Best Outdoor Cameras: Choosing the Right Camera for Hiking and Backpacking

Best Outdoor Cameras
Russell McCarty
Written by Russell McCarty

Picking the best outdoor camera for you can be a tricky work. There are hundreds of options out there for you to choose from, and sometimes the quantity of options can be overwhelming. Adding to this, there’s the fact that this is not a usually cheap investment. Unlike buying the wrong pencil can be a minor worry to a drawing artist, investing in a camera which is not fit for your needs can be a big issue.

If you are looking throughout this article, you are probably used to taking outdoor photographs, from landscapes to wilderness, and facing difficult photography conditions like hard climate and fast-moving objects or irregular support. In case you are not, and are most used to taking wedding, or portrait or so on, you should consider looking at some indoor type of cameras that might be fitter for your need.

Many photographers find their right camera by trial and error, which can be a very expensive thing to do, and especially more when it comes to outdoor weather that can damage your camera.

Canon and nikon

So to make the choosing part a lot easier, we have gathered some options for outdoor cameras and made a detailed description of them. From what characteristics you should look for in an outdoor camera, to some products reviews of some, you’ll leave with an idea of what camera to get.

So, what should you consider before buying an outdoor camera?

First let’s review what their use is. Using a standard camera for outdoor applications can make the camera deteriorate fairly easy or even sustain heavy damage. Outdoor-designed cameras are usually protected against climate conditions like moisture, wind and sand, to ensure the camera won’t be easily damaged.

Next you should think about what you are photographing. There are many different types of cameras for the conditions you are faced against; that is why one camera can be great for some photographs, and not so good for others.

Backpack and a camera

Let’s look at a few of them:

The Full-Fame DSLR

This type of camera can be great for landscape photographers due to their great quality image, taking photos with low noise and high resolution. The Digital SLR cameras usually have the best image you can currently get, with the most detail and color expression, and have many options to play with characteristics like ISO, aperture and shooting speed.

The downside is most of these cameras are great for still imaging, but not so much when portraying moving objects, which for wildlife photographers is not so useful. Also, although with digital SRL cameras you can also choose according to budget from the more amateur ones to the full-frame ones, they tend to be much pricier than many other types of cameras due to their top quality image.

A large-sensor compact

These cameras are much smaller than both DSLR and the Mirrorless interchangeable, but they still have a good quality image, which can make this a great option for those who need to have their camera with them all the time. There are many different options, for ones who are about as good as an iPhone camera, to ones that are more professional, and depending on this the price may vary a lot.

Sony cam

The downside of these types of cameras is that the lenses are fixed, which means that you can’t much versatility. Still, this could be a great camera to have with you, for those who need to capture nature things that are unpredictable and for carrying on difficult and long paths, making this one of the best backpacking camera options.

And this is a good option for starters, since it tends to be cheaper and also because it doesn’t require as much knowledge on the usage.

Mirrorless interchangeable lens camera

These ones are usually a bit smaller than DSLR, though there are a lot of different models and sizes to choose from. This one offers more variety than the large-sensor compacts because you can change the lenses depending on the need, and are easier to carry than the DSLR as well.

Mirrorless interchangeable lens camera

Those characteristics are very useful in a photographer that usually has to carry the equipment through difficult spaces and have to be able to move fairly easy. Lately, there has been a rise on the use of Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, which for some are a good mix between quality image, price and versatility also keeping the easy transportation and use of the compact ones.

What should a perfect outdoor camera have?

To be able to bear the weather

One of most important things outdoor cameras need to have might sound like an oxymoron, but it should be said regardless, and that is that it needs to have a weather sealing solution. Your camera is going to spend most of its time outside, having to confront different elements like moisture, sand, wind, dirt and so on, so having a good weather sealing is a great benefit to ensure the camera’s long life expectancy.

Sadly, having a weather sealing usually makes camera increase in value. Also, there are many companies that seem to have a very broad definition of weather sealing, so you really have to be careful when exposing your camera, and read the manual to find these kinds of details.

To have great lens

Unless you’re going for a large-sensor compact, you should really focus on the lenses that you can add as much, or even more so, than the camera itself. With landscape photography, large-sensor compacts might not be sufficient for capturing broad and detailed spaces, so most people go for either Mirrorless Interchangeable or DSRL.

