Take Better Bird Photos - The Guide to the Best Cameras for Birding

Updated: Sep 6

Cameras are expensive gear. Read on to learn our recommendations for quality cameras for birding for a variety of budgets.

Bullock's Oriole shot with DSLR and macro lens

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Many birdwatchers, birders, and wildlife watchers love taking photos of their adventures. However, when it comes to selecting a camera, it can be difficult to balance needs, wants, and a budget. This post hosts a lot of information and is quite the read. For skimmers and those wanting a summary, I give you our overall recommendation from the list: Panasonic Lumix FZ80 from Amazon.


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Cheap Camera Recommendation for Birds and Wildlife


You do not need an actual camera to take quality documentation photos of birds and other wildlife. In fact, you can get some quality images from what is known as "digiscoping." Digiscoping is using your cell phone as the camera, and your optics as the lens, mimicking what actual cameras with large lenses do. The photos are not flawless, but you can still have great results.


Gosky Universal Cell Phone Mount - Amazon

This is my personal digiscoping mount that I use in conjunction with my Celestron Regal M2 100ED from Amazon. It allows me to use the phone in portrait and landscape mode, on multiple sizes of scopes. This mount is versatile and works for my needs for documenting rare and unusual species for eBird checklists.



Cell Phone Binocular Mount - Amazon

I only recommend this mount because it is well-rated for binocular use. The Gosky mount does not work quickly with binoculars, so this mount would be a great option for those without scopes. I have not personally tried this option, but there are few options for binocular mounts. If you don't have a scope and still want to document birds, the low price tag on this mount should be appealing.



Small Budget Camera Recommendation for Birds and Wildlife


If you want to carry an actual camera into the field, superzoom cameras are always my first recommendation to bird and wildlife lovers. Why? You can learn the basics of wildlife photography without investing tons of money. Additionally, they are lightweight and compact. I have carried a 600mm lens into the field, and I will never do it again. Go compact, go simple. If you are just taking photos for personal use, then staying in this class of camera makes great sense! Of these choices, the Panasonic FZ80 has the best price to features ratio. These cameras fall into the $200 to $300 range.


Canon Powershot SX540 - Amazon

  • 50x Optical Zoom = 1200mm lens equivalence

  • 20.3 Megapixal CMOS sensor

  • 1080p full HD video

  • Quickly share media to your phone with WiFi and NFC


This superzoom camera from Canon has 50x optical zoom with Optical Image Stabilizer. What does that mean? It means the physical and digital lens components reach an equivalency of 1200mm. The image stabilizer helps with shake, panning, and motion blur from moving while shooting. It has a 20.3 Megapixel CMOS sensor and allows for 1080p full HD video. You can quickly share from camera to smartphone with the WiFi and NFC capabilities.



Canon Powershot SX60 - Amazon

  • 65x optical zoom = 1365mm lens equivalence

  • 16.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor

  • 1080p full HD video

  • Quickly share media to your phone with WiFi and NFC


This camera is a slight upgrade over the SX540 due to its larger zoom capabilities. How much larger? This camera boasts a 65x optical zoom which is equivalent to a 1365mm lens. The image stabilizer helps with shake, panning, and motion blur from moving while shooting. It has a 16.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor and allows for 1080p full HD video. You can quickly share from camera to smartphone with the WiFi and NFC capabilities. While the zoom is greater, the sensor is smaller, meaning the SX540 is better in lowlight conditions than this camera. I have owned two generations of the SX line, and they are a great camera for those who are trying to capture bird memories through photos. Check out some of the example photos at the end of the post.



Panasonic Lumix FZ80 - Amazon

  • 60x optical zoom = 1220mm lens equivalence

  • 18.1 Megapixel MOS sensor

  • 4K video

  • Quickly share media to your phone with WiFi


Panasonic is an often underrated brand for wildlife photographers. Why? Canon, Nikon, and Sony pushed to the front of the line so quickly, other brands have not gotten the publicity they have. However, Panasonic cameras are often more affordable and at a quality on-par with their competitors. This camera is a great example. It has 60x optical zoom, 4k video capabilities, and an 18.1 Megapixel sensor. Oh, and it's about half the cost of the next cameras on this list.



Medium Budget Camera Recommendation for Birds and Wildlife


These next tiers of superzoom cameras are newer models and/or have more features than the previous group. If you need more zoom power, the Nikon P900 is the go to camera. If you want 4K video, the Canon SX70 is your camera. However, when compared to the price tag of the Panasonic FZ80, you may return to the previous category or move on to the next. These cameras fall into the $500 to $600 range.


Canon Powershot SX70 - Amazon

  • 65x optical zoom = 1365mm lens equivalence

  • 20.3 Megapixel CMOS sensor

  • 4K video

  • Quickly share media to your phone with WiFi and NFC

  • Can be used as high-quality webcam


The Canon Powershot SX70 is the newer version of the SX60. It has the same 65x optical zoom as the SX60. It has an upgraded 20.3 Megapixel CMOS sensor with 4K video. You can quickly share from camera to smartphone with the WiFi and NFC capabilities. I have owned two generations of the SX line, and they are a great camera for those who are trying to capture bird memories through photos. There is a special app that allows for this camera to be used as a high-quality webcam.



