Excellent Cameras for Backpackers
Nothing beats the thrill of leaving behind the stress of living in a city and simply hitting the outdoors for a few days and unwind. I absolutely love the whole idea of backpacking and shooting some photos outdoors. But before we head out, let us find the best camera for backpacking!
For those of you who love the road and love to pack light, backpacking is the way to go. Nobody loves to lug big heavy trunks on a two-day road trip. That evidently means keeping things minimal; including your camera gear.
There are no cameras out there in the world that are specifically designed for backpackers. That’s a myth at the best. You have to find one that matches your expectations; as well as something that is light.
Lightweight is the operative word here. That evidently means a smaller frame. But having said that, a smaller framework does not mean that you need to compromise on the shooting quality. There are far too many options in a small and lightweight framework for you to choose from.
Backpacking also means your camera will probably be exposed to the elements quite a bit. It would seem that a tough, all-weather build quality would be desirable when you expect yourself to be in less than perfect weather from time to time.
When you consider the build quality of your camera, you should also take into consideration the build quality of the lens. If the lens does not have a bit of weather sealing your camera set-up is not truly weather sealed.
A smaller compact form means a smaller sensor, right? Wrong!
Not anymore. There are a number of large sensor compact camera systems available in the market. Sony produces a bunch of these. When paired with fast prime lenses, these camera systems are just as powerful as their DSLR brethren, if not better.
Sensor size does matter. Well if you plan on just sharing your photos on social media then any camera, even an iPhone would suffice. But if you plan on making a few extra bucks selling your images in large bound canvasses, it would make sense to have a larger sensor camera.
Larger sensors are capable of producing better dynamic range, better tonal range and capture a lot more light, even in low light situations compared to smaller cameras powered by micro-four-thirds, or even APS-C sensors.
Ok, enough said, let’s now check this list and find out which is the best camera for backpacking.
8 Best Cameras for Backpacking
1. Sony Alpha a7S II Mirrorless
The Sony Alpha a7S II is a fantastic camera for low light shooting. It combines large pixel size with the powerful BIONZ image processor to produce great quality imagery even in low light conditions.
Travelers don’t have the luxury of time. Travelling is expensive and many times you arrive at a destination at the worst possible time of the day, with probably just a few hours before heading out again.
The Sony Alpha a7S II enables you to make the most of those few odd hours capturing beautiful bright exposures even when there is no light at all. The overall weight of the camera is 1.38 lb (body only).
2. Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera
The rugged weather sealed Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 is the next entry on this list of the best camera for backpacking. The DMC-GH4, despite being a dated design, still has enough features which should wow the average backpacker.
I am not a big fan of the micro-four-thirds system and yet the DMC-GH4 commands a place on this list. It has an effective resolution of 16 MP, a fully articulated 1 M-dot 3” touchscreen, an electronic 2,359,000-k dots viewfinder and the ability to shoot 4K. It's a complete package.
And if you are the sort of photographer who loves to play around with fast shutter speeds, the DMC-GH4 shoots at 1/8000 of a second with a burst rate of 12 fps.
Two features on the DMC-GH4 that would make videographers happy are Focus Peaking and Zebra highlights warning.
The overall weight of the camera is 1.23 lb (body only).
3. Fujifilm X-T2 Mirrorless
At the time of writing, this article the Fujifilm X-T2 hasn’t been shipped yet. Thus, its entry into this discussion to find the best camera for backpacking is purely based on its impressive specs.
The X-T2 is based on a 24.3 MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS III sensor. Image processing is powered by the Fuji X-processor Pro engine. It has a 3” 1.04M-dot tilting LCD screen and an electronic OLED viewfinder with a 2.36m-dot resolution.
The X-T2 come with internal 4K (UHD) video recording with F-log gamma. Continuous shooting speed is 8 fps. The X-T2 has a pretty high ISO rating of 51200. The camera comes with a weather sealed body.
The overall weight of the camera is 1.12 lb (body only with memory card and battery).
For more detailed specs, visit the FujiFilm X-T2 product page.
4. Sony Alpha a6300 Mirrorless Digital Camera
The Sony Alpha a6300 is a powerful camera in a tiny frame. It is built around a 24.2 MP APS-C EXMOR CMOS sensor and BIONZ X image processor.
This small weather sealed body can take a bit of abuse. However, you will need to pair it with a compatible weather sealed lens for absolutely stress-free shooting.
The XGA tru-finder 2.36m-dot OLED viewfinder gives you a clear view of the scene as you can see what the sensor sees. A 425-point phase detection auto-focusing powers the AF performance.
The Alpha a6300 is capable of shooting fast bursts of shots at 11 fps, making it a formidable camera in the right hands. It comes with internal 4K (UDH) video recording as well.
The overall weight of the camera is 0.89 lb.
5. Sony Alpha a7R II Mirrorless Digital Camera
Let’s start with the weight of this full-frame mirrorless system, I call ‘wolf in sheep skin'. Yes, that’s what I think of the Sony Alpha a7R II.
It weighs 1.37 lb. But that is just one of the boxes checked. The Sony Alpha a7R II is a full-frame mirrorless camera with an effective resolution of 42 MP.