DSLR on hessian fabric

On these cases, you really have to pay attention to the lens. Investing in a landscape lens can make a big difference in a camera, as with these kinds of photos you would want to catch as much detail as possible.

To have a good value/benefit ratio

The budget is sometimes one of the biggest worries a photographer might have regarding investing in a camera. There are many cameras that are more on the cheap side, but turn out to be as good as a phone, so you feel like you just wasted your money. And on the opposite, there are great, expensive cameras that can take amazing photos but you end up under using them because they are not fit what you need.

For example, DSRL cameras tend to be the most expensive kind, because they offer the more variety in options and the best quality image, but if you have to transport your equipment for long or dangerous spaces you might not use it as much.

Nikon dslr

So budget should be in mind when you consider your camera. Sometimes high price doesn’t equal quality or you can get quality for an affordable price range. In this case, Mirrorless Interchangeable Lenses are among the most popular option with photographers, where you can get a –sometimes- cheaper camera, but maintaining the quality and having portability and ease of use.

To be easy to carry and handle

Which leads to the next point, outdoor cameras should be easy enough to handle and move around. Sometimes as a landscape photographer you are able to carry a lot of equipment with you, camera, lenses, tripod, cases, and so on. But usually it is not the case.

Photographers need to be able to move quickly and be quick when shooting, since they are faced with many blink-and-you-miss-it opportunities. They also have to carry their equipment through long and difficult spaces, to find the right spot.

Portable cam hiker

That’s why, investing in a camera which is easier to carry, isn’t too heavy for you and that is ergonomic enough to use without wasting much time, is a great plus. Many people overlook this, and find great cameras difficult to use in their situations, so keep this in mind when buying, and give it a try to that camera first, to know if it “feels right” in your hands.

To fit your special needs

There are many different cameras for many different situations, and what might be great for still landscape photography probably won’t work as well for fast-moving wildlife photography. That’s why the first thing you should do before investing in a camera is to realize what you need it for.

If you are a wildlife photographer, you will probably focus more your attention in getting a camera with the best shutter speed you can find, but if you a nighttime photographer, maybe your focus will be more into a great ISO Sensor. So there really isn’t the perfect camera. It depends on the use you will give to it.

Keeping this in mind, let’s look at some options

We have gathered some of the top-rated outdoor cameras in the market to make choosing the right one easier for you.

Sony a7R II Full-Frame Mirrorless Lens Camera

Weight: Sony a7R II Full-Frame Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera

Dimensions: 5.67 x 6.1 x 9.61 inches.

Specific features:

  • 4 MP back-illuminated, full frame CMOS sensor
  • Hybrid Autofocusing system with 399 focal plane phase detection
  • 4K full-frame videos
  • 5 axis image stabilization system
  • ISO Range from 100 up to 102,400

Best use: Landscape photography, outdoors, low light scenarios thanks to ISO.

The first thing you need to know about Sony a7R II is its innovative technology Exmor R CMOS sensor, which is the world’s first back-illuminated full frame sensor. This means that it improves the light collection and results in up to 102,400 ISO with 42.4 megapixels. This makes this camera a great option for photos with high sensitivity and low noise.

With that amount of megapixels, this camera can take amazing landscape photographs with a great amount of detail, and with the 4K movie recording with full-frame format, you can make sure to record some great videos as well. Another great feature is its 5-axis image stabilization system and a shooter with less vibration than the previous model, which facilitates taking shake-free photos, and especially useful for outdoor hard climates like wind or cold.

All these mixed with an articulating screen that can go either up or down, is a great help for those difficult situations the landscape might put you through. Lastly the fast hybrid AF, that has 399 focal plane phase-detection AF points, allows you to take great pictures of moving objects without losing focus.

The only downside is that this camera might be pricier than most other ones in the market, considering its features and the brand. So if you have a tight budget or are just starting at outdoor photography and want to give it a try first, maybe you can invest into a cheaper one.

Check the price on Amazon

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4

Weight: 3 poundsPanasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 & DMW-YAGH

Dimensions: 12 x 10 x 8 inches

Specific features:

  • Camera resolution of 17.20 MP
  • ISO Range of up to 25,600
  • 4K recording
  • 1/8000th maximum shutter speed

Best use: Wildlife photographs, fast moving objects, video recording.

