Camera Selection Basics for the Lightweight Backpacker

Forum Posting

A Membership is required to post in the forums. Login or become a member to post in the member forums!

Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Camera Selection Basics for the Lightweight Backpacker

  • This topic is empty.
Viewing 21 posts - 1 through 21 (of 21 total)
  • Author
  • #1218949
    Cat Jasins
    BPL Member


    Summit CO


    Locale: 9300ft

    The selection of compact film P&S cameras is dwindling to near nothingness from a great selection of great cameras just a few years ago. Many cameras are still available from retailers or on the used market with ease.

    Here are my comments on the 35mm P&S from your article:

    Minolta FreedomZoom Explorer EX: DISCONTINUED
    A great camera with a fast zoom.
    Konica Minolta has ended all camera production as of March 31, 2006.

    Nikon Lite Touch 100W: DISCONTINUED
    Released in 2003, a nice camera but a slow zoom f/5.8-10.5. This camera has been discontinued.

    Pentax Espio 24W:
    The features on this camera are beyond awesome… “spot” meter, +- 3EV exposure compensation in 1/3 stops, unparalleled wideangle zoom, 7pt passive AF, BULB MODE, easy infinity and fixed size portrait modes, for only 7oz! This is easily the most feature filled 35mm with the exception of the old Rollei Prego Zoom 90. However, the lens is slow at f/4.9-12.5.

    Canon Sureshot A1:
    It should be noted that the SureShot A1 is truly an amphibious camera intended for use by snorkelers (it floats!) as well as on the surface. Consequently, it is bulky.

    Olympus Stylus Epic:
    Oh this camera is sweet. The lens is more than sharp enough for a magazine cover from slide film. f/2.8 is great for ambient light. “Spot” metering. Simply as pie.

    Addendum for the disconinued cameras:

    Yashica T4 Zoom
    -(114 x 64 x 41 mm)
    -28-75mm Vario Tessar Zeiss zoom lens f/4.5-8
    -CR123A 360 shots
    -5pt Passive AF
    – +-1.5EV exposure compensation
    -Remote control

    Yashica T4 Super/T5 – *possibly* discontinued this year
    -Very popular alternative to the Stylus Epic though much more expensive than the $60 Epic
    -Fixed Zeiss 35mm f/3.5 lens.
    -Normal and sports (look down) viewfinder.
    -Remote Control

    All manual focus with silent leaf shutters.

    Olympus XA
    -Olympus Zuiko 35mm f/2.8 lens (very sharp)
    -APERTURE PRIORITY EXPOSURE f/2.8-22 (shutter speed readout in viewfinder)
    -Manual ISO setting in 1/3 stops gives full exposure compensation, also +1.5
    -Manual focus via rangefinder or focus scale
    -Smallest lightest rangefinder camera in existance
    -Detatchable flash unit optional
    -Clamshell covers all sensors, viewfinders (both sides), and lens
    -2x SR44 button cells (last forever)
    -Easily found one ebay or from used camera stores (avoid the XA1/2/3/4, get only the XA)

    More info:

    Rollei 35
    ~11.4oz (metal/everywhere, very compact)
    – 97 x 60 x 32
    -Zeiss 40mm f/3.5 (magazine cover sharp)
    -Manual exposure with needle match B, 1/2-1/500s f/3.5-f/22
    -Manual focusing via focus scale
    -No battery on the B version, other versions need a button cell for the meter only (work without)
    -External flash available
    -Easily found one ebay or from used camera stores

    Minox 35 GT
    -100 X 61 X 31
    -Minotaur 35mm f/2.8
    -Program or aperture priority autoexposure 30s-1/500s
    -Manual focusing via focus scale (with hyperfocal)
    -button cell bateries
    -External flash available

    For the record I own:
    Olympus Stylus Epic 35mm
    Olympus XA 35mm
    Canon A610 digital

    LF/35mm SLR/DSLR:
    Canon 20D, Canon EOS 3, Canon Elan II, Linhoff Tech IV 4×5 fieldcam

    David Bonn


    Locale: North Cascades

    A big pet peeve of mine is that compact digital cameras which have a way to accept filters are extremely rare. Especially since a polarizing filter is a pretty outrageously effective tool for producing dramatic scenery images when there is snow, clouds, or water in the picture. Which happens quite a bit.

    And you can’t emulate the effect of a polarizing filter with any photoshop plug-in.

    Franco Darioli


    Locale: Gauche, CU.

    You could have a look at the Cokin shoeholder A300 system. With that holder you can use up to 3 filters at a time, although with digital photography the Pol filter is provably the only one required. Not exactly an elegant solution but it works.
    See here

    Summit CO


    Locale: 9300ft

    Most Canon digital poitn and shoots from the A series have removable rings that you can mount a barrel that accepts a filter on.

    S series do not…

    Adam McFarren



    Do you know if that Cokin shoeholder can be used along with a tripod? That would be a great solution if it’ll work with my Gorillapod. I assume the tripod’s screw would work to hold the camera and the shoeholder?


