Best Camera for Hiking or Backpacking 2020

best camera for hiking

This post takes the BS & mystery out of finding the right camera. A camera that meets YOUR needs & YOUR budget. And you don’t need an expensive camera to take superb backpacking photos. Some of the best lightweight backpacking and hiking cameras cost far less than you think. You might already own one!

The best backpacking and hiking camera is the one you have with you

Or put another way, the best camera is the camera you can quickly pull out and shoot. Many superb photos have been taken on iPhones. Being in a beautiful area and taking a photo in the right place at the right time matters far more than the camera.

That being said, if you are in the right place at the right time, some cameras take better photos than others. This post will help you 1) find your “best” camera and 2) give you techniques to get the most out of it when hiking or backpacking.

This photo was shot with an inexpensive, semi-pro camera, a $500 Sony a6000 camera with stock 16-50mm kit lens.

2020 Highlights

Here are some of our picks for the best new hiking cameras

best camera for hiking - Sony Alpha A6100 Mirrorless Camera

The new Sony a6100 camera with stock 16-50mm kit lens at only $698 is the best semi-pro hiking, backpacking camera value on the market! Improvements from the old a6000 include much, much better autofocus, significantly better image quality, and better battery life.

Also see Sony a6100 or a6600? – How To Choose. Pros and Cons of the cameras.

New! Best Sony a6x00 upgrade lens at a sweet price: The Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS (27mm to 202mm equiv.). This is a very attractive do-it-all backpacking and hiking lens. It is 1/4 lb lighter, more compact and has a longer reach than our old favorite, the Sony 18-105mm F4 G OSS lens.

Two new Sony RX100 cameras:

  • The Sony RX100 VI is particularly exciting as it boasts a sharp 24-200mm equivalent f/2.8-4.5  zoom lens making even distant wildlife shots possible but with no increase in size! It also has touchscreen control, a much easier to use, one-touch EVF, and bluetooth so you can pair it with your phone for geo-tagging.
  • And the Sony RX100 VA, an upgrade to the V which shares some of the upgrades of the VI, including faster processing/operation, 315 point hybrid focusing, and less EVF lag, but retains the faster but shorter 24-70mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 lens.

Can’t decide? See How to Choose the Right Sony RX100 Model including the less expensive RX100 III.

New, much improved Peak Design Capture Camera Clip V3 for mounting a camera to your backpack strap for fast access while hiking. Use it and you’ll get far more pictures on every trip! This is lighter than the previous version with a very smooth action making it almost effortless for you to get your camera in and out of the clip.

View a 15 second video below to see this fast system in action.

Note: I have no relationship with Sony. I do not get free gear from Sony and I am not an ambassador for Sony. All camera gear here was purchased with my own funds, as I believe it represents the best light camera gear with the highest image quality.  If you think you know of a lighter higher image quality camera in a similar class, e.g. crop format or full-frame, I would love to hear about. -a

2020 Highlights

Sony a6100 or a6600? – How To Choose. Pros and Cons of the cameras.

Tips & Hacks on how to get the best photos with your iPhone and Android

Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN Prime Lens (24mm to equiv.). Pair it with a Sony a6x00 camera you have a killer (but light and low cost!) landscape camera kit that can go up against the big dogs.


Looking for Full Frame Hiking Cameras?

See – Professional Quality Cameras for Hiking and Ultralight Backpacking
The Sony a7R III and a7R II are the perfect, full-on professional cameras for hiking and ultralight backpacking. They give you full-frame pro quality photos but without the weight. Contains a list of the best and lightest, professional full-frame camera bodies and lenses. [Note: This gear is heavier and more expensive than what’s listed in this post.]

Short on Time?  Skip to One of These

In addition to “The Two Cameras I Take on Almost Every Trip” (below), you can jump to:

best backpacking cameras

Cameras I take backpacking: L to R, iPhone, Sony RX100 and Sony a6000 or a6500. There is no right choice! Each camera has its strengths and weakness. BUT the Sony a6500 on the right has almost 3x the resolution of the other two – 15 pMP vs 5-6 pMP.


The Best Backpacking Cameras

I take the following two cameras on almost every trip:

  1. My Smartphone, iPhone X (but it could be an 8 or 8 plus, or a Google Pixel…)
  2. My semi-pro Sony a6100 camera. With its low weight and great image quality challenging far heavier cameras that cost 2-3 times or more, it’s not surprising it’s the best selling camera in its class!

While my iPhone takes great pictures, at some point there is no substitute for a “true camera” like the Sony a6000 with a good lens. This is especially true if getting top notch photos is a serious trip objective. The table below shows why this is so.

* n/a values for iPhone(s) are unknown. But given their image sensor is 6.5x smaller than the RX100’s you can assume that Dynamic Range (ability to capture light and dark), High ISO (low light) performance, and Color Depth are all lower. BUT! here’s the huge caveat that closes the gap between smartphones and traditional cameras. The new iPhones (and other high end smartphones like the Google Pixel) are intensely applying sophisticated “computational photography” (software image processing) to significantly improve dynamic range, color, contrast, texture, etc. of their photos. See more on how to utilize this power below.

