Best Cameras for Hiking and Backpacking

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Phones these days can take some pretty good photos. They’re always with you, lightweight and easy to use. However the quality in many situations still won’t stand up to a dedicated camera with a larger sensor. So here’s what I recommend and why for the best cameras for hiking and backpacking.

First off, the top 5 features I look for in a camera and lens for hiking and backpacking are:

  1. Image quality – If you’re serious about photography, you don’t want to compromise too much on this.
  2. Image stabilization – this needs to be really good, so that you don’t need to worry about carrying a tripod.
  3. Weather sealing – this is important to have especially when backpacking, just in case the weather turns bad.
  4. Size and Weight – every ounce counts!
  5. Versatile zoom range – for both landscapes and wildlife shots.

Just like when picking out a camera for travel photography, you’ll always compromise somewhere, you just have to decide which compromises you want to live with.

Point and Shoot Tough Camera

The Olympus TG-6

This camera, you can literally submerge in water up to 50ft(15m) and take pictures. You can drop it up to 7ft(2.1m), it’s also freezeproof, dustproof, and crushproof. It’s small and can fit in your pocket. Perfect for a thru-hike or backpacking trip where you don’t know what the weather’s going to be like. You don’t have to worry about this camera!

The downside is that the sensor is on the smaller side, so the image quality isn’t the best. But, it does capture RAW files, so that gives you more flexibility when editing. It also does not have a lot of zoom, only 25-100mm equivalent, so really not good for wildlife. However if you’re into taking macro photos it has an amazing microscope setting that is super fun to use!

Get this camera if you want an upgrade from your phone, don’t want to worry about anything happening to it, and just want to have fun taking pictures of landscapes and doing some advanced edits back home.

Point and Shoot High End Camera

Sony RX100VI or the newer RX100VII model(there’s not a big enough difference between them, I suggest going with the older VI model unless you’re into video).

This camera has better image quality than the Olympus mentioned above because it has a 1″ sensor. It will take some really nice shots for you! The zoom isn’t bad either, at 24-200mm equivalent. Still not the best for wildlife, but it’s more than enough for landscapes. It also boasts super fast auto focus, and is packaged in a small body weighing only 300g, or 10oz.

The compromises come with regards to weather sealing mostly. This camera is small, not weather resistant at all, and a bit on the delicate side. So as long as you plan on bringing a padded waterproof pouch for it and take care, it’s probably the best quality you’re going to get for this size category!

Mirrorless Cameras & Lenses

If you’re looking to step up and get a good quality interchangeable lens camera with a big range zoom lens to take with you on a hiking or backpacking trip, then I recommend the Micro Four Thirds format. They’re mirrorless cameras with DSLR quality!

I’ve been using the Micro Four Thirds system since 2017. I chose them because at the time they had both smaller cameras and lenses than either APS-C or Full Frame systems. Since then there are APS-C and full frame mirrorless camera bodies which are comparable in size, as well as a few zoom and prime lenses.

However the area where Micro Four Thirds still shines is with their all purpose zooms, and wildlife telephoto lenses. You get the best bang for your buck with regards to price, size and weight, image quality, as well as zoom range with these lenses. They also have some of the best weather sealing and in body stabilization in the industry.

*For those who don’t know, the terms Micro Four Thirds, APS-C, and Full Frame is in regards to the size of the camera’s sensor. Full Frame is 35mm, Micro Four Thirds is 1/4 of that size, and APS-C is a little larger than Micro Four Thirds.

Below are my picks for the best micro four thirds cameras and lenses for taking out on the trail!

Micro Four Thirds Cameras

The two main micro four thirds cameras that I’d recommend are:

Panasonic Lumix G85
The Lumix G85 with the 14-140mm on its body; Lumix 12-35mm on the side.

Panasonic Lumix G80/85

I personally own and use this camera very often. It’s been my main camera now for many years, and even with a couple newer Panasonic models out there I still haven’t felt the need to upgrade it. The main reason being that it is the smallest and lightest weather resistant Panasonic Lumix camera since 2016.

In terms of image quality, it has a 16 megapixel micro four thirds sensor. It’s not the best on the market, but it’s always been good enough for me and more than enough for viewing photos online which is where I primarily share them.  Compared to the quality I get from my phone or a smaller sensor camera, there’s no contest.

Brandywine Falls, in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

The image stabilization, which can go up to 5 stops, is quite good! I can hand hold shots of waterfalls and get a nice smooth effect.

The weather sealing is also good and I put it to the test a few times. If it just starts to drizzle a little I don’t worry at all about it and leave my camera out on a cross body strap. Heavier rain I usually I put the camera away, even with weather sealing. But, sometimes you’re at a place you’ll never be again, or sometimes the rain, mist and fog just look really neat and you want to try and capture it!

