best dslr for nature photography

The varying strengths of Nikon D5, Canon EOS 5DS R, and Nikon D810 make the cameras good options for nature photography. Most in the higher range of price point. However, we’ve also explored options to those that might be affordable to beginners in nature photography. You can consider mirrorless options if you want an overall camera which can be used for exploring nature.

Full Frame vs Mirrorless

Mirrorless cameras have taken the photography market by storm. In recent years, many have switched from DSLR to mirrorless for different reasons. Mirrorless cameras are new breeds of cameras without the flip-up mirror employed by typical DSLR’s to capture images. Hence, mirrorless. The early versions of mirrorless camera options are quite limited. However, newer inceptions now have interchangeable lenses, single-built lens, and even unique image sensors.

On the other hand, full frame cameras have larger sensor sizes. They are equivalent to the sensor of 35mm cameras. These are commonly found on high-end DSLR’s. The increased surface area allows capture of high-resolution images. They are flexible especially in nature photography where you might capture an entire scene to close-ups of wildlife.

Mirrorless trumps over full frames when it comes to size. Discounting the lens size, full frames tend to get bulky. It might be insignificant to casual photography but the bulk and weight are important when you’re walking around for a long time. Additionally, full frames can get pricey. Mirrorless have become popular as they are much more affordable for most people.

Mirrorless cameras also have accurate live preview. DSLR’s usually employ traditional viewfinders which do not show the actual pixel by pixel shots. However, you do have an option to use a DSLR’s live preview while mirrorless does not have any viewfinder. The constant use of live preview screen takes a toll on the camera’s battery. DSLR’s also have larger batteries which are advantageous when you are outside.

Lastly, the current versions of mirrorless cameras use contrast detection for its focusing system. DSLR’s phase-detection method is far superior in speed. This makes it easier to catch movement in nature. Some manufacturer is starting to create mirrorless hybrid systems which use phase-detection. However, they are not widely available yet.

Factors Affecting Nature Photography

There are several factors you need to consider before embarking on your first nature photography. Choosing your camera depends on the features you want and the price point you can afford.

Image Sharpness and High Resolution

Sharp images and high resolution is a staple of nature photography. You will be shooting large spaces most of the time. Unlike casual shots, nature photos are typically printed as well. Typically, it is best to see shots in large print format. Needless to say, your image should be both sharp and detailed.

Losing the other over the other does not work either. There should be a good balance of sharpness and high resolution. Your camera should be paired with a good high-resolution lens as well. While there is a possibility of moire and false color in creating sharp images, it can easily be removed in post process.

Keep in mind that shooting in nature requires your camera to capture a lot of details. This means you don’t want JPEG format. RAW format produces more information which helps during processing of the image. However, its large file size might be a downside if you have limited camera memory. A bit of preparation and purchasing more memory cards is a good workaround.

High Dynamic Range

Dynamic range refers to the ability of the camera to capture the intensities of light across a scene. You are shooting under natural light in nature. The combination of dark and light scenes often exist together in nature. Your camera should be able to capture both for a more realistic shot.

Aside from the scene, you will produce more dramatic light at different times of the day. Certain locations may look better during golden hour. While other scenes may require bright light. Whenever you want to shoot the camera should be able to differentiate light and shadows. More importantly, subtle light changes exist a lot in nature. A common problem is shooting a bright sky and a dark foreground. This can be fixed in photo-editing programs but it is ideal that your camera should reduce the work for you. Take advantage of the histogram to achieve perfectly balanced shots.

Waterproofing and Build Quality

Nature is unpredictable at best. You will need to be in the right place at the right time to capture the best shots. This involves staying out for a long time searching for the best scene. Therefore, your camera should be sturdy enough to last the harsh conditions of nature.

A good weather sealing is essential. It may not rain all the time but you don’t want a ruined camera when it suddenly pours. There are accessories that might help you waterproof but you can only put them on so fast. Both your camera body and lens should be weather sealed.

Additionally, the bulk and weight also play a big part. You will be out and active for long stretches of time. It is important to consider how much you can carry and the area where you are shooting. Remember that you are also carrying other accessories during your shoots. Tripods, lenses, accessories, and personal things can add up to your baggage. Unless you are a word class athlete, it could cut your shoot short.

