavier lenses, using the OM-1 Mark II will double your focal length. For instance, if you are using a 300mm lens, you will actually get the reach of a 600mm.

The OM-1 Mark II is a 20.4 MP Micro Four Thirds camera with a maximum frame rate of 120 fps with the electronic shutter.

best mirrorless camera wildlife photography

The camera has 1,053 focus points and excellent subject detection. Using an enhanced AI Subject Detection AF, you will be able to keep your subject in focus with ease.

With Pro Capture mode, half-press the shutter button to start buffering images up to 120 fps, so you will never miss that shot.

For the ultimate lightweight wildlife photography camera setup, combine the 599 g OM-1 Mark II with the 1.875 kg M. Zuiko 150-400mm F4.5 TC 1.25 IS PRO lens and get a focal length equivalent to 375-1000mm.

With the image stabilization of 8.5 stops, camera shake can be reduced to avoid out-of-focus images, even at 1000mm. This is perfect for the photographer that wants the reach and not the weight.

The OM-1 Mark II is weather-sealed and freeze-proof down to -10C.

The price of the OM-1 Mark II is a respectable $2,399.99.

In conclusion

Mirrorless cameras allow wildlife photographers to capture images we have only dreamed of.

From the animal eye tracking capabilities of these cameras to the fast focusing and the frame rates, these mirrorless cameras are an amazing tool we can use to achieve our photographic goals.

best mirrorless camera wildlife photography

Combine these with the lighter lenses, and the wildlife photographer can have a lighter wildlife photography setup.

While all the camera companies have numerous mirrorless cameras in their camera lineup, the wildlife photographer must choose what is best for their type of wildlife photography.

Is your photography goal to offer prints for sale? Are you willing to sacrifice resolution for faster frame rates? Do you want a 35mm full-frame camera or an APS-C or Micro Four Thirds? There is no wrong answer.

I assure you that if you take that leap of faith to switch to a mirrorless camera system, you will be happy you did.

Visit Deena's website

Deena is a former Airline Captain turned wildlife photographer. She is based in Estes Park, Colorado, USA. Her focus is moose and all things bunny. Her awards and accolades include being a two-time top 25 finalist for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award, Highly Honored in Nature’s Best Awards Animal Antics Category and Audubon Top 100.

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