    David Bonn


    Locale: North Cascades

    I forgot to mention what I use.

    I have a sony DSC-U-something that I bought for $30 bucks from a big box store. They didn’t have the box or the manual (which you can find on the internet anyway) and the model was being discontinued. It serves me well but my niece is using it on her trip to Wyoming this month.

    I have a sony DSC-R1 that weighs more than my sleeping bag, pad, tarp, ground sheet, and bug shelter combined (including the camera bag, a polarizing filter, and a cleaning cloth). It takes awesome pictures though. Really a nice scenery camera.

    I like the singh-ray polarizing filters. I just got one of their newfangled LB filters that gives you a nice warming polarizer but only takes about half a stop of light away from your camera. Not cheap (nothing from singh-ray is) but still a wonderful gadget.

    Using two sony rechargable batteries and two 2MB memory cards (the DSC R-1 has two slots) I was able to take over 900 pictures in three weeks of travel in the Sahara Desert this spring. No, I didn’t walk, and yes, the sand is mostly out of the camera.

    Dale Wambaugh
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    Ditto on the Olympus Stylus. I’ve used them for travel cameras for years. Dead simple, easy on batteries, excellent focus and exposure results.

    I’m using a Canon SD200 Digital Elph for my everyday carry camera and I have been happy with it. Battery life is good and the proprietary rechargeable is small enough that carrying a spare is very practical.

    I got a tiny USB SD card reader that was designed to be USB drive. I carry the camera, USB reader, spare battery and the smaller Ultrapod tripod all in a little LowePro case. When I was shooting 4×5 my LIGHT METER was about the same size!

    Franco Darioli


    Locale: Gauche, CU.

    The A300 Shoeholder does not have a double thread, so it cannot be used with a tripod.
    There is now another version available, the B400 AC-M, that attaches to the front of the lens. Have a look at the compatibility chart.

    Franco Darioli


    Locale: Gauche, CU.

    Hi Summit
    Nice list.
    The Rollei 35B (Basic) with it’s Triotar lens was at the bottom of the pile, however the 35 S(Sonnar) and the 35T(Tessar) were very good indeed. I used the S (made in Singapore) and the resolution as good as I had from prime SLR Canon and Nikon lenses, the colours from it were great.

    I would not turn my back to the Olympus XA4 , 28mm 3.5, not bad at all. Zone focusing, but that is how I used the XA anyway.

    The Yashica T4 is very similar, obviously, to the lens quality of the Rollei 35S, so in my book a bargain.

    The only one that is easily available now and at a bargain price, is the Olympus Epic, better than most digital compacts at 3 times the price but we want the instant gratification of digital.

    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    So what do I do with an Olympus OM-2N and an Olympus OM-4Ti, with a wide range of lenses and rings? (sob)

    Now using Canon A95 digital

    Roger Caffin

    Franco Darioli


    Locale: Gauche, CU.

    Hi Roger
    When you come to Melbourne I will trade it all in for $87.95…..
    Don’t tell anyone, but Olympus are coming up with a kick-arse (ass for the USA) camera and lenses at Photokina, a worthy successor to the Maitani legacy.
    [email protected]

    Rick Dreher
    BPL Member


    Locale: Northernish California

    Well Roger,

    You can place them in a nice display case or you can stock up massively on your favo(u)rite E6 films and keep using them. Scan the slides you’d like digitized.

    Now I do recognize that the instanteous gratification that is digital is hard to beat, but I’m also mindful that a digital SLR system to match the breadth of a nicely assembled OM system is a breathtakingly expensive investment and a risky one, since the stuff seems to become obsolete within months (the camera bodies, at least).

    We also don’t have a clue as to which chip formats and lens mounts will prevail in the marketplace. I’m rooting for the four-thirds format, myself, and note that at least three makers have adopted it.


    p.s. Best 35mm point-and-shoot: Contax T3.

    Casey Bowden
    BPL Member


    Locale: Berkeley Hills

    Optical zooms add complexity, weight, cost, and decrease the battery life. Now that 6 megapixel cameras are common do we really need optical zooms? Why not crop the picture at home on the computer rather than in the field?

    Rick Dreher
    BPL Member


    Locale: Northernish California

    It’s a good question especially, as you point out, while pixel counts climb. A high-quality prime lens cannot be matched by a zoom, either in resolution or speed, and matched with a good low-noise imager one should be able to crop severely while retaining quality.

    Ryan has a Ricoh GR that he seems happy with and will hopefully review. It’s a very intriguing little camera with a prime lens.

    I hope someday to see a mini-SLR or rangefinder digital system with interchangable lenses.

