6 Best Nikon Cameras for Wildlife (…and 3 to avoid)

Tracking wildlife and capturing the perfect moment of action is one of the most exhilarating things in photography. But to do that, you need the right gear.

I took a look at the 13 DSLR and 11 mirrorless options by Nikon currently available and tested many of them out in the field and came to the conclusion that the Nikon Z8 is the best Nikon camera for wildlife photography.

The combination of image quality, resolution, shooting speed and low light performance is exactly what wildlife photographers need.

But keep reading to see my complete breakdown and some other Nikon cameras that might be a better fit for you.

Top Pick

1. Nikon Z8

The Nikon Z8 is arguably one of the best mirrorless cameras on the market today. It combines a 45.7 megapixel sensor with fast shooting frame rates and one of the best autofocus systems to make it an amazing camera for shooting wildlife.

This was one of the most anticipated cameras in the Nikon lineup in years and it didn’t disappoint. It takes all of the features from the flagship Z9 and puts them into a smaller body without giving up anything except a bit of battery performance (which makes sense given the lack of a vertical battery grip).

…and it does that for $1500 less.

That’s why it also made it to the top of my list of the best Nikon cameras this year.

There’s a lot to like about this camera, so let’s get into the specs…

Z8 Tech Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Nikon Z
  • Megapixels: 45.7
  • Sensor Size: Full-Frame (35.9 x 23.9mm) stacked CMOS
  • Sensitivity Range: ISO 64 to 25,600 (expands to 32 to 102,400)
  • Monitor: 3.2-inch vertical and horizontal tilting, 2.088m dots
  • Max Shutter Speed: 1/32,000 sec.
  • Continuous shooting speed: 30fps (with single point AF)
  • Buffer: 1000+ frames (when shooting only to XQD/CF Express)
  • Stabilization: 5-axis in body
  • Viewfinder: EVF 3.69m dots, 100% coverage, .8x magnification
  • Max video resolution: 8K up to 30p, 4K up to 120p (no crop)
  • Memory Card: 2 slots (1 XQD/CFexpress and 1 SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-II)
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D): 144 x 118.5 x 83 mm / 5.7 x 4.7 x 3.3″ inches
  • Weight (battery incl.): 910g / 32.1oz

The first thing we’ll talk about is the sensor. The Z8 has the same 45.7 MP “stacked” BSI CMOS type sensor and has a native sensitivity of ISO 64-256,000, with expansion to ISO 32-102,400.

The stacked sensor means there’s no blackout in the electronic viewfinder while shooting. So you can track animals without interruption and hold focus the entire time you’re shooting.

The 45.7 megapixel sensor is a huge benefit for shooting wildlife. Even if the animal is farther away then your lens can reach, you can still zoom in later on for a good composition.

This also makes it easier to track the action as you don’t have to be fully zoomed in on the athlete to end up with a nice tight shot that maintains a high resolution.

The Z8 also has excellent color fidelity that is comparable to the top full frame cameras at this price range such as the Sony A7RV.

When it comes to dynamic range, the Z8 similarly compares well with other cameras in this class. You’ll get about 14 stops of dynamic range at the base ISO of 64. It also has excellent performance at higher ISO settings which can be critical when shooting sports in low light venues line indoor arenas and gyms.

What really makes the Z8 stand out above all of the other competition is that it really doesn’t have any weaknesses.

Probably the only downside of the Z8 when compared to the Z9 is that the battery life isn’t as long as the larger Z9, so if you don’t mind using a larger, heavier, and more expensive body then check out the Z9 below.


2. Nikon Z 6II

The second version of the Z6 has improved focusing, an exceptional sensor, and dual card slots while the Z mount means you’ll have some of the best lenses on the market available to you. It also has a price tag that won’t break the bank.

The Nikon Z6II is Nikon’s improvement on an already great camera in the Z6. The 24 Megapixels may be less than the more expensive Nikon Z7II or the Z9 (more about this one below) but the Z6II hits all the important specs that you’ll need for wildlife photography.

