Friday, May 9, 2014

My Backpacking Cameras

Dale Matson

Click On Photographs To Enlarge
The Sphinx Kings Canyon National Park
Taken with Sony DSC- HXV50

If only there was a perfect camera and lens for backpacking. If only we had a mule to carry our gear. Because I carry my own gear and travel alone, I have carried various cameras over the years. Early, I favored an Olympus water and shock resistant camera. I learned this after dropping a camera in the water. Unfortunately the water and shock resistant cameras do no take the quality photographs I need. 

As years passed, I realized that photographs with even “good” point and shoot cameras diminished the beauty of an area considerably.My most important criteria are that the camera be compact, portable, light, have a good sensor and a good lens for the tasks at hand. Weight and portability are huge considerations. There is no “One” camera that satisfies all of my needs. Backup is essential and I always carry two cameras. That being said, I still want minimal weight and access.

Both of my cameras are carried on my utility belt for quick access. There is a tendency to leave a camera carried in your backpack IN your backpack rather than taking the pack off every time you want to take a photograph. Additionally some shots, especially wildlife doesn’t wait for very long. Neither of my cameras is waterproof, so I keep a zip lock freezer bag in the camera pouch in case of rain.

Generally, there are two kinds of photographs one will encounter backpacking in the mountains. Mountain landscapes require a wide-angle lens that will work in low light. Wildlife requires a steady shot zoom lens and the longer the zoom, the better. I do not carry a tripod because of the additional weight.
Sony DSC-HX50V

So what kind of cameras do I use to fit these needs. My zoom lens camera is a Sony HX50V. The 30X magnification is better than having to carry around a 600mm lens.  The sensor is adequate. It can take shots of animals that I cannot see without aided vision. The screen is not good in bright light but for distance and ease of use, it is great. The camera, battery and soft carry case weigh in at 11 ounces. Additionally this camera offers gps readings and location tags on the photographs.

Sony A7

Pinnacles National Park
(photograph taken with Sony A7)

My landscape camera is a Sony A7 with a 35mm f2.8 lens. This small Zeiss lens allows me to keep the camera on my belt with a total weight of 1 pound 10 ounces for camera, battery and case. (I do carry spare batteries for both cameras) In my experience, this is one of the finest full frame cameras this small available now. So often in the past, there has simply been too big a view in the mountains. This is especially true from the mountain passes.

I’m sure there are others who are less concerned about photographs and simply take their cell phones for photographs. In groups of backpackers one could make arrangements for some to carry one kind of camera and others to carry a different camera. As someone who is generally alone, this is my compromise for weight and quality. the combined weight of both cameras is less weight than the average 400mm lens. Both cameras take nice quality movies and panorama shots too. I suppose if I had the eye of a genuine photographer, the pictures would even be better! 

Taken 01-28-15 With A7R


  1. I broke down and bought the FDA-EV1MK viewfinder for the Sony DSC-HX50V. With my poor eyesight and the poor image display in bright sunlight, it was necessary for me to get it. Of course the larger camera case needed is offset by the ability to see what I am taking a photograph of and an additional contact point of the camera for a more steady shot. Panasonic lumix now makes a 30x optical zoom pocket camera with a viewfinder but I like the Sony and am familiar with the platform.

  2. The value of ziplock bags cannot be underestimated. I had my two cameras in ziplock bags inside their respective camera cases while backpacking this week because it was raining. I went to refill my canteen in the San Joaquin River and fell into the river. The camera cases were soaked but the cameras remained dry inside the ziplock bags.

  3. I bought a used Sony A7r. There is a photograph I took with it posted to the blog article. I took it the photograph yesterday afternoon at my cabin.