View Full Version : DSLR Camera for the trail?

Cool Hands
06-05-2011, 21:51
Hey, WB.

My point-and-shoot Fujifilm Finepix JV100 has been getting very beaten up over the past year, and as I'm getting really into photography (I have some pictures on the site from an AT backpack this past summer), I've started researching different better quality cameras over the past month. Since I'm just starting out with serious photography, I was looking for a lower-end DSLR, around $500 or $600.

Now, it gets complicated where the line starts to blur between point-and-shoot and DSLR; I could get high-end point-and-shoots such as the Canon G12, bridge cameras such as the Canon SX30IS which evidently have the features and feel of a DSLR but without the best image sensor or adaptability of one, and finally "interchangeable lens" cameras such as the Olympus E-PL2 which have the compactness, versatility, and relative quality of DSLR's but without the bulk, extra features, and viewfinder -- all this before you reach the introductory and lower end DSLR cameras and all around the same price range.

I guess my question is, what would you suggest to be the best DSLR or other high-quality camera to take on the trail and on backpacking trips? Has anyone else had success with a DSLR on an extended trip? I know it's extra weight, but I believe I am passionate enough about my photography to make the sacrifice.

06-05-2011, 22:32
i used a t2i on our thru this year for the first 150 miles and plan on returning with it. I use a dana designs wet rib to carry it and a pancake lens, 250mm lens, and a joby gorillapod. It does take care to not fall on it and crush it, and i use loc sak brand protection for it.
as far as what to get? i would suggest ebay for the most for your money. i have used only canon, so i am a bit biased there. but the lenses are where its at with dslrs.
good luck, and happy trails.

06-05-2011, 23:04
Unless you're looking to making artistic prints and/or sell your photos, a bridge camera will probably do exactly what you need, possibly making it easier too. Some bridge cameras get exceptional battery life, have a fairly wide end and a very long zoom, allow the use of filters like a UV for protecting the lens, and still shoot RAW when you want to apply post processing...like the Fujifilm HS20. You might also be happy with one of the compact superzooms like the Canon SX130is and Fujifilm f550EXR.

06-05-2011, 23:35
I carry my Nikon D40. It's old for a digital camera, but still takes outstanding photos. It is compact and lightweight as dSLRs go. If buying today, I would get the D3100 for my backpacking body. Slightly smaller and lighter, greatly improved low light performance, and will shoot HD video, which I find nice in certain situations.

Nikon's kit lenses are great (18-55 VR is very light, sharp, with minimal distortion). There are several low cost, light weight options such as the 35mm f1.8 (great for low light camp photos and great for isolating flowers, etc.). If you want a moderate telephoto, the 55-200 VR is very light, good sharpness and relatively cheap. It compliments the 18-55 nicely - almost like it was planned that way :-)

These extra lenses will cost more than your stated price, but the D3100 with kit lens is about $649 right now. Could look for a low shutter count used one, which should be cheaper.

I've never used the bridge cameras, but most have a smaller sensor than these DX format dSLRs. They are better than P&S, but still not the same.

My thinking is that I probably will not be returning to these locations in the future. Too many other trails to explore, so if I want great photos, I need to get them now.

Feral Bill
06-06-2011, 00:09
You can look at reviews of models a few years old, choose a couple of prospects, then have at it in the used market. Way more for your money.

06-06-2011, 13:33
Look for a camera with an optical view finder so you can turn off the screen and save battery life.

06-06-2011, 13:51
Honestly, I don't think I'd bother. I own a couple SLR's (Nikon mainly), and just wouldn't bother with them on a thru hike. A short hike thats purpose was to take photos, sure. I'd bring it then. If I were to bring it though, I'd bring the Nikon D40 I have... lightweight (for a DSLR), and with the 18-55 lense just about all I'd need for most things... maybe add a 35mm F1.8 prime in there as well for nighttime stuff.

But honestly, the Canon S95 is just as good as a DSLR for 98% of things that most people would use a camera for. Plus, it's a lot smaller and lighter, and un-zoomed it's F2, which any of the lightweight consumer lenses you'd get for a DSLR can't come close to matching.

And I wouldn't bother with one of the bridge cameras either like the Canon G12... it's the same damn camera as the S95, just heavier and with more dials. Sure, those dials can be handy, but not twice-the-weight-handy.

06-06-2011, 15:58
Panasonic G3 with the 14-42mm lens. $600. Will be available later this month (June '11.) This is the latest Micro 4/3 camera from Panasonic. It has a large sensor -- MUCH larger than any point and shoot or bridge camera -- so it provides excellent image quality even at high ISO values, and provides excellent control over depth of field. Compared to a Canon Digital Rebel, the sensor size is slightly smaller, but the camera and lens are about half the size and weight. It's an excellent camera for photographers who want a smaller and lighter camera but still demand great image quality and operational control.

