by IR Staff

posted Friday, May 26, 2017 at 4:14 PM EDT

So, you're going to Patagonia? What camera do you take?


If you're planning to backpack out into the wilds of a photogenic destination, you'll surely want to record the adventure, and preferably with a camera capable of capturing the moments with high-quality imagery. There are more cameras out there now than ever before, but the choice of which camera setup is "best" for a deep-country backpacking trip is not so easy. But don't worry, we're here to help.

For anyone who's ventured on a real backpacking trip, you know that space and weight are at a very high premium, and we're not talking about 3-hour day-hikes here. For real treks, you're generally packing in your own food, water, shelter, extra clothes and medical supplies, and you simply can't spare a wealth of space and weight for a dream camera setup of multiple bodies and a handful of lenses. Furthermore, given the realities of Mother Nature, you will likely want a rig that is weather-resistant, meaning both camera body and lenses, which further narrows the available selection.


This exact question was just posed to the IR Staff, in fact, by a close family member going on just such an excursion to Patagonia in southern Argentina. We realized then and there just how tricky the question really is, and that there's not one simple answer. We therefore decided to weigh in and give you our own personal picks and the reasoning behind our decisions. These are what we, ourselves, would take -- your faithful camera review team, who spend our waking hours shooting and handling all of them. We hope one or more of our recommendations helps you with your own difficult decision!


The simple, single-lens Sony hiking camera solution

by Andrew Alexander

In making a choice about the best camera to take on a two-week trek, I'm going to make certain assumptions. My primary assumption is that photography is important to you, and you want to return home with the best possible photographs, suitable for making large-format prints if you desired. To that end, you're looking at a camera with at least 12 megapixels, though these days, it's easy enough to get a great 24-megapixel camera in a variety of formats and sizes.

More importantly though in this decision is the amount of gear related to the enterprise. Backpacking to me, especially on an extended trip, means packing well and lightly: you won't appreciate the great photographs you're taking if you're carrying 60 pounds of gear, and none of it is the extra water bottle you wanted.


To that end, in my mind, the obvious candidate is the Sony A7 II. The body itself is small and portable, weighing in at just 22 ounces, battery included. The form factor is relatively thin, meaning it will take up a smaller amount of space -- making it an excellent choice for travel -- and with the full-frame sensor, the image quality is excellent. The choice of lens or lenses to accompany the camera depends on your preferences, but the FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS would be a great choice if you only wanted to bring just one. As the A7 II includes built-in image stabilization, you don't even need to bring a tripod, though an external flash might be useful. On a two-week trip, I probably wouldn't bother bringing an external storage device, just more memory cards and extra batteries.


Prices: Sony A7 Mark II, $1598 • FE 24-240mm lens, $998

Shop for the A7II: AmazonAdoramaB&H

Shop for the FE 24-240mm: AmazonAdoramaB&H

Buying through the links above helps support this site. Thanks for your support!



An affordable, lightweight & compact OM-D backpacking camera setup

by Dave Pardue

Having enjoyed hiking and backpacking since I was 17, I'm well-accustomed to the size and weight restrictions. But, having been an enthusiast photographer for as many years, I wouldn't want to visit a beautiful destination without having a great camera by my side! Decisions, decisions. Not an easy one, either.

I love weather-resistance, but for the sake of keeping the weight to an absolute minimum while keeping the IQ high and the aperture bright if needed, I'm opting for the Olympus E-M10 II and a few choice lenses. This may buck the trend, but it's truly what I personally would take if going on an extended backpacking trip into the wilds. I'd keep everything in ziplock bags stowed safely in a protected bag and only pull them out when the inclement weather subsided. (The only difference would be if it were sub-zero temps, but I don't do that kind of trekking anymore.)


For lenses, I'd take the capable 12mm f/2 as my all-purpose landscape lens, the 25mm f/1.8 for group photos and other general-purpose shots, and the 40-150mm (non-Pro) for a general-purpose zoom lens. It may sound like a lot of gear, but these three lenses have a combined weight similar to a single Zuiko Pro zoom lens, are all pretty small, and I don't have to compromise with a dim aperture for the ever-important group shots around the coffee pot at sunrise. Bearing full honesty here, those are more important to me than even the nature shots, and neither smartphones nor compact cameras can give me the look I want in that regard, not even close.

