The Point and Shoot Camera is Dead for Hikers

This post answers two questions. First, why the point and shoot camera is dead for hikers? And second, what are the best cameras for hiking now that the point and shoot camera is dead?

Why the Point and Shoot Camera is Dead for Hikers

The point and shoot (p/s) camera is being squeezed into the grave from two sides. 1) on the inexpensive* side by constantly improving smartphone cameras. And 2) on the more expensive side by very light mirrorless, interchangeable-lens cameras. If photography is a serious objective of your trip, their near “pro-level” performance justifies their cost/weight vs. carrying just your smartphone.

* smartphone cameras are  “inexpensive/free,”  in the sense that you likely own a smartphone, thus there is no additional cost and weight since most hikers and backpackers are already carrying their  smartphone.

The Two Obvious Hiking Camera Options

1) You are satisfied with your smartphone camera

Therefore, a point and shoot (p/s) camera provides no additional benefit. The rapidly increasing capabilities, image quality (and video) of smartphone cameras are closing in on the performance of low to mid-range priced p/s cameras. Your current smartphone is essentially free* and no additional weight. Finally, you are likely an expert using your smartphone’s camera. It’s a perfectly valid option!

Point and Shoot Camera is Dead for Hikers

In good light smartphones take great pictures. In addition, there are a vast array of inexpensive accessories and apps/software to get the absolute best photos and video from your smartphone. Left JOBY GripTight Micro Stand. Right JOBY POV kit with bluetooth remote.

2) You want a camera that is significantly better than your smartphone

In this case you likely want better image quality, sharper lenses, an electronic viewfinder, more controls, etc. A p/s camera will not provide this! A light mirrorless, interchangeable-lens camera (mirrorless camera) will.  In fact, mirrorless cameras are approaching “pro image quality” at a fraction of the cost and weight of many “pro” cameras. E.g. the Sony a6000/a6500 or Olympus EM-10 Mark II.

Point and Shoot Camera is Dead for Hikers

Class leading image quality for less weight: Sony a6000/a6500 camera with Sigma 30mm 1.4 DC DN Contemporary lens. This setup goes toe-to-toe with far heavier and more expensive APS-C (crop sensor) camera setups from Nikon and Canon.

Mirrorless Cameras are better “point and shoot” cameras than point and shoots

When you mount a light mirrorless camera on a quick release shoulder mount and put it in smart-auto mode, it’s faster and easier to use than a p/s camera. But you have all the benefits of interchangeable lenses and full camera control if you want. And of course, the image quality is in another league vs. a p/s camera.

For me, it’s all about the speed and ease of taking a photo. Since I changed to using the Peak Designs CapturePRO mounting system on the shoulder strap of my pack, I get 2 to 3 x more photos per trip. More than I ever got with a point and shoot camera in my pocket!


Note in the video how quickly and easily I put my pack on with my Sony a6000 mirrorless camera already attached to my shoulder strap with the Peak Designs CapturePRO. No camera spinning around and twisting up the shoulder strap.

The Bottom Line

If you want something significantly better than your smartphone camera a p/s is not sufficiently better to justify its cost and weight. On the other hand, a mirrorless camera is substantially better than a smartphone camera and therefore its cost and weight are justifiable.  In addition, a mirrorless camera is far more versatile than a p/s (or even a 1″-type sensor camera). It is also an excellent general-purpose camera for use at home, nature photography with a long lens, for extended international travel (backpacking and non-backpacking), etc. This makes it a far better value than a p/s camera or even 1″-type sensor cameras like the Sony RX-100.

sony-a6000-kit-2

The full Sony a6000/a6500 kit: Peak Designs CapturePRO (mounts to backpack shoulder strap), Peak Designs Micro Plate (mounts to camera bottom), Pedco utra-pod II (small tripod), Sony NP-FW50 Battery, and Newer® Fish Bone quick release for tripod head.

What I Use Most of the Time

On most of my backpacking trips and on international travel, I carry both options:

Sony Lenses

Olympus Lenses

Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Contemporary lens sharp as it gets!
Sony SEL35F18 35mm f/1.8 sharp, fast, stabilized
Sigma 19mm f2.8 DN low cost, light
Sigma 30mm f2.8 DN sharp, low cost, light
kit Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-F5.6 decent, low $, light
Olympus 9-18mm f4.0-5.6 super wide, 5 oz!
Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO very sharp, environmentally sealed
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 prime. tack sharp, fast
kit Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 IIR decent, low $, light

 

The Possible Exception to P/S Death

“Point and shoot like,” 1-inch-type sensor cameras, e.g. the Sony RX-100 series do perform significantly better than the best smartphone cameras. For some their smaller size and lower weight vs. a mirrorless camera is a godsend. As such, they occupy a valid but narrow niche between smartphone cameras and mirrorless cameras. But note that their image quality not quite as good as similarly priced mirrorless cameras that may weigh only a few ounces more. They are too large and heavy to be truly “pocketable.” And finally, their single lens is only about 1/3 as sharp as the best interchangeable camera lenses for mirrorless cameras like the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Contemporary lens.

rx100-500h

By | 2016-11-18T03:02:30+00:00 November 17th, 2016|Camera - Photography|13 Comments

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13 Comments

  1. Paul Beiser November 17, 2016 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    I think you are vastly underestimaring cameras like the RX100. Much smaller and more pocketable than mirrorrless ILCs, with fast AF, good enough image quality, and covenience. Esp for long trips where every ounce matters. I’ve used them extensively and their niche is not as narrow as you think. Great for backcountry skiing as well, including action shots.

    • Alan Dixon November 17, 2016 at 7:22 pm - Reply

      Yes Paul, a very personal thing. And for those want a camera to fill that niche something like the RX100 is perfect and of great value.

