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
« Older Comments
  1. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    Dear Alan,
    Great article. I recently got a Sony a6000 and some lenses. I do packrafting/hiking combo trips and wondered if you might have any recommendations for waterproof (perhaps hard-sided?) camera cases for the alternate lenses or even the camera? I was thinking along the lines of Pelican…Something that can handle splashing and jostling.
    Cheers,
    -J
    P.S. Beauty Hyperlite pack!

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      I usually do a combo of a handmade bubble wrap protector for the camera or lens for impact — combined with a very heavy duty ziplock, inside a fairly light drybag. The whole combo is used when you really want to 100% protect the camera for very rough sections of water. Lighter and less expensive than a Pelican. So far, I my equipment has survived. Best, -alan

      Reply
  2. Shane
    Shane says:

    Alan, I’m back again with another question. I still have yet to buy a camera and now I’m kind of leaning towards a Canon M50, particularly because of what i understand to be far superior video and battery life to the Sony a6000. Anyways, what I’m having a hard time figuring out/understanding, is how all these people on Youtube are able to get some incredible quality footage all the while hiking. For example, the peak design clip makes a ton of sense from a photography standpoint of just taking it on and off rather quickly, but how do people seamlessly film while hiking? It appears that the camera will be pointing down at the ground when utilizing the peak design clip. As opposed to looking in the direction your hiking of course. I’m just trying to figure out the best method of documenting my trip with video and with images and the video part more than anything is throwing me off. How do you do it hands free just while youre hiking? Anyways, any help in this case is good help

    Reply
  3. James Johnston
    James Johnston says:

    What product do you think works best for having an emphasis on video, not still photography? E.g. imagine you want to take a bunch of video snippets from your trip and edit it into a 3 – 5 minute video, instead of having a slideshow. Perspectives might be taking clips of other hikers on the trip, and also taking clips from a first-person view.

    Reply
  4. Marco
    Marco says:

    For backpacking I use an old, very old, Zeiss Ikonta 520 with its Tessar lens. It’s a folding medium format camera made in the 1930s and makes wonderful images. I sell photos made with that camera in a gallery. For metering I use a tiny little selenium cell meter. No batteries at all with this setup.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      That is so cool! Can you post a picture of your setup. I shot with a speed graphic for a while in the 80’s. Best, -alan

      Reply
  5. Mike
    Mike says:

    Why do you never discuss bridge cameras using 1 inch sensors? I’m thinking any of the Sony RX10’s or the panasonic fz1000. I’ve owned both the rx100 iii and the fz1000 among others and tried an a6000 which I tried and sold. The fz1000 is my favorite camera hands down especially consider I paid 450$ for it new on a mega sale. In a package under 2 pounds you get a 25-400mm equivalent lens that looks as good to me as the 24-70 equivalent lens on my rx100iii when I pixel peep. Although I’ve never used them, from everything I’ve read the rx10 series is as good or better optically than the rx100 series and you get a 24-200mm in the i and ii version, for under 2 pounds and a 24-600mm in iii and iv a little over 2 pounds and weather sealing.
    I don’t understand why one would even consider a mirrorless camera given how good these bridge cameras are. By the time you take a mirrorless camera, slap lens even remotely equivalent to what you get in these bridge cameras you have a package as big or bigger than the the bridge camera. When I played around with the a6000 + kit lens I thought both my fz1000 and rx100iii looked better.

    In addition now that we have 1 inch zooms that are compact with a longer zoom like the panasonic zs100 or the rx100 vi and vii I’m really not seeing the point to a mirrorless camera this day in age unless there is a lens you need that these compact or bridge cameras don’t provide which is realistically only super wide angle.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Mike thanks for your insights and thoughts on cameras. The PANASONIC LUMIX FZ1000 is indeed a good camera and at a reasonable price. And if you aren’t too concerned about weight and volume, it’s a good choice. But if weight and volume are a consideration (ultralight backpacking) then compared to other 1″ sensor cameras it’s big 813g vs 300g for a Sony RX100. That is the fz1000 is almost 3x the weight for a similar sensor and image quality camera. The 24-200 range of the RX100 vi is a great lens for hiking and backpacking. As such it is the point and shoot camera that we feel is well suited for ultralight backpacking and hiking. Again, if you aren’t focused on reducing weight and volume in your pack then the fx10000 is a solid choice — just depends on your criteria. Wishing you a great year of photography. Warmest, -alan & alison

      Reply
      • Mike
        Mike says:

        I agree, compared to other 1 inch sensor cameras like the RX100, the RX10 or FZ1000 are big.

        BUT that was not my point. My point was, if you talk about an APS-C, ( or M43, FF) ILC, stick a zoom lens with a larger range than the normal kit range (24-75) lens like the 18-35 lens you mention for sony APC-C, you have a package that that is as almost or considerably bigger depth wise as an fz1000 or rx10 (i-iv) with no real image advantage. The 1 inch sensor has gotten good enough for 99% of people and the faster lens on the rx100, rx10, and rz1000 make up for the 1 stop advantage you get from the bigger sensor. And to repeat, sticking a big zoom lens on an ILC you negate the size advantage when we have amazing cameras with 1 inch sensors from small to big.