The best thing about Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 might be their shutter speed which can be up to 1/8000th seconds and 1/250th of a second with flash. So if you need capturing fast moving things, like animals and moving scenery, this camera might be the best option for you.

There’s also a “Depth-from-defocus” (DFD) technology that Panasonic offers which helps to determine if the picture is out of focus, which can facilitate taking great and fast pictures. Another great thing this camera has is its 4k recording ability, which makes this one a perfect option for quality video recording as well.

On the downside, this camera might not be as good for low light usage, so make sure to use it outdoors where there’s enough light out.

Check the price on Amazon

Beach Camera Sony Alpha a6300 ILCE-6300

Weight: 15 poundsBeach Camera Sony Alpha a6300 ILCE-6300

Dimensions: 2 x 2 x 2 inches

Specific features:

  • Hybrid AF system with 425 phase detection points
  • 4K (UHD) picture recording with Video-focused Picture Profile and mic input.
  • ISO Range of up to 25,600
  • 24 MP
  • Weather resistance

Best use: Video recording, hard weather or near sea/beach photos due to resistance

As with its partner, the Sony a7R II, Beach Camera Sony Alpha a6300 ILCE-6300 also has a very useful moving screen, that can go up or down as needed. This is useful for those difficult outdoor photographs that might make you twist like Linda Blair.

With its features, this camera is a great option for video recording more than still pictures, because it can record at 4K (UHD) at 24 or 25p, and has a microphone socket and a Video-focused Picture Profile System. This camera is a great option for those difficult climate conditions, like wind and wet weather, since it is sealed against dust and moisture.

The best might be the hybrid autofocus system with 425 phase-detection points, which is great for capturing moving objects, which might be the specialty of this camera. The only thing that can be improved with this camera might be the handling, since you can only access one dial before having to change your grip, and having more options regarding lenses.

Check the price on Amazon

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mirrorless Digital Camera

Weight: 1.1 poundsOlympus OM-D E-M1 Mirrorless Digital Camera

Dimensions: 5.1 x 2.5 x 3.7 inches

Specific features:

  • 16,3 MP CMOS Four Thirds sensor
  • 5 axis sensor image stabilization
  • ISO range from 100-25,600
  • Contrast detect and phase detect AF (81 autofocus points)
  • Dust, moist and freeze resistance (not water)

Best use: Hard weather photographs, great backpacking camera

One of the most attractive things about Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mirrorless Digital Camera is its weather resistance, which might be one of the best around the cameras in the market right now. This is a great asset for any outdoor photographer. This might be one of the best hiking camera models due to its resistance to both weather and being easy enough to transport, and stills maintains an excellent image quality with 16,3 MP

It also has a great built in body 5-axis image stabilization that is going to help you when photographing on uneven ground or difficult weather. This camera might not for you is if your specialty is either video recording or taking low light and fast pace photography.

Check the price on Amazon

Sony FDR-X1000V/W 4K Action Cam

Weight: 14.4 ouncesSony FDR-X1000V W 4K Action Cam

Dimensions: 5 x 3.2 x 6.4 inches

Specific features:

  • Professional 4K video recording and built in mic
  • SteadyShot image stabilization
  • Splash proof body

Best use: Video recording, water/snow photographs and videos, extreme sports.

The greatest thing about Sony FDR-X1000V/W 4K Action Cam is its splash proof body which allows you to record and take photos in situations you would not usually be able to, like water related scenery. This works great for extreme sports photographers who have to get in the action to be able to capture it, or even athletes with little knowledge of photography.

With a battery with a video recording capacity of around 50 to 60 minutes, integrated microphone and 4K of image, this camera is great for quality video recording. Also, thanks to its SteadyShot image stabilization you can record in full movement without having so many problems.

The only downside of this camera is that it doesn’t have as many image features as other ones to manage things like aperture or ISO.

Check the price on Amazon

Ricoh WG-M2 Wi-Fi 4K Action Camera

Weight: 4.7 ouncesRicoh WG-M2 Wi-Fi 4K Ultra HD Video Action Camera

Dimensions: 2.3 x 1.3 x 3.1 inches

Specific features:

  • Waterproof up to 65 ft, shock resistant and coldproof to 14 degrees F
  • Video recording in 4K
  • 204-degree ultra wide angle lens
  • 8 MP 1/2.3 inch CMOS sensor
  • ISO for still images is up to 6400

Best use: Water/Snow activities and extreme sports, extreme weather, video recording.

