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What's Your Go-To Camera On The Trail?

I'm currently using the Sony A6000, small but packs a powerful punch.  Delicate in damp conditions. Fantastic video and pictures.

Looking at upgrading to the A6500 this season, for 4K video, a bit more rain tolerance, and other features.

REI Member Since 1979
32 Replies

Hi @Philreedshikes,

Glad to see you have been using a Sony camera; they are awesome! I'm a part-time professional photographer, and have used several different cameras in my work.  @REI-JohnJ suggested that I respond to this post. I am such a lover of photography so this post may seem a tad bit long, but I hope this helps you and others determine the camera best suited for the work that you/they do. 

I use 3 main cameras when I take my images. The camera I choose to take depends on its size, image quality, and the type of image it focuses on producing. I'll give you a short pro's and con's list of each camera below, but if anyone wants more info, don't be afraid to ask. 

This post is a review of the 3 cameras I use, but I will tailor my pro's and con's to focus on its use in the backcountry. If anyone wants advice about other cameras or more specifics about how my cameras work in the backcountry and other settings, don't hesitate to reach out.


1) Camera #1: Canon EOS Rebel SL1

     This is the first semi-professional camera that I've owned and used. I love this DSLR camera, but there are some con's that have caused me to recently invest in my Sony camera (#3). For the Canon EOS Rebel SL1, I have both the 18-55 mm and 55-250 mm lenses.


     Pro's of the Canon EOS Rebel SL1:

-It's extremely lightweight! According to Canon, it's the world's lightest DSLR camera, weighing only 13 oz (this is just the body, but the lenses don't add very much weight at all). I can agree that I have never worked with a camera of this size that is as light as this camera, even after attaching my larger 55-250 mm lens. For this reason, it's a great backpacking tool, because it doesn't add a lot of weight to your pack. 

-Easy Navigation between Settings: The Canon EOS Rebel 1 has, in my opinion, one of the most straight-forward layouts for its different settings options. You can easily switch between pre-set modes, between auto- and manual-focus, and between photo and video (just to name a few). When you are trying to quickly adjust your settings to your constantly changing environment, the clear layout of this camera helps you make the necessary changes quickly and when needed.

-It's touchscreen! While this more of a luxury than a necessity, sometimes having a camera display that is touch screen allows you to more efficiently navigate between panels and settings.

-Durable: This camera has gone with me on many trips, including mountaineering in the Andes, backpacking in Patagonia & the U.S., rock-climbing single- and multi-pitch routes, and visiting beaches and sand dunes. I have dropped it, gotten it wet, taken it into blowing sand, and put it in other not-so-great situations (I know, you'd think I'd treat my camera better, but accidents happen!), but no matter what I have put it through, it still functions great and has very few signs of the trauma I have put it through!.

-Inexpensive: For what you get out of this camera, its cost is extremely affordable. The body itself only costs $549.99. Although this camera is no longer sold brand-new, I would still recommend its updated version, the EOS Rebel SL3. This series of cameras from Canon is great for those who are new to photography or view it as a hobby.

     Con's of the Canon EOS Rebel SL1:

-Sometimes hard to focus on the intended object when using Auto-Focus: This camera does not have the greatest focus control when your primary subject is not in the same plane as the rest of the image. I get around this by holding the shutter button down halfway with the center of the frame aimed at the object I want in focus, then I move the camera lens to the frame I want while keeping the shutter button held halfway down - this keeps the desired object in focus while allowing you to change the frame of your image. Of course, you won't have this issue using Manual-Focus, but we don't always have the luxury of manually focusing every image we take, especially when photographing wildlife or other subjects that are in motion.

-Not waterproof: Don't go sticking this camera underwater, unless you are trying to drown it! While this camera does great in semi-wet conditions (light rain or humidity, for example), it does not fair well when completely soaked.

-Not ideal for below-freezing temperatures: If you are in freezing temp's and you treat this camera as you would on a warm, sunny day, don't expect it to perform as efficiently. When exposed to below-freezing temp's, this camera works slower, the body and lenses get super cold, and the batteries die faster. All of these issues are avoidable with proper care (see tips @ end of post), but nonetheless they are issues to be aware of.


2) Camera #2: LUMIX 4K Digital Camera ZS100 (Panasonic) (DMC-ZS100)

I initially got this camera essentially as the "mini" version of my Canon EOS Rebel SL1. It's pocket-sized, but packs a punch, containing many of the same features as its larger digital counterparts.


     Pro's of the LUMIX 4K Digital Camera ZS100:

-Small & Light, but with the Image Quality of a Larger Camera: This camera only weighs 9.5 oz and measures 4.35" x 2.54" x 1.74" (just over the size of your palm), but still produces images of the same quality as the Canon EOS Rebel series and other similar larger DSLR cameras. 

-Large Lens Zoom & Aperture for its Size: This camera is awesome in that it's pocket-sized but still has a zoom of 25-250 mm and a F/2.8-5.9 aperture. Such variability results in this camera being great for a variety of photography styles and image types.

-Relatively Inexpensive: The LUMIX 4K Digital Camera ZS100 only costs $699.99, which is a great price for such a high-quality digital camera (especially since you don't have to buy lenses in addition to the camera body!). This is the ideal camera for someone on a budget who is looking to take quality photos while traveling light and staying space-efficient.

