Choosing the Ideal Bushwalk Camera

What characteristics should the ideal bushwalking camera have? Will a smartphone do instead? Is a full blown DSLR needed? What about for those poster size prints?

I  am continually looking for the ideal bushwalking camera and each year I seem to get closer with each new product release.  But each year I keep adding new “must have” features to my list, so I never actually get there.

I remember having a Minolta Weathermatic 35 DL waterproof  film camera  in the late eighties with which I was very satisfied. It had limited zoom and macro, auto-focus, replaceable batteries, and could be used underwater with its special sports viewfinder.  It was way ahead of its time! I thought it did a great job at the time. But things have changed; cameras are smaller, have better zoom and the automatic settings make them truly point-and-shoot cameras!

Minolta Weathermatic 35DL with sports finder by Marty4650

The ideal camera needs to be weatherproof, lightweight, have both  zoom, wide angle and macro lens, with video capabilities, have a battery that lasts for the duration of your walk or is easily replaceable, have a screen that is visible even in bright sunshine, have a GPS and have …… the list goes on. With each new model release the features become more impressive.  Panoramic stitch, HDR, face recognition and focus, automatic backlight, 15 megapixel….Will I ever be satisfied?

The answer is probably no. Each year my children get my reject camera as I progress to the next model. Each year, my ideal digital camera changes a little, but the core requirements for me today are:

  • big zoom and wide angle
  • lightweight and compact, hence single lens
  • GPS for geotagging photos
  • full automatic with intelligent processing that I can depend upon
  • replaceable lightweight batteries, preferably Li-ion to save weight
  • screen that works in bright light or better still an optical viewfinder
  • high quality video capabilities
  • 5-10 mega pixels
  • built in flash
  • ability to easily connect o my computer and TV screen

Can a smart phone meet all of these requirements? The iPhone 4 goes close, as do high end Nokias and probably many others. There are many situations in which a smartphone would be more than adequate and would meet most of my core requirements. The main problem is that to fit the features into such a small space, compromises need to be made. See some of my other iPhone posts for more details.

Is a full blown DSLR suitable? Not for me; too heavy, bulky and only in poor light are the photos better. The equivalent of my Panasonic FZ35 18x zoom would weigh a ton in a DSLR. Possibly OK on a day walk, but I don’t have the room or want the additional weight  for an extended walk. With even point-and-shoots having as many as 15 megapixels, poster size prints are feasible without needing a DSLR.

When I eventually master taking good creative shots with my point-and-shoot I might want to print poster size prints or take shots in difficult light conditions, but until then I’ll concentrate on getting interesting, creative shots, for which I don’t need a bulky, heavy DSLR.

Want some recommendations on particular models ?

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This article by Bush Walker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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