I'm going to offer up one additional consideration as well, as I would opt for the Fuji X100 series (S, T or F) if I didn't need the zoom capability. In fact, thinking it through, I'd have a really hard time not just tossing that in (along with the Fuji wide-angle and teleconverter accessory lenses) and be done with it. But, again, that would leave no zoom option so that it would depend on the destination to a great extent. But either of the rigs here would be welcome backpacking companions for me. They pack more than enough firepower to provide the shots I love most: friends gathered around the campfire at dusk or dawn sharing coffee and stories.

That's the primary shot I want on my wall after the trip, and one I simply can't get without a capable camera.


Olympus E-M10 II, $449 • 12mm f/2, $799 • 25mm f/1.8, $299 • 40-150mm f/4-5.6, $99

Shop for the E-M10 II: Amazon • Adorama • B&H

Shop for the 12mm f/2: Amazon • Adorama • B&H

Shop for the 25mm f/1.8: Amazon • Adorama • B&H

Shop for the 40-150mm f/4-5.6Amazon • Adorama • B&H

Buying through the links above helps support this site. Thanks for your support!


Prices: Fuji X100F, $1,299

Shop for the X100FAmazon • Adorama • B&H



Image quality king: going BIG with Medium Format

by Jeremy Gray

As my colleagues have shown, there are numerous excellent cameras that are compact and/or are weather-resistant. Further, these options offer great image quality. But what if your utmost concern is pure image quality, and you don't want to make any sacrifice whatsoever in that area? Enter the medium-format mirrorless Fujifilm GFX 50S. If I am going on an expedition to a faraway place such as Patagonia, I have two primary concerns. One, I need my gear to survive the trip, and with 58 points of weather-sealing and a magnesium alloy body, the GFX 50S ticks that box. Two, I want to come back with the best possible images because it's likely a once-in-a-lifetime trip. While we have yet to have extensive hands-on time with the GFX 50S, I am confident it will deliver here as well.

Now you may be thinking, well a medium-format camera is going to be too large and heavy to carry. It certainly is larger than other mirrorless cameras, yes, but the GFX 50S is smaller than a Nikon D810, for example. It's slightly wider, shorter and a bit deeper than a D810 while weighing 2.5 ounces less. What about glass? I would want to take the Fujifilm GF 32-64mm f/4 R LM WR lens (a weather-resistant optic, by the way), which offers a 35mm equivalent focal length range of 25-51mm. This lens weighs less and is quite a bit shorter than Nikon's latest 24-70mm f/2.8 optic. Consider the 51 megapixels of the GFX 50S's medium format sensor, and you have considerable room for cropping if you need a bit more reach. It's a versatile kit for capturing epic landscapes.

Weight and space are at a premium when backpacking, but if you could find a place in your pack for the GFX 50S, it'll be very difficult to top its image quality, usability and ruggedness. On the plus side (kind of), you'd no longer have to worry about your wallet weighing you down as the GFX 50S and GF 32-64mm kit costs nearly US$9,000. No matter which camera you take on your expedition, ensure you are intimately familiar with all its controls, settings and capabilities before setting off. Nothing is more frustrating than witnessing a stunning vista but being unable to capture it because you aren't used to your gear.


Prices: Fuji GFX 50S, $6,499 • GF 32-64mm f/4 lens, $2,299

Shop for the GFX: Amazon • Adorama • B&H

Shop for the GF 32-64mm f/4Amazon • Adorama • B&H

Buying through the links above helps support this site. Thanks for your support!



A one-lensed, weather-sealed hiking camera setup

by William Brawley

Although I've never done any "hardcore" backpacking, to the extent that I've needed to haul lots of food, shelter and the lot, I'm no stranger to hiking and general travel and the inherent appeal of packing light. So, when it comes to hauling around cameras and lenses, I'm always drawn to small and lightweight gear.

As my other colleagues have mentioned, serious backpacking is all about optimization of what you pack; carrying capacity is limited. Being the fourth person here chiming in on this article, I'm surprised no one's already chosen my top pick: the Olympus E-M1 Mark II and 12-100mm f/4 IS Pro. That's it. All done.

The beauty of the Micro Four Thirds system is in the name, micro. While still having a relatively large sensor, the system allows for much smaller lenses, which take up a lot less bulk inside your bag. Despite the flexibility of interchangeable lens camera, when I'm on the move -- especially when packing to tight capacity requirements -- I find changing lenses to be a hassle. Therefore, my lens of choice offers a highly versatile 24-200mm equivalent range all packed into a lens that's only about 4.5 inches long and weighs just 1.25lbs (0.57kg). Having personally used this lens in Iceland, I was very impressed not only with the fact that I rarely needed to change lenses (all the focal lengths I needed were there), but also the lens' optical quality and image stabilization.