Perceptual Megapixels

Perceptual megapixels” (pMP) is a measure of the “sharpness,” the actual detail resolved in the final image.  pMP is the resolution of the combination of a particular lens and camera—not simply the native resolution of the camera sensor! As an example, for most 24 MP, APS-C (crop sensor cameras like the Sony a6000, Nikon D7200 or Canon EOS 80D) the perceptual megapixel resolution final image maxes out at around 17 MP or around 70% of the native 24 MP sensor resolution—even with the best and most expensive prime lenses. Zoom lenses typically resolve less, especially inexpensive ones. See more about perceptual megapixels here.

best backpacking cameras

I have a 20×30 print of this on the wall in my bedroom: I used a semi-pro camera with a sharp lens to capture fine detail and handle the huge dynamic range between the afternoon shadows and the bright snow and glaciers of the Andes in full sunlight.


Camera 1: A Smartphone – BUT Intelligently Used

What’s Good About Smartphone Cameras for Backpacking

  • Under the right conditions, and with the right technique they take some stunning photos!
  • “Zero cost” — You likely own a smartphone with a good camera, so zero additional cost
  • “Zero weight” — You’re likely  bringing your smartphone anyway, so no additional weight
  • Easy and fast to use (and you are likely proficient with it)
  • They do double duty as the best hiking or backpacking GPS

And the Newest Smartphone Cameras Kick Ass!

The new iPhones (and other high-end smartphones like the Google Pixel) are intensely applying  “computational photography” (sophisticated software image processing) to significantly improve photos. This includes dynamic range (ability to handle large differences from the lightest to darkest parts of the photo), color, contrast, texture, and even focus to their photos. The improvements can be dramatic. So much so, that many times the photos from the new smartphones often look better than photos from much larger “traditional” DSLR cameras. It may take a lot of editing of photos from a traditional camera to clearly see the benefits of a larger sensor.  That being said,  read my article:

10 hacks and accessories for better smartphone hiking photography

It will help you get the very best out your already great smartphone camera.

smartphone hiking photographyBasic Smartphone Photography Accessories L to R: [Joby GripTight Tripod at (REI) or new JOBY GripTight ONE GP Stand] both better for larger phones & are more adjustable), iPhone X on a JOBY GripTight ONE Micro Stand (smaller & lighter), Apple headset used as a remote shutter release, a Bluetooth Smartphone Camera Remote Shutter (Joby), Jackery Bolt 6000 mAh USB Battery (keeps phone charged for days of use),  Black Diamond Headlamp (gets you safely to and from the magic light of dawn & dusk for superior photos).


Camera 2: Sony a6x00 – when high quality photos are a major objective

best backpacking cameras

The full Sony a6100/a6600 kit: Sony a6100 camera with stock 16-50mm kit lensPeak Design Capture Camera Clip V3 (mounts to backpack shoulder strap, pic is of older version), Pedco ultra-pod II (small tripod), Sony NP-FW50 Battery, and a Quick Release Tripod Head – Mini Fish Bone Style.

For me, the Sony a6100 is a clear choice for serious backpacking photos. It’s an incredible value for a semi-pro camera! With the right lens it has superb image quality challenging heavier cameras that cost far more. It’s light, and is easily carried on the shoulder strap of my backpack. I have the option of a number of great lenses, many of them inexpensive. And perhaps most important, it is super fast to use with an excellent electronic viewfinder (EVF). In summary, it’s the perfect complement to my iPhone.

And here is how I use that system backpacking, so I have immediate access to my camera at all times. The camera is surprisingly light and non-intrusive while I hike.

For me the maximum weight of a camera is determind by what I an comfortably carry on the shoulder strap of my pack.

For me the maximum weight of a camera is determined by what I can comfortably carry all day on the shoulder strap of my pack. Pictured is a Sony a6000 camera with the stellar Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens (22 oz total wt). They are mounted to a Peak Design Capture Camera Clip V3 on the shoulder strap of my pack. View a 15 second video below to see this fast system in action.

My Sony a600x System

CameraItemOzComments
Camera APS-C
crop format
Sony a6100 camera with stock 16-50mm kit lens
new model: Sony a6600
16.0Among lightest 24mp APS-C cameras. It has image quality equal to much heavier cameras camera’s costing far more.
Sony a6100 or a6600 – How To Choose?  See more below
Battery spareSony NP-FW50 Battery (1.5)Alt less $: Wasabi Power Battery (2-Pack) & Charger (Note a660 uses larger Sony NP-FZ100 Battery)
MountPeak Design Capture Camera Clip V32.5Take more photos! Fast access to camera!
Attaches to backpack shoulder strap
Mini TripodPedco utra-pod II 114g, 4.0 ozFor small mirrorless SLR cameras
Tripod mountQuick Release Tripod Head – Mini Fish Bone Style 51g, 1.8 ozFor quick attachment of camera with Peak Designs Micro Plate
 Full tripodFor serious photos (only 920g)Sirui T-025SK Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod w B-00 Ball Head one of the lightest and best. It’s the tripod I’m holding in the lead photo of this article.
Remote shutterWireless remote controlJJC Remote Control for Sony A6000 – reduce camera shake on tripod. Great for selfies!
ProtectionGallon Freezer ZipLocTo protect camera gear from rain
TOTAL19.3ounces
xx

Photo: Dolly Sods Wildness with the 16 oz Sony a6000  with stock zoom lens (in table above). I needed a small tripod, because 1) it was in the magic light of evening, and 2) I wanted  a slow shutter speed (~1-2 seconds) to get a slight blur of the water.