    Summit CO


    Locale: 9300ft

    Starting with your 6MP image, let’s see how cropping equates to zooming and what you can do with the results:

    Zoom, Megapixels, Resolution, Print Size (300ppi)
    1x zoom – 6MP no crop – 2800×2100 – ~8×10

    1.4x zoom – 3MP crop – 2000×1500 – ~5×7

    2x zoom – 1.5MP crop – 1440×1024 – ~3.5×5

    2.8X zoom – 0.79MP crop – 1024×768 – email only

    Digital zooming works the same way except with pixel interpolation which you can do in any editor anyways. In other words, digital zoom as a camera feature is worthless.

    Relying on cropping for your zooming means you’d better not want to do anything with your picture.

    If you want a fixed lens camera in the name of weight AND you expect to crop in place of zooming AND you want to do anything more than send the images in emails or low quality postcards, I reccomend a film camera with a good lens and slow speed film (equivelent to 12-20MP depending and done right).

    Casey Bowden
    BPL Member


    Locale: Berkeley Hills

    Summit CO,

    Thanks for your input. I posed my question based on my experience with my 2 megapixel Nikon Coolpix. Its 1600×1200 pixel resolution produced very nice 8″x10″ prints. If a 6 MP camera takes 2800×2100 pixel shots that means I can “zoom” 1.75 (2800/1600) times by cropping at home and still get 8″x10″ prints.

    Summit CO


    Locale: 9300ft

    My print sizes were given assuming 300x300ppi. 300ppi is considered photo quality. (I updated resolutions)

    WHY 300PPI?
    If you go to WalMart and pay them some pennies to develop and print your film, their Fuji Fronteir machine will digitize your negatives and exposure R4 color photo paper with 3 lasers at a resolution of 300ppi. THAT IS WHAT THE PHOTO PAPER CAN HANDLE!

    300ppi FOR DIGITAL?
    The same goes for brining in a memory card to Walmart and having their Frontier print that on photo paper. 300ppi.

    The same goes for a pro lab with a fancier frontier or a kodak lightjet.

    Newspapers print at about 150dpi to 200dpi (the fancy ones like NYT).

    Most magazines and any photo competition expects submissions at 300ppi for the required size.

    Let’s look at the 1600×1200 (1.92MP), or a 1.75x zoomcrop of 6MP:

    4×5.5: 300ppi (standard photo)
    4.8×6.4: 250ppi (probably the minimum)
    6×8: 200ppi
    8×10.7: 150ppi (newspaper)

    The numbers are funny because they are given in 4:3 aspect. 1600×1200 is 4:3 aspect ratio. Printing papers are actually all 3:2, 5:4, or 7:5.

    I’d guarantee you that you’d be impressed with a properly printed 300ppi image vs a 150ppi image, especially with point and shoot digis. Try it… take a picture with the camera and have a lab print you a 4×6 (~300ppi). Take them the same image except reduced from 1600×1200 to 800×600 and have them print the 4×6 as well (~150ppi).

    If you can’t tell the difference, then tell me to shut up. :)

    Zooming 35mm 1.75x is 60mm… not much.
    Nobody even produces optical zooms with such a tiny range except in an ultrawide 20-35mm. Just about everything else is at least 2X and most are 2.5X-4X.

    CROPPING IS NOT AS GOOD AS ZOOMING (even when final image sizes are the same)!
    Another thing to consider when cropping a high resolution image… you accentuate noise and lens abberations.
    So if you have a 2MP camera with a 60mm lens, it will produce a better image than a 2MP image cropped from a 6MP image taken with a 35mm lens.

    This is doubly so for small sensors in poitn and shoots.

    Note: that is for equal sensor dimensions with the 2MP and 6MP.

    I’ll take a 3MP camera with a 2X zoom over a 8MP camera with a fixed lens almost any day of the week.

    Optical zoom is infinately easier to compose an image on, however, digital zoom defeats the composition advantage.

    Digital fixed lenses are not really faster than zooms in the range at which you can reasonably crop.

    Fixed lens digital cameras with extending lenses can usually accept accessory tele-extender lenses (and wide angle adaptors) for much less of a performance hit than cropping. However, at that point whether you are saving over a optical zooom in terms of weight, price, and quality is questionable. Certainly loses convenience and speed points. You can get these for zooms too.

    Steve Whiteaker


    has anyone tried enough disposables to know which one is best for backpacking as far as quality?

    Rick Dreher
    BPL Member


    Locale: Northernish California

    Try the Kodak HQ. It’s got a sharper lens and higher-definition film (ISO 800), which should yield better results than run-of-the-mill disposables.

    I’ve seen reasonably good results from them, but not specifically backpacking photos.

    Note that both Kodak and Fuji sell waterproof disposables, which might trump other concerns in mixed conditions.

    Brian James


    Locale: South Coast of BC

    DPReview has looked at the GR Digital and were apparently nonplussed… too bad as I was really looking for this to be an excuse to leave the SLR at home.

Viewing 21 posts - 1 through 21 (of 21 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Forum Posting

A Membership is required to post in the forums. Login or become a member to post in the member forums!

Get the Newsletter

Get our free Handbook and Receive our weekly newsletter to see what's new at Backpacking Light!

Gear Research & Discovery Tools