It weighs in at 505 grams(1.1 lbs). Holding it with one of the zoom lenses attached, it feels very balanced, in part due to the larger grip area. This is also important when hiking as you can literally pick it up, switch it on, and take a photo all with one hand!

I also own and use a GX85 that is smaller and lighter than the G85, but the grip just isn’t there. As a result, it actually gives a feeling of being heavier and not as comfortable to use, even though it’s a lighter camera. So just because something is a bit heavier, if it’s built well ergonomically, it could be a better fit for you! The GX85 is also not weather sealed, therefore I didn’t include it in this list.

In addition, the G85 has a nice 360 flip out screen which makes it easier for you to compose shots low to the ground or holding above your head, and at other weird angles. It’s also got a touch screen and the menus are intuitive to go through-some of the best out there!

Panasonic also has the G90/95 as an upgraded model to the G85. It’s a bit larger and heavier at 533g(1.175lbs). But if you’re looking for more resolution it has 20 megapixels. There aren’t too many new features in it, but the Live Composite mode could be useful for taking fun night shots, where it combines multiple exposures in camera in real time.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III

This camera has a 20 megapixel sensor, 5 stops of image stabilization, weather sealed, and has a very attractive looking compact light weight body. It weighs in at only 414 grams(0.9lbs). A great size and weight for all of its features!

As far as handling goes it has a 360 flip out touch screen, but a much shallower grip than the Lumix G85. I have not personally used this camera, so I can’t comment on how comfortable or not it is to use, however for it’s feature set and size(which is smaller and lighter than the Lumix G85 even), I highly recommend it!

This camera sits just underneath Olympus flagship model, the OM-D E-M1 Mark III, which is a great professional camera with even better autofocus, image stabilization, and extra features. If you don’t mind slightly more weight I suggest checking it out too!

Lenses

Thankfully, both Panasonic and Olympus(now known as OM Digital Solutions) use the same lens mount format, so every lens they both make can be used on any of their camera models interchangeably. The only thing to look out for is that they each have a type of proprietary “dual” image stabilization system. Stabilization in the camera body, and stabilization in the lens. These can work together to give you even more stabilization, but only if they are from the same manufacturer.

So Panasonic lenses will be able to use their “Dual I.S.” and gain more image stabilization, but only on Panasonic cameras. And likewise for Olympus’s cameras & lenses on their own system. This does not apply to every camera and lens however, as some lenses don’t have image stabilization inside them at all. Ideally, you should probably choose the lens that matches the camera you have because of this. But know that it only matters for a slight bump in image stabilization.

In my opinion, the ideal lens for hiking is one that has good quality, and a versatile zoom range. The ones I recommend are:

Shown are the Panasonic Lumix 12-35 f2.8, and the 14-140mm f3.5-5.6

Panasonic Lumix 14-140mm & Olympus 14-150mm

Both of these lenses have an impressive zoom range in a small size. They are 28-280mm and 28-300mm Full Frame equivalence respectively. That’s enough zoom to get many good wildlife shots out on the trail.

A beautiful tree swallow taken with the 14-140mm lens.

The Lumix 14-140mm comes in at 265 grams(0.58lbs), and the Olympus 14-150mm at 285g(0.62lbs). The Lumix is slighter fatter, but shorter, and the Olympus slightly longer but narrower. Both look and feel great, and their latest models are weather resistant!

*Note that if you’re interested in the Panasonic version, go with the newest model, version II lens. The earlier models are not weather resistant! It’s model number will be: FSA14140

There’s not much of a difference in the Panasonic vs. Olympus versions, except the Olympus does have a bit more zoom on the long end(280 vs 300mm), also the Panasonic is known to be slightly sharper overall and it has a slightly larger aperture on the wide end starting at f3.5 instead of 4.

Panasonic Lumix 12-35mm f2.8 & Olympus 12-40mm f2.8

These two lenses are an alternative to those mentioned above. If you don’t expect to be seeing wildlife, and don’t need a lot of zoom, I’d choose one of these lenses instead. They are great especially for darker forests, where the extra light gathering ability can come in handy.

This lens is nice and sharp even at f2.8!

They both have a wider aperture at f2.8, letting in quite a bit more light. And they do so throughout the entire zoom range. Their full frame equivalence is 24-70 and 24-80mm, with the same light gathering abilities of a f2.8 lens, but depth of field closer to than of a full frame f4 lens.

Both lenses have almost the same zoom range, but they do differ a bit more in size, with the Olympus being both a little larger and heavier at 385g(0.84lbs), vs the Panasonic which is 305g(0.67lbs). The Olympus also has a closer focusing distance and magnification, meaning you can get nicer close up shots-not quite macro, but a few steps away!

Any questions or comments, or a different camera and lens that’s a favorite of yours for hiking and backpacking? Post in the comments below!

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