Now for the camera. The updated E-M1 Mark II is a significant improvement to an already excellent camera. It's got a newer, higher-res sensor, more processing power, better autofocus and improved ergonomics. Image quality is excellent for this class of camera, and the performance is top-notch, which makes it a fine choice for a variety of subjects, from landscapes to wildlife. Sure, it's a little bit heavier and larger than the original E-M1, but not by much. One downside to a mirrorless camera is battery life. DSLRs are still the king of this area, but the E-M1 II, thankfully, uses a higher capacity battery pack than the earlier E-M1, so you don't have to haul as many spares.

Oh yeah, and this pairing is all completely weather sealed. Though I might not need it most of the time, I will always prefer a camera with weather sealing. That bit of extra reassurance knowing your camera can withstand some harsh weather is great. For backpacking, you never know what kind of weather conditions you'll run into, and the E-M1 Mark II and the 12-100mm are a perfect, fully-sealed combo. I've used this setup in snow, rain, and waterfall spray without issue. Furthermore, this combo is quite the rugged, durable pairing and able to withstand the bumps, bangs and dings that outdoor travel can inflict.


Prices: Olympus E-M1 Mark II, $1,999 • Olympus 12-100mm f/4 IS Pro lens, $1,299

Shop for the E-M1 II: Amazon • Adorama • B&H

Shop for the 12-100mm f/4 ProAmazon • Adorama • B&H

Buying through the links above helps support this site. Thanks for your support!



No perfect pick, but for top-notch video, backpack with a Panasonic

by Jaron Schneider

This is a topic of constant debate among a small group of adventure-minded photographer friends I have. Every few months the question of "what camera should I get" comes up, because most of us are still carrying our trusty Canon 5D Mark III and 6D cameras. We know they aren't the best anymore, but we have been struggling to figure out what the "best" means for us. Right now, the most glaring concerns center around megapixels vs. ruggedness vs. weight. We want more megapixels (because we want to be able to print huge, and many clients we sell to want very large photos), we want the camera to last a while and be able to take some damage, and we want it to not weigh a ton. It doesn't seem like a tough list to fulfill, but it's been a real drag trying to get something that matches everything we are looking for.

Though all of us love the Sony a7R II for its image quality, exactly zero of my friends believe it can withstand the rigors of a real backpacking trip, especially not repeatedly. Don't get me wrong, I know it's a great camera, but it simply can't function in extreme cold or extreme heat environments (not even that extreme heat really), and the low battery life is always a concern.

We all would go for a Canon 5D Mark IV without hesitation if it had 40+ megapixels, but alas it does not.

My friend Toby has fallen in love with the quality of medium format, but that's totally out of the question as well since they tend to be outrageously heavy. Maybe the new Fuji GFX will finally be a good fit, but that remains to be seen.


So right now, in this position of uncertainty, if you want to take great video while in the wilds, I recommend the Panasonic GH5. It's a camera I have been shooting with a ton lately and whose video quality is incredible along with a size and price are both small. It's kind of a no-brainer for backpackers looking to capture stellar video. For photo, I'm using a mix of the 5D Mark IV and the 1DX Mark II, with more emphasis on the smaller 5D Mark IV thanks mainly to the massive size and weight of the new 1DX, even though I love that camera. The small megapixel offering on it (20.2 megapixel) is another reason I've been leaving it at home lately.


Prices: Panasonic GH5, $1,999

Shop for the GH5: Amazon • Adorama • B&H

Buying through the links above helps support this site. Thanks for your support!


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Thanks for reading, and we hope you've gotten value from one or more of our personal selections! Did one of us "hit the nail on the head?" Do you have an alternate suggestion for readers, or perhaps some additional guidance? We'd love to hear it in the comments down below.

And it's important to remember that there are no wrong answers here. What suits your needs are what matters, and we merely wanted to give you a peek into our backpacks in case it helps in your decision. Your own needs will fall somewhere on the line between weight restrictions and your photographic desire for excellence, and we wish you good luck in both your decision and your journeys into the wild.

(Lead photos by Chris Etchells.)

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Want to read more? Check out our other "Best Of" articles:

• Best compact camera under $1000 • Best mirrorless camera under $1000 • 
• Best camera & lens combination for under $500 • Tripod Ball Heads for any budget!
• 9 Best Travel Tripods • Best Tripods For Video at Every Price Point