        Unless you are making giant prints, need super wide angle, or are doing sports photography in low light no one has any need for anything beyond a 1 inch sensor cameras. If sony didn’t have such aweful ergonomics on the rx100 it would really be the ideal camera.

        Interesting blog post saying that a modern 1 inch sensor is as good as medium format film and beats 35mm film which was the standard for a long time.

        Reply
        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Point taken Mike. And “how good is good enough?” is an excellent question to ask. For you FZ1000 works. For me, I still find the crop sensor better vs. 1″ sensors, especially the newer breed of crop sensors. (Physics determines this. All things being equal, more sensor area are equals more light energy collected and ensuing better resolution and better image quality in a number of areas). For me, in low light landscape photography I can see the advantage of a larger sensor for noise and color saturation, etc. So no matter what the pixel width of your photo that’s going to hold constant and give you a better photo. I have a clear instance of this where my partner’s crop sensor camera could not handle early dawn photography vs. my full-frame camera. Noise and color, even resolution were just not as good.

          Anyway my friend, wishing you a great year of hiking and photography. Warmest, -alan & alison

  6. Emily Anderson
    Emily Anderson says:

    Hi Alan,

    I really appreciate your thoughtful article about your backcountry camera kit. I’ve been trying to find a good backpacking camera for a long time. I have a Nikon D7000 which I consider too heavy to take but I like using on other trips. I shot mainly with a 35mm prime lense. In the past I’ve had some small point and shoots that have been ok but have all died in various ways (most often moisture) I do long distance trips so weight is important to me. I most recently had a Sony rx100v which I thought was great until it broke — twice in the exact same way. (Dropped about 6″ onto hard surface while in case by one of my kids). I paid $300 to fix it the first time but at this point it’s not worth it to me for something that breaks so easily.

    Anyway, my point is durability and weather proofness is looking good at this point. I want to be able to shoot in weather on our backcountry trips. The alpha a6000 you use seems great but I haven’t been able to find any info about weather sealing on it. I am also considering an old Pentax k50 which is supposed to be really splashproof but is significantly heavier. Or I could go with a GoPro or something similar which at least I know won’t get broken. Most of the weather sealed cameras I’ve found are much larger & heavier & more $$ than your setup Anyway, I would love if you have any info to share on the durability/moisture seal on your a6000. Thanks! Emily

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Emily, Sorry for the late reply, a glitch in the comment-works here. My a6000 has been down the Grand Canyon to Patagonia, Iceland, and Alaska many times and is still fine. So the short answer is that they do OK in light rain. The trick is to use a shower cap to keep it dry when not using. And when it’s raining hard enough to be a problem, it almost certainly to drecky to take photos. At that point we put our cameras in a heavy duty, gallon ziplock freezer bag. If you feel like you need to keep your camera out and unprotected in pouring rain, or shoot photos as you go through a huge rapids on the Grand Canyon, then you’ll likely need a more weather sealed camera than any of the a6000 series. But again Alison and I have used them all over the world without moisture being an issue. Hope this helps. And wishing you some great photos. Warm regards, -alan & alison

      Reply
  7. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    Hello! I came across this wonderful article as I am shopping for a travel camera. I am looking for the best possible camera (under $1500), that can fit into a jacket or cargo pant pocket and that can be used on light hikes outdoors and also casually, in museums or with friends, and in places with less-great lighting. I’ve been pleased with my Canon G7 Mark II but am looking for an upgrade, either to compact cameras such as the Canon G5 Mark III or Sony RX100 VI, or the smallest mirrorless such as the Sony a6100/6400 and Canon EOS Mark II. If I buy one of the latter two I will be limited to the smallest size lenses so that I can easily slip the camera with lens into my pocket and take it out quickly.

    This brings me to my question – in terms of image quality and low light performance, is the overlap between the RX100 or Canon G5, and the a6100 using the smallest lens, such that the images are equal? If so, I would probably prefer the smaller camera. But if the image quality is still better with the bigger one, even when using the small or stock lens – I would go bigger.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Andrew, Sorry for the late reply, a glitch in the comment-works here. The short answer is go with one of the Sony RX100s if you want the smallest camera for around $1500 that can fit into a cargo pants pocket. And note that most cargo pants pockets are not all that large! Because of that any of the Sony A6x00s are out. But they will fit into a larger jacket pocket just fine, especially with a smaller lens. The advantage of the A6x00s is that with the right lens they will outperform smaller sensor cameras like the RX100s, and are far more flexible for different photo and video needs. So if you can deal with the size, I would say the new a6600 with the new 18-135 lens (just above $1500 right now) would be the lightest, best performing camera in that price range. Hope this helps. And wishing you some great photos, -alan

      Reply
  8. Julie
    Julie says:

    Hi Alan,
    thank you for this interesting article! I am currently planning a 3 months backpacking tour in Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia). I love wildlife photography and am using my Nikon DS3200 with a tele since many years. I am looking for a lighter alternative for this trip as you am not sure if my Nikon is too heavy for it. I am thinking about the Sony RX100VI or Sony a6000. What would you recommend?

