Choosing The Best Camera For Backpacking – What You Need To Know For Capturing Perfect Shots In The Wild
For some, backpacking is just about escaping modern life and being close to nature – but for many, the experience wouldn’t be the same without some amazing photos to share at the end of the trip.
Choosing the best backpacking camera depends on a whole host of different factors so I’ve written a guide to help you make the right decision about what photography equipment you need to invest in so you can take the best photos while out on the trails.
Choosing the best camera for backpacking is an incredibly complex decision and with the number of brands that exist, the types of camera, the models and the add-ons, the options are almost limitless.
Just as there are many different styles of backpacking, each backpacker also has different requirements from their photographic equipment. Broadly, we can imagine that there are three types of backpacker.
The first is the backpacker whose main focus is backpacking, the time spent trekking and camping out in the wilderness, but who also enjoys taking a few snaps for the memories.
The second is one for whom photography is just as important as the backpacking itself. While this backpacker enjoys the activity of backpacking, no trip would be complete without high-quality photos at the end of it.
The third is one for whom taking photos is the primary reason for trekking out into the wilderness in the first place. For this backpacker, the hiking and camping are secondary and they are more likely to be willing to make sacrifices in carrying extra weight in order to obtain better photographs.
These three backpackers will all have very different needs when choosing the most suitable camera and before considering which camera to buy, you should think about which type you most closely resemble as it will influence your final decision.
Features To Look For
Choosing a camera for backpacking is not the same as choosing a camera for general use since the requirements are quite different. Here, I will focus on the factors relevant to backpacking rather than the technical aspects to look for in a general camera.
Size And Weight
The most obvious requirement when choosing a backpacking camera is the size and weight. If you only hope to take casual shots while out on the trails, you will probably want to take the smallest and lightest camera you can find.
If you want to take more professional shots during your trips, you will have to consider the trade-off between larger and heavier high-quality equipment while keeping your pack light enough to carry comfortably. It all depends on the kind of photos you hope to capture.
Type Of Camera: Point-And-Shoot, Mirrorless Or DSLR
Compact Point-N-Shoot Camera
Point-and-shoot cameras are the smallest and simplest to operate, hence the name. This type of camera has largely been replaced by smartphone cameras but high-end models allow you to capture a better quality of photo than you can with just your phone.
Point-and-shoots might be suitable for someone who wants to travel light with minimal kit but still wants to return home with some great photos.
Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Digital Camera (With Lens Attached)
Mirrorless cameras represent a compromise between size and quality. They don’t use a mechanical mirror to switch between the viewfinder and image sensor which leads to a corresponding reduction in size and weight.
These cameras, also known as ‘hybrids’, have become popular with amateurs in recent years as a step up from a basic point-and shoot. With advances in technology, some professionals are now also using high-end mirrorless cameras due to the advantage of increased portability.
This means that they make a good backpacking camera for those who want to take high-quality photos but are not willing to carry the extra weight of a full DSLR setup.
Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)
Top-end DSLR cameras can offer the best quality of photograph and, all other things being equal, are the standard choice for the professional. They are also usually the largest and heaviest option which means they are not necessarily the best choice for backpacking.
DSLR cameras often offer you a higher quality of shot for the price when compared to mirrorless versions.
Bear in mind that DSLR and mirrorless cameras are often sold as ‘body only’ which means you will need to select and buy lenses separately. The lens or lenses you choose to take will also significantly add to the weight of the gear you have to carry.
Speed And Ease Of Use
Under normal conditions, you may have plenty of time to set up each shot perfectly, to find the right focus, the balance of light and so on. However, when backpacking, you may suddenly be confronted by a perfectly lit sky or an animal that needs to be photographed immediately before it runs away.
This means a good camera for backpacking should be ready to go in a matter of seconds. Again, it depends on what kind of shots you hope to take but a camera that is quick and easy to use will allow you to catch unplanned shots that suddenly present themselves.
Cameras exist that are designed to resist various challenging conditions. Features include dust-proofing, waterproofing, resistance to cold, resistance to heat, resistance to shock and so on. Certain cameras are specifically designed to stand up to particularly tough treatment.
When choosing a camera, you need to consider what kind of conditions it needs to withstand. If you are buying a camera that will be used for activities like skiing, rock-climbing or rafting, you may consider one of these extra-durable models.
If you don’t think you need such a tough camera, it may be better to choose a more standard model since this extra durability often comes at the cost of either reduced performance in other areas or an increased cost in size and weight as well as the money you pay.
Quality Of Handheld Photo
Most backpackers don’t carry a large and heavy tripod with them while hiking so most photos will be handheld shots. This means you need a camera that works well without a tripod, and cameras with image stabilization and high ISO performance are the best choices.
Good Low-Light Performance
Very often when backpacking, the best shots present themselves at dawn or dusk when the light is at its most evocative. You will need a camera that performs well in these conditions or you risk missing out on some of the most artistic shots.
The Alpha a6300 from Sony is a 1.8lb, 24.2-megapixel mirrorless camera featuring the world’s fastest autofocus, boasting 425 phase detection AF points. It includes a swivel screen and is housed in a weather-sealed magnesium alloy body.
This camera’s small size and weight coupled with its weather-sealed rugged casing mean it’s physically suited for life on the trails. The tilting LCD screen also gives you some versatility when setting up your shots.