Z6II Tech Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Nikon Z
  • Megapixels: 24.5
  • Sensor Size: Full-Frame (35.9 x 23.9mm) backside illuminated (BSI) sensor
  • Sensitivity Range: ISO 100-52,200 (expands to 50-204,800)
  • Monitor: 3.2-inch tilting, 1.04m dots
  • Continuous shooting speed: 14fps
  • Stabilization: 5-axis in body
  • Viewfinder: EVF, 3.69m dots
  • Screen: Tilting 3.2 inch 1,040,000-dot touchscreen
  • Max video resolution: 4K UHD at up to 60p
  • Memory Card: 2 slots (1 XQD/CFexpress and 1 SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-II)
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D): 134 x 100.5 x 69.5 mm / 5.3 x 4 x 2.8-inches
  • Weight (battery incl.): 705g /1lb. 4.9oz

With an increased buffer depth (meaning you can take more shots in continuous mode before the camera needs to stop) and faster continuous shooting rate, up to 14 fps with single-point AF or 12 fps shooting in other focusing modes. So this camera has plenty of speed.

Where the Z6II really shines is with its low-light performance. Often when shooting wildlife, you’ll find yourself shooting at sunset or sunrise when the animals are most active, so in order to get the higher shutter speeds necessary for freezing the action, you’ll need to use higher ISO settings. The Z6II will deliver clean-looking images even at quite high ISO settings.

There is a reason this camera made my Recommended Equipment for Photographers Guide.

Budget Pick

3. Nikon D3500

Even though it’s an entry-level camera, it still has all the pedigree of a Nikon camera which means you’re getting a lot of quality for the price.

24.2 MP | Crop (DX) Sensor | ISO 100 – 25,600 | 5 Frames/sec | Nikon F Mount | Weight: 12.9 oz.(365 g)

Nikon does a great job at producing high-quality entry-level cameras. The Nikon D3500 lacks some pro-level features and specs, but for the photographer that’s just getting started with wildlife shooting or wants to be a little budget-conscious, it is an excellent option.

Normally, I wouldn’t recommend anyone get a DSLR since Nikon is putting all their development into the Z Mount at this point, but if budget is a big concern, this is a great value.

Nikon DSLRs are all well built and ergonomically exceptional, and even their entry-level cameras are no exception. While it doesn’t have the front dial that other models have, you can program the exposure compensation button so that the back dial controls shutter speed on its own and controls aperture when the button is pressed. With that small tweak, you’ll have quick control of the two most important settings.

While not as exceptional as the Z6II in low light, for a lower-priced crop sensor camera, the D3500 does perform pretty well in low light. You can get pretty clean shots up to 800/1600 ISO with some noise becoming noticeable at 3200 ISO. But with a little post-processing, you can easily get good quality images shooting at 3200 ISO.

At the budget price point, you’ll have to sacrifice something and the 5 frames per second continuous shooting is the most noticeable aspect where this camera falls short of Nikon’s more expensive models.

However, you would be surprised how infrequently you use continuous shooting mode for wildlife and how often your best shots will be when they are standing still. So this is an area in which I wouldn’t be worried about compromising.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this is a DSLR camera, not a mirrorless, and uses Nikon’s F Mount rather than the newer Z mount. While Nikon continues to develop new lenses and DSLR cameras using the F mount…the Z mount will be where you’ll see all the most exciting innovations. If you can squeeze a little more out of your budget, I would recommend going for the Nikon Z50 instead (check out my description below) so that you can get started in the Z mount system from the beginning.

Budget Pick

4. Nikon Z 7II

The Nikon Z7II is a favorite of landscape and wildlife photographers that insist on maximum megapixels for big prints.

If maximum resolution is on your must-have list then I highly recommend the Nikon Z7II. It is a very popular camera for landscape and nature photographers that want to print big and need every bit of the 45.7 megapixels.

