Top

Buyers Guide || Cameras for backpacking: Phones, point-and-shoots, compacts & interchangeable-lens

Photography is often more about being at the right place at the right time. But a good camera helps, too. Sunset on the St. Vrain Glaciers, Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Last week I spent many more hours researching and deliberating about the purchase of a new camera than any non-obsessive person ever would. While they’re still fresh and relevant, I’ll share some backpacking-specific buying and product insights that I wish I had found elsewhere.

Personal context

I primarily use my camera for backpacking, followed by travel, social and family events, and website content. Photography is mostly a secondary concern: I like to have high quality recordings of my trips, but I’m not willing to dedicate serious time (or pack weight) to it.

For over a decade I used Canon Powershot S-series cameras — the S80, S90, and for the past four years the S100. (For a short while I also used a Panasonic Lumix LX-3, but it incurred irreparable water damage during a wet snowstorm in the Wrangells.) The S-models were lightweight, slipped easily into a hipbelt or pants pocket, and offered impressive image quality for their size, weight, and cost.

Alas, it was time to upgrade — in the six years since my S100 was released, technology has leapt ahead. Plus, the lens cover on my S100 was no longer working properly, and the screen got cracked last summer when I slipped on some slimy granite.

Old and new: my extensively used Canon S100, right; and its replacement, the Canon G9X II. Size and weight are similar, but the image quality on the G9X is far better.

Form factor

When shopping for a backpacking camera, first:

  • Assess the importance of photography/videography to you, both the art and the results; and,
  • Identify the features that you must have.

These two considerations will help get you to the appropriate form factor.

Smartphones

Two years ago Apple launched its “Shot on iPhone 6” campaign, featuring photographs on billboards and in glossy magazines shot with its then-flagship model. Look no further for proof that smartphones are legitimate cameras — and, for many people, the only camera they need.

I’m less convinced that they make good backpacking cameras, but they do have a few advantages:

  • Acceptable image quality for most applications;
  • Fast and easy sharing of photos and video on social platforms;
  • Lightweight, because you probably will carry it anyway:
    • It’s generally unwise to leave it in the car at a trailhead; and,
    • In the field it doubles as a handheld GPS, keyboard for an inReach satellite messenger, entertainment device, and (where cell service is available) telephone; and,
  • Inexpensive, because you probably already own it.

For infrequent shooters and for those who want to regularly update their social media platforms, the smartphone is probably the best option. Do yourself a favor though: use a grippy case that is resistant to shock and the elements, and on longer trips bring a Anker PowerCore 10000 charger or similar.

Crater Lake and the Lone Eagle Cirque, taken with a Nexus 5 smartphone

Nearly the same photo, taken with a 6-year-old point-and-shoot. Notice how this photo has more detail in both the shadows and in the sunny areas. Closer inspection shows better resolution of small features like clouds and trees, too.

Point-and-shoots

Smartphones have eviscerated the low-end point-and-shoot (P&S) market, typified by the 5.2-oz Canon Elph 360. But, at least for backpacking, there is still a case to be made for using one, instead of a phone:

  • Physical dials that can be operated in the rain and with cold or gloved hands;
  • Better shooting ergonomics;
  • Longer-lasting battery;
  • Optical zoom lens, for higher resolution of zoomed images & video;
  • Faster start-up and focus;
  • Less screen glare in bright sunlight;
  • Extreme resistance to water and drops (possibly), such as with the Olympics TG-4 Tough;
  • Better low-light performance (probably);
  • Reasonably priced; and;
  • Reduces exposure of your expensive smartphone to precipitation, sand, tree sap, and drops.

P&S models are suitable for moderate users who want a better camera and shooting experience than offered by a smartphone, but who are unwilling or unable to spend more money on the next category up, enthusiast compacts.

Enthusiast compacts

The smartphone may have killed off the point-and-shoot, but it also created the enthusiast compact category. To remain relevant camera manufacturers were forced to develop P&S-sized cameras with image quality and a shooting experience that was head-and-shoulders above any smartphone.

Enthusiast compacts are ideal for backpackers like me: frequent shooters who value image quality and manual control, but who want the weight and packability of a P&S.

Sony was the first to squeeze an oversized sensor and fast lens into a compact body. It released the groundbreaking RX100 in 2012, and has followed up with four subsequent models. Unfortunately, each successive generation seems to get heavier, larger, and more expensive. The latest, the Sony RX100 V, retails for an astounding $1000 and is almost 25 percent heavier than the original. As new models have been introduced, the older models have remained available at lower price points.