Built-in Metering Capabilities

Metering is your camera’s way of telling you whether your shot is too bright or too dark. You will then set your shutter speed and aperture according to this information. This is important when you are in manual mode.

However, it is even more significant when you are in priority modes (aperture, shutter, program). The advanced metering system should be able to detect the color tones of the scene. It should set your exposure correctly. This is important to capture bright and good range of colors.

Our Recommendations

Nikon D5Canon EOS 5DS RNikon D810Nikon D850
Sensor
TypeCMOSCMOSCMOSBSI-CMOS
Megapixels21 MP51 MP51 MP46 MP
Resolution5588 x 37128688 x 57927360 x 49128256 x 5504
FormatFull FrameFull FrameFull FrameFull Frame
Size35.8 x 23.9 mm36 x 24 mm35.9 x 24 mm35.9 x 23.9 mm
Area855.62mm2864.00mm2861.60mm2858.01mm2
Crop Factor1.01x1x1x1x
Light Sensitivity102,400 ISO (3280000 ISO boosted)6,400 ISO (12800 ISO boosted)12,800 ISO (51200 ISO  boosted)25,600 ISO (102400 ISO boosted)
Sensor CleaningNoNoNoNo
Focus System
TypePhase/Contrast DetectionPhase/Contrast DetectionPhase DetectionPhase/Contrast Detection
Focus Points1536151153
Continuous?YesYesYesYes
Viewfinder
ViewfinderOpticalOpticalOpticalOptical
TypePentaprismPentaprismPentaprismPentaprism
Coverage100%100%100%100%
Magnification0.720.710.70.75
Shutter
Max1/8000s1/8000s1/8000s1/8000s
Min30 sec30 sec30 sec30 sec
Performance
Battery Life3780 shots700 shots1200 shots1840 shots
Continuous Shooting14.0 fps5.0 fps5.0 fps7.0 fps
Video
Resolution3840 x 21601920 x 10801920 x 10803840 x 2160
FormatMPEG-4, H.264H.264 MPEG-4, H.264MOV, H.264
Supports 24pYesYesYesYes
External Mic JackYesYesYesYes
AutofocusPhase/Contrast DetectionPhase/Contrast DetectionPhase DetectionPhase/Contrast Detection
Display
TypeFixedFixedFixedTilting
Size3.2″3.2″3.2″3.2″
Resolution2,359k dots1,040k dots1,229k dots2,359k dots
Live ViewYesYesYesYes
Form Factor
Size160 x 159 x 92 mm152 x 116 x 76mm146 x 123 x 82mm146 x 124 x 79mm
Weight1415 g930g980g1015g
Features & Others
Lens MountNikon FCanon EFNikon FNikon F
Image StabilizationNoNoNoNo
Available Lenses1536151280
WiFiOptionalNoneOptionalYes
GPSOptionalNoneOptionalNo
Built-in FlashNoNoYesNo
Flash Range (ISO 100)12.00 m
AE BracketingYesYesYesYes
WB BracketingYesYesYesYes
Weather SealingYesYesYesYes
Storage Slots2222
Storage FormatsDual CompactFlash or dual XQDSD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-I compatible), CompactFlashSD/SDHC/SDXC, CompactFlash (UDMA compliant)SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-II supported) + XQD
PredecessorNikon D4SCanon EOS 5DSNikon D800Nikon D810
Announced6-Jan6-FebJun-1425-Jul-17
Price (body + kit lens)
AmazonUnavailable235195 INR195900 INR282,990 INR
Flipkart445950 INR (body only)249990 INR (body only)175890 INR (body only)283,990 INR

Nikon D5 – High-end All-Rounder

Nikon D5 was created for sports and action photography. However, the large full frame sensor makes it perfect for any situation, including nature photography. It catches detailed images and prints well in large format. Nikon D5 also does well in capturing movement if you prefer including moving subjects in your shots.  Its multi-CAM 153-point AF system and the 180k-pixel RGB makes it a perfect combination for lively shots.