Z7II Tech Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Nikon Z
  • Megapixels: 45.7
  • Sensor Size: Full-Frame (35.9 x 23.9mm) backside illuminated (BSI) sensor
  • Sensitivity Range: ISO 64 to 25,600 (expands to 32 to 102,400)
  • Monitor: 3.2-inch tilting, 1.04m dots
  • Continuous shooting speed: 10fps (with single point AF)
  • Buffer: 50 frames
  • Stabilization: 5-axis in body
  • Viewfinder: EVF, 3.69m dots
  • Max video resolution: 4K UHD at up to 60p (with 1.08x crop)
  • Memory Card: 2 slots (1 XQD/CFexpress and 1 SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-II)
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D): 134 x 100.5 x 69.5 mm / 5.3 x 4 x 2.7″ inches
  • Weight (battery incl.): 705g / 1lb. 4.9oz

In addition to high resolution, the Z 7II delivers great dynamic range and low light performance. Many animals are at their most active in the early morning and late evening when light is low, so being able to shoot in low light is essential.

The biggest downside to the Z7II for shooting wildlife is the buffer. If you are shooting continuously, you probably won’t get more than about 20 shots before you need to wait for the buffer to clear. If you stick to short bursts, this can be managed, but for those epic moments of action when you want a lot of shots, this can be a problem.

With this camera, you are essentially choosing resolution over speed, which may not be a great choice. If you are shooting a lot of wildlife, then you would probably be better served with the Nikon Z6II or, if budget isn’t a concern, put in a pre-order for this next camera on the list…

Pro Pick

5. Nikon Z 9

Nikon has thrown everything into this camera making it the ultimate machine for action as well as producing extremely high-quality RAW files.

This is Nikon’s first mirrorless flagship camera body and they did not disappoint. The Nikon Z9 is the option for a photographer that wants the best of the best.

Let’s get the price out of the way first…it’s not cheap. This is a camera designed for professionals that are willing and able to buy the best tool for the job. And that’s exactly what the Z9 is…hands down the best tool for wildlife photography.

Z9 Tech Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Nikon Z
  • Megapixels: 45.7
  • Sensor Size: Full-Frame (35.9 x 23.9mm) stacked CMOS
  • Sensitivity Range: ISO 64 to 25,600 (expands to 32 to 102,400)
  • Monitor: 3.2-inch vertical and horizontal tilting, 2.088m dots
  • Max Shutter Speed: 1/32,000 sec.
  • Continuous shooting speed: 20fps (with single point AF)
  • Buffer: 1000+ frames
  • Stabilization: 5-axis in body
  • Viewfinder: EVF 3.69m dots, 100% coverage, .8x magnification
  • Max video resolution: 8K up to 30p, 4K up to 120p (no crop)
  • Memory Card: 2 XQD/CFexpress
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D): 149 x 149.5 x 90.5 mm / 5.9 x 5.9 x 3.6″ inches
  • Weight (battery incl.): 1340g / 47.3oz

As for shooting speeds, even with a 45.7 MP sensor, you can still get 20 frames per second shooting RAW files. If you need more speed, you can switch to JPEG for 30 frames per second and if you switch to 11 megapixel JPEG images, you’ll get an insane 120 frames per second.

In addition to all this speed, the Z9 includes a newly designed 45.7 megapixel backside-illuminated stacked CMOS sensor. I know that’s a lot of tech jargon to throw at you but here is what that means in simple terms…

This sensor will deliver exceptionally good dynamic range and low light performance while also being one of the fastest and most accurate autofocusing mirrorless cameras on the market. It also delivers 8k video internally for those of you that like to shoot video as well.

It also has a blackout-free viewfinder, which is essential when shooting moving wildlife so you can continue to track the animal while shooting.

There are some drawbacks other than price though. Combining industry-best speed, autofocus, and quality requires extra horsepower and that means a bigger and heavier body. At 47.3 oz. (1340 g), this is the heaviest camera on this list. So if you like to hike into remote locations with your camera, then consider one of the other cameras on this list.

So with all this awesomeness, why didn’t the Z9 make the top pick? Well…the price point makes it a camera that few will be willing to pay for and it hasn’t been released yet. Early reviews look incredible, but I can’t in good conscience put it at the top of the list until I personally put the camera through some testing.

Crop-Sensor Pick

6. Nikon Z 50

Smaller and less expensive mirrorless option with a lot of pro-level features for shooting wildlife.

The Nikon Z50 is a crop-sensor camera that has a lot of great pro-level features packed into it.

