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Backpacking can for some people literally change their lives depending on the level they take it to.
For others, it represents an amazing way to get out, explore and rekindle your human relationship with nature.
Whether you plan a 3-month extended journey across the Appalachians, the Dolomites of France, Island hopping the Caribbean or weekend sojourns out and about your local area; ensuring you have the best camera for someone new to backpacking is as essential as your choice of terrain ready footwear.
After all, no one wants to be out wanting to catch a shot, but with the wrong gear. Not only can it ruin the trip, but it can also lead to serious issues that a little planning would have avoided altogether.
This leads us to our first question that must be answered, which is…
Factors to Consider when Choosing a Backpacking Camera
The answer is both yes and no.
No, in that backpacking cameras can be used for a whole host of other activities, of course, they are not singular in purpose and you’ll get tons of use out of the right camera during many of your other activities.
Yes, in the fact that you’re going to need a camera that has a very special set of abilities.
You’re also going to have a few decisions to make later in our discussion as to what is most important to you in achieving your photography goals.
So, to really answer this question let’s dive right into the why of the matter by answering the question.
To answer these properly we will break them down into the different types of photography and backpacking that you might engage in and where in the world you might want to do them.
Backpacking can mean different things to different people, the two main types of backpacking photography we will cover here today are; travel photography and nature photography.
This way you’ll be covered and know the differences between the exciting worlds of travel backpacking and wilderness backpacking.
They share many of the same needs and concerns, but some aspects of each are quite different.
Looking to start a YouTube channel with a lot of cinematic qualities to your videos?
If so, then you’ll want to go with a middle ground DSLR that shoots video. You’ll find lots of great options in the Nikon and Canon lines; both actually excel in mid-price point cameras.
Next, you’ll want a lens with a wide aperture (also known as f stop). An f stop of 1.4 will allow you shoot some really nice cinematics.
To pair with your lens you should consider a variable ND filter that will help decrease your depth of field so you can keep your shutter speeds lower while using the larger apertures.
The last three items on the list that you’ll need will be a high speed (fast) memory card with a high enough MB/s to actively capture your footage. For most cases, a 95 MB/s extreme card should do the trick.
Be sure to review your camera’s specs to ensure you’re always using compatible gear. Never use unapproved memory cards or batteries as not only don’t they perform up to scratch, but they can also void your camera’s warranty.
Just a little pro tip you might not know about: Many modern camera’s log the types, numbers, and makers of the batteries and or memory cards you’ve used.
They can use this information to void your warranty and not fix your camera if it needs it. Check your camera’s warranty to see if this inclusion or exemption is listed.
You’ll also need editing software. You’ll find a number of products on the market with Adobe being one of the best known and most robust software packages for the money.
This camera and gear set up will allow you to shoot great videos and many of the cinematic and time-lapse scenes that your YouTube subscribers will drool over.
Then lastly, you’ll need a tripod. Even with image stabilization in the body of the camera or the lens, any camera shake during cinematic or time-lapse shooting will ruin the whole thing.
We are not biased in any way, but Manfrotto makes several good, reliable midrange tripods that we’re sure you’ll be happy with for years to come.
Will you be doing a lot of still photography such as the beauty of nature and the architecture and objects of the city?
If this is the case, you can definitely use the same type of a DSLR that we spoke of before and just add a couple of lenses and you should be all set.
When shopping for your camera be absolutely make sure that if you get a telephoto lens with your kit lens pack that has a wide aperture.
Most of the ones they offer in kits will start at medium apertures and you’ll be so disappointed when you can’t get that nice bokeh (blurry background) on distant items or items you want to macro with your telephoto.
If you do go with a kit such as a Nikon that almost always includes an 18-55 mm lens as part of their kit, then we suggest a 50 mm fixed lens that’s so well regarded that many call it the nifty fifty.
This is a prime lens, meaning it has a fixed depth of field. You’ll need to set your field depth by moving and composing your shots instead of just autofocusing.
This may sound a little more difficult, but in the long run, it will make you a much better photographer as you’ll be forced to learn shot composition which can clearly separate your images from the run of the mill.
A 50mm prime lens with a great aperture will become one of your favorite all-around lenses that can give you the rich, creamy bokeh behind the objects or people you’re wanting to capture.
With a decent kit lens of say 18-55 mm, a good telephoto lens and a nifty fifty prime lens you should be set up to capture almost any shot that you’ll run into in nature or the city unless you’re wanting to deep dive into specialized fields like portrait or macro.
Don’t follow some of the goofier recommendations out there of turning your lens around and holding it up to the body to get a macro shot. You take far too much risk of damaging your sensor and lens with contaminants from unnecessary exposure and damaging your lens from attempting to hold it in place.