Canon and Panasonic have entered the category as well. Of note, Canon holds the entry-level price point with the PowerShot G9 X, which now sells for $400 and which weighs 7.3 oz. It’s a S-series camera on steroids, and even weighs 0.3 oz less than the S120, which was the last of the S-series.

Personally, I chose the second-generation Canon G9 X II, which shares the exact same body and lens but which has better low light performance, more rapid burst shooting, and faster start-up and focus thanks to a next-generation processor, the same used in the Sony RX100 III (which costs $220 more, $480 versus $700, although some might consider the electronic view finder, swiveling screen, and superior video quality to be worth the premium price).

Interchangeable lenses

If an enthusiast compact is still not enough camera, then you’re looking at an interchangeable-lens model. Enthusiast compacts can compete with this category up to a point; ultimately, however, interchangeable-lens cameras will produce the best images and video, with better image sharpness, less contrast, and no color fringing.

Interchangeable-lens cameras can be further divided into:

Mirrorless models are lighter and smaller than DSLR’s, but both are beyond pocketable or lightweight. They are a commitment, and suitable only for those who prioritize photography as part of their backpacking experience. Alan Dixon is one such backpacker, and on his website has written about his top picks.

The Sony RX100 versus the Sony A6000. The former is small enough for a hipbelt pocket and light enough for a gram weenie. The latter is much more of a commitment, but ultimately can take better photos. Photo credit: Alan Dixon.

In my limited experience carrying mirrorless and DSLR cameras, and watching others try to as well, my biggest complaint is the awkwardness, not the weight. On some trips I’d be willing to carry a kick-ass 1.5-lb camera, but I don’t because the size is not easily portable:

  • Hands get tired and are needed for other things;
  • If slung over a shoulder, it doesn’t stay put;
  • Chest mounts get in the way on difficult trails or when off-trail; and,
  • If it’s inside the backpack, it’s never used.

The smoothest system I’ve seen is Alan’s shoulder strap mount, although this would seem limited to lightweight mirrorless cameras with lightweight lenses.

Your turn: What do you use for a backpacker camera, and why?


Disclosure. This website is supported mostly through affiliate marketing, whereby for referral traffic I receive a small commission from select vendors, at no cost to the reader. This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

57 Responses to Buyers Guide || Cameras for backpacking: Phones, point-and-shoots, compacts & interchangeable-lens

  1. Sam Chaneles May 2, 2017 at 9:51 am #

    I LOVE the Olympus Tough TG-4. Takes amazing photos and I don’t have to worry about it falling in some water or taking some bumps or bruises. 16 MP and 1080P video is unbeatable in my opinion.

    • Andrew Skurka May 2, 2017 at 9:58 am #

      Is this what you are going to take on the JMT? I thought there was some consideration for a DSLR, but hopefully I talked you down from that.

      • Sam Chaneles May 2, 2017 at 10:05 am #

        That was my dad. He too has come to realize that DSLR is just too bulky. I’ve had my Olympus a Tough TG-4 for a year now and it’s been through a lot and is still amazing. Took it skiing in Colorado in near zero temperatures and didn’t freeze up.

    • Bob S. May 2, 2017 at 7:40 pm #

      Sam, have you done any macro photography with the TG-4? I need point-and-shoot that can shoot with a flash at about 3-4 inches. All the cameras I have tried with a pop-up flash will not work because the flash sits too high above lens. I considered the Ricoh WG-30W but was not impressed.

      • Sam Chaneles May 2, 2017 at 8:21 pm #

        Bob,

        The TOUGH TG-4 does NOT have a pop-up flash. I have not personally used it for macro but I know there is a setting for it, as well as attachment lenses. The TG-4 has an amazing range of versatility in my opinion; it has underwater and macro-setting, as well as custom settings for aperture and shutter speed. I have been extremely satisfied thus far.

      • Chad May 3, 2017 at 1:02 pm #

        I found that I used my TG-4 most for macro photography and nighttime time lapse- for everything else my iPhone was better and easier. Took about 1000 photos with each and my top 100 pics were 90 iPhone/10 TG-4. I use the TG-4 most for whitewhiter paddling…and it is the one camera a trust to use on a stream crossing.

