Backpacking Cameras and Photography Skills

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Backpacking Cameras and Photography Skills

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    Backpacking Light


    Locale: Rocky Mountains

    Companion forum thread to: Backpacking Cameras and Photography Skills

    An online live (and recorded) webinar introduction to backpacking photography skills, techniques, and gear.

    Francis S
    BPL Member


    Thanks I enjoyed the webinar.

    One thing that really affects me when using a camera or phone with only a LCD is that in bright conditions the LCD seems to get totally blown out and be unusable.  I really don’t want to carry an APSC. Are there other smaller/lighter viewfinder cameras you’d recommend other than the RX-100?


    Bruce Tolley
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    @ Francis: There are Micro 4/3 cameras where the sensor is about 1/2 the size of full frame from Panasonic and Olympus (now OM Systems) with a whole ecosystem of lenses and IMO amazing image quality and sharpness.

    Next step down, there are also many 1 inch sensor cameras, not counting the RX-100, with view finders from Panasonic and Sony. There are also point&shot APS-C cameras that can be used in full manual mode. Go to B&H Photo and search on sensor size.

    BTW I do not understand the slide presentation that claims the Sony RX100 offers less control than a full frame.  I think is performs well enough to use as a travel camera or to document a backpacking trip. I use shutter priority and aperture priority mode all the time on my RX100 and have experimented with manual mode. You can select ISO. You can select focus point,. You can use exposure compensation. You can bracket and do HDR in post. You can shoot in RAW. Also the pop up view finder is a godsend in situations like you describe with bright sunlight washes out your ability to see the LCD.

    Bruce M


    Locale: In the shadow of the Shenandoah

    I have the Panasonic system and absolutely love it. Photography is one of the main reasons why I hike, and this setup is far lighter than the 35mm film cameras I used to carry long ago and far away. I use the viewfinder, not the LCD screen, and carry a combo of lenses that give me from 8mm to 400mm in range. Not ultralight, but light enough for me.



    Locale: The Cascades

    I use a Panasonic Lumix FZ-300. All in one, 25-600 lens, takes plenty good enough pics for me and makes taking pics easy without carrying extra lenses. I realize some folks want better quality, but this works well for me. And it’s quickly available attached to my shoulder strap.

    Todd T
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    I use the viewfinder, not the LCD screen…

    Anything without a viewfinder is something less than a camera.

    ‘Nother Panasonic owner here.  DC-GX9 with (usually) that teeny-tiny 12-32mm 1:3.5-5.6 manual zoom they used to sell.

    Philip Tschersich
    BPL Member


    Locale: Kodiak Alaska

    Ryan spoke about shooting video a bit, but it mostly seemed to be in reference to vlogging. I know not many people on this website produce videos of their trips, but it can be a compelling and rewarding way to document the experience. There is so much more information that comes across in video that is just completely lacking in stills. Wind moving through vegetation, the sound of birdsong, an animal’s behavior, etc. I stopped documenting my trips with still photography many years ago because it just seemed like such a wan way of conveying the experience. I rarely looked back through physical or digital albums of my trips, but I’m happy to revisit a video to relive the experience. One major difference between producing a video and doing a still photo travel-log interspersed with text is that when the writer puts their thoughts, remembrances, and interpretation into words, they are directly influencing the way the reader relates to the images. I produce my videos with no commentary. I understand that I am guiding the viewer’s experience purely via my scene selection, and some aspects of my experience certainly are not captured. I’ve learned to accept this trade off.

    There is an extra post-processing step that is required however, and not many people are willing to take the time to learn a video editing program to produce something worth watching.

    But for those who are interested, here is the equipment that I carry.

    For POV shots and true wide angles, I use a DJI Osmo Action. It’s a lot like a GoPro, but I find it’s more responsive when starting up, has better image stabilization, and generally produces better results. I used GoPro‘s for many years, but after I switched to the Osmo, I have not looked back. For POV shots, I simply grip the camera shoe between my front teeth. Your head acts as its own stabilization system, and you can get pretty smooth point of view shots this way. It’s also truly waterproof, so I can use it while ocean paddling and in other circumstances where a normal camera would quickly get destroyed.

    For general shooting and telephoto work I use a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS60. I have had many generations of cameras in the ZS line. They offer excellent video recording with gentle zoom controls, decent audio recording, adequate image stabilization, and acceptable image quality at the maximum zoom extent. Because I run into so many animals here in Alaska and I enjoy documenting them, I really feel lost without a long lens, and the 720 mm equivalent that the ZS60 provides is my current solution.

