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Hello Stack Exchange !

I am looking around for a camera, and I have to admit my knowledge is quite basic and all the features and technical aspects of each review I read are melting my brain. I will soon start a hike/trek/trip, in autonomy (the goal is to not use, or limit as much as possible the use of money) wandering from Europe to southeast Asia (1 or 2 years), backpacking, sleeping in tent and carrying my whole "house" on the back.

I am looking for a decent camera, to go with me, to be charged with solar panels (so battery is quite important) and that will definitely endure high temperatures in desert or low on high mountains peaks.

Would you have recommendations on what to look for? Maybe I am bad at assessing my needs, but would say, durability (battery and weather) and weight are the most important components.

In advance, thanks so much

  • How long do you have to charge? Are you going to be set up with panels arrayed for hours at a time, or are you hoping to have, say, a small panel on your backpack, charging as you trek? – mattdm Jun 27 '18 at 16:00
  • Can you define what "decent camera" means to you? Specifically, is there a reason the answer isn't your phone camera, which presumably you will already be taking? – mattdm Jun 27 '18 at 16:01
  • charging will be on the go, I have a solar panel for my basic electronics (I can survive without though, that's the point) but let say charging the camera once a week could be nice. Decent camera, you got me here, I think the fanciest I ever had was a digital canon 10 years ago, so something I will be eager to use, suiting needs but not on the professional side of the scale. Charging is important, as I don't know how it will go, imagine being a week into Nepal clouds – Tim Jun 27 '18 at 16:11
  • DSLRs use a lot less power than compacts, as long as you don't use the LCD display, and an entry level one wouldn't be too heavy (plastic body). But you have to find a battery charger (specific batteries) that work on solar (car version?). – xenoid Jun 27 '18 at 17:52
  • @xenoid would you have a model in mind? to be compared to the Olympus as of now – Tim Jun 27 '18 at 18:05
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If your main goal is to hike and to document that hike with some memorable pictures, you should take your phone camera. You mention that the last camera you used was a digital Canon (presumably point & shoot) ten years ago. The cameras in today's high-end and medium-level smartphones easily surpass that of digicams of that era. And, the results will be comparable to today's "tough" compacts.

The main drawback is that you'll have a fixed focal length lens — no zoom. But, phone cameras generally have a very flexible medium-wide lens, and these days, enough real resolution that there's plenty of room to crop.

Presumably, you're already taking a phone. That means that additional the weight and size is zero. That's going to be very hard to beat.

But, if you really are thinking of this is as photography trek, and you want to learn photography, you should budget a good chunk of your weight and trip planning to photo gear. In this case, all of the advice in Are there disadvantages to a prosumer camera for a beginner, aside from cost? applies. I definitely discourage using one of those "tough" compact cameras — the technical image quality won't be significantly better than you'd get with your phone, and you won't have the advanced control you need to get good results.

As much as I like the low-tech suggestion of taking a film camera (maybe even one which works entirely without batteries), I really can't agree in this case, because it's not a very good learning tool without a feedback loop. To learn photography with a film camera, you need to develop very frequently and evaluate your results. You won't be able to pack a darkroom, so digital is better. If you do decide to go this route — and it's not completely crazy! — make sure you're very comfortable with your camera and your ability to make good images with it before you set off.

Several companies make chargers specifically for camera batteries. Voltaic Systems is one of them — in fact, they make solar backpacks. Assuming you're in good sun, the medium size of these should charge a mirrorless or DSLR battery in five or six hours. Bring two or three spare batteries and charge them when you can.

I personally would recommend one of the smaller Fujifilm, Sony, or Olympus mirrorless cameras. Or maybe even something like the Fujifilm X100F — nice and compact with a fixed lens. But you won't go wrong with a DSLR, either.