        • Bob S. May 3, 2017 at 2:04 pm #

          Thanks for the reply Sam and Chad.

  2. Zak Steigmeyer May 2, 2017 at 10:02 am #

    I’m happy with my Lumix lx-5 that I’ve had for quite a few years. Small enough that I don’t think twice about carrying it hiking or on an outing with the kid, enough of a “real camera” that I want to use the camera and not the phone. Ours has held up well, though with gentler use than yours might get. I actually liked it enough to pick up a lx-3 (cheap, used, eBay) to keep in my work backpack. The wide angle (and fast) lens is definitely the great feature of the Panasonics.

  3. Adam May 2, 2017 at 10:08 am #

    Nice write-up! I currently use a Sony a5000 and agree it can be akward at times. However, my workaround is simply to stash in the “brain” area of my pack. Quick photos are taken with my iPhone, and when the DSLR is needed I just pull it from the “brain” – no taking off my pack. Not that much larger than point-and-shoot and better quality / RAW capability for modifying later in Lightroom. Cheers!

  4. Alan May 2, 2017 at 10:19 am #

    I carried my Lumix LX3 around Portugal, Spain and Scandinavia last summer. Only wished for more telephoto when in Iceland. It’s my walk around camera normally. My wish is for one with WiFi to enable file sharing when away from home.

  5. Bluebearee May 2, 2017 at 10:21 am #

    I bought a Canon G11 before a trek to Nepal almost seven years ago and still take that on all backpacking trips. It slips into a Crumpler case on my waist belt and though admittedly heavy it doesn’t bother me carried that way. The batter lasts through 800 shots, usually enough for a two week trip. I want quality photos that can be blown and all features for manual shooting including RAW. I also have a small S100 for short hikes & jaunts when size or weight is an issue.

  6. sean May 2, 2017 at 10:21 am #

    I’ve been using a Sony NEX-6 (an older a6000) since 2014. With either the standard 16-50mm zoom or a wide-angle prime, it is light and compact enough to fit in a shoulder- or wast-belt camera bag. The shoulder bag is most comfortable if balanced by e.g. food on the other shoulder strap. I miss the telephoto ability of a compact super-zoom, but the photos are quite a bit better.

  7. Gert May 2, 2017 at 10:23 am #

    THanks for the tips! Mostly I use my SmartPhone for pics and movies. I think an advantage for the mobile phone is that you have apps on it to edit pics 🙂

    Do you use a camera stand while hiking? Which one do you use?

    • David Rogers May 2, 2017 at 10:52 am #

      The Pedco UltraPod (or for larger camera UltraPod II) has been great in my experience!

  8. David Rogers May 2, 2017 at 10:27 am #

    In addition to a camera, an important things I carry is my Pedco UltraPod II. It is light and allows setting up the camera so I can be in the shots. On a rock, my backpack, a tree, anywhere

    I print a lot of my backpacking photos (highly recommend it!) and have my office wall tiled with 12×18 prints from my trips.

  9. Walter Underwood May 2, 2017 at 10:35 am #

    I got a Canon SL1 DSLR for Christmas. It is a full-blown camera that weighs just over 14 ounces and costs only $500. I usually have the Canon EF-S 24/2.8 “pancake lens” on it. That is 4.2 ounces, $150, super sharp, and looks like a thick lens cap.

    Sometimes I carry the Canon 50/1.8 II, also 4.2 ounces and also very sharp.

    I just got the Canon EF-S 10-18 zoom for when I want a really wide view (8.5 ounces). That is available in a package with the 50/1.8 for $350.

    The whole kit is under two pounds. It replaces my EOS 50D and 18-55/2.8 setup which weighed about four pounds and cost at least twice as much.

    • Andrew Skurka May 2, 2017 at 10:39 am #

      That’s a nice setup for the weight. But how do you carry it?

      • Walter Underwood May 2, 2017 at 11:36 am #

        I clip a pair of #5 S-biners into the load lifters on my pack, then clip the camera strap into those. It can be a bit clumsy to get in and out of, but it puts the weight on my pack and keeps the camera handy. It does bounce a bit, so not great for scrambling.

        I made a “camera poncho” with some silnylon and velcro around the edges, but California has not had enough rain to test it.

        I guess I should write that up in my blog, eh?

        I’m thinking about trying the Peak Design CameraPRO clip on a backpack strap.