This is the second least expensive camera on this list, so if you are somewhat budget conscious but want to get into the highly-touted Nikon Z mount system, then this is a great option.

Z50 Tech Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Nikon Z
  • Megapixels: 20.9
  • Sensor Size: APS-C / DX (23.5×15.7mm) CMOS
  • Sensitivity Range: ISO 100-52,200 (expands to 204,800)
  • Monitor: 3.2-inch tilting, 1.04m dots
  • Continuous shooting speed: 11fps
  • Stabilization: None in body
  • Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36m-dot OLED
  • Max video resolution: 4K UHD at up to 30p
  • Memory Card: 1 slot (SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-I)
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D): 127 x 94 x 60 mm / 5 x 3.7 x 2.36-inches
  • Weight: 450g /14oz (body only)

The good news is that despite being a smaller and less expensive Z camera, Nikon put a lot of care and attention into the ergonomics.

The specs and performance of this camera fall somewhere above the D3500 and below the Z6II and it is priced accordingly.

But the real beauty and benefit to this camera is the versatility and the Z mount system. You can use this as a relatively compact walk-around camera by putting a smaller lens on it or you can use a longer lens and get exceptional performance for wildlife photography.

You even have access to the massive F-mount lineup with the FTZ adapter.

I highly recommend this camera to beginners because of its versatility. Because Nikon uses the exact same Z mount on its full-frame and crop sensor cameras, you can use this camera as an entry point and slowly build up a nice collection of Z mount lenses before investing in a full-frame body. In fact, you may never even feel the need to jump to full-frame.

This is a camera that I personally use on a regular basis. If I am going somewhere and want to get high-quality images but don’t want to carry around a bigger camera, the Z50 is my go-to. But I can also throw on a bigger lens and easily get professional-looking images.

Why You Should Trust Me

As an active professional photographer and owner of Photography Goals, I get the opportunity to use many different cameras. When I’m not shooting portraits for clients, I love to get out in nature to shoot as well. So I know which features are important when choosing a camera for getting great wildlife photos.

3 Nikon Cameras To Avoid

Nikon D6

For a long time, this would have been the number one pick for shooting wildlife with Nikon gear. It is still a very capable pro-level sports camera and if you have one already, then I’m sure you’re still getting amazing results.

But at $6,499 MSRP, there’s no reason to buy this camera nowadays when you can get the Z8 or the Z9 cameras on this list (and their superior autofocus and frame rates) for much less.

Nikon isn’t developing new DSLR lenses anymore either. So if you bought this camera today, you’ll be buying into an outdated system.

If you already have lots of Nikon F mount lenses and want a new camera for shooting sports, go with the Z8 at the top of this list and get an F to Z adapter to continue to use that glass. You’ll save money and have one of the best sports cameras on the market.

Nikon D5

I listed the D5 separately in case you were scanning the page to see if it was on here, but the reasons for not recommending it are the exact same as the D6 above.

Nikon D7500

The D7500 is a popular DSLR for photographers looking to upgrade their entry level camera but are still on a budget.

It’s a good camera, but at the same price point, you can get the Z50 that I listed above. You’ll get better performance, better autofocus, and you’ll be able to use the lineup of exceptional Z mount lenses.

So skip the D7500.

Top Factors For Choosing A Nikon Camera for Wildlife

Dynamic Range and Low Light Performance

Most people associate wildlife photography with high-speed continuous shooting, and while that may sometimes come in handy, more often it’s dynamic range and low light performance that is the key factor in getting the best image in a given situation.

Wildlife is typically most active during dusk and dawn so that’s when you want to be out shooting. But that also means lower light conditions than the middle of the day. Add to this the fact that most long focal length lenses are not as fast as their shorter counterparts. So, in order to expose the image properly, you’re going to need to crank up that ISO setting.

Having a camera that can get you sharp and relatively noise-free images even at higher ISOs is essential to shooting wildlife.

In addition, when you shoot wildlife, you may not always have the opportunity to get the exposure settings exactly right. But the better dynamic range your camera can give you, the more you can recover underexposed and overexposed images while editing after the fact.

Continuous Shooting Speed

While you might be surprised how often you’ll get the best shots while the animals are standing still, continuous shooting speed can be important while shooting wildlife.

