Best Cameras for Hiking 2014

Best Cameras for Hiking 2014

Hiking requires a lightweight and durable camera that captures great images. Depending on price and weight, camera options abound in categories from point-and-shoots and up to full-frame DSLRs. Quality compact cameras for hiking start at 8 ounces. Professional digital SLR cameras with a landscape lens start at around 27 ounces.

Our Take on Rugged Cameras

A number of “rugged” or “tough” cameras are on the market and tout being waterproof, dustproof, freezeproof, and crushproof. The piece of mind of not worrying about your camera has value, but these models are expensive and the actual components are on par with much cheaper point-and-shoots. Rugged cameras are great for serious exposure to the elements such as surfing, rafting, skiing, or rock climbing. For hiking, we prefer to carry a higher-performance, lower-cost camera, and protect it inside a dry sack from Sea-to-Summit (or even a Ziploc bag or two).
 Olympus Stylus TG-2 iHSIf you do want a rugged camera for hiking, a nice option in 2014 is the Olympus Stylus TG-2 iHS (8.2 oz.). This camera features a f/2.0 lens, giving it the best low light performance of any rugged camera with the Pentax WG-3, as well as features like GPS and 1080p Full HD Video. You can find better value and performance in the point-and-shoot category below, but the Olympus TG-2 iHS is a feature-packed rugged camera that you won’t have to worry about in the outdoors. 

Best Point-and-Shoots for Hiking

For recreational hikers and photographers, a point-and-shoot is a great camera for keeping your pack light and still capturing good images. It’s hard to match the professional image quality of a DSLR (see below), but point-and-shoots continue to advance with larger image sensors, more megapixels, and more features. They also are the lightest and cheapest type of camera on the market. 
Panasonic Lumix LX7Our pick for the best point-and-shoot camera for hiking in 2014 is the Panasonic Lumix LX7 (10.5 oz.). This advanced compact features a Leica lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.4, meaning that it offers exceptional low light performance, perfect for those epic sunrises and sunsets. The Lumix LX7 also shoots fast at up to 11 frames per second and comes equipped with features like Full HD 1080p video and in-camera HDR. At around $300, it’s not a major liability should something go wrong. One shortcoming of the LX7 is that its zoom range equivalent is 24-90mm on 35mm camera—those who plan on shooting a significant amount of wildlife should consider a superzoom camera or the Canon SX260 below. 
A nice budget option for hiking is the Canon Powershot SX260 (8.2 oz.), which has a considerably longer zoom (equivalent to 25-500mm) than the LX7 above but not the exceptional low light performance (it does have image stabilization to help offset camera shake). The Canon SX260 is compact and lightweight at only 8.2 ounces, easy to use, and another good value at around $200. 
 Sony RX100 IIThe Sony RX100 II (9.9 oz.) is consistently rated on this site and others as the best point-and-shoot on the market. With an extra large sensor, high-quality Carl Zeiss lens, and RAW capability, it’s an excellent—albeit pricey—option for hikers. There are, however, two reasons why we don’t have it higher on this list. The first is cost—$600 and up is a lot to spend for a point-and-shoot, especially for heavy outdoor use (with proper care, damage is unlikely but always a possibility). Second, the RX100 II lens has a zoom equivalent of 28-100mm, slightly less wide than the LX7 (24mm) or Canon SX260 (25mm) above. The difference isn’t prohibitive by the means, but the sweet spot for wide-angle landscape shots is right around 21-24mm. The original Sony RX100 is a cheaper option, which doesn’t have features like built-in Wi-Fi or a hot shoe but is almost identical in terms of image quality. For hiking, it's probably a better value.

