For those who are a little bit more serious about their photography, your phone just isn’t enough for recording memories of your hiking trip or holiday.
Yes, the capability of phone cameras has improved no end in the last few years, and for the casual user they are great – hence the decline in compact camera purchases over the last decade.
The one big advantage of a phone camera is portability, and quite often too resistance to the elements – i.e. rain and snow!
However, for the more avid hiking photographers, you just sometimes need a bit more than your phone!
For me, photography is about the feel of the camera in your hands and the ability to manipulate it to get the images you want. With a phone, you just can’t do that. Principally due to the fact that a phone is a do-it-all device, plus there’s still a vast difference between what the small sensor and lens produce on your phone compared to an actual camera.
For me, these are the following 9 things which I feel are important for a camera to have when you are choosing one for hiking or travel.
- Weather sealing
- Sensor size
- Ease of use/buttons
- Interchangeable lenses
- Video stabilisation
I’m gonna jump straight to the point with this article and just tell you which camera(s) I think are the best for hiking – No comparisons here because for me, there’s one factor that any camera MUST have to be good enough for hiking and travel, and that’s WEATHER SEALING. For obvious reasons!
The BEST Camera For Hiking & Travel
I did a lot of research when choosing the best camera for my trips. I hike and travel a lot and the camera has to be durable and weather sealed. I was quite surprised to find that outside more professional cameras, there was only one camera range that includes weather-sealing. YES, just one! I don’t know if it’s the cost or something else, but I feel there’s a bit of a gap in the market. [Edit – it’s probably due to overheating in the smaller camera bodies]
The winner is…
The SONY A6300
This camera was released in early 2016 so is coming up for 7 years old at the time of writing this article. However, I must say that it’s a beast of a camera and the images you get from it are many times better than you will get from even the best phone camera on the market.
The Sony Alpha range of cameras started with the A6000, then were released in the following order – A6300, A6500, A6100, A6400 and A6600. The bolded models are basically upgraded versions of the initial releases. Not until the A6300 did Sony start to weather-seal the bodies of this camera range and even the updated A6100 doesn’t include it.
I would consider the A6400 and A6500 for hiking and travel too, but only if you want some specific features which I will discuss later on. The later models like the A6600 have a jump in size which for me is a disadvantage on the portability front.
For most, the A6300 will be more than enough and it will save you money not having to buy a newer model of the camera.
Why Is The Sony A6300 Good For Hiking?
These are some brief specifications of the camera:
- Weather-sealed body
- 24MP – APS-C Sensor
- 3.00″ Tilting Screen
- Electronic viewfinder
- Interchangeable lenses
- 11fps continuous shooting
- 4k video
- Built-in Wireless
First of all the A6300 has a huge sensor compared to your phone. Usually around 4x the size. If you don’t know what that means, if the sensor is bigger, it will have larger pixels. This allows for a huge quality increase, better low-light performance and generally just more information in the image file.
Have you ever tried to edit a bright or dark phone photo and found it breaks down and looks strange? That won’t happen so quickly with a bigger sensor!
So it’s not just megapixels that matter. A phone can have 24MP or more, but all crammed into the small sensor, it won’t produce nice images like an APS-C sensor will. Nor will a lot of compact cameras like the Sony RX100 series (sometimes marketed towards travellers) These usually only have a 1” sensor which is half the size of the APS-C sensor in the A6300.
Larger camera sensors also allow you to get more depth of field in the image to separate your subject from the background. Modern phones do this now too, but it’s only an effect produced by the software rather than native to the physical technology. This means that sometimes it goes wrong and looks very odd!
The A6300 has a tilting screen, but it was not until the A6400 that Sony included a vlogging-style full rotatable screen. If filming yourself is important, that could be something to consider.
One thing for me as well that’s super important is a viewfinder. Not just for the photo-taking experience, but for when it’s super bright outside and you can’t see the screen properly. Smaller compact cameras don’t tend to have one, so this is a big markdown on functionality for me!
The A6300 usually comes with a standard kit lens which is 16-50mm (24-70mm full-frame equivalent). This is a pretty cheap lens but it’s super small and does the job. The great thing about the Sony A6300 is it allows interchangeable lenses, so if you want to upgrade or carry more than one lens with you, you have a full range to choose from. I’ll suggest some later in the article.