If you like to capture animals in action like running, playing, or hunting down their prey, having the ability to fire off a series of shots in quick succession can make the difference between nailing the perfect shot and missing it.

But I want to offer two items of caution about continuous shooting. First, don’t rely on it too heavily when shooting. You should still be looking for that perfect moment to take the picture and use short bursts rather than 50 shots in a row. Second, don’t make your camera decision on continuous shooting speed alone. Look at some of these other factors as well.

Ease of Use

When you’re out in the field shooting, you want to be able to get the right settings on your camera quickly so you can get the shot. A good camera will be intuitive to use and “get out of your way” rather than require a lot of hunting through menus to get the shot.

The good news is that Nikon is probably the best when it comes to ergonomics and ease of use. They’ve been making professional-level cameras for many decades and all that research and development has filtered down from the flagship models to the entry-level models.

Every camera on this list was a pleasure to use and the button layouts were quite intuitive. The more expensive models have more dials and buttons which means faster changes to settings. So that may be something to keep in mind when making your choice.


Image resolution is important for wildlife photography because you can’t always get as close as you want, even with long lenses. So you may have to crop in on the image after the fact to get the best composition.

If your camera has more resolution (ie. megapixels) then you can crop in more without losing much in terms of image quality.

There are some downsides to more resolution, though. It means much larger file sizes, which require a faster computer to edit as well as larger hard drives to store your images. Of course, these are all problems that can be solved and if you are diligent in deleting your outtake images, then you can be more efficient with your storage space.

Lens Selection

When choosing a camera, you’re also choosing the lens lineup that will work with that camera. The good news when it comes to Nikon cameras is that their lenses are exceptional and you’ll have a great selection of options for just about any purpose.

If it is within your budget, I recommend going with a Nikon mirrorless camera to take advantage of the new Z Mount. In addition to having access to all Nikon F Mount lenses with an adapter, the Nikon Z Mount is quite revolutionary in its large design and short flange distance.

This gives them the freedom to develop lenses with cutting-edge technology and specs. Nikon is still building out the Z lineup but new lenses are coming out on a regular basis. In my opinion, the Z lenses are going to be the industry leaders for quite some time.

Some of the latest Z mount releases like the 400mm f/2.8 have shown that Nikon is certainly dedicated to building their Z lens lineup and I have very little doubt that it will be better than the current F-mount options out there.

Ruggedness and Durability

Shooting wildlife means a lot of time outdoors. With that comes rain, dust, sand, and even sometimes dropping the camera.

So weatherproofing and durability becomes quite important.

Luckily, if you are shooting Nikon then you’ll benefit from some of the best designs in photography. Throughout their history, Nikon has had cameras in every condition imaginable, even in space. So they know how to build them to withstand a lot.

The durability and weather sealing generally is reflective of the price of the camera. Nikon’s higher-end models will be substantially better sealed than their low-end models. So this is more of a budget concern than simply choosing the “right” camera.

Is the Nikon D750 Good For Wildlife?

Yes, the Nikon D750 is an excellent camera for shooting wildlife. Even though it was released in 2014, its image quality, dynamic range, autofocus speed, and low light performance hold up against some of today’s top cameras.

However, if you are looking to purchase a new camera body for wildlife, you may not want to spend your money on an 8-year-old camera and look at the Nikon Z6II instead.

Is Nikon Z Mount Good For Wildlife?

The Nikon Z Mount is an excellent choice for wildlife photography. Even though it is still a relatively new system and doesn’t have the full complement of lenses that other mounts might have, the design of the Z mount allows Nikon more flexibility for developing lenses with cutting-edge technology and incredible sharpness. You can also get access to Nikon’s extensive collection of F mount lenses with the F to Z adapter.

DSLR or Mirrorless For Wildlife?

If you don’t already have a collection of DSLR lenses, then go with a mirrorless camera. The bottom line is that mirrorless cameras for all the major brands are where the majority of new and innovative technology will be showing up. DSLRs will stick around for a while, but they will eventually become outdated so it is a smart decision at this time to invest in one of the mirrorless systems (and the corresponding library of lenses) rather than DSLR.

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