The best mirrorless camera tech on the market (the most advanced consumer-grade camera technology out there) is INSANE.
I’m talking about full frame mirrorless cameras like the Sony A1, the Canon R5 and the Nikon Z 7II.
The Sony A1 shoots 50fps @ 50MP, 8K video, and has ridiculously good auto-focus and fast start time. It’s my pic for the best camera for safari and wildlife photography (as well as video shooters)–if you are willing to drop 6 grand on a camera body.
A lot of new photographers, however, are under the impression that in order to take award-winning shots, you need to drop thousands on a camera. I certainly felt this way when I was first starting out.
The fact of the matter is that people win photography competitions all the time using camera bodies that cost less than $1000. If you know what you’re doing, any of these can be the perfect camera and provide excellent image quality.
Of course, you need to understand basic composition and wildlife photography principles, and a kit lens can only do so much–I’m not including the cost of your lenses and other accessories here.
Knowing how to use Lightroom also helps.
But you can take amazing shots of wildlife with some pretty simple and inexpensive setups–you don’t need a 3-grand mirrorless camera. A ton of my favourite images over the years were shot on cameras and setups under $1000.
In fact, several of the winning submissions in the last few Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards were shot using cameras under 1000 dollars. Some were shot on point-and-shoots that, had you not known, you would have assumed were captured with the best of the best.
With that said, below are the 6 best cameras under 1000 and their accompanying award-winning images:
- Treefrog Pool Party by Brandon Güell, Costa Rica/USA: Shot on a Canon EOS 70D
- Stardust by Christian Spencer: Shot on a Canon EOS Rebel T6i
- Life and Death in Fur Farming by Jo-Anne, McArthur: Shot on a Nikon D700
- The Octopus Case by Samuel Sloss: Shot on a Nikon D300
- Burrow Mates by Morgan Heim: Shot on a Canon EOS Rebel T7
- The Snow Stag, by Joshua Cox: Shot on a Panasonic Lumix DC-TZ90
Treefrog Pool Party by Brandon Güell, Costa Rica/USA: Shot on a Canon EOS 70D
I was at the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2022 Exhibition recently and as a lifelong reptile and amphibian appreciator, this was one of my favourite images.
I’ve shot on and been with people shooting on the EOS 70D before, and for the money, I think it’s definitely one of the best cameras under 1000 out there.
A dual-pixel CMOS AF sensor with 20.2MP resolution, great autofocus, great lens compatibility and a very convenient articulating touchscreen that provides great visibility even in bright light all make this a best camera under 1000 contender for me.
Definitely not new technology, but a professional camera nonetheless, and clearly still deserving of a mention on any best camera under 1000 list and clearly quite capable of producing award-winning nature and wildlife photography.
Stardust by Christian Spencer: Shot on a Canon EOS Rebel T6i
A Black Jacobin shot in front of the morning sun. As the light penetrates the translucent spaces in its wings, it creates a prism effect.
The Rebel Series from Canon has been immensely popular as a beginner DSLR camera and, despite the fact that we’re now on the Canon eos Rebel T8i, the T6i is definitely one of the standouts from that series.
Released back in 2015, the T6i has a 24.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor, a 7560 pixel GBP + IR metering sensor–for more accurate metering than its predecessor T5i–and great autofocus that Canon claims is comparable to that of the dual-pixel AF found in the EOS 70D and 7D II.
It also has a super compact body, which I like to shoot handheld over tripods. It’s close in size to the Nikon D5500 but smaller than the Canon EOS 70D and Nikon D7100.
Keeping a camera compact is important for me when traveling light.
Perhaps the best Canon Rebel out there and certainly a worthy inclusion on anyone’s best camera under 1000 list.
Life and Death in Fur Farming by Jo-Anne, McArthur: Shot on a Nikon D700
One of the sadder photos in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2022 exhibition, this shot of a mink farm in Sweden provides a look into the morally grotesque fur business.
It was shot on a Nikon D700–I know, released in 2008, so it’s “ancient” technology at this point–but clearly still capable of capturing good image quality.
The D700 is so old at this point that it’s not really worth going into much detail on. Its 12.1 megapixel full-frame sensor was considered very impressive at the time and this camera would have run you around $3000 back then.
Compared to anything released in the last decade, the D700 is seriously lacking, but obviously still quite capable of shooting great photos.