If you’re only moderately into macro just go buy a snap-on macro lens attachment. They’re really inexpensive and do a decent job of it.
Should you find yourself loving macro, then go buy a dedicated macro lens. But, don’t risk your lenses and camera by using them improperly to attempt to get a shot they are not designed for.
Now let’s dive into the specific needs of backpacking.
Depending mostly on where you’re traveling, you’re going to want to be sure and take this advice to heart or you’ll be oh so sorry later.
When traveling through most any major city, especially those in 2nd tier or lower countries, be sure not to carry a large camera around your neck or in your hand.
It really doesn’t matter how expensive your camera is if it’s large and has a detachable lens you’ve just become a target.
The answer to this is absolutely and here are just a few reasons why this is a great idea.
There will be days when you just don’t want to carry a large camera with you. A few of these times might be:
When you are interacting with local families.
The compact camera is not intimidating to them. Whereas your large expensive (in their eyes) camera with its big lens can make them feel self-conscious or uncomfortable.
Trust us; you’ll get better intimate, in the moment shots with a compact that they almost don’t even notice.
When you carry a large camera
Thieves spot you from a great distance and in their minds, this has a high resale value.
You might not even see anyone around you and a pair of moto thieves (two thieves on a motorbike, one steals the other drives) ride by and snatch it right off your neck or out of your hands.
If you’re in a place like Southeast Asia
It can be treacherous getting in and out of tricycles known in Thailand as Tuk Tuk’s, or various tiny community busses known as Jeepneys in the Philippines.
It’s not a matter of if, but when are you going to smash or drop your camera.
Ease of Use is the other big reason you’ll want a small compact camera for travel
When you have your large camera in it’s carrying case and you need to get a shot, you’ll be oh so glad to have your compact camera there ready to grab it.
It’s also much easier to deal with a compact camera in the rain, crowded subways or taking pictures without being obvious about it so you can catch things as they happen naturally without the subject(s) reacting.
Here you can use the exact same type of a camera set up and just add a wide-angle ‘landscape’ lens to your bag such as a 10-20mm VR and you should be good to go.
You’ll appreciate the image stabilization so that you can work with medium aperture settings such as 11 through 16 or so to keep the whole shot in focus including the foreground which can give great reference in some shots.
You won’t need a compact camera as much unless you’re concerned the wolves might lift your large one.
In nature, you’ll likely do nearly all of your shooting on your full-sized camera.
Full-Size Camera And Compact Camera Recommendation For Someone New To Backpacking
While there are many great choices, we’ve narrowed it down to our favorite in each category.
Our pick for your best full-sized backpacking camera is the Nikon D series in the range of the D5600 through the D7500.
You can generally get them kitted with their standard 18-55mm VR lens which will give you a nice range of autofocus field depths and is a good all-around lens for general shooting.
Then depending on your needs, you can add;
50mm Prime Lens
Be sure it has the wide aperture or f stop so that you can get a really creamy bokeh that will blur out your background if you want it to really leave only the subject in sharp focus.
This can also serve as your cinematic lens while swapping it out with your other lenses for some of your B-Roll footage.
The Nikon 50mm f1/8 DX II (available from Amazon) is a good option for a 50mm prime.
70-200 Telephoto Lens
Unlike Nikon’s 70-300mm lens which at first glance seems like a better bargain, the 70-200mm has a nice wide f stop and also comes with image stabilization which the 70-300 does not.
Check the price of the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Lens at Amazon.
For more information, we also published a round up budget-friendly Nikon Telephoto Lenses
Macro Photography Lens
A great lens that fits most D series Nikon cameras is the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Macro (available from Amazon)
If you’re not super into macro but just like to take a few macro shots here and there you can get a close-up lens attachment (like the Nikon D5300 10x High Definition 2 Element Close-Up (Macro) Lens (52mm) that goes from 1X to 10X and be quite happy with that unless you want to get serious.
Here there is a real no brainer choice and that is the Canon G7X Mark ii.
The only real competition for it on the market is the Sony RX100 IV.
Both are available from Amazon:Check price of the Canon G7X Check price of the Sony RX100 VII
The Canon G7X mark ii is the best low light compact on the market and the sound quality from its factory microphones will amaze you.
It has a full forward-facing flip-up screen that most people use for selfies.
However, there is another reason to use this screen in that position, Vlogging.
If you’re recording video with yourself in the frame you will absolutely love having a forward-facing screen, so you know if the top of your head is being cut off or if you’re in focus or not.
It has a very fair price point and the quality is so good it may just have you leaving your big rig at home more than you ever thought you might.