Sony a600 or a6500 – How To Choose?

I’m guessing many of you are confused as to which of these great cameras to get. To help you to decide on the right camera for you, I’ll try to summarize the key pro’s and cons:

Sony a6100 camera : The a6000 has the same 24 MP resolution but is a few oz lighter than the a6600. It is considerably less expensive. With the save money you can a nice lens still come out ahead. E.g. the Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS  and/or the new Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN Prime Lens (24mm to equiv. for great landscape shots). The a6100 with both lenses will significantly outperform the more expensive Sony a6600 with the kit 16-50mm lens. The a6100 doesn’t have in-body image stabilization but if you stick to the image stabilized Sony lenses (OSS) this no big deal. On the other hand, if you are shooting with a non-stabilized lens like the Sigma 16mm f/1.4, you’ll end up on a tripod sooner in low light to get sharp photos.

Sony a6600: The a6500 has the same 24 MP resolution but but has a bit more dynamic range than the a6600. This the maximum range of light to dark it can capture and still retain detail in the photo. And the a6600 uses a large battery that will give much more use between battery changes.  But the most important upgrade to the a6600 is image stabilization built-in to the camera body. This means that you can shoot hand-held far longer in low light with non-image stabilized Sony lenses like the super sharp  Sigma 16mm f/1.4.  This is a pretty big deal for hikers and backpackers. Finally the a6500 has a touchscreen display. The best part of this is just touching the screen where you want focus. I find this especially useful to get super accurate focus when shooting on a tripod.

a6x00 lens upgrades

As noted in the table at the beginning of the article, you can get almost 3x better resolution with higher quality, but heavier and more expensive lenses. They are especially helpful if you think you might want to make large prints from your photos. My favorite lens for most trips, despite its weight and moderate cost, is the Sony 18-105mm G Series Zoom (far left in the photo below) and the Sigma 16mm f/1.4 Prime Lens.

xxx

If good photos are a serious objective for your trip, here are some lens upgrades I frequently use: On camera is the Sony 10-18mm F4 G OSS zoom (15mm to 27mm equiv.); center is the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 (normal lens); and far left the Sony 18-105mm F4 G OSS lens (27-160mm equiv.) Not pictured: 1) the game-changing landscape lens: the Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN Prime Lens (24mm to equiv.) and our new favorite upgrade lens the Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens (27-202mm equiv.)

TypeLensOzComments
Additional High Quality Zoom Lenses
NEW!
Allpurpose Zoom
Sony 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS11.5Best upgrade lens for most folks. 27mm to 202mm equiv. covers most needs, including much wildlife photography. Lighter than the 18-105 f/4. Carries nicely on pack shoulder strap. Sharp, compact. Good price. Image stabilized.
Allpurpose ZoomSony 18-105mm F4 G OSS15.0Old favorite upgrade lens (27mm to 160mm equiv.) Faster at the telephoto end than the 18-135mm. Carries nicely on pack shoulder strap. Sharp, reasonably light. Good price. Image stabilized.
Wide ZoomSony 10-18mm F4 G OSS 8.1Very wide angle (15mm to 27mm equiv.) Great for landscape/dramatic perspective. Image stabilized.
Additional High Quality Prime (fixed focal length) Lenses
Landscape
NEW!
Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN Prime Lens14.3Game-changing lens for backpacking landscape photographers. Fast, superb resolution, 24mm equivalent. Use dawn & dusk. And low cost! Great w image stabilized a6500 for handheld use.
Normal HQSigma 30mm f/1.4 lens9.5Highest resolution lens for camera. Wide aperture for low light. Great w image stabilized a6500 for handheld use. Or a tripod w a6000
Normal HQSony 35mm f/1.8 Prime Fixed Lens6.2Fast, superb resolution, normal lens. Use dawn & dusk. It has image stabilization, so perfect with the non-image stabilized a6000
Budget Lenses (but good!)
LandscapeSigma 19mm f2.8 DN, w hood6.1For landscape. Light, inexpensive. 2x sharper at 19mm than the a6000 16-50mm kit lens
Normal budgetSigma 30mm f2.8 DN, w hood5.7Low cost good resolution for only $199! Light.
Mild-teleSigma 60mm F2.8 EX DN Art6.7Mild-telephoto/portrait lens. Super high res! Only $240!
Astrophotography Lense(s)
Astro lensRokinon 12mm f/2.0 Wide Angle8.6Lens of choice for APS-C astrophotography. Inexpensive given its wide angle and speed!