  10. David Rogers May 2, 2017 at 10:35 am #

    I use a Sony A6300 with the 55-210 lens. I really like the longer focal length, especially when paired with the image quality. If I need a wider angle than the 55mm gives, I usually just snap 3-7 portrait shots and stitch them in to a high megapixel panorama when I get home.

    The combo is a bit heavy at 26oz, but the quality of the pictures is light years ahead of phone or even point & shoot cameras.

    I normally just carry my camera in hand with a wrist strap (over 250 miles in the past 2 seasons). If I will be using my trekking poles (rare) I use a small padded satchel bag.

    If I was just using the camera for backpacking would save 2 oz and $450+ to go with a used A6000 for about the same image quality.

    • David Rogers May 2, 2017 at 10:47 am #

      Or if I was being weight/price conscious or didn’t want the viewfinder I would go with the A5100 + 20/2.8 or 35/1.8. That combo is 14-15 oz.

  11. Jon May 2, 2017 at 10:40 am #

    Good write up.. I too am looking at the G9 to replace my aging Canon 300HS, but that little camera just wont die. Something i wish i would have done a long time ago, is to epoxy a small bolt to my hiking pole to attach a small camera. Since ive done that, i have been able to get a lot more “quick draw” shots off. makes a great mono pod also.

  12. George May 2, 2017 at 11:00 am #

    I’ve got the Olympus TG4 and while low light performance isn’t great, overall it is ideal for backpacking. Just ordered a Fuji XT2 but am not pro enough to plan to take it in every situation.

    I just spent an inordinate amount of time researching this and can confirm the perfect backpacking camera doesn’t exist. You just have to pick your tradeoffs.

  13. Larry May 2, 2017 at 11:32 am #

    For about the last 17 years, I have taken a video cam, currently a HDR-XR200. A lot of zoom capabilities, and HD, but the thing I like the most are the conversations you capture with your companions.

  14. Walter Underwood May 2, 2017 at 11:38 am #

    For a phone or small camera, there is a tripod mount that fits on a water bottle. Add the Glif clamp to hold a phone.

    https://observer.wunderwood.org/2014/07/15/38-gram-selfie-kit/

  15. Danny May 2, 2017 at 12:19 pm #

    Check out the Ricoh GR II. It’s basically a a DSLR (APS-C sensor!) in a point and shoot body.

    http://www.imaging-resource.com/cameras/canon/s100/vs/ricoh/gr-ii/

  16. Dave Glowacki May 2, 2017 at 12:38 pm #

    Alan is using a product from Peak Design in the video. I use one to carry my DSLR, and it works great. Easy on and off, and they sell a neoprene-style cover that will protect from most dirt, dust, and rain. I believe it’s called the “Capture Clip”.

    • Kyle May 6, 2017 at 6:30 pm #

      I too have been using the clip from Peak Designs. 2 years hundreds of miles and I love the thing. Its the only way to carry as DSLR around. I typically have a smart water bottle on my other shoulder strap so the weight kind of levels out.

      I have tried quite a few ways of taking picture and video and find the DSLR the best. In cold temps the point and shoot batteries die too quick and the buttons do not work well with gloves. I really like my current camera the Nikon D5500. With the swing out screen it allows me to auto focus on my face while taking video and talking into the camera.

  17. csels May 2, 2017 at 12:56 pm #

    I backpack with a Olympus EM1 + 12-40mm PRO lens. Both are weather sealed and in combination with the Peak Design Capture Clip (that Alan uses) I can even leave it out when it’s raining/snowing. I never miss the shot this way. I had my share of snowy summits. If you want to go slightly lighter, go for the EM5. I plan to bring this combo during my upcoming year-long trip and it’s well suited for most scenario’s. A great backpacking review:
    http://www.14degrees.org/adventure-photography-olympus-om-d-e-m1-mirrorless-camera-long-term-review/

    Since the lens has a constant aperture of f2.8 and is PRO graded it’s slightly heavier than other mft lenses. But I only need to bring one lens instead of multiple with that great range and it’s tack sharp at all focal lengths. The best compromise imo when you want to backpack light but still get those pro grade images.

    Not sure why micro four thirds camera’s are not more popular in the US. For backpacking, the smaller sensor is perfect since you get much smaller lenses for the same quality in other brands. The lens offering is also much better than for Sony APS-C mirrorless. I much prefer the Olympus PEN or OM-D models to the Sony a6500 etc.