      On a pesonal note, I’ve owned an RX100iii for a couple of years now. I never seem to use it–even when bring it on a trip. After a while I just stopped bringing it. I carry my a6000 even on one week long technical canyoneering trips. YMMV. Best, -alan

      • Randy Cain December 14, 2016 at 4:58 pm - Reply

        I’ve used the RX100 for 2 or 3 years now. I have a cord on it that’s just long enough for me to stow it in my hip belt pocket. I usually leave that pocket unzipped so that I can either grab it or stow it really quickly, and I don’t have to worry about dropping it because of the cord around my neck. Awesome little camera, but I’m always interested in other light-ish cameras that I could maybe get even better shots with. So on that note, thanks for this post! I’ll explore your recommendations and see what I think.

  2. Paul Beiser November 17, 2016 at 7:38 pm - Reply

    Thanks Alan. Love the system you showed in the video. Fast convenient. More thinking required when your camera is exposed (putting on, taking off, weather, catching on ropes, snow when skiing, etc). But incredibly quick and convenient. I hate taking packs off to shoot.

    If you never use your iii, you could donate it to me :-). Im still on version i, still working great!

  3. Jason Feng November 18, 2016 at 1:41 am - Reply

    What do you use for a wide angle, the 16mm smells not wide enough

  4. Inaki Diaz de Etura November 18, 2016 at 9:06 am - Reply

    Smartphones have a battery problem if you mean to use them for pics as you need to keep the phone on. Solutions to this are heavy, fiddly and/or not reliable. Actually the battery issue is a big plus for p/s as they’re small, simple cameras that I guess (don’t have data) don’t drain batteries too quick. I use a p/s with AA batteries and I get around 1500-2000 pics from a single set of 2 lithium AAs, usually good for 4 weeks time. It’s long-lasting, worry free pic taking.

    I see p/s cameras still have an added value for backpacking. They may die if that’s their only added value area, which seems quite likely.

    • Alan Dixon November 18, 2016 at 1:19 pm - Reply

      Inaki, I am getting 5-7 days use out of my iPhone 6+ without recharging. I using it for maps, online reference, GPS, and taking photos. I am using it in airplane mode with the battery conservation measures here: How to use your smartphone as a Backpacking GPS. In addition I bring a backup battery (to charge what electronics equip. needs it) as described here: Best Lightweight Backpacking Electronics. In many, many years I have never run out batteries on trip. Hope this helps, -alan

      • Inaki Diaz de Etura November 19, 2016 at 12:51 pm - Reply

        My old-ish Samsung with a new battery wouldn’t last more than 2 days with all the battery saving measures on. 5-7 days is certainly much more functional. It’s still about days, not weeks. Even then I’d still feel uncomfortable at having such different and critical functions (route finding, comms, camera) all hanging from the same single line, particularly for long trips, more so in remote terrain. I’m aware this is very personal and that I might be clinging on to old uses. It’s great to know from other views and practices.

  5. John November 20, 2016 at 6:03 pm - Reply

    Hey Alan

    As I prepare to trek in Patagonia/ Argentina I am taking extra batteries (5x) and memory cards (3x) (without ANY backup options which makes me very nervous). I think this must be the “lightest” way to go as I try and adopt a more “light weight” style of shooting and hiking *Using a Lumix Gx8 with Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 lens & GoPro 3.* Shooting stills in Raw and 4k video

    1) What are your thoughts of backing up images in the field on a hard drive system. (BTW, The new “GnarBox” looks like an excellent light weight storage option that is coming out soon)

    2) Any tips for (charging batteries 120v and USB devices in the field?) besides already mention battery pack?

    3) Should I bring an international plug converter to Chile for hotels or hostels? (what do you use?)

    I still use my LowePro Topload Zoom 1 chest pack which is almost as fast as your Peak Designs shoulder strap system and provides protection from the elements (but has added weight and can be warm to wear).

    Thoughts?
    John

    • Alan Dixon November 21, 2016 at 5:23 am - Reply

      Good Q’s. Will get to them soon. Best, -alan

    • Alan Dixon November 23, 2016 at 1:45 am - Reply

      John here is close to what I usually take for off-trail travel electronics that I store in town while I am hiking. Picture of off-trail-travel electronics. On the Circuit I took just three batteries and two extra SD cards. I did not transfer images to anything until I got back home. Alternatively you could buy a cheap netbook, leave that in-town in a safe place and transfer images then. The advantage of the Netbook is that it is only $300 and you can have no personal data on it–so tons less at risk than a more expensive laptop with data on it.

      Key items are a $2 extension cord that when combined with a cheap 2-prog travel adapter gives you 3 US style outlets. I find that the Anker 2 port (2 amp each) charger is fast and dependable. And in truth, the QIBOX charger is not as good as a 2 amp US charger with the cheap 2 prong travel adapter.

      And finally, I just put my camera away when it was raining too hard. Wasn’t that great a %’tage of the time. I find the lowe case bulky, awkard to hike with, and difficult to get the camera out quickly enought for a photo. You may feel differently. Hope this helps, -alan

  6. Eric Anderson December 8, 2016 at 5:45 am - Reply

    A good article, and it seems well thought out. However, I think it applies to people who are in both of the following categories:
    1. People who are willing to accept the increase in phone size that comes with a smartphone. Oddly, this seems to be the vast majority of people, even among those without purses.
    2. People who are willing to put in the time to select not just their ideal camera body, but also lenses.

    As you might guess, neither one describes me. I wish my non-smartphone were smaller, and I spend more time than I would like researching a new point and shoot camera every few years. I’ve been pondering the Panasonic LX-100, Sony RX-100 II/III. and Canon G7-X for the last couple years. What a disaster if I had to do that for lenses too!

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