Killer sub-$1,000 setup that can take down far heavier cameras costing 3x more:  Pictured the game-changing, super sharp landscape lens, the Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN Prime Lens (24mm to equiv.) with the Sony a6000 camera mounted on a Mini Tripod Pedco utra-pod II.

A Point and Shoot Camera that Can Run with the Big Dogs – My Third Camera

The very light and compact Sony RX-100  crushes smartphone cameras. It has image quality approaching the Sony a6000 with kit lens. This is in part because it has an image sensor 6.5x larger than the best smartphone sensors. It also has a high-quality Zeiss zoom lens. As such, the Rx100 occupies a valid but narrow niche between smartphone cameras and mirrorless cameras like the a6000.

But note that the RX100 has its limitations:  It is just a bit too large and heavy to be truly “pocketable.” Its image quality is not quite as good as the lower priced Sony a6000. And finally, its single lens while similar in performance to the a6000 kit lens, is not interchangeable.  Thus, the RX100 cannot match the 3x better resolution of high quality interchangeable camera lenses for the a6000, like the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Contemporary lens. Finally, it’s a bit delicate and needs to be treated with care.

rx100-500h

Which Sony RX100 Model? – How To Choose

We suggest you go up the camera versions until you get the features that matter to you. That being said, the list can be shortened to two, (possibly three) major options:

  1.  Sony RX100 III – This is what we’d recommend for most folks and the camera Alison and have used for years. The III was the game-changer for the series. It upgraded to a sharp and fast 24-70mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 lens, full HD video, and a pop-up 1.4m-dot EVF (fantastic for bright daylight pics)! The III is also $450 cheaper than the current top model, the VI.
  2. Sony RX100 VI – Was another big surge forward for the series. It is what we’d recommend for high end buyers looking for top performance — especially those who want a lens longer than 70mm. The VI adds a longer 24-200mm equivalent f/2.8-4.5 lens (albeit a bit slower than 24-70 on previous models). This makes even wildlife photography possible with a 10 ounce pocketable camera! It has faster focusing with a Hybrid AF system using 315 phase-detect points. It also has touchscreen control, a much easier to use, one-touch EVF, and bluetooth so you can pair it with your phone for geo-tagging. Downsides of the VI are the slower f/2.8 lens and no built-in ND filter. But for most that is a small price to pay for the longer reach of the 200mm lens
  3. Sony RX100 VA – This revision to the discontinued V splits the difference between the V and the VI models and is $200 less than the VI. It will appeal to hikers that want processing speed and some of the other electronic improvements of the VI but want the faster 24-70mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 lens. In addition, it retains the built-in, 3-stop ND filter of both the III and V (the VI sadly lacks an ND filter). This is great for video as well as getting nice blurred water shots.

In the end, the decision will likely come down to which lens you prefer; the longer but slower 24-200mm equivalent f/2.8-4.5 lens or the faster the faster 24-70mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 lens.

The Sony RX100 Kit

CameraItemOzComments
Highend
point & shoot
Sony RX100 (280g)10.0Highest image quality for a P/S camera. But pricy!
Large sensor, good in low light, has EVF
Discount
Camera
Older versions of Sony RX100 If you don’t need the latest/greatest you can save $
And these are still great cameras!
Battery spareSony NP-BX1 (24 g, 0.8 oz)Alt: (2) BM NP-BX1 Batteries & Charger
Tripod P/SJOBY GorillaPod (44g)1.5For smaller P/S cameras. Also Pedco UltraPod
TOTAL11.5ounces

Hacks to Get Good Photos Handheld – No Tripod Needed

Non-technical Canyon Backpacking in Utah

Handheld photo with a mirrorless camera similar to the Sony a6000. The low light of the deep shade of the canyon late in the day was a challenge. A fast(er) lens, moderate 1S0 increase, and image stabilization all helped to keep the photo sharp with good color and low noise — without resorting to a tripod.

One of the major tenets of serious outdoor photography is that you need a tripod to get good results. But this not necessary true. There are some good options to steady your camera for reasonably-sharp photos before you need to resort to using a tripod. These also have the advantage of being a lot faster to use vs. setting up a tripod. And of course you don’t have the extra weight of carrying a tripod.

The following hacks, when combined, can gain you 6 to 8 stops (camera shutter speeds). This means that a photo goes from a completely unmanageable 1/2 of a second shutter shutter speed (super blurred when handheld) to a very manageable 1/120 of a second shutter speed which should give you a nice sharp photo!

  1. Image Stabilization, +2-3 stops: Check to see if your smartphone, true camera and/or lens has image stabilization (most do). Built-in image stabilization (IS, VR or OSS) gains you about 2 to 3 stops (shutter speeds) when handheld. This goes a long way to increasing the number of shots that you can take without a tripod.
  2. High ISO, +2-3 stops: There have been dramatic improvements in ISO performance (low light). For true cameras Sony probably leads the sensor technology here. Both the RX100 and a6000 have sensors with low light performance challenging that of much larger sensors. This gains you 2 to 3 stops. The RX100 (“working” high ISO ~600, about 2 stops) and a6000 (“working” high ISO ~1400, about 3 stops). For a smartphones like my iPhone 6+ its base ISO goes from around 32 to a working high ISO of around 125, so around 2 stops. [But note this is still far less than the ISO 600 to 800 of the Sony cameras. This an inherent downside of the smartphone’s sensor being 6x smaller than the RX100’s sensor.]
  3. Fast Lens, +2 stops: For true cameras, purchasing a f1.4 to f2 lens will give you about 2 stops over a basic f3.5 to f4.0 of point and shoot lenses and many DSLR kit lenses. If you aren’t striving for depth of field, a faster lens will increase the number of shots you can take hand-held.

