Choosing a Compact Digital Camera for Hiking and the Outdoors

If you are a hiker or an avid outdoors person and want a digital camera that’s easy to use and easy to get to when a photo opportunity comes along, you may want to consider a compact digital camera that’s small enough and light enough to fit into your shirt or pants pocket or held in a small case attached to your belt.

The size and weight of anything you carry on a hike, especially on a long hike, are always considerations. When it comes to deciding on a digital camera to take along on the trail, a full size SLR digital camera is not always the best choose. A compact point and shoot digital camera that is comfortable to carry, that stays out of the way when you don’t need it, but easily accessible when you do is a better choose.

There are hundreds of compact and ultra compact digital points and shoot cameras on the market and choosing one could be overwhelming. The digital camera you need depends on the kind of hiking and outdoors activities you do most, the type of photos you will take the most and what you want to do with the photos when you get them home.

Features to consider in a point and shoot digital camera for hiking

However, here are some features that are recommended when choosing a digital camera for hiking:

1. Megapixels - Digital cameras produce images with millions of pixels or megapixels. All things being equal, a camera with more pixels yield photos with more details than a camera with fewer pixels. Photos with more details appear sharper than pictures with less detail. However, not all cameras with more pixels automatically are better than cameras with fewer pixels. Besides the number of pixels, resolution of a digital camera is determined by the sharpness of the lens and the camera's ability to convert raw pixels into an electronic image. For most general outdoor or scenic photography, a digital camera with four-to-six megapixels is enough to give you enlargements of the photos up to 8x10” prints. You can save money by buying a lower megapixels digital camera.

2. Optical zoom lens - Consider a camera with at least a 3x optical zoom range. Try to get a camera with a lens of at least 28mm wide angle to short telephoto of about 105mm. This gives you the flexibility for virtually any shooting situation. The 28mm semi-wide angle will allow you to capture expansive vistas, while the 105mm will allow you to zoom in on more specific subjects, when you just want to fill the frame with your subject. If you are more of a wildlife photographer, then you’ll need a longer or more powerful telephoto lens to bring the subject in closer. You want optical zoom - ignore any claims of more digital zoom. Basically, that is just internal enlargement using software. You can do that yourself at home on your computer.

3. Internal lens – This feature is nice to have if you tend to mishandle your camera or drop it often. Cameras with internal lenses also seem to set up for taking photos faster that external lens cameras because the lens does not need to extend. Whether a camera zooms internally or externally doesn't seem to make a noticeable difference in image quality. Although, an internal lens may limit the camera’s zoom range due to the space inside the camera. In addition, internal lenses may be “slower,” or let in less light, than most external lenses, which means the camera may not perform well in low light conditions. This should not be a problem or concern, however, if you intend to use the camera mostly in brightly lit outdoor scenes.

4. Shutter lag and shot to shot times – While you shouldn’t expect a compact digital camera to be able to catch every action shot of fast moving animals, sports and children, you do want a digital camera that is relatively fast in shutter delay. Shutter lag is the time between pressing the shutter button and the camera recording the picture. Cameras that take a long time between shots may cause you to miss photo opportunities. Pre-focusing should overcome some of the lag. The industry average for shutter lag is currently at about 0.5 second.

5. Macro mode - Most compact digital cameras will have some type of setting for macro mode. Macro is a useful feature to have if you want to real close-up pictures of plants or insects.

6. Optical viewfinder - More and morecompact digital cameras don’t come with a viewfinder, replaced with a LCD screen on the back of the camera body. In bright light or low light the LCD screen can be unless because you can’t see your subject clearly on the screen. Having to use the LCD to compose your shots also means that you can’t brace the camera against you cheek when holding the camera away from you, making it more difficult to keep the camera steady. Using a viewfinder instead of the LCD will also prolong the camera’s battery life.

7. Image-stabilized lens - An image-stabilized, or IS, lens will eliminate camera shake and make sure you get crisp, sharp picture, even when your hands are shaking when you take a picture. With theneed to hold the camera in front of youto frame a shot, or taking a picture while you are on the move,you’re going to find the IS feature very handy. The feature is more important on digital cameras with ultra-zoom lenses, it’s a nice addition to have on your camera when hiking. A quality camera lacking an IS shouldn’t be a deal breaker, though.

8. Water proofing – If you do a lot of water sports or just like being able to take pictures during a rainstorm, a waterproof digital camera or at least water resistant is good to have. This is not an essential feature and shouldn’t keep you away from an otherwise quality digital camera. Some compact cameras come with optional waterproof housings for using the camera under water.

9. Memory compatibility – You may want to consider digital cameras that use the same type of memory card as your other electronic gadgets you already own, such as cell phone or MP3 player, so you don’t have to spend money buying a new memory card format. Make sure you have enough memory for any important outings. The rule of thumb is to bring twice the memory of what you think you’ll need.