Canon EOS 5DS R – High-Resolution

Canon EOS 5DS R is an excellent option for nature photography. Its ultra-high-resolution sensor at 51.0 MP effectively captures a scene like no other. The prints come out perfect as well. It also performs well in low light conditions. Its full frame sensor performs well in wide range of light conditions. Additionally, its effective environmental sealing means you can take Canon EOS 5DS R almost everywhere. It can withstand harsh changes in weather with no effects on your shots.

Nikon D810 – Nature-Focused

Nikon D810 is perfect if you want to focus on nature photography. The 36 MP FX-format CMOS sensor captures crisp and sharp images. It does not have Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF) that increases the sharpness of the images. But it introduces moire and false colors in your shot which can be fixed during post-process. It is exceptional in low light with boosted ISO of 51,200. Additionally, the small size RAW format allows more photos taken without swapping memory.

Nikon D850 – Runner Up

Nikon D850
Sensor46 MP Full Frame
AF Points153
AF Types99 Cross Types
Max Frame Rate7 fps/ 9 fps with battery grip
ISO Range64 – 25,600
ISO Expanded32 – 102,400
Amazon285,000 INR
Flipkart283,900 INR

 

Nikon D850 is a decent 46 MP full frame camera for nature photography. It’s tilting 3.2″ LCD screen is advantageous in using the camera in different angles. Just like the options above, its full frame sensor captures detail for printing. The live-view also allows easy composition when setting up your shot. It has excellent environmental sealing which protects your camera from all types of weather. The only downside is the steep price point. The slightly older Nikon D810 can produce images with almost similar quality at a lower price.

Canon 5D Mark IV

Canon 5D Mark IV
Sensor30.4 MP Full Frame
AF Points61
AF Types41 Cross Types
Max Frame Rate7 fps
ISO Range32,000
ISO Expanded102,400
Amazon283,999 INR
Flipkart249,990 INR (body only)

 

Canon 5D Mark IV is a semi-pro camera with 30 MP full frame sensor. The 7.0 fps is a good max shutter speed if you decide to include wildlife in your shots. It has both contrast detection and phase detection which ensures speed and accuracy. The good ergonomic makes it comfortable in handling while exploring different places to get your shots. However, it is heavier which can be a problem for long photo shoots. The Canon 5D Mark IV is a decent camera for capturing landscapes and producing rich colors.

Sony A7R II

Sony A7R II
Sensor42 MP Full Frame
AF Points399
AF Types
Max Frame Rate5.0 fps
ISO Range25,600
ISO Expanded102,400
Amazon181,500 INR
Flipkart

 

Sony A7R II has a sharp 42 MP full frame BSI-CMOS sensor. It is good for exploring different scenes in nature. The articulating screen allows you to capture nature in different angles without much movement on your part. The low shutter speed of 5.0 fps is decent in capturing moving subjects. Additionally, the image stabilization helps you capture sharp images in rugged areas. The Sony A7R II has good low light ISO when you want to shoot during dusk or dawn. The disadvantage of the camera is its poor battery life. It can only shoot up to 290 shots.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Canon EOS 6D Mark II
Sensor26 MP Full Frame
AF Points45
AF Types45 Cross Types
Max Frame Rate6.5 fps
ISO Range40,000
ISO Expanded102,400
Amazon127,990 INR
Flipkart191,980 INR

 

Canon EOS 6D Mark II is a decent camera for photographers starting on nature photography. It is perfect for those with a limited budget but wants to enjoy capturing images in nature. The 26 MP full frame CMOS sensor creates decently sharp images. It may be inferior to some of the high-end cameras but you can still print images in medium and small sizes. The fully articulated screen is also a good bonus. Surprisingly, even with the lower price point, the camera packs a 6.5 fps shutter speed. This makes it amazing for capturing wildlife in nature. The good battery life even trumps other high-end options at 1200 shots.

Conclusion

Nature photography requires high quality features to produce the best results. Our recommendations above consider the balance between the best features and the price range. It is important to consider your goals and the type of photography that you want to embark in. You might consider a camera specific for nature photography or you may want an all-rounder.