Hack – Improvise a “Tripod” to Stabilize your Camera

You can get much of the benefit of a tripod to stabilize your camera by improvising a “tripod.” You can brace your camera up against a rock, tree, or even your trekking pole. Remember to squeeze off that shutter gently! Better yet, you can use folded garment (or other prop) on top of a rock, or fallen tree to make a an  improvised tripod/camera rest. Now that you are not holding the camera, remember to put the shutter release on a 2-second delay for sharpest results, or use a remote (see gear lists above).


For the Sharpest and Highest Quality Photos – Use a Tripod

But even with all the hacks above, if you want the very sharpest photos, ones that will enlarge to 20×30″ and hang on your wall, you will likely need a tripod of some sort. This especially true during the low light, “magic hours” of dawn and dusk. In those instances you want low ISO (~100 true cameras, ~32-50 smartphones) and and aperture of f/4 or more. This leads to shutter speeds in the range of 1/2 of a second or longer, not remotely doable handheld. The good news is that for just a few ounces you can get a perfectly serviceable mini tripod.

5 Most Important Features for a Backpacking Camera

Sometimes to get the highest image quality (e.g. 20×30″ prints to go on your wall), you need a sharp prime and a small tripod. In this case the Sony a6000 camera with the super sharp Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens  (50mm equiv. – normal lens) or Sigma 16mm f/1.4 Lens (24mm equiv. -landscape lens). At only 22 oz, this camera/lens combo has image quality equal to or exceeding the very best, and much heavier & costlier APS-C camera systems.

Mini Tripods

Any serious backcountry photographer should consider taking a small ultralight camera tripod like a Gorillapod or UltraPod. Compared to the techniques mentioned earlier, they provide better camera positioning and stability at a fraction of the weight of a full-sized, conventional tripod. These mini-pods are far from perfect. At some point, when conditions get difficult enough, there is no way around a “real tripod.”

  • JOBY GorillaPod. My choice for point & shoot cameras like the Sony RX100.
  • Pedco ultra-pod II 114g, 4.0 oz. This is my first choice for a smaller mid-sized cameras like the Sony a6000. Just put the shutter release on a 2-second delay and you will get sharp results even in low light.

Pro Cameras for Hiking and Ultralight Backpacking

A Light and Compact Full Sized Tripod

Finally, you may need (or want) a full sized tripod. This is especially true if photography is your main trip objective. One of the lightest, “full-sized” tripods with true stability for a camera like the Sony a6000, is the 2 pound Sirui T-025SK Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod w B-00 Ball Head. While heavier compared to the Gorilla-pod or UltraPod, it is far more stable and provides better camera positioning. And it extends all the way up to 58 inches, for a convenient non-stooping work height. Finally, the Sirui packs down to only 16″  so it easily fits in your pack.

And remember to use remote shutter release like this JJC Remote Control for Sony A6000 to reduce camera shake on the tripod. Or set the camera’s shutter to a 2 second delay.


How I Carry my Backpacking Camera – or how to get more photos

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 the camera already attached to my shoulder strap. No camera spinning around and twisting up the shoulder strap.

Lead photo above: Author working in Iceland with light but serious photo gear. [Photo credit – Peyton Hale]


Disclaimer

This post contains affilate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I do not receive compensation from the companies whose products are listed. For product reviews: unless otherwise noted, products are purchased with my own funds. I am never under an obligation to write a review about any product. Finally, this post expresses my own independent opinion.

214 replies
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  1. Robert Croll
    Robert Croll says:

    Hi Alan,

    This article has been so helpful. I started by reading this article and then spend many hours researching other options, Full Frame cameras, lenes and ended up back here!

    Could have saved myself the time but it was time well spent never the less.

    I decided to keep my old a5100 and buy the Sony 18-135mm lens. Professionals gave it mixed reviews but on the a5100, it is sharp down to pixel level, so the quality is higher than the APS-C sensor. Also bought the Sony 10-18mm that appears just as good.

    I followed your advice and bought a Sirui tripod but not the T-025SK. Sirui have just released a new model, the T-024SK which is the same I believe, except the centre column is extendable. Worth having a look I think.

    Also look forward to an article in the future maybe, regarding filters. Hey, you got nothing better to do, right LOL.
    Thanks again for everything UL and Cameras as well now I want to take my bushwalking photography to the next level.