  18. BCap May 2, 2017 at 1:07 pm #

    About two months ago we went through a similar exercise in picking out out a replacement for our Cannon P&S which stopped working reliably. It was tempting to use our Droid camera (we used it for the whole PCT actually), but as you point out the image quality is lacking (and now the photos we’d like to print just don’t look that good). We ended up getting the Sony RX100 (version 1) and so far so good. It was tempting to buy the Sony Alpha, spend a fortune on lenses, and learn how to use it (hopefully all before I destroy it), but in the end all I realistically want is a P&S. e.g. I’m not gonna go for a hike in the mountains with the goal of taking amazing pictures, I’m gonna go into the mountains with the goal of being in the mountains… and just want the nicest pictures I can absentmindedly snap while moving.

  19. Will Shipp May 2, 2017 at 1:26 pm #

    If you want to carry a DSLR check out Cotton Carrier’s Strapshot Holster. I comfortably carry a Nikon D750 and 24-120mm lens – a 3 pound setup which is bulkier and heavier than anything mentioned here and the strap keeps my camera accessible and safe. If I am going to scramble up rocks or anything treacherous I put the camera in my pack but I would do that with my phone or a P&S camera anyway.

    https://www.cottoncarrier.com/collections/camera-belts/products/ccs-strapshot

  20. Dan May 2, 2017 at 4:17 pm #

    I mean, the whole reason to go ultralight is so you can spend more time deeper in the backcountry watching sunrises and sunsets. I have tried dozens of cameras, from the same Canon S-Series you mention, to full size Canon and Nikon DSLRs. My biggest regret from many of biggest trips is not taking a “real” camera. Today, the Sony a6xxx series is hands down my favorite backcountry kit. They are light, inexpensive, and the image quality is astounding. I like to carry them around my hipbelt, if I wear a chest pack it blocks my view of my feet and peripheral vision too much, and doesn’t breath. Hip belt gets it lower, out of the way, and easier to get in and out of.

  21. Chad Poindexter May 2, 2017 at 4:32 pm #

    Nice! This is the exact camera (G9X Mii) that I will be buying… I have been using a Panasonic Lumix GF2 Micro 4/3 and it has been great, but if I use anything other than the stock 14mm pancake lens, it get’s bulky and heavy. I actually just put it up for sell yesterday and will put that money towards the G9X once I sell it… Great timing on the write up! lol… 🙂

    ~Stick~

  22. Chuck in AZ May 2, 2017 at 6:23 pm #

    Great Article as always!

    My fantastic Panasonic LX7 broke. Since I’m taking my sons and our troop to Philmont this summer, I had to get something great to capture the memories. I looked at every possible option including the G9x, but ultimately settled on the Sony A6000 with the 16-50 kit lens. It is an amazing camera for the money and beats my DSLR (Nikon D5300) in most situations. As a bonus, I got it on a Christmas sale for about $500 with the lens!

    I agree that it is a bit more cumbersome to carry than P&S options like the RX100, but worth it to me to eventually have a 1 camera quiver. I tried the Capture Clip used by Adventure Alan in the video. The camera seemed rather vulnerable like that and I still needed some kind of case and strap for when I was in camp. I solved this with a “Mirrorless Mover 5” case. It has a magnetic flap that makes it easy to pull the camera in and out in a split second. To carry the case, I ditched the strap it came with and picked some accessories from OptTech USA. Their Backpack Connectors (https://optechusa.com/reporter-backpack.html) allow me to dangle the case on my chest from my pack’s shoulder straps while hiking. It quickly unclips and clicks into one of their straps at camp for side hikes or Philmont activities.

    The system worked fantastic on a few shakedown trips and I love the flexibility of the modular straps. The main drawback is I sometimes can’t see my feet on tricky descents, so I unclip one of the shoulder straps, which seems to work. Worst case, I can stuff it in the attic of my pack temporarily.

    I’ve been messing with Photography for 25+ years and this camera blows me away. The fact that it is affordable, produces stunning images and is small enough for backpacking makes it a great choice for anyone who prioritizes photography on backpacking trips.