    I’ve been making more and more use of my iPhone now that I have moved up to a 13 Pro. The cameras in phones have come along way in the past few years, and the 13 Pro is the first time that I am found myself substituting my phone for dedicated camera equipment. The dynamic range and image stabilization from the 13 is quite impressive. The wide angle has too much fisheye lens and barrel distortion for my taste, and the 3X zoom would never replace the ZS60. But for general use, it produces amazing results.

    Lastly, all the cameras have a quick-release shoe that mates with a Joby original Gorillapod. This can be set up on all sorts of surfaces, or made to grasp a branch, etc. It’s an extremely flexible and lightweight solution for setting up a camera for hands-free use. I took a few of the links out of each leg to make it fit better in the hip belt pockets of my packs.

    And this is the product.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Virgo Supercluster

    I’m so behind the times; I still use film.



    Locale: The Cascades

    @Francis S: I’ve got a Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS200, lightly used, that I’d sell for $300 plus shipping if you’re interested.



    Locale: Cascadia

    Sorry if some of what I write has been covered or some of what I write contradicts what might have been stated.

    I’ve been a off and on semi-professional landscape photographer for decades and have written a few instructional books on the topic.

    FYI, I have in recent years sold ALL of my interchangeable lens camera gear. I use my Smartphone 99.99% of the time and a DJI Osmo Action for the rest. Durability and portability are the kings of landscape photography and heavy camera gear are neither of those.

    Just some thoughts on the topic:

    1. 1″ sensors are NOT 1″. It is all lies and the camera companies know it is a lie since it is technically not a lie if you use the correct terms. They are 1″-type sensors, which refer to an area much larger than the sensor area. 1″-type sensors are tiny and not a whole lot bigger than smartphone sensors compared to full frame.

    2. Smartphones can capture most everything you want to capture except for telephoto and night sky shots, but even those can sometimes be done with slightly decent results in some situations. The secret to smartphone use is knowing how to process photos.

    3. m4/3 sensors are not half the size of full frame, they are around 1/4 the surface area, this capture 1/4 the light, which is two stops.

    4. Zoom lenses with telescoping barrels are almost always “defective” at some point in the zoom range, in my experience. They are not the image quality people might think and only help thing s be better by zooming the image frame, but at the cost of one side or corner of the image becoming soft or out of focus due to non-aligned lens elements. For people buying super telephoto zoom lenses, especially on compact cameras, make sure to test the image quality the most on the long end of the zoom range. The point of where the image quality in the zoom range can change from copy to copy. Most people using something for more reach over their smartphone will be using it at the long zoom end.

    5. Learn Photoshop! This might be a strange one to list for people who might be starting out, but learning Photoshop and how to use advanced processing techniques will set you lightyears ahead of anyone with massive amounts of professional-level camera gear who knows little of RAW image processing.

    6. Not enough room to explain, but people can drop massive amounts of camera weight for backpacking by utilizing these techniques with smaller cameras and smartphones. All of these should have plenty of Youtube videos to get you on your way.

    RAW image processing.

    RAW image stacking from a burst. (smartphone can match full frame noise-level wise with this one)

    Panorama Stitching. (wide field of view for shots + more detail + less image noise)

    Focus Stacking (combine many images at different focus distances to make one image with deeper focus)

    Exposure Bracketing

    7. Smartphones are vastly, vastly, vastly more durable and weatherproof than non-purpose built camera systems.

    8. Smartphones, at least with the Apple ones I use, the camera apps are far more versatile than any camera system. This comes down to being able to use different apps for the same camera. You are not limited to the design and functionality of the UI created by the camera companies. If you are smart enough, you could even write your own APP.

    Bruce Tolley
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    This is really thread drift.  Some of us while backpacking are willing to carry a dedicated camera for various tradeoffs including saving the battery of the smartphone.  The OP asked for recommendations that were not full frame and not a Sony Rx-100, but had a viewfinder.

    It is standard in the industry to refer to micro 4/3 as half of a full frame but yes that really refers to width.  A full-frame camera are supposed to have sensors about the size of 35mm film frame size, or 36 mm x 24 mm. (Different vendors have different specifications.) Micro four-sensors are smaller at 17.3 mm x 13 mm.  We can have the debate elsewhere whether his means they capture 2 stops less of light.

    The term 1 inch sensor is an industry standard way to refer to the sensors Sony and Panasonic use in many prosumer and point and shoot cameras. But yes it is not 1 inch wide. But you can search for 1 inch sensor size on B&H and other camera sites. You cannot search on the diagonal measure of 16 or 18 mm.

