The 3 Best Cameras for Nature Photography Beginners

When you’re first getting into nature photography, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the variety of cameras available. Should you get a DSLR or opt for something mirrorless? How about a full-frame or a crop sensor? And more importantly, what do those terms even mean? How can a beginner find the best camera for nature photography?

Nature photography can be a rich, rewarding experience for any photographer at any skill level. The most important traits of cameras for nature shots include high image resolution, a wide dynamic range, good low light performance, and good performance when shooting at low ISOs. Most nature photographers try to shoot at the lowest ISO setting possible, such as 100 ISO, so you want a camera that performs well at that level. You will also need accessories like a reliable tripod and a sturdy camera backpack to protect your gear while you’re getting to your shooting site.

Rise Above

Rise Above, Max Foster's limited edition photography print of Great Smoky Mountains National Park from his Autumn gallery collection.

DSLR vs. Mirrorless Cameras for Nature Photography

DSLR or digital single-lens reflex cameras are cameras that use optical viewfinders and digital sensors to capture images. Mirrorless cameras are purely digital and don’t have the optical viewfinders that DSLRs do. Mirrorless cameras are typically smaller, lighter and mechanically simpler than DSLRs.

For beginning nature photographers, either a DSLR or mirrorless camera is a good choice— it just depends on what you want the camera to do and how you typically shoot. If you’re planning on taking pictures while hiking or traveling, you might like the light weight of a mirrorless camera. But DSLRs tend to have a wider lens selection and better battery life, especially if you’re not using the live view and rely on your optical viewfinder.

There are many other differences between the two camera types, but both can produce stunning results at any budget level. The main thing is focusing on learning the fundamentals and getting comfortable with shooting before worrying too much about camera specs. However, if you want to purchase a camera that uses the latest technology, mirrorless is the way to go. Nikon just announced they would be exiting the DSLR market to focus entirely on mirrorless cameras. Mirrorless is the future of camera technology, but DSLRs will continue to be prevalent for many years.

Full-Frame Sensors vs. Crop Sensors for Nature Photography

“Full-frame” and “crop” refer to the size of the camera sensor. A full-frame sensor is a digital sensor that replicates the size of classic 35mm film cameras, while a crop sensor is smaller. Using a native full-frame lens on a crop sensor camera will produce images with a narrower field of view, which is often a benefit for those interested in wildlife photography. For example, a 70mm lens on a camera with a crop factor of 1.5x will produce a 105mm equivalent field of view.

If you’re just starting out with nature photography, a crop sensor camera is a great way to start shooting inexpensively. These sensors will still produce large, beautiful images and will make it easier to control your field of view. As you advance in landscape photography, you may want to upgrade your camera to one with a full-frame sensor.

Panasonic Lumix G9 Crop Sensor Vs. Nikon Z7 Full Frame Sensor
Panasonic Lumix G9 Crop Sensor Vs. Nikon Z7 Full Frame Sensor

The 3 Best Cameras for Beginning Nature Photographers

While it might be tempting to jump right in with a professional-level camera like the Nikon D810 or the new Fujifilm GFX100S, it’s better to learn the fundamentals of nature photography on a less expensive camera system. You don’t need the most expensive camera to take amazing nature photos, and you can always upgrade your camera as you get deeper into the hobby. Here are three of the best cameras for beginner nature photography.

1. Best Budget Camera for Nature Photography Beginners: Panasonic Lumix FZ80

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: Crop
Price: $347 on Amazon

The most affordable camera on the list, the Panasonic Lumix FZ80 is a lightweight, easy-to-use camera with fast, responsive autofocus, the ability to shoot in a 4K burst mode, and 60x optical zoom. It performs well in low light and has dozens of preset options for various shooting scenarios, which are great for helping beginners learn about different camera modes. With an all-in-one design, you can focus on learning photography versus worrying about changing lenses.

2. Best DSLR for Nature Photography Beginners: Nikon D5600

Type: DSLR
Sensor: Crop
Price: $799.95 on Nikon’s website

The Nikon D5600 offers amazing image quality, incredible low-light performance, and intuitive controls that give you lots of room to grow your skills. It’s a great DSLR for the absolute beginner or the intermediate photographer and is perfect for nature photography. It’s the only entry or mid-level Nikon with a variable angle screen, which makes it easier to get tricky shots, and even though it’s been around for several years it’s still outperforming new entries to the market. For the budget-conscious beginner nature photographer, it’s easy to find this camera used or refurbished.

3. Best Mirrorless Camera for Nature Photography Beginners: Canon Eos RP

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: Full Frame
Price: $1299 on Amazon

The Canon Eos RP has blisteringly fast autofocus with more than 4,700 potential user-selected autofocus points. It’s lightweight and is one of the most affordable options for a full-frame sensor on a beginner-friendly camera. The camera’s Digital Lens Optimizer is designed to get the most out of any lens you pair it with, and it performs well at even the lowest light levels. The Eos RP is also highly dust and weather-resistant, making it ideal for shooting outdoors.

Eager to learn more about the world of nature photography? Check out the blog for more information.