Nikon COOLPIX P900 - Amazon

  • 83x optical zoom = 2000mm lens equivalence

  • 16.0 Megapixel CMOS sensor

  • 1080p full HD video

  • Quickly share media to your phone with WiFi, NFC, GPS

  • Can be used as high-quality webcam


The Nikon COOLPIX P900 is one of the top superzoom cameras on the market due to its 83x zoom abilities. Its digital zoom effectively doubles that reach to 4000mm. WHOA! One of our guest authors, Tina Toth, uses the P900 and I have never seen her without it. Example photos can be found at the end of the post.



Large Budget Camera Recommendation for Birds and Wildlife


The cameras in this category typically cost $2,000 or less. These are upper-tier superzoom cameras and are still a great choice over DSLR cameras. Why? You still do not need to buy top tier glass to match the capabilities of the camera. If you have a hefty budget, the next category is for you.


Nikon COOLPIX P1000 - Amazon

  • 125x optical zoom = 3000mm lens equivalence - WHOA

  • 16.7 Megapixel sensor

  • 4K video

  • Quickly share media to your phone with WiFi, NFC, GPS

  • Can be used as high-quality webcam using HDMI ouptut


WOW. That's all I can say about this camera. The zoom capabilities of this camera are unmatched. However, the sensor has not been upgraded much over the P9000. So, images at the full zoom may be of lower quality. There is a tradeoff when you have a camera with that much zoom power but keep the price lower than professional-grade cameras.



Sony DSC-RX10 IV - Amazon

  • 25x optical zoom = 600mm lens equivalence

  • 20.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor with DRAM

  • 4K video

  • Quickly share media to your phone with WiFi and NFC

  • 24 frames per second continuous shooting


Sony has been making a lot of noise in the camera world for the past 10-ish years. Their sensors allow for amazing photo quality, but that quality increase will be felt in your pocketbook. The zoom on this camera is nowhere near the COOLPIX P1000, but the quality makes up for the zoom power. When the day comes that I downgrade from a DSLR, this will be my new camera for the field.



Entry-Level DSLR Cameras


These cameras are the entry-level DSLR cameras for those upgrading from superzoom cameras. If you are jumping into this category of camera, you will want to do extensive research on each model, associated lenses, and local stores that can help with warranty questions and issues. Why would you want to upgrade from a superzoom? Faster shutter speeds for moving targets, larger sensors for shooting in low light, faster continuous shooting for better captures, and overall better quality.


Sony Alpha a6600 Mirrorless - Amazon


Nikon D7500 DSLR - Amazon


Canon EOS 80D DSLR - Amazon


If you have questions about any of these cameras, please reach out to us!



Top Tier Professional Cameras


We all want to take better photos and better equipment can help with that. But these cameras are priced for those who regularly sell photos and videos. You will want to talk to MANY professionals about which camera will fit your needs if you are looking at these models. The price tags on these are... intimidating.


Sony Alpha a9II Mirrorless - Amazon



Nikon D6 DSLR - Amazon



Panasonic Lumix DC-S1H - Amazon



Canon EOS-1D X Mark III - Amazon


If you have questions about any of these cameras, please reach out to us!



Comparison Shots between Superzooms and 'DSLR'


The photos below have both been compressed to show the same quality you may experience when uploading to Facebook or eBird. Why would I show you that? Unless you plan to print your photos for a gallery or to sell, online compression will turn the photo from a professional camera into a similar quality as a compressed superzoom image. What is your goal with your camera and images? If you do not plan to make money selling images, a superzoom will enough camera for you.



Horned Lark shot with Canon Powershot SX60

Horned Lark Shot with a Superzoom

Notice much of a difference between these two images? (We don't either.)


Horned Lark image with less compression

Horned Lark shot with Sony a7rIII

Horned Lark shot with a DSLR

The photo quality jumps significantly when using less compression on a DSLR photo. The second photo is still only 1/7 of the quality it could be. However, if viewing on a mobile device, you still may not notice much of a quality difference between the superzoom and the DSLR. Unless you are selling prints, the DSLR may be more camera than needed.


This is the same Horned Lark image but with less compression.

Sagebrush Sparrow shot on the Nikon COOLPIX P900

Sagebrush Sparrow shot with a Superzoom ©Tina Toth

Compare these two shots of sparrows. When compressed, they are both still great shots for optimized versions. If we were to print them, an uncompressed version of the American Tree Sparrow photo would be higher quality due to its better sensor, glass, and pixel count.


American Tree Sparrow shot on the Sony a7RIII

American Tree Sparrow shot with a DSLR - highly compressed

I hope this post helped you in your search for a camera to carry into the field while birding. Cameras can be a great tool to carry while enjoying wildlife, but with the associated costs, proper research is always a must! If you have a question about these items, ask them in our Flocking Mailbag!



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