Nature is chock-full of compelling subjects. Venture out into the wilderness and you’ll find sweeping panoramas with vivid flora and fauna. Both challenging and inspiring, mother nature certainly has a special way of enticing photographers to seek new perspectives. If you’re feeling inspired to explore the outdoors, you may be curious about cameras for outdoor photography.
Nature photography is a special process. Photographers are challenged to tread wisely, withstand the elements, and go the extra distance. Nature also has a special way of reminding us of the things we can’t control. This happens whenever the clouds block the sun, a subject darts deep into the forest, or a fog lifts to unveil a wondrous scene.
The process is akin to a treasure hunt requiring just the right balance of patience, persistence, and luck. Yet, these are the very things that make outdoor photography so deeply rewarding.
With so many factors beyond our control, the right gear can go a long way. It’s rather easy to get caught up in having the best wide-angle lenses, zoom lenses, or camera bag. While these things certainly help, it’s important to remember that the camera itself plays a fundamental part in capturing standout nature shots.
Indeed, a camera with superb shooting speed, autofocus, low-light performance, and lens availability can go a long way. Whether you’re stepping into new or familiar territory, here are the best cameras for outdoor photography.
1. Sony a9 (Overall Winner)
The full-frame mirrorless Sony a9 is tough to beat. It comes with a 24.2-megapixel CMOS sensor while its AF system offers 693-point focal point phase detection. With AI-based real-time tracking and camera blackout-free shooting at 20 fps for up to 241 RAW images with full resolution, the a9 is ideal for tracking wildlife in its natural habitat. Additional features include silent shooting mode, a high-resolution Tru-Finder electronic viewfinder, a 100-51,200 ISO range, and electronic shutter speeds up to 1/32000 sec.
While the Sony a7R III boasts competitive specs and costs significantly less, the a9 offers a battery with nearly double the life. This, combined with the option to attach a VG-C3EM Vertical Grip, it allows outdoor photographers and videographers to stay off the grid even longer. Sony’s a9 is our overall winner for packing game-changing speed and performance into a sleek and weather-sealed body.
2. Sony RX100
Don’t underestimate this advanced point-and-shoot camera. Sony’s small and compact RX100 packs impressive features into a pocket-size body. These include a 20.1-megapixel sensor and an f/1.8 and 6x 28-100mm Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar zoom lens. The ISO on this nifty companion ranges from 125–6400.
The Sony RX100 features include SteadyShot, HD video capability, and full manual control. The RX100 is also made with lightweight aluminum. A waterproof camera may be a surefire choice on a rainy day but it’s worth pointing out that the RX100’s 1.0″ sensor is four times larger than the average compact camera. Ultimately, the RX100 is your best bet for a point-and-shoot that can snap high-quality photographs in low-light conditions and still fit in your pocket.
3. Nikon Z6
The Nikon Z6 is a fast full-frame mirrorless camera with noteworthy low-light performance. The Z6 has a 24.5-megapixel sensor and 273 AF points. Though the Nikon Z7‘s 46-megapixel sensor is superior, the Z6 offers a faster frame rate of 12 fps that is ideal for capturing wildlife.
Outdoor photographers will enjoy improved low-light AF performance and an ISO range of 100-51,200. A hybrid autofocus system with 273 phase-detect points and a maximum burst of 25 RAW images are also helpful for tracking moving subjects. On top of that, the camera offers weather sealing for added protection from the elements. With a growing collection of Z-mount lenses on the horizon, the Nikon Z6 is a great mirrorless camera for the outdoors.
The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is acclaimed as the fastest DSLR currently on the market. The EOS-1D X Mark II offers 16 fps capture while shooting in Live View (or 14 fps with the optical viewfinder) at a burst rate that goes as high as 170 RAW images.
The AF system boasts 61 AF points overall, 41 of which are cross-type points compatible down to f/8. A 20.2-megapixel sensor and expandable ISO range (100-51,200) make the EOS-1D X Mark II a leader in delivering crisp images in low light. Moreover, this weather-sealed DSLR has an EF-mount compatible with a deep roster of quality lenses that include super-tele primes and teleconverters.
Although Canon is just coming out with the EOS-1D X Mark III with improved autofocus speed and precision, the presently available Mark II remains a robust and sophisticated companion for professional outdoor photographers. In fact, this top-of-the-line professional DSLR is arguably the best option for serious outdoor photographers. With that said, the price, weight, and size are also factors to consider.
5. Nikon D850
Nikon’s D850 is often regarded as one of the best DSLRs ever designed. This holds true whether you’re shooting indoors or outdoors. The D850 is equipped with a noteworthy 45.7-megapixel sensor. It can capture 7 fps at full resolution (or 30 fps at 8MP). The D850 offers an ISO range of 64-25,600.
Although the pricier Nikon D5 is faster (14 fps) with a higher ISO range (100-102,400), it comes with a smaller sensor than the D850. Both models have Nikon’s 153-point 20K AF with 99 cross-type sensors.
The D850 comes with additional features that prove especially useful to outdoor photographers. The weather-sealed DSLR has an electronic shutter and a silent shooting mode. It also offers ISO 64 mode, which compensates for extremely bright conditions. Advanced timelapse options and 4K video capture also increase the camera’s versatility.
Olympus’ mirrorless OM-D E-M1X is a great partner for shooting outdoors. Geared towards sports and wildlife photographers, this camera offers an in-body image stabilization system capable of seven stops of correction. It shoots at speeds up to 18 fps with AF/AE tracking (or up to 60 fps with focus and exposure locked). Other features include AI-based Intelligent Subject Detection AF. Best of all, these features come in a lightweight, compact, and weather-sealed package.
A few features make the OM-D E-M1X an especially great fit for outdoor photography. Silent mode helps to keep a low profile while shooting wildlife. Pro Capture Mode buffers up to 35 frames continuously and makes it easier to capture split-second action. On top of that, the camera’s Micro Four Thirds sensor will effectively magnify the focal point of any attached lenses by roughly two times. This means you can achieve the same zoom with a smaller and lighter lens than the equivalent full-frame prime.
7. Fujifilm X-T30 (Budget Winner)
While the Fujifilm X-H1 is a popular option, the X-T30 is a is nearly half the weight (30.7 oz) and far more compact. This all-purpose mirrorless camera features a weather-resistant body with a 26.1-megapixel APS-C sensor. With a max rate of 30 fps, the X-T30 offers quick continuous shooting with 425 autofocus points to track fast-moving subjects.
Other X-T30 features include 4K video capabilities and a built-in electronic viewfinder. For those especially interested in capturing nature’s hues, the X-T30 offers 16 built-in Film Simulation modes plus Fujifilm’s reputation for reproducing accurate and vivid colors. This versatile camera is one of the best available under the thousand-dollar mark.
Choosing the Best Cameras for Outdoor Photography
It’s challenging to predict what you might encounter when shooting outdoors. Perhaps the best way to prepare is to carry a versatile camera with the right specs to get the job done. This could mean different things if your subjects are landscapes, wildlife, a combination of the two, or something else entirely. Whatever the case, choosing a camera for outdoor photography involves a few key considerations.
Start with an honest assessment of where and what you want to photograph, and what kind of outdoor photography most appeals to you. Compare how each option measures up to this assessment, especially in terms of speed, light sensitivity, and autofocus systems. Remember that lens compatibility and weather-sealing are also critical factors for ensuring your camera can keep up on your outdoor excursions. Last but not least, keep an ear out for nature’s call and be safe out there!