If there’s one genre of photography that does benefit from the latest gear, it’s wildlife. You can look back to the 80s and see some great portraits, but most of the wildlife shots from that era suffered from limitations compared to today. Even since 2010, camera companies have made large improvements that are meaningful for wildlife photography.
On the other hand, wildlife gear has matured sufficiently such that cameras that are five years old are still very capable. Thus I’m going to tell you some amazing wildlife camera and lens combinations that you can get used, which will not only allow you to get amazing wildlife shots but also save you money.
5. Nikon D7200 + Nikon 200-500
This is one of the oldest camera combinations on this list, but I put it here for those on a budget, because you could get the camera and the lens for only $1500. Yes, the Nikon D7200 is a bit old, but it could still handle quite a few wildlife scenarios.
If you have a bit more cash, you would benefit in some ways from some other cameras on this list, but I actually think I could have taken 80% of all my best shots with this camera and lens.
4. Panasonic G9 + Panasonic/Olympus 100-400
I put this combination here for those who want to do a bit more video without having to get a much more expensive camera. Although the autofocus of the G9 is a bit weaker than some of these other cameras, especially the ones that come next, it is still pretty good.
Not only that, but the G9 gives you 10-bit 4K footage and up to 180FPS in VFR mode. Thus, if you are more into wildlife video, then this camera surely will not disappoint. Of course, you may also need to invest in a decent tripod if you don’t have one because video requires a tripod even more than regular photography.
3. Canon R7 + Canon 100-500
The Canon R7 is one of the newer cameras on this list, and it’s an APS-C camera with an insanely dense 32.5MP sensor. I probably would have put it closer to the top, but it’s harder to find used. Still, I’ve seen a few used ones for around $1400.
If you get the amazing Canon 100-500 onto this camera, you’ll get a superb wildlife combination that will give you more pixels on your target than any other combo listed here. If you want to save a bit of money, you could also pair it with the older Canon 100-400 II for EF with an adapter, but the Canon 100-500 is a much better choice.
2. Sony A9 + Sony 200-600
It was not so long ago that the Sony A9 broke new ground with its stacked shutter and insane autofocus. Now, the A9 is a few years old and you can get a used one for about $2000. The Sony A9 probably has the best autofocus systems on this list. Pair it with the Sony 200-600, which is one of the best superzoom lenses ever made, and you’ll get one of the most flexible systems on this list.
1. Nikon D500 + 500PF
Even though the Nikon D500 is six years old, I recommend it over any other camera on this list. It has an excellent sensor and the best autofocus you can find for about $1000. Not only that, but if you pair it with the 500PF, one of Nikon’s best lenses, there will be very little you cannot do.
And, if you’d rather have a zoom lens, there is the Nikon 200-500, which is even cheaper than the 500PF.
Is used gear as capable as new gear?
Setting aside the possibility that used gear has more wear and tear, can you get as good shots with used gear? In most cases, yes. Many of the earlier models do not have the subject detection modes of newer gear of course. But does that mean it will be harder to get good photographs?
Sometimes, subject detection can help. But most of the time, there are at least ten things that are more important in getting a good wildlife photograph that subject detection will help relatively little. And I see this a lot. It’s a bit easier now to get an in-focus, sharp shot of a bird, and I do see more of these.
However, what I don’t see is an increase in truly amazing shots. That requires good fieldcraft, an eye for composition, and just an understanding of the species you are going after. If you already have everything else, the latest gear may be able to increase your keeper rate slightly, but it will not generally transform your photography.
Finally, the difference between the cameras on this list and the top state of the art is miniscule. Therefore, there is no reason not to get some of this amazing used gear if you want to get some really good wildlife shots.