Sensors have gotten far better in the last ten years–better resolution, more dynamic range, better signal-to-noise ratio at the individual photosite level, better colour depth, better in-camera and post-camera processing.
Autofocus accuracy and consistency are far better; lens and in body image stabilization are way better; functionality in low light is way better.
In short, the D700 doesn’t stack up specs-wise to modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, but it’s still a great camera under 1000 and one capable of producing award-winning images.
The D700 was beloved at the time, is still widely used and obviously can still take wonderful shots, which is why I think it deserves inclusion on my best camera under 1000 list.
The Octopus Case by Samuel Sloss: Shot on a Nikon D300
Lembeh is the Mecca of macro diving because you get to see this kind of stuff–a coconut octopus hiding inside of a clam shell.
Samuel Sloss shot this with a Nikon D300 (released in 2007), and as you can see, this very old piece of hardware is still capable of taking some amazing photographs–not forgetting the 105mm lens and the strobes.
A 12.3MP CMOS sensor, decent ISO range, fast power up for an older gen camera, and some clever features like a scene recognition system and auto-focus subject tracking by colour make this still one of the classic best DSLR cameras.
Burrow Mates by Morgan Heim: Shot on a Canon EOS Rebel T7
Morgan Heim shot this Columbia Basin Pygmy rabbit checking out a stink bug that had been sharing its burrow with his Canon EOS Rebel T7.
The Rebel T7 has a 24MP APS-C sensor, Canon’s DIGIC 4+ image processor, which features an ISO range of 100-6400 (which can be expanded to 12800), and 3p fps burst shooting.
It’s also got a 9-point autofocus system that uses a cross-type sensor at the centre and a 3-inch 920,000-dot LCD screen and standard optical viewfinder.
The Snow Stag, by Joshua Cox: Shot on a Panasonic Lumix DC-TZ90
Joshua Cox shot this Red Deer stag in London’s Richmond Park with his Panasonic Lumix DC-TZ90.
The DC-TZ90 is a compact travel zoom camera (30x) with the equivalent of a 24-720mm lens. It has a 20.3MP BSI CMOS sensor and, at the time, Lumix’s latest Venus Engine processor, with improved Depth-from-Defocus autofocus technology and shoots 4K/U full HD video quality.
A good superzoom (or bridge camera) is a good hybrid setup for those looking for something between an interchangeable lens and point-and-shoot.
Obviously, you’re always going to be limited by the fixed lens, but clearly, you can still win awards with a fixed lens. Panasonic also makes some nice interchangeable lenses for the Lumix–similar to the Sony E Mount lenses.
Something like the DC-TZ90, despite not having the latest tech like a micro four thirds sensor has decent-enough low light performance, impressive battery life, face and eye detection, great video recording and, clearly, great photo quality.
I really like the flip-up screen for low-level shots–especially if you’ve got bad knees. The burst mode shoots 8fps in RAW, which is also quite impressive for a little point and shoot like this.
It’s also got pinpoint autofocus, which I’m a big fan of because I’m often shooting up close my point and shoots, and it can be hard to actually focus on your subject with a lot of other point-and-shoot cameras because you don’t have that much control over the AF.
All in all, a great compact body camera that is clearly capable of taking award-winning shots of wildlife and certainly a deserving contender for best camera under 1000 if you’re looking for a quality point-and-shoot with great zoom.
What Went Into My Selection Process for the Best Camera Under 1000 List
Basically, my years of experience using more affordable cameras because I didn’t have the money to drop five grand on a $2-3000+ body and a $2000 lens.
I had to make do with what I could afford (which sometimes included using a kit lens and point-and-shoots), and I still managed to take a lot of photos that I’m proud of to this day.
I also spend a lot of time looking to see what kind of cameras my photographer friends and network on social media are using to capture their amazing images.
My Instagram is full of photographers who take beautiful photos (mostly of animals) using good composition instincts, some camera knowledge and some Lightroom skills (or not).
The bottom line is that I love cameras in this price range, and the fact that people continue to shoot award-winning photos with them is a testament to their quality.
Main Evaluation Criteria to Choose the Best Camera Under 1000
Modern digital (and I’m talking about anything made from the late aughts onwards) and now mirrorless cameras have so many features (even on an entry level camera) that it’s worth trying to narrow down the most important features to pay attention to–especially if your subjects are animals in their natural environment.