    Regards,
    Rob

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Robert and apologies for the late reply. I’ve been guiding Alaska’s Brooks Range for the last two weeks and will soon head back in to Alaskan mountains for another two weeks. Sounds like you have a great camera kit. And the 10-18 is a favorite lens of ours. And at F4 & 10mm, it will do in a pinch for an Astro lens. Actually Alison and I use it on our A7Riii’s where it does quite well full-frame from 12mm to 16mm without serious vignetting. Some of our best photos were taken with this lens — lead photos for the tent guide, and lead photo for the Cerro Castillo Trek.

      As to filters, we usually take a polarizing filter, and a neutral density filter (0.9 and/or 1.8) for each lens. And given the tougher backpacking environment a UV filter is always on the lens. We prefer the B&W thin filters like the “010M” series. Hope this helps. Best, -alan & alison

      Reply
  2. Kanilreddy
    Kanilreddy says:

    I have been looking at the Sony RX 100 as a backpacking camera. Do you think the value is there in the mark III for the extra $150? Is the original RX 100 close to the mark III in terms of picture quality? I would rather pay out the money for the less expensive camera. I am far from a professional photographer. I am really looking for a nice point and shoot that will take much better photos and video than a standard cell phone.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Kanilreddy, the mk III is really the first RX100 I would consider. Vs. mk II t bumps up to the much better 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 lens. And it has a pop-up electronic viewfinder that is great for daylight photos when the rear LCD screen can be difficult to see. Hope this helps. And wishing you a great year of photos. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
      • mckeer
        mckeer says:

        I’m also considering the sony RX100 III for backpacking. Do you think it can also handle some basic night photography? Long exposures of the night sky/ milkyway?

        Reply
        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Hi mckeer,
          Yes you can do quite respectable (as opposed to fantastic*) astrophotography with Sony RX100 III. The camera will need to be a on reasonably solid tripod (Pedco ultra-pod II at a minimum). ND Filter: Off,
          White Balance: Daylight or Custom: 3900K, Long Exposure NR: Off SteadyShot: Off.

          Shoot at 24mm and F1.8. Manually put your shutter speed to around 20-24 sec ISO 1600 (see rule of 500 for more info — it’s complicated by the 1″ sensor on the RX100). If you are getting star trails you need to shorten your exposure. Use a remote shutter release, or set your camera to 2 sec shutter delay. Finally, the hardest part is getting a good manual focus on the stars as your camera’s auto focus will not likely do the job. This may take a bit of trail and error. I find the zoom option for manual focus the most useful. Wishing you some great trekking and photography. Warmest, -alan & alison

          * For top-notch astro photography you need a large sensor camera (FF or crop format) and something like a 12 to 16mm lens, around f/1.8-2.0. That’t some serious weight and $! But for its size the RX100 III does an amazing job!

        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Oh, and apologies for the late reply. Just back at a computer after a month of guiding Alaska’s Brooks Range and then some personal trips in Alaska. Now digging out of the backlog of being away from the internet for a considerable amount of time.

  3. Shane
    Shane says:

    Alan, about a month ago I commented on here but it appears something happened and my message didn’t go through. I posted a follow up, you responded, but then I forgot. Anyways, thanks for seeking to help.

    First off, your review is great. Nice work. The Sony A6000 looks like the camera for me. I’m seeking some purchase help from you though on making my best decision. Background about my camera experience and my type of hiking. Camera experience: zip, zero, zilch, nada. I literally know nothing about cameras or photography which is why after reading yours and many others the Sony A6000 seems like a good pick for a noobie photographer looking to go from phone quality to semi professional quality. Backpacking experience and what I want to do with the camera: I’ve been backpacking for 11 years now this year done about 23 trips and it’s my favorite passion by far. I may end up doing 10 trips this year alone. I’m not an UL backpacking snob, but I definitely have a gear catalog with all my stuff weighed lol. I love your setup with the lock mechanism straight from the shoulder strap of your pack and that’s what I would intend to do as well when backpacking for very quick access to the camera for timely shots. Weight to value to easy of use is essentially what I’m looking for in a bundle like purchase with this camera. I dont want to “worry” about the camera and or bring more than one additional lenses and minimize my accessories. I envision with the right setup I would take 100s-1000s of pictures this summer alone. Looking to stay under $800 for total purchase price of the camera and all accessories. At least for this year. Amazon has numerous different bundle options with tons of different accessories and lenses options but I honestly have no clue what to buy. Can you please suggest an option or two with the link that you think is in my best interest? Best bang for my buck on the whole 9 yards is what I’m after. Picture quality, simplicity of use and ease of access to it, weight, price is are the things I’m most concerned with. Outside of that any other little things I should be aware of such as storage capacities, charging capabilities or how that even works with the camera etc. Would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for the help once again Alan. I appreciate you and your time.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Nice to hear from you Shane. Bang for the buck the Sony a6000 w kit 16-50mm lens is what you want. Yes, there are better lenses for the camera but they are heavier and far more costly and you may not even notice the difference. After that you want the, Peak Design Capture Camera Clip V3, Wasabi Power Battery (2-Pack) & Charger, a UV filter to protect the front of your lens, and a small tripod if you want to take sharp photos in the low light of dawn or dusk, or great selfies.