The autofocus is outstanding which is so important for obtaining the crispest of photos. The face recognition feature is also excellent, great for shots of you or your fellow hikers. It also has a number of customizable buttons, making the menus easier to navigate.
One big downside with this as a backpacking camera is that it doesn’t feature image stabilization which makes handheld shots less than perfect. The battery life is also limited which could be a problem on longer trips. Finally, I would have preferred to have seen a touchscreen display.
Overall, this is a great option for someone looking for a camera capable of capturing high-quality photos while not taking up too much space in their backpack. It is rugged but maybe not suitable for the most extreme conditions.
This Pentax model is the only DSLR camera I’ve included on my list and is a 1.76lb, 24-megapixel model. It includes a high-resolution LCD monitor and features built-in GPS and a compass. It is dustproof and weather-resistant.
The benefit of choosing this camera is that, despite being a DSLR option, it is relatively light and compact, making it a possibility for use as a backpacking camera. It is also less expensive than the mirrorless options and even the Sony RX-100.
The main plus, however, with going with the Pentax DSLR is that it delivers an excellent quality of image. Its pixel shift resolution ensures that you will go home with super-sharp photos and the rugged build and protection against the elements also make it suitable for backpacking.
However, if you decide to go down the DSLR route, even with this Pentax, you will need to accept that you are going to have to carry extra weight – especially when you factor in the lens or lenses you choose to pair it with.
Overall, a relatively affordable option that will allow you to take extremely high-quality photos. However, not the camera for someone looking to remain highly mobile and who wants to keep weight to a minimum.
The Panasonic Lumix is a mirrorless camera with 20.3-megapixel resolution and weighing 3.3lbs. It has a magnesium alloy body and is freezeproof, splash proof and dustproof.
One of the best things about this camera is that it is great for shooting video so this might be a model to consider for those who like to do more than shoot just stills. It also features a rugged and resistant design making it suitable for use as a backpacking camera.
It features in-body stabilization which will help produce crisp and clear shots, even when taken from the hand, and the battery life is acceptable although you will still need extra batteries for longer trips. The selection of lenses that work with this unit also gives it good flexibility.
On the downside, this camera is quite large. It’s small enough for backpacking but there are better options in terms of size. A big negative is the relatively low number of megapixels and this camera is also not at its best in low light conditions.
Overall, a good option for backpacking, especially for those who want good video as well as photos but maybe not the best choice for someone looking to reduce weight to keep maximum mobility.
This Sony RX-100 is a top-end point-and-shoot camera weighing 0.6lbs with 20.1 megapixels and a 3.6x optical zoom. It boasts the world’s fastest autofocus speed, the world’s fastest continuous shot speed (24 frames per second) and the world’s most autofocus points in a compact.
If you’re going for a point-and-shoot camera for backpacking, you want one that is quick and easy to use. The super-fast autofocus means you will be able to get a clean, crisp shot of anything you see as quickly as you need it – once you get it switched on.
This camera takes lovely photos with rich color. The flip screen makes it easy to take awkward shots or selfies and you can use your telephone as a remote control, another feature I really like. It’s also very small which makes it an ideal choice for backpacking.
However, there are still a few issues with this model. The battery life is not great for a camera for use on longer trips and it’s not water resistant which is a big negative for outdoors activities. The start-up time is quite long which might be a problem. It’s also not cheap.
Overall, this is one of the standout cameras in the point-and-shoot category and is even used as a professional camera in some situations. It’s great for those who want a top-end, simple to use point-and-shoot but it doesn’t offer the versatility or shot quality of mirrorless or DSLR cameras.
This camera from Olympus is an extra-rugged point-and-shoot model. It weighs 0.54lbs, has 4x zoom and 16-megapixel resolution. It is crushproof, shockproof, dustproof, waterproof to 50ft/15m and can function in temperatures as low as 14°F.
Clearly, the main selling point about this camera is that it is designed for pretty much whatever rough treatment you can subject it to. If you need a camera that works in temperatures below freezing, is fully waterproof or can otherwise survive in extreme conditions, this might be a good choice.
This camera takes a good quality of photograph and, while maybe not useful for backpacking, the ‘microscope’ mode that allows you to take extremely close-up shots is just really cool. The action shot modes are good too and the lens options give extra versatility.
One of the main negatives about this camera is that it has relatively poor battery life, meaning it might not be good for multiple day expeditions. It also performs less well in dim light, producing grainy shots.
This is a camera for backpackers who value durability above all. It is lightweight and easy to transport so would be suitable for capturing casual shots on more adventurous trips. This is probably not the right camera for someone wanting to take professional-quality outdoor photos.
Extremely tough and durable
Cool ‘microscope’ mode
Small and portable
I Don’t Like
Short battery life
Doesn’t match photo quality of good mirrorless or DSLR cameras
As I said at the beginning, different backpackers have different requirements and all of these cameras could be a good choice in the right conditions.
For those who want good photos with a minimum of fuss or extra weight, the Sony RSX-100 would be a good choice. For those heading into tough conditions, the Olympus would work well. The Panasonic is great for video and the Pentax is perfect for those wishing to go with DSLR.
However, for me, with the combination of quality, durability, ease of use and fast autofocus, I choose the Sony a6300 as the best camera for backpacking.
Which camera setup do you take on your backpacking trips? Do you agree with me or do you have other suggestions? I’d love to hear from you so please leave me a message – and if you enjoyed my article, please don’t forget to share!