- Shutter speed
- Performance in low light
- Full frame sensor
- Good autofocus
- Short startup time
- Optical Image stabilization
Shutter speed is important because animals are very often moving subjects, especially if you’re shooting birds and mammals.
If you are going to mostly be using your camera for wildlife photography and want to be able to capture the rapid movements of wings, tails, heads and legs, a shutter speed of 1/250-1/500 is about as low as you want to go (and ideally a camera that is much faster).
Performance in low light
Another prerequisite for photographing wildlife is good performance in low light. Animals, especially in hot climates, are very often the most active at dusk and dawn (aka the golden hours).
Naturally, this is the best time to observe and take photos of them and to work well in low light, a camera should have ISO capabilities of at least 3200-6400. If you are shooting at this ISO, try to keep your shutter speed at around 160-400.
A large enough ISO range and a big and adaptable enough sensor to allow sufficient light in when shooting in low light conditions are the crucial combo of low-light wildlife photography.
Full frame sensor
Most new generation best DSLR and mirrorless cameras will have either a full-frame or APS C sensor. Full frame sensors tend to be better than an APS C sensor at high ISOs because they have more light-sensitive photo sites.
This produces better image quality.
You can still take amazing shots with APS-C sensors (several of the cameras on this list have them) full-frame sensors, in a vacuum, are better.
Autofocus is crucial for wildlife photographers, especially if you’re shooting birds and mammals, because otherwise you’re left trying to focus manually, which doesn’t work well on animals that tend not to stay stationary for very long.
Short startup time
The longer it takes for your camera to be ready to take photos, the more opportunities you’re going to miss.
Camera start-up times vary from a few seconds to several milliseconds, and it can make all the difference, especially when you’re photographing flighty, nervous animals.
Image stabilization (IS)/vibration reduction (VR) can either be part of your body or the particular lens you’re using, but it’s another important feature of a wildlife photography camera.
If you’re shooting animals that are in motion, and especially if you’re not using a tripod, you will need a camera that can track and photograph at the same time.
It’s very difficult to get a crisp shot of an animal on the move if you don’t have some kind of image stabilization.
Other nice features for wildlife photography include things like built in wi fi, film simulation modes (Fujifilm is often considered the king of film simulation modes), weather sealing, slow motion, and good continuous shooting speed.
These are also nice features for sports photography and street photography.
Wildlife Photography Tips From Professional Photographers
There are some recurring tips and tricks that you hear and read from people who take photographs of wildlife professionally.
Jonathan and Angela Scott-Award-winning photographers and presenters of the BBC series “Big Cat Diaries”
Shoot from the hip
What Jonathan and Angela mean here is that you should always have a good point-and-shoot with you when you’re out in the field because you never know when you’re going to need to just fire off a photo.
Even a less-than-ideal shot with a more affordable P&S is better than not getting the shot at all. This review of the best cameras under 1000 has shown that even point-and-shoots can win photography competitions.
Shoot with the sun
This means shooting at the side of an animal (for a side-lit photo) or from behind (for a back-lit one) for more emotionally compelling photos. You should also shoot early morning or later afternoon to avoid the harshest light of the day.
Know your camera
You have to read your camera manual before you can reliably use your gear on the fly–which is the essence of wildlife photography.
Understand depth of field
When you make adjustments to your aperture, you control how much your subject is in focus. This is your depth of field and it’s an important part of taking good portraits (where a shallow DOF is necessary) or for pin-sharp landscape (where a max depth of field is necessary).
Taking shots from lower down (especially if you are photographing big powerful animals) gives an animal much more presence and can be far more impactful.
Know your subjects
You will take better photos if you know where your animal subjects can be found and what their habits/behaviour are. It lets you predict and set up shots far better.
Learn how to give your photos some artistic flair. If you pan your camera while pressing the shutter using slower shutter speeds of between 1/15 and 1/100, you can create partially blurry images that communicate the velocity of your subject.
A shutter speed of 1/1000 will make for better pin-sharp images of animals in motion.
Marlon Du Toit: Wildlife Photographer and Safari Guide
The eye is the focal point of the image
The eyes are the essence of any subject, animal or human, and they help draw attention to the entire composition.