Best Mirrorless Cameras for Hiking

Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras offer DSLR-like image sensors in compact bodies (they are larger than point-and-shoots but smaller than DSLRs). This is an intriguing option for hikers who want professional-grade photos without the bulk. 
Sony NEX-3NA great budget mirrorless camera for hiking is the Sony NEX-3N (7.4 oz.), available for just over $300 with a 16-50mm kit lens.  The NEX-3N features a large APS-C image sensor— the same as many entry-level DSLRs—in a compact set-up that weighs only 11.5 ounces total with the kit lens. All things considered, the NEX-3N will outperform most point-and-shoots, many of which are similar in price or more expensive, and it’s in the same weight range. You don’t get a ton features or weather sealing with the NEX-3N, but overall it’s a great inexpensive mirrorless camera for hiking. 
For oustanding image quality and weather sealing for protection from the elements, the Olympus OM-D EM-1 (17.5 oz.) is our favorite mirrorless camera in 2014. Compared to its predecessor, the Olympus OM-D E-M5, the OM-D E-M1 comes with improved autofocus, a larger viewfinder, faster shutter speed, and almost all of the features that made the E-M5 such a hit. For those looking to save, the older Olympus OM-D EM-5 is cheaper and a bit lighter.  Both are excellent cameras and rated as dustproof, splashproof, and freezeproof, ideal for hiking. 
At the highest end of the mirrorless camera spectrum are the new and impressive Sony A7 (14.5 oz.) and Nikon Df (25 oz.). These full-frame mirrorless cameras offer professional image quality in lightweight bodies, an exciting prospect for hikers and others who value mobility (the Sony A7 weighs just 14.7 ounces and the Nikon Df is a less impressive 25 ounces). Based on price and weight, we prefer the Sony A7, although the lens options are still limited. Both cameras are weather sealed. 

Best DSLRs for Hiking

Digital SLRs are the heaviest breed of digital camera, but they also have the largest sensors and best selection of lenses. Some professional photographers are now opting for mirrorless cameras for outdoor photography, but the majority still uses a DSLR. These cameras produce professional-grade images that can be enlarged and hung on your wall for a lifetime. 
Nikon D3300For cheaper entry-level DSLRs, both Nikon and Canon recently have released lightweight models aimed to compete with the mirrorless market. The new 24.2-megapixel Nikon D3300 weighs only 15.4 ounces for the camera body, and its 18-55mm VR II kit lens has been trimmed down by 20%. From Canon, the EOS Rebel SL1 is one of the smallest and lightest DSLRs ever made, weighing 14.4 ounces without a lens. Neither model is weather sealed, but both offer excellent image quality and easy-to-use functionality from two of the best in the business.
In the “prosumer” or enthusiast DSLR category comes weather sealing, an important consideration for those who spend a significant amount of time outdoors. The Nikon D7100 (27 oz.) is Nikon’s leading APS-C format camera—compared to cheaper Nikon DSLRs like the D3300 above, the D7100 shoots faster, has a more advanced autofocus, performs better in low light, and is weather sealed.  Canon’s leading APS-C format camera is the 20.2-megapixel Canon EOS 70D (26.6 oz.), an outstanding camera in its own right. Compared to the Nikon D7100, Canon 70D has a flip-out screen for video and built-in Wi-Fi, but also a less sophisticated autofocus. 
Nikon D610For those who want image quality to rival the top professionals, full-frame DSLRs are the cream of the crop. Designed to appeal to a broader base of consumers, a new class of "budget" full-frame DSLRs has emerged, including the Nikon D610 (30 oz.) and Canon EOS 6D (26.8 oz.). Both are weather sealed and offer excellent image quality at a relatively low price point for a full-frame camera.  
The two top full-frame DSLRs in the world are the Nikon D800 (31.7 oz.) and Canon EOS 5D Mark III (33.5 oz.). The Nikon D800 wins in megapixels (36.4 vs. 22.3 on the Mark III), but the difference will not become apparent unless you are making large prints. For hiking, both cameras are relatively heavy at over 30 ounces without lenses or a camera bag, but many who want top-of-the-line image quality are willing to carry the extra weight.