Hiking is more than just a way to stay in shape – a lot of its appeal comes from the fact that you’re out there in the wild, a witness to the breathtaking landscapes hidden from the day-to-day life of the modern civilization.
It’s only natural that you want to take some memories of those magnificent views home with you.
That’s why I’ve decided to help you find the best hiking camera for your hiking adventure.
Read on to learn all about these pocket-sized wonders.
- Hiking With A Camera: The Why’s And How’s
- Features: What To Look For In A Hiking Camera
- The Best Hiking Camera: My Top 5 Suggestions
- 1. Sony DSC-RX100/B 20.2 MP Exmor CMOS Sensor Digital Camera – Great Performance, Poor Design
- 2. Olympus TG-4 16 MP Waterproof Digital Camera with 3-Inch LCD – Truly Tough
- 3. Panasonic Lumix ZS50 Camera – Compact Superzoom
- 4. Sony a5100 16-50mm Mirrorless Digital Camera with 3-Inch Flip Up LCD – An Odd Mix Of Features
- 5. Canon PowerShot G7 X Digital Camera – The Expensive One
- Final Verdict
Hiking With A Camera: The Why’s And How’s
First and foremost, your camera should probably be the last thing you pack (or worry about packing, for that matter).
If you’re going for a multi-day hike, that pretty much means there will be some camping involved; you’ll be far away from all the beneficial aspects of modern-day lifestyle, so make sure you have everything you need with you.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t bring your camera at all – it would be a shame to miss the chance to capture all the breathtaking scenery. I’m just saying there are far more important things to worry about before you go on a hike, so deal with those first; then (and only then) proceed to find a spot in your backpack for your camera.
That brings us to my list of tips for packing your camera:
- A Dry Bag Is An Absolute Must – Even if you already have a waterproof backpack, I would suggest placing your camera in a dry bag anyway – just to be on the safe side. In case you don’t have a dry bag yet, a quick trip to the nearest outdoor sports retailer is in order.
- Extra Walling – If your regular camera backpack has some extra walling, by all means, feel free to use it – it will provide an additional layer of cushion and keep your camera safe during your hikes. Wrap it around your camera before you place it in the dry bag.
- Keep It On Top Of Your Backpack – There’s a lot of stuff you’ll need during your hike, especially if you’re going camping, as well. You don’t want your camera crushed by the weight of the backpack’s content – you want it on top, where it's safe and accessible to you whenever the opportunity for a great shot appears.
- If You Insist On Bringing Your Tripod With You... – Unless you're setting out to take some pro-level shots, it would pretty much be a waste of space to bring a tripod with you on a hiking trip. But if you insist on bringing it, there are several ways to attach it to your backpack: sides, top, bottom, or center. I wouldn't suggest fastening it to the side, though, as it creates an uneven distribution of weight. Placing it on the bottom, however, means you'll get it dirty whenever you take off your backpack. In most cases, I opt for attaching it to the top – it's easily accessed, and it doesn't mess with overall weight distribution.
Features: What To Look For In A Hiking Camera
- The Weight Of The Camera – It’s easy to get distracted by all the other features a camera might offer; the fact that you'll be carrying it around all day during your hike might slip your mind. While the weight of the camera itself won’t be something you can’t handle, you need to keep in mind all the additional camera gear, as well as your hiking backpack – you’ll have to carry all of it with you at all times.
That’s when weight becomes an issue. It might not seem like a lot now, but once you’re out there on the trail, you’ll be sorry you didn’t pay attention to details like this. So, don’t get yourself in that position – think about how much you’re comfortable with carrying around.
- Image Quality When The Camera Is Handheld – Yes, you may bring your tripod with you (and decide to ignore the fact that it will only increase the weight of your already heavy backpack). But will you have the time (and will) to take it out every time you want to take a photo? Probably not.
That’s why you’ll need a camera with excellent image stabilization, especially in when the lighting conditions aren’t that great (I’ll talk a bit more about dawn and dusk performance later on in the article). Anyway, since a tripod should be used only as a last resort, you need to be able to rely on your camera to take sharp, high-quality photos even when it’s handheld.