Always bring extra batteries
Many photographer hearts have been broken because they forgot to bring an extra battery with them.
Extenders are crucial for close-ups without losing AF performance
An extender fits between the lens and the camera body to help magnify a subject. The smaller your teleconverter, the less impact on AF speed.
Only use teleconverters for fixed focal telephoto lenses
This means a lens like a 400 f2.8 or 600 f4. These provide really good optical quality which means a minimal drop in quality once you’ve fixed your converter.
UK Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas: Award-winning photographer who capture the now famous black leopard under the night sky
Don’t ignore the background
A background can mean the difference between a great or ruined photo. Good backgrounds are free of bright spots and unkempt foliage.
An animal subject should be easily distinguished from the background and nicely framed by the surrounding landscape.
Spend more time with your subject
The more time you spend around an animal before moving on to your next subject, the higher the probability you will see them do something interesting.
Michael Poliza: Internationally-renowned German wildlife photographer and author
Look for eye contact
In-focus eyes are important, but an even more impactful shot is an animal’s eyes as it walks straight towards you. It’s often more engaging and can really lift the quality of the image.
Don’t always go for headshots
A lot of people are so focused on making sure the head and eyes are in focus that they forget to zoom out and include the beauty of the landscape. Wide-angle lenses are good for this.
This holds particularly true when you are somewhere like Africa or at a particularly prolific bird-watching spot.
Spend some time observing animals, whether it’s a collection of them in one particular spot or a specific animal. If you spend 20 minutes watching what a buffalo or a herd of sea lions are doing, you will probably get more opportunities for truly special shots.
David Yarrow: Scottish fine art, wildlife and sports photographer
Whether DSLR or mirrorless camera, shoot with the shortest lens possible
You capture more of an animal’s habitat, get less compression, and it very often results in more intimate images.
Shoot during the golden hours for the best quality
The mornings and evenings provide more dramatic light. This light is better at showcasing the “character” of an animal.
You will need an adequate ISO range to shoot at these times, but all of the cameras under 1000 on this list will let you take nice golden hour photos.
Don’t take so many photos
Ansel Adams once said that “12 significant photos in any one year is a really good crop.” This holds true even with a great camera.
If you are more intentional with your shutter when capturing photos, you might find that you have more special images at the end of the year.
Modern cameras with their very high fps and crazy continuous shooting speed are impressive, but it means a lot of people (especially those without much shooting experience) take far too many photos.
Looking After Your Camera
- Get a camera bag. Even if you’re not spending thousands on a camera, a nice waterproof bag that protects your gear from dust, moisture and scratches is a good use of money.
- Don’t clean your lenses and LCD screens with anything other than a special cleaning kit that includes the proper screen and lens cleaners as well as microfibre brushes and cloths.
- Don’t leave your batteries in your camera long-term. If your camera is in a humid environment with either lithium-ion or alkaline batteries for a long time, the cells can become corrosive.
- Don’t use canned air. It’s not actually air, it’s full of chemicals that can discolour plastic and leave streaks on your sensor.
- Turn your camera off before doing maintenance. If you change lenses while the camera is still on, you run the risk of getting dust on the sensor.
- Turn your camera off before removing the SD card. If you leave your camera on while actively writing to the SD card, you could ruin it once you remove it.
- Keep your memory cards protected. Always keep your SD cards in a protective case during transport and keep them away from magnets.
- Use a UV filter on your lens. This will preserve your photo quality over time.
Entry Level (More Modern) Tech That is Good for Wildlife Photography
If you are interested in a more modern interchangeable lens camera, that costs a bit more, but come with things like better dynamic range, better video features, below are some interchangeable lens cameras that provide great image quality without breaking the bank.
- Olympus OM D E M10 IV (often referred to as the E M10 Mark IV)
- Canon EOS Rebel T8i
- Canon EOS RP Full Frame Mirrorless Vlogging Camera
You Don’t Need to Drop Thousands to Get a Great Camera That Will Capture Crisp Images
Don’t take my word for it, look at the photos that have been selected for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award over the last several years.
These scrappy little 3,4,500 dollar camera bodies are competing with top-of-the-line mirrorless cameras, which, on paper, should capture the better images.
What it goes to show is that if you spend some time looking for the best camera under 1000, learn how to use it and learn the basics of good composition, it doesn’t matter all that much what camera you’re armed with.
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