    B&H sensor size filter options by sensor size

    -Full Frame (35mm)
    -Micro Four Thirds

    There is a diagram here showing relative sensor sizes:

    In final analysis, the best camera is the one that you have in your hand (and are willing to carry into the backcountry).


    Eric Blumensaadt
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mojave Desert

    I use an OLYMPUS TG4 outdoor camera. It’s good to 60 ft. in water and very shock resistant. An extra battery weighs about as much as one AA lithium battery.

    If there is a better outdoor camera the same weight or less please tell me about it.

    Philip Tschersich
    BPL Member


    Locale: Kodiak Alaska

    Eric, if you have a recent-model high-end phone in your pocket, that might be a better option and you can use it for all sorts of other stuff like navigation or satellite messenger operation. They are now generally waterproof and some have excellent cameras. With a minimal case and screen protector, they are pretty durable too.

    Your Olumpus has a [35 mm equivalent] zoom range of 25-100 mm, or 4x. The 25 end is not particularly wide, and the 100 is a very weak telephoto. It has a macro mode too. Compare that to, say, an iPhone 13 Pro which has [35 mm equivalent] 13 mm ultra-wide, 26 mm, and 77 mm lenses, so a 6x range but with a shift towards the wider end. Good digital zoom capabilities fill in everything in between plus extends the range into mild telephoto, and it has a very good macro mode. Also, auto-stitched panoramics are really cool. The real benefit of using modern phones as cameras however is their amazing processing power. The scene recognition (for automatic adjustments) and dynamic range is truly impressive.

    But if you just have a Razor flip phone, stick with your Olympus.

    Eric Kammerer
    BPL Member


    Those using an Android phone should really investigate Open Camera (available on Google Play). This app unlocks the full potential of the hardware and provides a lot of features to help take better pictures (auto-level, composition grids, exposure bracketing, etc.). The documentation is at


    BPL Member


    For the phone adverse a very light option with a viewfinder AND interchangeable lenses is the LUMIX GM5.
    It is a discontinued model with a cult following so it’s not cheap. Mine is 10.5 ounces with a 24-64 equivalent zoom. This package is ridiculously small, yet packs all the typical features.
    To me it’s far more convenient to use in the mountains than a phone.
    The lens offerings for M43 cameras are numerous and high quality. The 30mm (15mm) Pana-Leica prime is another good option for this body.

    View post on

    BPL Member


    Locale: Virgo Supercluster

    It is a discontinued model with a cult following so it’s not cheap.

    That’s the money combo, right there; no matter how good or bad something might be, if it gains a following for any reason, the prices start going up…and if it’s been out of production for awhile, that’s even better.  That’s what happened with the T3 that I use.

    Open Camera looks interesting; certainly more control than I’m used to seeing on a phone screen.


    BPL Member


    Locale: NoCO

    Eric Kammerer, gotta thank you for bringing OpenCamera to my/our attention.  That is one, amazing, open source app.  Geotagging is pretty much a st’d feature on cellphones, but I’ve been wanting the field-of-view and magnetic direction of the image for a long time.  OpenCamera does it….as well as a host of other features.

    Good catch, Eric!

    Michael Ray
    BPL Member


    Locale: Midwest

    @philip-ak That is a nice video you shared. Were some of the wildlife shots at the full zoom of the ZS60?

    Did you record @ 1080 or higher?

    How is the battery life when shooting video?

    Philip Tschersich
    BPL Member


    Locale: Kodiak Alaska

    Hey Michael, yes, basically all of the animal footage was recorded on the ZS60 at the full telephoto extent (720mm focal length in 35mm equivalent). I always shoot my video at 1080. I dabbled with 4K, but just found the file sizes and processing requirements beyond my video needs. I can usually get at least three days out of my Panasonic Lumix battery. A general rule of thumb; video shot vs. what makes it in the final product is 10:1. Over time I’ve become more efficient at shooting video, so my discard rate is lower, and as I have relied more on cameras other than my Lumix, the Panasonic’s battery has fewer demands placed on it and so I get more days of use per battery. Obviously every videographer will experience different battery requirements.

    As a general rule in my [recent] videos, if it’s a POV shot where I am moving, it’s always the DJI Osmo action. If it is a static or non-POV scenic, it’s often my iPhone 13 Pro. If it shows an animal or there’s any obvious telephoto effect, it’s the Panasonic Lumix.

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