When it comes to combining photography with long hikes or backpacking trips, you need to make some serious gear considerations. Typically, a good hiking camera will take a wide variety of photos, but be portable enough for a strenuous hike. We’ve reviewed four cameras with those features to prepare you for your next hike.
What is the best camera for hiking and backpacking?
- What is the best camera for hiking and backpacking?
- Best Rugged Point-and-shoot Cameras for Hiking
- Best Mirrorless Cameras for Hiking
First and foremost, what type of body is going to suit your needs?
A rugged point-and-shoot isn’t going to offer the megapixel rich images of a DSLR sensor, but it will shed several pounds off your bag and still meet a friendly budget. Some even offer lens attachments and accessories for those looking to explore less conventional photography styles.
If you want a camera with a little more punch, look for a mirrorless camera. These rugged but lightweight bodies allow for professional grade photography while staying portable enough in your 50lb pack. Just know that increasing your sensor size and camera features is going to bring the pricing closer to a normal DSLR.
Important Hiking Camera Features
When looking for a great camera to bring on hiking and backpacking trips, these features are important to look out for:
- Rugged body
- GPS Settings
- Long Battery Time
Best Rugged Point-and-shoot Cameras for Hiking
The best rugged point-and-shoot on the block is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS5. The TS-5 steals home base for the technically savvy photographer. Weighing in at 7.52 ounces, equipped with a f/1.4 Lecia lens, the TS-5 offers both portability and low-light potential in a rugged body. The TS-5 will stand up to 47ft of water and provide the durability necessary for a day on the trail.
The TS-5 boasts a wide range of technical enhancements with it’s remote sync and variety of shooting modes. The built-in features include video with 60fps and a manual mode for those looking to take control of the aperture and shutter speed. A definite plus for the technical photographer.
The TS-5 ranges from $300 – $350 and covers the features needed for hiking photography. It offers additional features for the leisure photographer and provides a manual mode for those with more technical know how. However, even with it’s wide aperture, the TS-5 lacks resolution in low-light situations. Also, the GPS and WiFi can be a little tricky to setup.
Olympus produces another quality camera in it’s line of rugged point-and-shoot cameras. The main attraction of the TG-3 is the wide aperture. The f/2 lens provides a depth of field absent from competitor cameras and perfect for a variety of shots. Dropping the f-stop is going to allow for low light pictures and some great macro shots during your hike. That means better sunset, sunrise and fireside photos.
Aside from the wide aperture, the Olympus TG-3 comes in at 8.7 ounces and stays durable up to 49.2’. Feel free to dive into waterfalls, bays and rainy nights with the TG-3. Not to mention a range of accessories equip the TG-3 for Macro photography and low-light expeditions.
The TG-3 improves upon it’s point-and-shoot body by offering a 3-inch LCD display and formidable battery life typically absent from the category. Not to mention, they get a tech boost with the GPS and WiFi capabilities including a fully functioning compass when powered off.
Coming in at around $350, the TG-3 offers a viable point-and-shoot camera for every adventure. However, the cost and portability don’t go unchecked. You can still expect the notorious noise at higher ISOs and clumsy controls familiar to the point-and-shoot family. Where it lacks though, the lens and price pick up the slack making the TG-3 hiking ready.
UPDATE [FEB 2015]: While still available for purchase, Olympus seem to have discontinued the TG-3 model. They are introducing a new waterproof model in a slightly lower price range: the Olympus TG-860. This camera is very similar to the TG-3, but it’s lens is not as fast (f/3.5 vs f/2), making it less suitable for low-light situations. It does boast some extra features like a flip-out screen and an action camera button on the front-side.
Best Mirrorless Cameras for Hiking
If you want an affordable mirror-less camera, look no further than the Nikon AW1. The AW1 weighs in at 7.04 ounces with contrast and phase control. The end result is great pictures without the extra weight.
The AW1 brings 1080p HD video to the market, a feature lacking in the affordable hiking category. Videos can be taken at 15fps with full autofocus or 60fps with a fixed focal point. Combine that with the f/3.5 lens and contrast control and you have beautiful video with color depth.
On the photo side, few photographers will complain about the CMOS sensor and 14.2 MP resolution that comes packed into this shockproof, waterproof, rustproof and weather resistant body. The AW1 covers all the essentials for ruggedness and quality. Not to mention, the battery packs about 220 photos per a charge, which equates to a couple of hours worth of photography.
The AW1 comes in at $600 – $800 and covers the essentials for hiking photography and enhanced options for videographers. However, the limited aperture (f/3.5) and clumsy controls are going to make low light and close quarter shooting troublesome. Not to mention, it sits at a higher price point in a heavily competitive market.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 offers a DSLR quality camera with the ruggedness required to endure the elements. With 135 autofocus points, dual contrast detection and dual phase detection, the OM-D provides a professional grade camera that weighs between 17.5 ounces and 27 ounces dependent on your lens selections.
For those with more technical aspirations, the OM-D provides both RAW and JPEG quality photos at 16 megapixels. The higher resolution also provides faster sensor technology and better autofocus. The OM-D can capture the movement and the density of nature better than it’s point-and-shoot counterparts.
For those looking for both bright and low light photography, the OM-D provides up to 25600 ISO and up 1/8000 shutter speed. Combine that with GPS and WiFi capabilities and the OM-D is competing to replace your home DSLR.
The OM-D’s extra features come at a price jump: $1200 putting the OM-D into the DSLR price bracket. Along with the higher price comes extra weight. Out of the box the OM-D has the a variety of lens options. While the camera can capture higher resolution photos and customizability, the extra cost will also add extra ounces to your pack.
We hope that this overview will enable you to find the best camera for hiking and backpacking!