A digital camera is certainly not a vital item for an enjoyable hiking trip, but if you own a camera that is high quality, easy to use and easily kept within reach, you’ll be more apt to have it with you when ever you go into the great outdoors and always be at the ready for the photo opportunity for a life time.

Three highly regarded compact point and shoot digital cameras

Here are a few suggestions for compact cameras that are more that suitable for hiking. The cameras offer some or all of the features above, and are also capable of taking great looking pictures:

Pentax Optio W60 Digital Camera

Pentax Optio W60 - Waterproof, 10MP, 5x Wide Angle Optical Zoom, 5mm to 25mm (approximately 28mm to 129mm in 35mm format)

If you're looking for the definitive go-anywhere point and shoot digital camera, the Pentax W60 may be it! Not only is the Pentax Optio W60 waterproof and freeze proof, the camera is capable for taking excellent pictures and has great performance. It is a quick to respond camera, with shutter lag approaching that of entry-level SLR models, and continuous shooting speeds up to 5 frames per second - a reduced resolution of 5 megapixels but still good for 8x10” prints. The 10 megapixels, 5X internal zoom Optio can function up to 13 feet underwater for up to two hours and at temperatures below freezing. The Optio W60 can handle a variety of scenes including landscapes, architecture, and group photos in confined spaces as well as close-up screen filling telephoto shots. The 2.5” LCD monitor is coated with Anti-Reflective coating that makes it viewable at wide angles, even in bright sunlight. Unit Dimensions (W x H x D) - 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.0; Weight - Without battery or removable memory - 4.4 oz.The Optio W60 is available in Pink, Ocean Blue or Silver with an MSRP of US$329.95 and ships with: USB Cable I-USB7 (39551), AV Cable I-AVC7 (39552), Rechargeable Li-Ion Battery D-LI78 (39741), Battery Charge Cradle D-BC78(A), AC Plug Cord (39477), Strap O-ST20 (39195), Software CD-ROM S-SW81.

Here is a video review of the Pentax Optio W60 Digital Camera

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1 Digital Camera

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1 - 12MP, 4.6x Wide Angle MEGA Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 2.7 inch LCD, 4.9mm to 22.8mm (28mm to 140mm in 35mm format)

The Panasonic DMC-TS1 (called the FT1 outside the US of A) is not only good looking and rugged, it can capture great images, too. The camera body is waterproof to 3m. It's dust proof, too so you don't have to worry about taking the camera to the beach or dessert. The DMC-TS1 can also handle a 1.5 m drop and survive. The Panasonic TS1 records HD motion images with 1280 x 720-pixel resolution. It uses the AVCHD (MPEG-4/H.264) format, via AVCHD Lite, which stores less data than other formats and as a result can store more HD motion images on the same amount of memory. A retracting lens with internal optics is used in this 4.6x zoom lens system, which lets you take shots from the 28mm wide-angle to 129mm telephoto. This gives you the flexibility for virtually any shooting situation. Unit Dimensions (W x H x D) - 2.5 x 0.9 x 3.9; 5.8 oz. MSRP of US$399.95.

Here is a video review of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1 (FT1) Digital Camera

Olympus Stylus Tough-8000 Digital Camera

Olympus Stylus Tough-8000 - 12 MP, 3.6x Wide Angle Optical Dual Image Stabilized Zoom and 2.7-Inch LCD

The Stylus Tough-8000 lives up to its name and is practically indestructible. Olympus led the way for "tough" digital cameras. Whether you're canoeing a Class 4 rapid or repelling down the side of Half Dome, you won’t have to worry about damaging this camera. It is waterproof to 33 feet, shockproof to 6.6 feet, crushproof to 220 lbs, and freeze proof to 14 degrees F. Breakthrough features like Dual Image Stabilization and Tap Control provide the clearest images under the most difficult conditions. The Stylus Tough-8000 uses xD-Picture Card compatibility and also an adapter for microSD memory card. The 2.7 LCD features an extra-wide viewing angle & anti-glare technology for easier framing and shooting. Unit Dimensions - 3.7 W x 2.4 H x 0.85 D; Weight - 6.4oz 9 without batteries & media card. Silver and black with an MSRP of US$379.95.

Here is a video review of the Olympus Stylus Tough-8000 Digital Camera

There are many compact point and shoot digital cameras with a wide array of features depending on the price of the camera. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a perfect digital camera or the best digital camera that will be good for every possible shooting situation no matter how much money you are willing to pay. You final decision will be based on compromises and trade offs of what is important for you under conditions that you will mostly find yourself in when using the camera.

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passionate77 2 years ago

nice and informative article and also helpful for some one searching to buy some compact digital cam, thanks for sharing it all information, stay blessed!

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