     Con's of the LUMIX 4K Digital Camera ZS100:

-Fewer Features: While this small camera has an amazing number of features for its size, it sadly does not have as many as many of the larger DSLR cameras. However, unless you are searching for a camera that excels in a particular type of photography, this camera has all of the features you will need.


3) Camera #3: Sony α7 III

This is the most recent addition to my camera collection and is by far my favorite. I would highly recommend this camera.


     Pro's of the Sony α7 III:

-Focus Control (via touch screen): This setting allows you to manually determine what object is focused in an image simply by using your finger on the screen (this even works when using the viewfinder).

-Fast Continuous Shooting: This camera is great at shooting continuously, with the ability to shoot in bursts at up to 10 fps with AF/AE tracking.

-Silent Shooting: Especially when you are in nature, the ability to shoot silently is priceless. Not only does the Sony α7 III allow you to shoot silently, but you can shoot continuously in silence at up to 10 fps with AF/AE tracking.

-Long Battery Life: I have yet to find a camera that has a battery that lasts as long as that of the Sony α7 III. Even on 5-day+ backpacking trips, with two of these batteries with me I don't have to worry about running out of juice (battery life will, of course, depend on many factors, including temperature, frequency of use, and type of use).

-Durable: This camera has great resistance to wet and dusty conditions. I feel confident taking this camera out on sand dunes when the wind is blowing, as well as using it in the rain.

-Easy Navigation between Settings: This camera has a very intuitive layout that allows you to switch between various settings and modes quickly and easily.

-There are many more pro's that I could write about, but these are the main pro's when searching for a camera to take with you in the backcountry.

    Con's of the Sony α7 III:

-Somewhat Heavy: Sadly, this camera is a bit on the heavy side, weighing in at approx. 1 lb (body only). However, when you compare the number of features available with this camera, the added weight becomes unimportant.

-Somewhat Expensive: I wouldn't recommend this camera if you are new to photography or only take photos as a hobby, since the body itself costs $1,999.99. If you are looking to step up your photo game, are trying to shoot images in extreme conditions/poor lighting, or are interested in pursuing photography professionally, this is a great all-around camera.


I also wanted to take this time to share a couple of tips that I have picked up along the way about using cameras in the backcountry.

Quick tips about taking cameras into the backcountry:

1) Always place your camera towards the top of your pack for easy access. 

2) Always have a water-proof bag/container to store your camera in - last thing you want is for it to get ruined by the rain or if you fall in a river or something!

3) If you are in an environment that is colder than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, store your camera batteries, when not in use, inside your protective outer layer of clothing (in an inside pocket, for example). This will allow your body heat to keep the batteries at their ideal temperature, preventing them from losing charge, which can occur very rapidly when you are in freezing or below-freezing temperatures.

4) Always have a back-up SD/memory card with you.

5) Always bring more than one battery for your camera.

6) Always have lens cloths/wipes with you.

7) Lightweight is key. Don't bring a whole bunch of camera equipment or a heavy camera with you. Unless you are on a trip trying to get a specific shot/image, try to stick with the basics - camera body & 1-2 small lenses.


Hope this helps, and have fun shooting, everybody!

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

The Canon EOS Rebel SL1 is actually a great choice. My brother was given one as a gift and he just can't seem to get over its ingenuity.

@NoahMartin I agree! I've used my Canon EOS Rebel SL1 for both professional and non-professional photography for nearly 6 years and it is still in pristine condition. It might not have all of the fancy features of newer cameras, but its image quality is still incredible and it does the job better than many cameras of its generation. I'd highly recommend the EOS Rebel series to anyone looking for a relatively inexpensive, high quality camera.

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

I carry the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4k for video and my old Canon 5d Mkii for timelapse. It is by no means a light camera set up, but I get great images with a lot of room to play with in post. I work in post-production so that part is important to me! I only have a few good hikes down, but I will post my work when I have more to watch!

@bsapp93 Thanks for the post!

Please do come back and share your work when you can!

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

I feel so inadequate.  I just use my old Samsung Galaxy 7 Edge smartphone.  

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

@Rob6 Ha!

Don't worry, I have a Canon DSLR but have NO IDEA how to use it. I'm currently using a several-models-ago iphone and relying on 'portrait mode' to make it look like I know what I'm doing. I have two brothers, both of whom went to college for photography and videography, so reading these threads is going to make me sound way cooler at family gatherings now!

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

@Rob6 don't worry! You can still get incredible images using a Galaxy and even an iPhone!

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

@Philreedshikes , I'm actually a professional photographer for a living.  I shoot mostly fashion and models, so most of my equipment is not well suited for the great outdoors.  I'm a Nikon guy (and yes, I know, camera brands are almost a religion).

If I'm doing an easy day hike, I'll carry my Nikon D750 or the Nikon D7000 with a 70-200/f2.8 lens.  It can be quite heavy. So, I don't carry that for anything over 5-10 miles.

On my weekend hikes, I'll carry a cheap Nikon Coolpix that I've had for years.  It shoots about 8 MP which is decent enough for wide shots and printing.  Other than that, the good old smart phone is good enough for social media.


My go-to camera is the Canon 7d mark ii its great for wildlife and landscapes.