- A Good Viewfinder Goes A Long Way – While rear screen displays were all the rage when they first appeared on the market, out there in the wild, they’re pretty much useless. I know, „useless“ seems like a too harsh thing to say, but have you ever tried using the rear display in broad daylight?
It’s practically impossible – either you see nothing at all, or the image is soo small that seeing all the essential details is out of the question. Nothing can replace a good viewfinder in that sense; by „good“ I mean one that provides all the critical info you’ll need before taking a photo. And when it comes to manual focus, viewfinders are your best bet.
- Controls That Are Easily Accessed – The entire point of hiking is going places, isn’t it? There’s plenty of things to do and see, and more often than not, you’ll have to be quick about taking your photos, so you, and everyone else you’re hiking with, can move on. What I’m trying to say is you won’t have a lot of time to mess around with your camera.
You need to be able to take it out, adjust every primary camera setting (exposure, shutter speed, ISO settings, and the like), take a shot, and be done with it – I’m talking about seconds here. Not having to take your eye off of the viewfinder while you do all this is always a huge bonus. Stay away from cameras that hide all the necessary adjustments in some never-ending menus – these will only slow you down.
- Performance In Dawn Or Dusk – Let's face it: when all the city lights are gone, you're going to be dealing with a lot of dim light. And while dawn and dusk are the times of day when you can take some astonishing photos of the surrounding landscape, no one tells how hard it is to get the perfect shot in such conditions. Anything from camera shake to low shutter speed can pretty much ruin your photo by making it blurry.
That's not something that is frequently talked about when it comes to camera reviews, but I think it's one of the make-or-brake features of a hiking camera. What good is it really if you can't take a decent photo of a sunrise over the hills, right?
- Environmental Sealing – When it comes to weather sealing, I can't say it's a definitive must-have, but I'd want a camera with this type of protection if I were you. You might not need it all the time, but there will be occasions when you most certainly will. Rubber-covered buttons and joints on the camera will especially come in handy when it comes to protecting your camera from dust.
And believe me, there will be A LOT of dust. If you opt for a model with environmental sealing, don't push it – shooting in the pouring rain is pretty much never a good idea.
- Can You Justify The Price – With all that in mind, take a look at your favorite model; can you justify its price? I'm not saying you should find the cheapest one out there – a good camera calls for a high figure on its price tag, which is entirely understandable. The issue here is paying too much for something that doesn't quite meet your particular requirements.
The Best Hiking Camera: My Top 5 Suggestions
1. Sony DSC-RX100/B 20.2 MP Exmor CMOS Sensor Digital Camera – Great Performance, Poor Design
Performance-wise, this is an excellent, pocket-sized camera – shot-to-shot delay is minimal, and memory recall allows you to save up to three groups of your preferred shooting settings.
Also, the camera performed rather well in dim light conditions (remember what I said about dawn/dusk performance).
I was excited about the WhiteMagic feature, and while it's not disappointing, it wasn't as good as I anticipated when it came to direct sunlight.
There's one major issue I have with this particular model – the lack of an adequate grip. You better be extra careful with it, or you might end up without a camera mid-way through your hike. Bringing along the wrist strap is probably a good idea, just to be on the safe side.
While I like built-in pop-up flashes, this one is really, really inconveniently placed; you'll be fine when it's not turned on, but when it is, good luck figuring out where you should put your other hand. It's highly impractical, especially when you're trying to steady the camera as much as possible holding both sides since it's positioned right where your fingers should go.
2. Olympus TG-4 16 MP Waterproof Digital Camera with 3-Inch LCD – Truly Tough
When Olympus made the TG series and marked them as "Tough," they weren't kidding – these models can take a beating.
Not only are they shockproof to up to 7 feet – meaning they can handle a fall from such a height, but also waterproof and crushproof, as well. So, putting anything lighter than 220 pounds on the camera or completely submerging it in water won't cause any harm.
I know I'm supposed to focus on hiking cameras, but come on – you can use this one both above and underwater. And in case you do decide to take it underwater, there are special waterproof lenses you can attach to it.
Anyway, if you're looking for environmental sealing, this one's THE camera for you.
