While mirrorless cameras have been closing the gap, DSLRs generally remain the best cameras for wildlife photography. The availability of extreme telephoto lenses, AF performance, fast continuous shooting rates and high ISO capabilities are all advantages for capturing animal interactions and behavior.
Cameras For Wildlife Photography: Full Frame or APS?
Telephoto reach is the most important requirement for wildlife photography, bringing you close to subjects without disturbing them. While full-frame cameras are in some respects superior to APS-C models, for wildlife photography, the magnification factor of a smaller sensor enhances telephoto reach. For example, comparing a 20-megapixel full-frame camera with a 20-megapixel APS-C camera, the APS-C model will give you approximately 1.5x magnification of your lens’ focal length, making a 400mm lens equivalent to a 600mm lens. Keep in mind that this is only true if you’re comparing two cameras with the same resolution, as a full-frame image from a higher-resolution camera can be cropped for a similar result. Learn more about working with extreme telephoto lenses for wildlife photography.
For wildlife action, AF speed and accuracy are prime considerations. Definitive numerical ratings aren’t available for AF performance, but higher-end DSLRs typically deliver better AF performance than entry-level bodies, and newer models with the most up-to-date AF technology improve upon earlier models.
More AF points are potentially an advantage, but evaluate the entire AF system. Cross-type points provide additional information to the AF processor and, therefore, improved accuracy. Algorithms and processor capabilities also play a major role—newer AF systems with fewer AF points and more powerful processors will potentially outperform older systems with more AF points. Multi-point AF is most useful when your subject is in front of a relatively uncluttered background. Otherwise, it may be more effective to simply use the center AF point, lock focus and then compose, or for stationary wildlife, to activate the AF point over the animal’s eye that’s nearest to the camera.
While cameras with focus-tracking capabilities can greatly enhance your chances of success, they’re not infallible, so it’s good to be able to fall back to basic technique and an understanding of your camera’s available settings. Review your manual’s recommendations for AF mode selection and experiment with your camera’s AF options to see which work best for your style of shooting.
Your lens also has a significant impact on autofocus performance. The availability and number of cross-type AF points may be limited by your lens selection. Professional super-telephoto lenses have faster motors and smarter AF algorithms, as well as finer optics than lower-end lenses. They’re more durable, with better sealing against weather and dust. They also cost a lot more, and are much larger and heavier—but that’s the price of superior performance.
Did you know your camera’s AF system operates with the lens wide open at its maximum aperture? When you activate the shutter, the lens then closes down to your selected aperture immediately before the shutter opens. Most AF systems require a minimum aperture of ƒ/5.6, which usually isn’t a problem. However, if you use a teleconverter to extend your focal length, you’re also reducing the effective maximum aperture of your lens—the stronger the teleconverter’s strength, the greater this reduction—making an AF system that’s compatible with apertures as small as ƒ/8 preferable for telephoto work.