  23. Bob S. May 2, 2017 at 6:24 pm #

    My choice when packing light is the Nikon 1 V3 mirrorless camera. It’s a little on the pricey side and not very rugged but for such a compact camera it offers features you would expect on a full-size D-SLR. If you have a little extra space in your pack the V3 comes with a detachable electronic viewfinder and hand grip. The kit I bought also came with a Nikon F-mount adapter so I can use my full line of Nikon lenses. I also have an adapter that goes on my Nikon spotting scope for birding. My only complaints are the N1 V3 uses Micro SD cards which are a pain to swap out and the sensor is a bit small for a camera in that price range.

    I also have an older Sony NEX-5N which is an excellent camera and in my opinion delivers much better image quality than Nikon’s current flagship mirrorless if you don’t mind a little extra bulk.

  24. Bill May 2, 2017 at 6:32 pm #

    Most of the time, I use my original Canon G9. If photography is my purpose, I take my Lumix GH3 and some lenses.

  25. Dan Durston May 2, 2017 at 7:18 pm #

    I recently went though the same decision making process and ended up with a Panasonic ZS100.

    The ZS100 is similar to the Canon G9 and Sony RX100 V in many ways (sensor size, 4k video etc) but it has quite a bit more zoom with the 25-250 lens instead of the 25 – 80 (or so). DPReview has a good comparison of these camera’s including the ZS100, RX100 and G9.
    https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/2017-roundup-compact-enthusiast-zoom-cameras

    I’ve been quite pleased with the shots from it, like these:
    https://intocascadia.com/2017/04/26/stein-valley-easter/

    • Andrew Skurka May 2, 2017 at 7:26 pm #

      The weight, bulk, and price were deal-killers for me on that one. Plus, I’m impartial to Canon. How do you find its compactness? Small enough for pants pockets or at least large hipbelt pockets?

  26. Dan Durston May 2, 2017 at 7:51 pm #

    I got a killer deal on it. Some guy bought it, didn’t like the viewfinder and then got upset when he found his local camera shop charged a 20% re-stocking fee. Instead of returning it, he irrationally listed it on eBay for 40% off (Buy It Now) including 3x batteries. It arrived with the original receipt dated only 5 days prior.

    The extra weight of the ZS100 is a downside. At 300g, it is ~35% heavier than the G9. It’s a fair bit, but this seems like the unavoidable price to pay if I want both a large sensor and lots of optical zoom. I mulled over all these camera’s for a while, but decided I had to have the zoom.

    In terms of bulk, it is bulkier for sure than my previous camera (Nikon AW100) but it still fits reasonably easy into the hipbelt pockets of my Hanchor Marl pack, which are sorta large but not huge. That is in a MYOG case from a bubble wrap mailer envelope.

  27. Michael May 2, 2017 at 8:15 pm #

    Currently use Canon S100/S120. Seriously considering the G7 X Mark ii for the wider, longer and faster lens and tilting screen. I had loved that feature on my older Canons and swore I’d never go without but then they stopped putting it on for a while.

  28. Ben Roro May 2, 2017 at 8:49 pm #

    Any suggestions for a camera that runs on regular batteries? I’m heading into the wilderness for 6 weeks with zero opportunity to charge a lithium or any rechargeable battery.

    • Michael May 3, 2017 at 7:24 am #

      No chance to take a solar charger??? If not, the older Canon Powershot A series took AA batteries. I used the A75, A620 and A630. Those all took 4 AAs. Pretty sure there were smaller models that took just 2.

    • Andrew Skurka May 3, 2017 at 7:54 am #

      By limiting yourself to cameras with standard batteries (e.g. AA), unfortunately you are limiting the number of prospective cameras. None of the cameras that I looked at had this option, and I’d be concerned about being able to find a “good” camera.

      On longer trips I normally just bring extra batteries. OEM batteries are the most reliable, but they are stupidly expensive. As a more cost-effective option, try SterlingTek or another knock-off brand.

      Given the length of your trip, it might be weight- or cost-effective to buy a USB charger for your camera batteries. Attach the charger to a portable battery like the Anker PowerCore 10000 or similar, and then charge up.