The best feature of Ricoh WG-M2 Wi-Fi 4K Action Camera has to be the waterproof and cold-proof protection. It can be used for underwater footage up to 65 ft, which is great for wildlife photographers and adventure or extreme sports photos as well. The video recording is probably what this camera is known for, with Ultra HD video at 30fps, stereo sound, and 25 minutes of continue video recording. It even comes with an underwater recording option.

Is also really small which allows you to use it easily in several situations and to be carried around without problem. This camera is a great option for certain situations, but if you are looking for the best quality image on still photographs there are more options you can choose from, but that don’t have many of the characteristics this camera offers.

Check the price on Amazon

Nikon D750 FX-format SLR Camera

Weight: 1.65 poundsNikon D750 FX-format Digital SLR Camera Body

Dimensions: 4.45 x 3.07 x 5.55 inches

Specific features:

  • Full-Frame 24.3 MP CMOS image sensor
  • Full HD video
  • ISO up to 51,200
  • 51 points with 15 cross type AF system
  • Water and dust resistance

Best use: Landscape photography, low light due to ISO, still outdoor photographs

Nikon D750 FX-format SLR Camera, being a Full-Frame DSLR is one of the best options for still landscape photography, due to both its image quality and ISO. It has also has a 51 point Multi-CAM 3500FX autofocus system, which facilitates scene analysis and make sure your photos won’t end up out of focus.

Also has great continuous shooting mode, with 6.5 fps, and a tilting screen which facilitates taking those difficult photos. Lastly, it is useful for carrying around due to both its size and that it is water and dust resistant.

On the other hand, although it has a very good continuous shooting mode, it tends to get slow after some shots, and its max shutter speed is 1/4000.

Check the price on Amazon

Cannon PowerShot G16 12.1 MP CMOS

Weight: 0.78 poundsCanon PowerShot G16 12.1 MP CMOS Digital Camera

Dimensions: 2.99 x 1.57 x 4.29 inches

Specific features:

  • 1 MP with high sensitivity 1/1.7 inch CMOS sensor.
  • ISO up to 12,800
  • Optical Zoom up to 5x

Best use: Backpacking, difficult access sceneries.

One of the good things about Cannon PowerShot G16 12.1 MP CMOS is its price. It has great image quality considering the price range. This is a great affordable option for starters. Due to the size and weight, this camera is a great option for those who need to have something on them at any given time, and to take great photos without having to carry much, which is one of the best options for backpackers for example.

Also, the 5x zoom allows you to take great photos, even at distance, and has an ISO of up to 12,800 and 12.1MP so the photos are for its price. Another thing is great about this camera is its video option, which allows you to record in HD at 1080p. Great feature for those who like to record instead on compromising on a picture.

On the other side, this is a digital camera which doesn’t give you so much variety because you can’t change its lens (although it has a great zoom), and is not weather resistant.

Check the price on Amazon

To wrap it all up…

Camera choosing is a serious matter, and it has to be done with the goal in mind. There are many different models and brands for you to choose from, but if to make that commitment you must research the pros and cons. Deciding whether you should invest into a DSRL, a Mirrorless Interchangeable Lenses or maybe buying a point-and-shoot type of camera is the first matter, and you should seriously consider some factors, like budget and weather resistance.

There are different cameras that fit different needs, so keeping that in mind will facilitate the choosing. If you are used to shooting near water scenery, investing in a water proof and even shock proof might be very useful, while if you’re more into still landscapes, you should focus more on quality image.

Landscape photographing

It all depends on the needs you might have, so we hope this review has helped you identify the key characteristics that each type of photographers might look for. If you still have any doubt or would like to know more about a specific kind, feel free to share on the comments below.

Do you like to take photos while camping or hiking? Is there any other model that you think should’ve made our list? Please let us know on the comments below!


Russell McCarty

Russell McCarty

Russell considers backpacking one of his great passions in life. He actually managed to transform his passion into a living becoming a professional adventurer. Russell loves long-distance backpacking and he enriched his portfolio with famous trails like the Alaska-Yukon Expedition or the Appalachian Trail. With thousands of miles under his feet, Russell is the expert to consult when it comes to how to prepare for a successful outdoor adventure.