    Thank you so much!
    Julie

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Julie, apologies for the late reply. I was on a 100 mile trek and am just now checking up on comments. I would say that the Sony a6000 would be the better choice. The base model is less expensive. And it has more flexibility since you can change lenses. For an all around travel lens I would suggest the 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. I would likely do everything you need for your trip including having enough reach to do decent wildlife photos. Wishing you a great trip. Warmest, -alan & alison

      Reply
  9. Luke
    Luke says:

    Hi Alan, a very in depth review of those cameras and lenses! I studied photography in University however it’s been a while since I picked up a camera! Would love to get your thoughts on a reliable DSLR + overall lens that will have a good aperture range to cope with as much depth as possible (much like the Andes picture in your post). I’ll be going to Mexico with it (where is a slight chance of hold-ups and theft) so wouldn’t want to spend ‘too’ much on it! There just seems to be so much choice and variation I can’t quite pick any one in particular that stands out. I’ve always used Nikons in the past but did mess around with a Canon Mk3 also. I was even considering taking just a little 35mm film camera and getting a decent lens? Let me know your thoughts, e-mail directly if that’s easier!

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Luke, nice to hear from you. I think Sony a6000 with stock 16-50mm kit lens would likely be your best choice. It is inexpensive, small and light. So it’s easy to keep close to you (even fits in a largish pocket) which will help with theft. And if stolen is not the end of the world monetarily. Finally, you can upgrade to a better lens anytime you want in the future. The other option is to look a one of the less expensive older model RX100’s. Hoping this helps and wishing you some great photos in Mexico. Warmest, -alan & alison

      Reply
      • Luke Kitchiner
        Luke Kitchiner says:

        Hi Alan + Alison

        Thanks for the speedy reply! I’m just looking at the lens’ now and I’m wondering if the 16mm f/2.8 would offer any advantages over the stock 16-50mm lens?

        Regards
        Luke

        Reply
        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          It does. It is both faster and sharper. Takes better low light photos and has more control over depth of field. Downside is that you have to be happy only shooting at 16mm (or about 24mm equivalent) that is fairly wide for a general purpose fixed lens. A more conservative wide angle choice for a fixed lens would be the 19mm lens. And of course there is the super sharp 30mm lens which is normal (or about 50mm equiv). But again you have no zoom options with these lenses which can be a limitation in the field where you can’t swap the lens out for something else longer or shorter. No right or wrong answers here — just personal preferences. -a

  10. Amy
    Amy says:

    Hi Alan,
    Thank you for all this helpful information! I am climbing/hiking Kilimanjaro summer 2020 and am panicking over the camera situation. I currently have a Nikon D7000 with multiple lenses, but this is a very heavy load to take up to the summit. I will have my iPhone X with me, but as a back-up. I am concerned about weight, but also want professional quality photos. I am considering the Sony you recommended, as it sounds like it could be the right choice for quality and weight. What are your thoughts on which Sony and which lens(s)? I also need to be conscious of battery life at the extreme altitude. After the trek we will be at a safari camp for a few days, so I would like to use the same camera for this as well (trying to avoid bringing the Nikon). Would love to hear your recommendations for all of this and if you think it is worthwhile for me to bring the Nikon (34 hours, 4 flights, with heavy camera bag) for just the safari portion. I would love to find something that can do it all! Thank you in advance!

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Amy, apologies for the late reply. I was in the backcountry when you posted your comment and then it slipped through the cracks. If you are going on safari and spending all that $ and time to go to Africa then I’d recommend you buy a decent camera. I learnt this via the school of hard knocks. I went to the Galapagos without adequate lenses (esp. telephoto reach) and am still kicking myself about it.

      I think one of the Sony A6x00 cameras would be a good choice for low weight, reasonable cost, and good image quality. You can take a look at this post for lens options. But given you are in Africa and on Safari the The Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS (27 mm to 202 mm equiv.) would be a front runner since it will work as a decent short range telephoto for safari but will also work for your Killi tek. The other great lens is the 10-18 which we also use on our A7’s and would be good on Killi for some dramatic wide range perspectives — it’s one of our favorite lenses and goes on every trip whether we take an a6000 or the a7Rii’s. Finally for Safari, to save $ you might consider Lens Rentals.com for a telephoto in the range of 400 to 600 mm equiv. Wishing you a great trek and safari. Hope this helps. Warmest, -alan & alison

      Reply

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