That means the images you will make are going to be large 7952 x 5304 pixels. You would easily be able to print big and hang your favorite images on the living room wall, or sale if you are interested in making some money on the side.
The sensor is an EXMOR R BSI CMOS and image processing is powered by BIONZ X image processor.
BSI sensors have superior low light performance because of the architecture of the sensor. ISO range is 102,400. The Alpha a7R II is capable of shooting internal 4K (UHD), has S-Log2 Gamma and a 5-axis SteadyShot image stabilization.
It also has 399 point phase detection AF system. A 3” tilting 1228.8k-dot LCD screen and a 0.5” 2.36m-dot XGA OLED tru-finder are what you use to compose with.
Continuous shooting speed is not its USP as it can shoot at a max of 5 fps burst rate.
6. Olympus Stylus TOUGH TG-4 Digital Camera
Now for a couple of cameras that I think is for those who want to get a bit adventurous on their backpacking trip. The Olympus Stylus TOUGH TG-4 is a tough camera unless you decide to throw it down the shaft of a volcano 🙂
It is water-resistant up to a depth of 50’, will last a fall from a height of 7’, will survive the severity of temperatures of up to 14 ˚ F and pressure of up to 220 lbf.
The Olympus Stylus TOUGH TG-4 is powered by a 16 MP 1/2.3″ BSI CMOS sensor. Probably the most common sensor size in the world and a small one, just to clarify.
The fact that this is a BSI sensor means low light performance wouldn’t necessarily be as bad as you normally expect from a small sensor camera. Image processing is handled by TruePic VII image processing engine.
The camera incorporates what is known as Olympus’ HIS technology. Basically, it is all about better image quality in low light. It combines the BSI sensor and enhanced image processor engine to deliver great quality images even in low light.
Being a compact camera means the lens is integrated. This one has a 35mm optical equivalent of 25-100mm (4x optical zoom) and a maximum aperture range of f/2 – f4.9. It shoots stills at a maximum burst rate of 5 fps and videos at a resolution of full HD. The biggest advantage of the TG-4 is its weight. This compact baby weighs just 0.54 lb.
7. GoPro HERO Black
You can’t keep the GoPro out if there is a talk about the best camera for backpacking. The GoPro is designed for this kind of stuff. It may not make stunning creative long exposures.
It will certainly not make extremely detailed images, stuff you can print and hang on your drawing room wall. But having said that the GoPro HERO 4 Black will make some stunning first person POV images if you indulge in a bit of bungee diving or skydiving or parasailing.
Not many cameras can claim to do that with the kind of convenience that the HERO Black does. Plus, the real strength of the HERO Black is its video shooting abilities.
It shoots native 4K (UHD) videos at varying frame rates. The HERO Black weighs just 0.2 lb without the housing. With the housing, it weighs just 0.33 lb. Therefore it is the lightest camera yet on this list.
8. Pentax K-3 DSLR
Yes, I haven’t yet mentioned a single DSLR on this list yet. But this last camera in the list is going to be a DSLR camera!
For all the cameras that were discussed on this list, the common thread was that it has to be lightweight and be able to shoot good quality images.
But this next camera is both weather resistant, shoots great quality images, and is fairly lightweight. Meaning, it has all the traits of being the best camera for backpacking. I am referring to the Pentax K-3.
The Pentax K-3 is a 23.35 MP APS-C CMOS sensor powered DSLR with a PRIME III image processing engine.
It is capable of producing large 6016 x 4000-pixel resolution stills. The sensor shift type image stabilization makes all compatible lenses image stabilized by default.
The best thing about the K-3 is, however, the fantastic weather sealing. The chassis of the camera is built out of magnesium alloy. On the outside of the plastic and rubberised components of the camera has a total of 92 weather sealing which keeps dirt and water out of it.
It is almost weather proof too and capable of being used at a temperature of 14 ˚ F. The K-3 shoots at a continuous shooting speed of 8.3 fps. Plus, it shoots full HD videos at a choice of varying frame rate. The overall weight of the system is only 1.8 lb.
Comparison Chart: Best Cameras for Backpacking
Conclusion: Which is the Best Camera for Backpacking?
- The Pentax K-3 looks like a formidable camera. However, you have to consider the weight of the lens you may want to use with this system. For the mirrorless systems too you will have to consider the associated weight of the lenses. Overall, if you want the benefit of a proper DSLR camera and wish to be able to produce both great images and full HD videos, have a weather proof system reliable enough to be carried with you at all times, and above all lightweight, then the K-3 is a good system to buy.
- On the other hand, if you are looking to take your camera anywhere, want maximum portability, lightweight then the GoPro HERO Black is a good option. You can buy a GoPro StrapMount to fix the camera on your backpack and you are ready to go for any kind of outdoor adventure! See this video below to better understand how the StrapMount works:
- If 4K video capability is your primary requirement, however, then none of these two cameras are going to be suitable for you. You need something like the Sony Alpha a7R II or the Fujifilm X-T2.
The thing is there is no single camera that works as the best camera for backpacking in all situations. It depends on how you plan to shoot on your specific trip, your preferences, priorities, and budget.
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Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly.
He has been writing for over 7 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favorite pursuits.