  • thanks for your answer, I will have a phone, but I kind of want to "learn" to take pictures also, I am just concerned about the time to charge a LI-92B Li-ion battery for the TG-5 for example. if it charges 4 hours on a wall, It will probably be 12 with solar. – Tim Jun 27 '18 at 16:29
  • I would submit that unless you are willing plan around it specifically, this might not be the best time to learn with a more advanced camera. – mattdm Jun 27 '18 at 16:56
  • I am getting knowledge on the go, might not be the best but I will learn :) – Tim Jun 27 '18 at 17:08
  • Updated based on that comment. – mattdm Jun 27 '18 at 20:45
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One feature you might want to consider, if you're going to be using solar panels, is whether or not you can recharge the camera's battery via USB, since most panels are probably set up for recharging phones and USB devices. This is a more common feature with mirrorless cameras than dSLRs. E.g., my Fuji X100T can be recharged over USB, like a phone, while my Canon 5DMkII cannot and requires a separate battery recharger that plugs into an A/C power outlet.

Other considerations might be weather-sealing, or if you're going to be in severe weather conditions, possibly being water/drop proof, which would require a small-sensor fixed-lens compact or action camera, which may be more limiting on image quality, but be far more robust, convenient, and lower-cost than an interchangeable lens system camera. If you want interchangeable lens and you're willing to go with a 1" sensor, there's also the Nikon 1 AW. Keep in mind, though, that an interchangeable lens camera is going to be drastically more expensive/inconvenient than a fixed-lens one, since you have to buy/carry the lenses as well as the camera.

For bigger sensors, on the dSLR side, Pentax may be your best option for weather-sealing, but will limit you on lenses and 3rd-party accessories vs. Canon/Nikon. If you want something halfway between a dSLR and a compact camera, then a mirrorless systems, such as an Olympus micro four-thirds body with weathersealing, might be the right balance between bulk/weight and image quality for you.

See also:

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Have you done this backpacking thing before? Realistically, if you'll be living in a tent, you should be avoiding anything that requires electricity. Charging batteries by solar will be a pain. Carrying around a heavy camera will be a pain. You should consider getting a small film camera.

Regarding the inconvenience of carrying film:

  • Get a half-frame camera. Take twice as many pictures per roll.

  • When you finish a roll, mail the film to be developed, scanned, and delivered to someone back home.

  • Carrying a small camera and film will be much less hassle than carrying a heavy camera, extra batteries, and a solar charger.

If you must get a digital camera, you will need to decide whether longer battery life or reduced weight has priority. Either way, bring several batteries so you can keep some charged and charging while using one.

  • For longer battery life, get the least expensive DSLR with kit lens you can find. Use it with the LCD turned off. Battery life will be far better than mirrorless or compact cameras.

  • For reduced weight, get a small compact camera, like one of those "tough" cameras, or use your phone.

You will also need to consider the ease with which an expensive camera could be stolen if you are out living on the streets. You might even consider using single-use cameras. No one wants to steal disposable cameras, and you will be spending most of your time outdoors in the sun, where it will function best.

  • The film camera idea is not a crazy one. The only downside will be the need to carry film. – Jim MacKenzie Jun 27 '18 at 20:59
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I don't know enough about solar charging - sorry on that front.

But, for the camera, I'd recommend the Olympus Tough series or similar. Lightweight, waterproof, shockproof - it'll survive a trip without having to make special accommodations for it.

As an aside - I spent a decade as an avid rock climber and have logged many, many days on the trail. When I really cared about my photography, I made sacrifices to bring an SLR. When I cared more about the trip and the climbing, I brought the Olympus. It really depends on your photographic goals - but it sounds like you will really just want to snap and document the trip. So, any tough pocket camera will do!

  • thanks a lot, I will have a look on the easy to carry. any comment on the battery life/charge? would you recommend a protective case? (every ounce/gram counts though). – Tim Jun 27 '18 at 16:12
  • @Tim that's why I rec'd the Tough series or similar. No case needed - the camera is good to go. I never played with solar chargers - can't help you there. – Hueco Jun 27 '18 at 16:19
  • thanks ! How long is the charging time over the wall (usb I guess ?) maybe you don't have an Olympus as of now. – Tim Jun 27 '18 at 16:30
  • @Tim - tbh I've never timed it and I usually USB charge it from a laptop or cigarette lighter in the car while driving. Maybe a few hours? Either way - itd be wise to have a backup battery with you so that you can shoot one, charge one on the go, and swap when needed. – Hueco Jun 27 '18 at 16:42
  • Thanks, if you happen to measure the charging duration, no rush though :) – Tim Jun 27 '18 at 18:22

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