  29. HighSierra May 3, 2017 at 4:16 pm #

    I use an XT-1 and XF18-135 and Samyang 12mm lenses. I had a Panasonic DMC-TS4 and Olympus TG-3, but wanted to get a camera with full manual control and better image quality to take the photos I’ve always envisioned. Compact cameras have their place but Fuji’s mirrorless system hits the sweet spot for me, albeit I would incredibly excited if they could make a weather resistant IS version of the XF16-55 or another good zoom that wide. I can’t extol the ease and comfort of the Peak Design Capture Clip enough, it’s even quicker to de/holster my ILC setup than pulling a phone or compact camera out of a hipbelt pocket. I’ve done a fair bit of Cl. 3-4 without it getting in the way anymore than something in my hipbelt pockets. The shoulder mount makes the weight feel much lighter than if I had to keep the camera packed away, similar to a front pack for balancing the weight.

    With the two lenses, Capture Clip, Trailpix trekking pole tripod adapter, and a few cleaning accessories I end up about 2.5 pounds over the weight of the aforementioned compacts. That’s worth it for me, just as is bringing a small spinning rod vs. a Tenkara rod – it lets me take specific photos that I otherwise can’t.

  30. Ralph Wood May 3, 2017 at 8:16 pm #

    Another Vote for Fuji here.

    For backpacking, I use the mirrorless Fuji X-E2 body, paired with the XF27mm f2.8 pancake lens. That particular body weighs just a little over 12oz with the battery. The 27mm pancake lens (which is the lightest Fuji makes) adds another 3.8oz, giving me basically the same specs and weight as the X100, but with the added flexibility to use all the other excellent quality Fuji glass I own.

    It is definitely heavier than some of the other options out there at about 1lb for the entire kit, but the image quality is worth it to me. Added bonus. The XE-2 with the pancake lens attached fits into the hip belt pocket on my back pack.

    Unrelated to backpacking specifically, is that Fuji operates under the philosophy of “Kaizen”, or constant improvement. They are continually updating firmware, and improving older cameras by adding features found on their newer versions (my XE-2 is almost a completely new camera with the 4.0 update). That type of thinking is important to me, and it’s a nice bonus knowing my camera isn’t going to be “obsolete” in a year when the latest and greatest new version comes out. This also makes buying a used camera a very compelling option.

    Great company and cameras, with fantastic customer support. Definitely worth considering.

  31. Viajarapie May 4, 2017 at 1:39 am #

    How about battery drain? Is there any meaningful difference among cameras in the same category? This would be a major factor for backpackers, I guess the best data we have is manufacturer specs, can we trust those at all?

    • Andrew Skurka May 4, 2017 at 5:45 pm #

      Yes, there is a wide range of battery performance across cameras. I believe that the specs provided by the manufacturer are in compliance with a standard test, so it should be somewhat apples-to-apples.

      From a backpacker’s perspective, consider battery life and weight as part of the same. My G9X does not last as long as some of the RX100 models, but it’s several ounces lighter, and if I dedicate even some portion of the difference to a spare battery (or two), I am way ahead in overall battery life.

      Of course, you need to factor in the price of these extra batteries too. The OEM models are stupidly expensive, and non-OEM can be hit or miss.

  32. MarkL May 4, 2017 at 11:13 am #

    My phone (Droid Turbo) actually does shockingly well, and I love the panorama function. Where it really can’t perform anything like a “real” camera is low light and zoom. I do a lot of backcountry skiing, so the polarizer on my old film camera lens really helped with high contrast, bright conditions. Whatever I end up with needs to be able to accept filters.

    I’d rather spend my $ on a good sensor and decent lens(es) (I’m not a pro) than megapixels I don’t need. Any thoughts?

    • David Rogers May 4, 2017 at 12:12 pm #

      If you are going to print bigger than 5×7 or will be looking at the pictures on a high res display, the more megapixels (more than 16) will really help.

      Also, with modern good sensors (1″ or larger) that will have the low light and dynamic range you want, you pretty much are going to get the megapixels any way, want them or not.

      • Bill May 4, 2017 at 1:34 pm #

        The idea that you need a huge number of pixels for good image quality is just not true. When properly focused and exposed, the images on my 5 megapixel Olympus E-1 give me plenty of detail even to absurd magnification. What you do get with the higher number of pixels in the sensor is huge image files. You don’t need a large sensor for good photos either. A larger sensor will give you a nicer choice of lens focal lengths and allow more control over depth of field. Depth of field actually depends on the focal length of the lens and not on the size of the sensor, but small sensors use shorter focal length lenses for the same field of view. I would love to have a full frame SLR, but I’m content with my Micro Four Thirds cameras.