      I have oulined this in my article in the section “My Sony a600x System.” Hope this helps. And wishing you a great year of backpacking and photography. Warmest, -alan & alison

      Reply
      • Leah Overmyer
        Leah Overmyer says:

        Alan, Hi. I hike and backpack all the time and LOVE to take pictures. My Olympus TG4 recently died and I have been back and forth on what kind of camera to get. I got the TG4 because of its rugged features but was disappointed and felt like my Samsung S8 phone took way better pictures. I have been looking at the Sony point and shoot and the A6000 you mentioned. I have also considered just getting the new Samsung S10. I am not wanting to do much editing. Just a high quality camera that takes nice sharp photos, mostly landscape, flowers, and wildlife. Also, I use it for traveling so good pics of people in front of destinations. I do print out a lot of my pictures, mostly nothing bigger than 8×10 but occasionally I will print a larger one on canvas. What would you recommend for me. I have always had an actual camera but with the phone/camera technology being so good now I dont know what to do. A better zoom than my phone or TG4 had would be good but not critical. Thank you for your advice.

        Reply
        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Hi Leah, I think the a6000 kit with the 16-50mm lens described in this post would do you fine. If you find you really like it you could upgrade to a longer range zoom lens at some point. But no rush. And for what it’s worth, in my opinion the point and shoot camera is not all that relevant in this day and age — it’s now lost in the limbo between good cell phone cameras, and crop format cameras like the Sony a6000. As such I don’t think it makes much sense for most people to get one if they already have a phone with a good camera. Wishing you a great year of photos. Warmest, -alan

  4. Peter
    Peter says:

    HI Alan,
    Recently got myself an A6500 with the Sony 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens you recommend above and have been pleased thus far. This past weekend I was hiking, and was snapping some pictures that looked great, until I compared the raw vs. JPEG on my computer. The article below (reference the Geometric distortion section) is exactly what’s happened with the dark spots on the corners, and I was curious if you had seen this, have any tips to avoid it, and any other thoughts? I’m mostly doing landscape shots, so perhaps I should stick with that lens instead? Although I really like the versatility of the 18-135mm.

    Appreciate your feedback as always!

    https://www.imaging-resource.com/lenses/sony/e-18-135mm-f3.5-5.6-oss-sel18135/review/

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Peter, the dark corners is called Vignetting and is fairly common with many modern lenses. Most lens correction software (in camera to JPEG) can handle this — and the lens designers rely on it as well as handling lens distortion. And it is not too difficult to deal with post processing in either Lightroom or Photoshop. Once corrected is essentially a non-issue.

      Vignetting is usually a most obvious shooting a lens at its widest angle setting and its widest apertures. Stopping down a bit usually reduces and/or eliminates it. Also make sure that your filters (and possibly lens hood) aren’t the real culprits. I usually buy the extra think UV filters to avoid this problem. But when I stack a polarizing and/or a neutral density filter on top of it, then I usually get some vignetting. That’s pretty much the way it goes. Hope this helps. Wishing you a great year of photography. Warmes, -alan & alison

      Reply
  5. Tim
    Tim says:

    Hi Alan,
    thanks for this excellent post!
    I just ordered my A6500 with the 18-135 lens, and the 16mm Sigma to take on hiking trips.

    I was wondering if you use (UV) filters on these lenses as standard?

    Kind regards,
    Tim

    Reply
      • Alan Dixon
        Alan Dixon says:

        Hi Tim,
        Good question. First, since I primarily use my cameras in the backcountry, for protection from dust, and damage all my lenses have a UV filter on them at all times. I prefer the thinner B+W ones. Second, as to polarizing filters, I do use them. Primarily when I am shooting around water — lakes, rivers and waterfalls. And for rivers and waterfalls I also use a neutral density filter to get a long shutter speed to blur the water. BUT if you shoot early in the day (less light and longer exposures), you can sometimes get by with just the polarizing filter and stopping down your lens to something like f/11. Hope this helps. And wishing you a year of taking great photos. Warmest, -alan & alison

        Reply
  6. Shane Tweedy
    Shane Tweedy says:

    Alan, I’m not in any rush or anything, but just curious if you received my message I sent you? It’s rather long.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Nice to hear from you shane! Apologies, but I just scanned through all my comments here and see nothing from you. How can I help? Best, -alan

      Reply
  7. Peter Boudreau
    Peter Boudreau says:

    Alan,
    Thanks for all the tips!
    Is there a way to swap between the lightweight tripod and the clip or is the only way to unscrew the plate itself and swap between the two? A friend has the same setup and mentioned this as a pain point, and I’m looking at the same setup and thought there must be some sort of adapter.