While I can forgive the fact that it doesn't have a micro-USB port (I guess you just need to get used to using the proprietary connector), I think it's a shame it doesn't have a viewfinder. I mean, a 3-inch LCD is a great feature, but you probably don't want to be caught in broad daylight with a camera without a viewfinder. To be fair, though, the screen is reasonably easy to use even in sunny conditions.
3. Panasonic Lumix ZS50 Camera – Compact Superzoom
I think everyone was a bit surprised by the Panasonic's decision to downgrade resolution with this model. I mean, when you hear that they went from 18.1MP to 12.1MP, you can't help asking:
As always, they knew what they were doing; sacrificing a few pixels doesn't seem like a lot once you realize what they achieved. When compared to its high-resolution competition, it does a far better job in dim lighting conditions – so taking photos at dawn or dusk is no issue for this pocket-sized wonder.
And the zoom - oh my! All I'm going to say is - 30x zoom. I mean, how many cameras (keep in mind that we're talking about compact cameras here) do you know that offer something like that?
I had the opportunity to take a few shots using the ZS50, and one thing keeps bugging me about it – I don't think of myself as a clumsy person, but I kept covering the flash with my fingers. I mean, I eventually got the hang of it, but the idea that the whole thing – the front and back grips, and the flash – is somewhat poorly arranged kind of stuck with me.
4. Sony a5100 16-50mm Mirrorless Digital Camera with 3-Inch Flip Up LCD – An Odd Mix Of Features
The first thing I want to talk about is the feel of the camera – the dimply, slightly rubberized grip is undoubtedly a step in the right direction from the smooth plastic (maybe even cheap looking) finish that most of the cameras in the lower-end price range have.
The camera features a three-inch touch-sensitive LCD that can be tilted up by 180 degrees, which is excellent, especially if you plan on taking a lot of selfies and group shots, too. However, don't get too excited about the screen – when it's taken out to direct sunlight, it becomes virtually impossible to use it due to the intense reflection.
That wouldn't be much of an issue if you could use the viewfinder instead, but guess what?
You can't because there's no viewfinder.
If this were a camera meant to be used in a more controlled environment, I would say this was a minor issue, but since we're talking about the outdoors and lots of direct sunlight, it makes it a less than ideal choice for those conditions.
On the plus side, if photos of sunrises and sunsets are more your thing, this model is the one for you – when it comes to low-light conditions (I'm talking dawn/dusk here), it pretty much takes the cake.
5. Canon PowerShot G7 X Digital Camera – The Expensive One
The first thing you'll notice when you take G7 X in your hands is how sturdy it feels; that's due to its metal body and reliable construction. Even the controls have a certain amount of stiffness to them and, most importantly, they are large enough for you to quickly find the ones you're looking for in the heat of the moment.
I guess these tiltable screens are a thing now – you have to be able to take a decent selfie out on the trail, right?
Anyway, Canon's G7 X is another model in my lineup that comes with a 3-inch (this has proven to be pretty much a standard LCD size) multi-angle tiltable touch-sensitive display, and another one that, much to my disappointment, doesn't have a viewfinder.
On the other hand, the pop-up flash is an excellent addition – the issue I had with Panasonic Lumix ZS50 (the whole thing about me covering the flash with my fingers) is eliminated by its convenient placement.
Before I wrap up the review, I have to add one more thing; I don't know about you, but I have a laptop that doesn't have an optical drive built-in, so how the heck am I supposed to read the user manual? I'm not sure why they decided to put it on a CD, but they did, so... good luck.
As you saw previously, I was trying to stay as objective as possible, naming everything I liked or didn't like about each of these cameras.
Why am I telling you this?
Because I want you to know that I didn't start this article with a favorite model in mind, which only made it harder for me to pick the best hiking camera out of the bunch.
But since I did promise you a winner, here it is:
While there are plenty of options on the market, both for beginners and advanced photographers, if you put the minor design flaws to the side, this one seems to offer the best features for the price.
Of course, you'll be the one using the camera on your hiking trip, so the final choice is entirely up to you, but if you ask me, the Panasonic Lumix ZS50 Camera is worth giving a chance.