  33. Kevin M May 4, 2017 at 11:02 pm #

    I think I must be among the small minority – I rock a full frame DSLR. I got a Canon 6D on a sale and I still use the 24-105mm L series lens.

    I can get away with about 800 shots in RAW on a single battery (RAW makes a huge impact on processing – you can save lots of photos that have too much contrast, are underexposed, etc.). I use the Peak Designs Capture shoulder mount. I don’t bring a charger, a bag, a tripod, or even extra cards. I do bring a gallon size ziplock or two – I’ll hike with one bag loosely over the camera while it’s on my shoulder in light rain or stuff it in one if it’s too rainy. I often end up doing the same while traveling – it usually works out that I can bundle the camera carefully in my fleece if I need to put it in my pack for bus rides and so on.

    Yes, it’s heavy. It outweighs any single item I carry, including cook system, sleeping bag, tent, or backpack. But on the trips that I bring it, I usually end up in some amazing places. Then I get to have wall art for home that is both gorgeous as 24×36″ prints or bigger and easily takes me back to those trips. Mountain photos on every wall.

    If I was doing a trip that I knew would have bad weather or lousy views, I’d leave it at home and just stick with the phone.

    One day, the camera-gods will deliver a full frame mirrorless camera that is light, small, and weather sealed.

  34. Nicolas May 5, 2017 at 10:50 pm #

    I used the Canon S120 on the JMT last year. I was decently happy with the stills, but less so with videos — chromatic aberrations, dreadful audio, etc. Starting near Mt Oloncha and finishing at Happy Isles in 14 days, I managed to rub a lot of the body paint off, and the rear menu wheel now sticks. I took as good care of it as I could, dedicating a whole hip-belt pocket for it. All in all, advanced compacts are somewhat fragile creatures aimed at the consumer market.

    Like you, I am now looking to upgrade for upcoming hiking trips this summer: G9x ii vs G7x ii. Have you found the 28-84 mm focal range to be limiting? I was leaning G7x, but you may have just changed my mind.

    Cheers!

    • Andrew Skurka May 6, 2017 at 6:11 am #

      I went with the G9 II because of cost (relative to G7 and comparable RX100 models) and because I generally am wary of first generation products — usually they have errors or oversights that are discovered only through mass consumer testing and that get fixed for G2.

  35. Bob S. May 8, 2017 at 2:36 pm #

    Was the Olympus TG-4 discontinued? I tried several major retailers and I have not been able to locate one. Rumors on a replacement anyone?

    I ordered a TG-4 from Best Buy but it looks doubtful they will be able to fulfill the order. I called around to a few other places but they were either out of stock or were price gouging.

    • George May 8, 2017 at 2:47 pm #

      Maybe there’s a replacement coming but I haven’t seen any press. I’ve got a tg-3 and a tg-4 and will always keep one even if just for snorkeling.

  36. Andy May 11, 2017 at 1:18 pm #

    There seem to be a lot of commenters in the enthusiast and interchangeable lens categories, and that’s understandable. I’m in the point-and-shoot category, and I wanted to mention the very good Pansonic Lumix DMS-TS5 (or FT5). It’s a waterproof & shockproof competitor to the Olympus TM-4 that has been mentioned. I liked the Olympus’s extra lenses, but the test pictures I found online favored the Lumix, and I have been very happy with the picture quality (color, saturation, etc.). Obviously it is a tiny sensor with a mini-zoom lens, but it still beats the smartphone camera. In the end, I want point and shoot for simplicity and speed, and this one fits in any pocket and I can whip it out, push the power button and take a picture in 3-4 seconds. No ziploc needed, if it gets wet or dirty just wipe the lens, plus shockproof (I’ve dropped it on rocks before and it still works).

  37. Brian Howe June 5, 2017 at 3:21 pm #

    Great thread. I’m only shopping by sheer weight. What would you say is the most lightweight of all these aforementioned camera’s that I should consider?

    • Andrew Skurka June 5, 2017 at 6:31 pm #

      The lightest camera is your smarthphone, because you are probably carrying one already.

      If you want a dedicated camera, then I would look at the aforementioned Canon Elph 360. It’s 5.2 oz with battery.

      But for the weight of a Snickers bar, you’re in the world of enthusiast compacts, which are much better cameras than the Elph. My Canon G9X II is 7.3 oz with battery; the original is the same. The first-gen Sony RX100 is 8.5 oz.

Leave a Reply

Please prove you're not spam: *