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Any advice for a beginner camera for taking photos while backpacking?

Hi All, Does anyone have any advice on buying a baseline camera to get started backpacking with? I've been using my phone which is okay for some stuff, but terrible for scenery. Maybe something that just has a good all-around lens because I won't be carrying extra lenses with me, at least not yet. We're not super weight-conscious. Thanks!

13 Replies

Get a better/newer phone.  The recent Google Pixels and Apple iPhones have excellent cameras so unless you want something for professional use you are not going to do much better without adding a lot of weight and fuss for a lot of money.  The one place phones do fall down is a long Zoom but that is more for wildlife than scenery and a good zoom is a heavy carry.

Also these phones have camera apps that give you more control over the camera so that is something to explore also.  Open Camera is one on Android.

@djw Thanks for reaching out!

This is a great topic and, as someone who wishes he could take better photos, one I really appreciate! We've got some good photographers here in the community including, but not limited to, @Philreedshikes@CajunHiker@Dad_Aint_Hip@Serenity_Luna, and @bryndsharp, I bet they can chime in with some advice. First, I recommend taking a look at this thread: What's Your Go-To Camera On The Trail? as it contains a lot of really good information. Afterwards, feel free to ask some follow up questions here by tagging the above mentioned users. 


At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Hey there @djw ! Totally agree with what @OldGuyot  said. 

The cameras on most phones today make for great videos!

I have found that with practice, and patience, I can take some pretty decent outdoor videos and photos.

(btw what model phone do you have?)

I recommend a google search for how to take great photos on your phone and seeing if any of the tips are useful.

I find that available light and holding the camera very still are very important to the process.

I also recommend taking lots of pics around the house and/or yard, flowers, trees, varying outdoor light situations (best in the morning and evenings, when the sun is not directly overhead), the low angle sun also creates different colors in the clouds.

good luck!

ps - if you must pan an outdoor shot, do it EXTREMELY slow, for better focus and clarity.

REI Member Since 1979

@djw, ok I went out and shot a short 3 min vid in the backyard using my older iPhone 7plus. There's no "post production" editing.

When viewing, check your quality play back settings from the default automatic, which defaults to 480p, and select 1080p


REI Member Since 1979
backyard test of iphone 7 video for an REI Conversation post. No post production/editing.

Hi @djw - I've all but ditched my dSLR gear on the trail and use my phone (iPhone 11) exclusively. However, to do so, I made two important purchases: an app for taking stills and an app for taking video.

Your phone's camera (assuming it's not too old) is capable of taking far greater quality footage than the built-in native apps allow. I bought the Camera+ app for doing stills and Filmic Pro for video.

The in-app photo editing from Camera+  exceeds my expectations. I rarely need to send the image to Photoshop anymore. My biggest reason for advocating the app? You can lock both the exposure and the focus individually. In the native apps, they're linked and you can only lock them both at the same point. Being able to set them separately is a huge bonus outdoors because the green leaves on trees make a great exposure point but rarely will they be where you want to set your focus.

Filmic Pro is expensive for an app ($15 at time of writing this) but the improvement over the native camera app can't be adequately expressed in words. Not only can you choose your fps rate but you can set a different record and playback fps. Really handy for shooting slow motion.

In addition to the apps, just get a good tripod with a camera mount, a decent external mic for your phone (being able to capture good audio of a running stream makes incredible b-roll), and i video rig.

Here's the extra gear I bought (I won't put in the Amazon links but you can search by the name):

  • Ulanzi U Rig Pro - $19.99 (this is a critical piece to hand holding for video)
  • Power DeWise Professional Lavalier Mic - $39.99
  • Xenvo SquidGrip Tripod - $29.99

So, for less than $100 of gear (a fraction of the price for a camera) and $22 worth of apps, you'll have an excellent set up that adds next to no weight to what you're already carrying.

Check out some of the YouTube videos on Filmic Pro to wee what people are using. It blew my mind to see what people (who are far more creative than I) can do with it.

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

@Dad_Aint_Hip Oh wow! Good stuff!! Going to check all that out!

REI Member Since 1979


This is really helpful, thank you for sharing! I'm not sure if it simplifies decisions or gives me more options to think about, but it's really good to know. Thanks!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

@Dad_Aint_Hip, well, I had previously downloaded an app recommended by someone from here (procam 7), and checked it out a bit more, and darn if it doesn't have a 4K video and something they call '4k max' (in app purchase for $4.99).

So I experimented a bit, and dang!  WOW, mind blown! on the quality!

I had no idea that I only needed an app to maximize what my iphone 7 plus camera was capable (I now wonder what else I'm missing! FOMO!!)

Anyway, that brings up more issues, like battery life, memory storage, exporting from the phone...

But...pretty happy right now!

REI Member Since 1979

@Philreedshikes  Not to add to your FOMO but… lol

…check out Adobe Premiere Rush. The membership includes Adobe Spark (great for making fast, quality thumbnails) and 100 GB of space in Adobe Creative Cloud. So you can shoot in camera, grab a frame from the video and export it to Spark to make the thumb, and edit in Rush, and using CC instead of your camera to save it. Plus, the desktop app for Rush stays in sync with your phone so you can go home, fire up your computer and pick up where you left off 

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.