    Appreciate your help!
    -Peter

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Peter, good question. The Capture Pro plate on the camera body fits most Acra Swiss compatible tripod head clamps — that is to say most tripod heads, e.g. Sirui T-025SK Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod w B-00 Ball Head and many other tripod brands. My only tripod head head it didn’t work was my Really Right Stuff Lever Clamping head. And for that I simply exchanged just the the top clamp for a RRS knob tightening version of the clamp and everything was hunky dory. So in the field it’s just take the camera off the PD Capture Pro and mount it on the tripod head. Maybe 15 seconds total. Hope this helps. Wishing you a great year of photos. Warmest, -alan & alison

      Reply
  8. Greg Rowe
    Greg Rowe says:

    Hi, Alan. I’m looking to change my backpacking/hiking cameras. Am impressed with your review of the Sony a6000 with the 18-135 lens. Between it and the Nikon Coolpix A-1000, which would you recommend? FYI, I’m used to Nikon, and find its download software much easier than Canon’s. Current cameras are a 2007 Nikon D80 DSLR with 18-135 lens. It’s 10 megapixels, heavy but has been to summit of Mt. Whitney and numerous Grand Canyon treks. Other camera is a Canon Powershot G12, 10 megapixel. It somehow got a scratched lens that makes the center of photos look cloudy, which is why I’m looking at replacing it.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Greg, nice to hear from you. Apologies for the late reply but I was working hard on the Dirigo 2 Tent review and video. While bulkier and heavier I would go with the Sony a6000 and Sony a6000 with the 18-135 lens. While the Nikon is lighter, less expensive and has a much longer zoom… it’s sensor is not as good nor its lens as sharp. The sensor seems to do poorly in low light “noise is already prevalent at the relatively slow setting of ISO 800.” Finally, the Nikon does not have interchangeable lenses which will always be a limitation for serious photography. For instance, if you wanted to get an astro lens. If you really want a small compact camera with good image quality I would look at one of the older Sony Rx100’s. Hope this helps. Warmest, -alan & alison

      Reply
  9. YANG LU
    YANG LU says:

    Hi Alan,

    I wish I found your web site earlier. It has a lot of information I am looking for. Thanks for sharing!

    I am also a backpacker. Sometimes I need to carry 10 days of food (a lot of weight!) into wilderness. I am also a serious photo hobbyiest. I am looking for some advise from you. I always carry a tripod under any conditions and usually only take serious photos at sunset of sunrise. In day time I pretty much only use cellphone. Image stablization seems not a concern for me.

    I own an a6000. Do you think if makes sense to upgrade to a6500? I see the weight will increase a few ounces by gaining weather proof. But do you think it can improve the image quality in any noticeable way?

    My lens are Zeiss 16-70, 55-210 and Rokion 12mm F2. Would you share your insight on 16-70? If I want to upgrade, which lenses do you recommend? Reading your article, I think I probably want to add Sigma 16mm and Sony 10-18.

    Thanks,
    Yang

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Yang, this is a good Question and apologies for the late reply I was out backpacking and am just now seeing this. I don’t see the need to upgrade the a6500 for water resistance. I have had my a6000 in a fair amount of rain and it has always done fine. I usually keep it on a Capture Pro Clip and then put a Women’s shower cap over it when not in use (also great protection from windblown dust). As to lenses my first choice would the the 10-18 it’s a nice sharp lens and a great focal length for sweeping landscapes and dramatic perspectives. And if you ever get FF Sony it works great from about 12 to 16 on any A7xxx. Alison and I have gotten some stunning shots on this lens including the lead photos for both the Cerro Castillo Trek Guide and the 2019 Best Backpacking Tents | Lightweight & Ultralight. As for the 16mm, get it if you want but I find that I don’t end up using prime lenses that much in the field. Hope this helps. Wishing you some great photos this year. Warmest, -alan & alison

      Reply
  10. John
    John says:

    Hi Alan – hoping to get some advice. A couple years ago, I followed your recommendation and bought an Olympus OMD E10 Mark II. I got the kit wider zoom and telephoto zoom, and the cheap (affordable) prime you recommended. Last week I dropped the camera and I think it’s toast/too expensive to fix.

    So, now I have a dilemma. A) buy a new body, B) Buy something like the Sony A6000 w/ kit lens, C) buy the Sony RX 100 III. Each of those options seems to cost about 500-600 dollars, same price Olympus quoted me to fix my current body.

    I’m curious about whether any of your thinking/experience has changed since writing about the Olympus. The lenses I have aren’t particularly great (other than the prime), so I don’t feel super locked in by them.

    I’m an amateur photographer who is willing to make modest efforts to take better pics than I can with just my phone. But, not really a pro, and kind of cheap.

    Any suggestions on which way to go?

    Many thanks!

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi John, apologies for the delayed reply. Alison and I have been trekking in Patagonia the last few weeks. Sorry to hear about your Oly camera, but stuff like that happens. And better it happen to an moderately priced camera with a few years of use. Guessing you already got your money’s worth out of it :-) Unless you are going to take the big jump to full frame Sony (and I am guessing that it will waaaay be heavier and more expensive than you want) — I would just go ahead and buy the OMD E10 Mark III. The added expense of both buying a new a6000 body plus the equivalent lenses for the Sony would not be worth the cost for the slight increase in image quality. Hope this helps and wishing you some great photo sessions in the outdoors. Warmest, -alan & alison

      Reply

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