I am lucky enough to have a number of cameras available to me at any time, ranging from the smallest P+S to $5000 professional SLR cameras. My favorite hiking/travel/everyday carry camera is my micro 4/3 (a Panasonic GF1 with the 20mm f/1.7 lens. Terrific combination.) My wife has the G1 with the kit 14-45 zoom, also a very nice combo. (Can you tell I like these cameras? :) )

Here is a good overview of the G-series cameras (http://luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/panasonic-g1.shtml). This article is about the original G1, but it may help to get a sense of the system. The G3 is the third iteration in this line. Hope this helps.

Note that the Olympus Digital Pen cameras use the same lens mount and sensors, so you can mix and match as needed.

06-06-2011, 17:51

That looks like something to consider. I've heard mostly all good things about Panasonic. The only thing that would hold me back is the lack of lens compatibility with my other bodies. For someone who doesn't have lenses yet, it may be ideal.

Cool Hands
06-15-2011, 14:04
Thanks for the input, everybody.

After much consideration, and my acknowledgement that, as a personal choice and because my interest in photography is really growing, I do in fact want a versatile, high quality DSLR or mirrorless DSLR with a viewfinder (sorry to those of you who suggested birdge cameras and that high-end P&S), I have narrowed down my choices to three cameras (pricier than I was originally going to pay):

Pentax K-r
Pentax K-7 (Pentax K-20D would be a cheaper option, but there is no video, and there are situations where I would really like recording video.)
Panasonic DMC-G2 or G3 (Funny that you mentioned it Big Cranky, as that's the only mirrorless DSLR that really appeals to me, the others seem to cheap, too similar to P&S cameras, or have no viewfinder.)

[I will now continue to think out-loud, there is really so much to consider. In any case, what would you suggest of the three?]

It's my understanding that the Pentax models (the K-r being more introductory and the K-7 being a relatively pricey mid-range camera) are better suited for hiking and rugged activity. In addition, my parents own a high-quality film Pentax model with a starter lens, a wide-angle lens, and a telephoto lens, and it is my understanding that Pentax produces digital camera bodies that are compatible with old lenses, which despite the cropping effect that results from putting film lenses on digital frames, could potentially save me a TON of money. When comparing the two models (here's a great article: http://snapsort.com/compare/Pentax_K-7-vs-Pentax_K-r), though the Pentax K-r has shorter battery life, it can run on AA batteries with an adapter. The K-7 uses a rechargeable one, but it's battery life runs over 700 shots. Thus, the battery situation for each seems to balance out, whereas I suspect the Panasonic G2 and G3 would have low battery life due to its advanced electronic features, especially the viewfinder. The K-r is compact and more lightweight, but the K-7 is solid, made with magnesium alloy, and crucially, WEATHERPROOF. Winter hiking, pouring rain, or anything similar would not stand in its way, which would be perfect. Both also have HDR capturing, which would be really cool to produce, and HD video. The K-r is purported to have EXCELLENT low-light shooting, which would be good for taking pictures under the canopy of the Appalachian forests and in other situations, but paradoxically, the mid-range rather than entry-level K-7 has high ISO low-light picture taking that isn't as good -- maybe it's because the K-r is a more recent model by 18 months or so. And if the K-7 is so much more expensive (over $1,000 with the kit lens), but still has DISADVANTAGES compared to a lower-level, cheaper model, then wouldn't it be counter-intuitive to purchase it? Yet the K-r also has "front focusing" problems, and its megapixel count is not particularly high, compared to the higher K-7 (14 mp) and panasonic (16+ mp). I've heard that some problems for each are automatic modes which are not as good as the Canon and Nikon models, on the K-r Of course, the Panasonic would have great automatic modes and intuitive options, as it is advertised simple as a point and shoot but advanced as a DSLR, yet the Panasonic DMC-G3 lacks image stabilization, which is important for landscape photography, and frankly will never match the true image quality of a DSLR. I appreciate the electronic viewfinder that is built in, but it also means that one still can't conserve battery by just using an optical viewfinder like with normal DSLR's. Furthermore, I don't really value a swivel screen or touch screen -- it personally doesn't seem necessary and doesn't appeal to me. Then again, "3D" capture, offered by Panasonic with a special lens, does sound pretty cool, and the camera as a whole is still more compact and lightweight than any comparable DSLR.

Ultimately, those three options still seem like the best choices for scenic photography that you can get in a DSLR -- am I correct here? Anyway, input would be appreciated, thanks.

06-15-2011, 16:35
Nice data dump :). Most of it is true. I will quibble with two statements about the Panasonic G3: the lenses have image stabilization, which is the same system Canon and Nikon use, and it works well. And saying the image quality will "never match the true image quality" of a DSLR doesn't provide much information without specifying which DSLR and any other constraints - like cost, size, etc. Sure, it won't match an $8000 full frame Nikon D3x, but then the Nikon won't ever match a $50,000 P65+ medium format back. In the case of all three cameras, the image quality is plenty good enough. (I'm using the first-gen cameras and getting wonderful large prints.)

The K7 is a terrific camera and gets great reviews. I think it's the smallest of the APS-chip cameras. Everyone I know who has handled or bought one likes it.