There is no such thing as a hiking camera. The designation doesn’t really exist in a meaningful way. Sure, you may have found this article and a bunch of others like it by using that term on Google, but big companies like Ricoh, Nikon, Cannon, and Sony don’t direct their R&D departments to produce cameras purpose-built for heading out on a trek through the woods. It’s simply too narrow a field for a brand to invest money, time, and technology into. Yet, with that being said, there are cameras out there that are better than others for striking out into the wilderness.
And how, exactly, does one find those cameras when they’re not being sold as such? Generally speaking, the lighter, more compact, weathertight cameras are the ones best suited to go out with on a hike. They’re a lot less cumbersome to bring in a pack or strap on the outside of your bag, and they’ll hold up better to sweat and water exposure. But really when it comes down to it, the best hiking camera is the one you have on you. Whether that means you leave your beloved DSLR home for fear of damaging and go instead with your phone, or roll with that new mirrorless full-frame you nabbed – whatever you’re most comfortable with is going to yield the best results. To help provide a bit of a roadmap, though, we put together a rundown of what we think are the best hiking cameras.
Point and Shoot
Simple, Lightweight, and Packable
Point and shoot cameras are nowhere near as capable as DSLR or mirrorless shooters. That’s why you rarely see folks walking around with them anymore. But on the trail, they’re much easier to carry around than hulking DSLRs and they blow even the best camera phones out of the water with larger sensors and better lenses. And to top it off, the price-point on these cameras lowers the amount you’re risking by taking it out with you hiking.
Not trying to worry about damaging camera while out hiking? You may want to consider this model from Olympus. It’s waterproof up to 20 feet, crushproof to 220 pounds, and can survive a 7 foot drop. But outside of just being durable, the camera has 21mm ultra wide angle lens, 5x optical zoom, and flip LCD monitor.
Another tough, outdoor option, this camera from RICOH is completely operational under up to 46 feet of water, is shockproof for up to 5 feet, and can record 1080p HD video at up to 30 fps. It also has the equivalent of a 28-140mm lens zoom.
For those who don’t want to compromise as much on image quality and confident in their ability not to drop or submerge their camera while on the trail, Sony’s DSC-RX100 is well worth a look. The camera features a 20.2 megapixel sensor and the Zeiss lens has a range equivalent to a 28-100mm f/1.8-4.9 lens. The back of the camera has a 3-inch LCD screen with 1.2M dots and a set of intuitive controls. Looking to capture a bit of video? The camera can record 1080p HD video.
Ricoh GR II
This camera is a bit of a cult product. It doesn’t have a cool, sleek look to or it or even a super-recognizable brand name – but it boasts a 1-inch image sensor, a super crisp 28mm lens, great ergonomics, and 1080p HD video capability. Shooting to edit? This little point and shoot can snap images in RAW.
Small Package, Big Power
Action cameras, while developed primarily for shooting video, are well worth bringing along with you on your hiking trips for snapping stills. What these powerful cameras miss in terms of adjustability and user-interface, they more than make up for in their rugged build and video capabilities. They’re incredibly easy to throw in your pack, and travel well in your rain jacket pocket, too. They also offer users the old-school pleasure of having to wait to see how shots turned out after getting back from spending time out int the backwoods.
Garmin Virb Ultra 30
Being built weather extreme situations isn’t this camera’s only strong suit. It features a 1.75-inch display, hands free voice control, data overlays, a wide lens, and shoots in RAW, giving photographers plenty of breathing room to editing shots in post. Oh yeah – and it only weights 3.2 ounces.
The flagship model from the action camera brand has a whole lot of functionality built into it. Other than being able to shoot 4K video at 60 fps, it can snap 12 megapixel stills in 30 fps bursts. And for photographers who don’t want to guess and shoot, there is a 2-inch touch display on the back of the small, waterproof gadget.
For More Than Just Selfies
Phone cameras are not the best out there by any means. Their image sensors are dwarfed by even underpowered point and shoot cameras – but the advantage these devices have over all others on this list is that everyone is used to carrying them around with them – even on hikes. So why not get the most out of your device and whip it out to take some photos?
Google Pixel 2
What sets this camera apart from other smart phones is its dual pixel technology. This system makes it so every pixel is divided into two – allowing for better portraits, faster autofocus, and better low-light shots. Other noteworthy specs on this one include a 12.2 megapixel sensor, an f/1.8 aperture lens, and the ability to shoot 4K video at 30 fps.
Apple’s flagship model boasts not one, but two lenses. One is wide angle while the other is a telephoto (f/1.8 and 2.4 aperture respectively), and both make use of the built-in optical image stabilizers. The primary benefits of the dual lens technology is its 2x optical zoom that allows users to get closer to an object without distorting it with digital zoom.
Keep It Light
When it comes down to getting the most power and versatility for the least amount of weight, mirrorless cameras are really the way to go. They offer up large sensors, interchangeable lenses, and video capabilities – making them both versatile and high quality enough for those looking to snap professional-quality images on the trail. The downside here, though, is that you’re going to have to spend a pretty penny in order to grab one.
Nikon 1 AW1
While a lot of mirrorless and DSLR cameras these days are at the very least weather sealed, nothing out there is as tough as Nikon’s 1 AW1. This is the first ever interchangeable lens camera to be both waterproof (up to 49 feet) and shockproof (can withstand drops from 6 feet). But more than just being tough, it can shoot 15 fps with full resolution and has a 1-inch 14.2 CMOS image sensor.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II
A weather resistant body paired with a large sensor and built-in image stabilization make this body from Olympus a solid grab for those looking to snap high-end shots on the trail. The tradeoff, though, is that the body weighs in at a little over a pound.
Sony Alpha a6300
Coming in a little higher on the ticket price but a good deal lighter with its 14.8 ounces is Sony’s Alpha a6300. The camera has a capable APS-C sensor that can grab 24.2 mp stills and shoot 4K video. And to top it off? It all comes in a weather sealed package. A solid grab most pros would be happy to head out on the trail with.
A weather-sealed powerhouse with a great sensor, classic look, and light weight you could wear around your neck for the entire day without really feeling it at all. Other features photographers highlight when talking about this camera is its 24.3 megapixel sensor, the super fast and high precision autofocus feature, and the tilting 1.04 million dot LCD monitor.
Sony A7R II
Featuring a monster 42.4 megapixel full frame sensor, built-in image stabilization, and 4K video all in a weather sealed 22-ounce body – this camera from Sony is ideal for bring out on hikes. The only downside here is that it’ll set you back something serious with its nearly $3,000 asking price.
A Hefty, Capable Option
If you’re willing to lug around heavier equipment, there are a some real benefits to bringing along DSLR cameras. They’re capable, versatile machines that can snap truly professional quality images in a variety of contexts and with a broad number of lenses to select from. And when compared to mirrorless cameras, they’re relatively more affordable.
The best of Nikon’s ASP-C format cameras, this DSLR can snap 24.2 megapixel shots at 6 fps, and has an ISO sensitivity ranging from 100 to 25,600. The camera also has a time-lapse feature that would please any outdoor photographer.
Canon EOS 7D Mark II
Made from a magnesium alloy body, this camera manages to be both weather resistant and capable of capturing great frames in a wide variety of lighting situations. The 20.2 CMOS sensor has an ISO range between 100 and 16,000, and has high speed continuous shooting of up to 10 framers per second. What’s more, the camera can capture full HD video and boasts a 65-point autofocus system.
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