If you want to capture some quick action like those travel jumping shots, then the A6300 has an 11-frame-per-second burst mode. You’re bound to capture one good one, right?
If you want video, you get up to 4k. HOWEVER, image stabilisation only comes in later models – A6500 and upwards. This means that tripod video shots will be fine, but you’ll probably have to stabilise other footage afterwards or use lenses which include in-built stabilisation (IBIS).
Wireless & Phone Phone Transfer
Finally, one thing that’s usually quite important while travelling is that you may be without your computer. The A6300 has built-in wireless which allows you to connect to your phone to transfer photos and edit to your heart’s content. Later models have Bluetooth as well.
Size & Weight
This is a tough one as a normal camera is obviously bigger than a phone. Plus the A6300 will not fit in your pocket like some compact cameras. However, for me, this is the best camera you can get for the size and weight payoff. As mentioned below, it’s the smallest camera with weather sealing, plus you have the large APS-C sensor and viewfinder for better images and camera experience.
The reason I haven’t really mentioned the A6600 in this review is that there is a jump in size and weight from the other cameras in the range. The size increase is mostly in the depth of the camera due to the bigger grip and battery compartment. For this “downgrade” in portability, there’s not enough extra that this camera offers for hiking and travel users to justify buying it.
Then just as a reminder, if you skipped to here, the Sony A6300 is one of the only cameras that has a weather-sealed body. For me, this is essential when travelling and hiking. If you find another one that does have it, please let me know!
Should You Consider Later Models Than The Sony A6300?
To avoid confusion, Sony initially released 3 cameras, the A6000, A6300 and A6500. They then released upgrades to these cameras more recently, the A6100, the A6400 and A6600. This means that the model numbers don’t increase sequentially and for example, the A6400 is newer than the A6500 because it belongs to a different range within the line-up.
Sony A6400 Advantages
In the A6400 you get the following improvements over the A6300.
- Better ISO night performance.
- Better Auto-focus – including animal eye focus.
- A touch screen.
- Bluetooth connectivity.
- Vlog flip screen.
Sony A6500 Advantages
As mentioned above, the A6500 is actually older than the A6400 (confusing, right?)
However, if you are considering using your camera for hand-held video as well and don’t want to buy lenses with image stabilisation (IBIS), the Sony A6500 includes it in its body.
This is because when it was released in the original line-up of A6000, A6300 and A6500, it was the top of the line and included extra features than the models below it (plus some of their subsequent upgraded models). So just the A6500 and the later A6600 have IBIS.
What Lenses Should I Get For the Sony A6300?
The Sony A6300 works specifically with Sony E-Mount lenses but is also compatible with FE lenses, although because these are made for bigger full-frame sensors, you get a 1.5 crop factor – i.e. the image is a bit more zoomed in than you’d expect.
There are many lenses you can buy, but because compactness is important when travelling around, I have considered this when comparing the options.
Also, as APS-C sensors are cropped, I’ll also include the full-frame equivalent focal length so that you can get an idea of the comparison.
This is the standard “kit” lens that often comes with the A6300. It’s good enough and it’s very compact – that’s why I like it.
24-75 equivalent on a 35mm full-frame camera.
This is a prime (no zoom) lens which is quite wide. Good for landscape photography and you can crop the image if you need to zoom in later on – those 24 megapixels allow for a nice bit of post-processing zoom.
This lens also has an f2.8 aperture so is good in low-light conditions.
24mm equivalent on a 35mm full-frame camera.
This is similar to the lens above but less wide and the general opinion is that it has better image quality too. I love this lens for a general walking-around travel and street photography. You don’t have to mess with zooming and the wideness is just enough for most of what you want to capture.
30mm equivalent on a 35mm full-frame camera.
If you want a lens that is a bit more versatile and don’t mind a bit of bulk, then this is a good do-it-all lens. You get a big zoom range which you can’t go wrong with in all situations.
27-157mm equivalent on a 35mm full-frame camera.
How Should I Carry The Sony A6300?
A common question I get is, “how do you carry your camera”. It’s a good question as a camera bouncing around on your chest with the old-style straps is not really what you want when travelling or hiking.
There are two main ways I carry my camera.
- With a shoulder strap.
- With a camera clip.
My favourite of both the above come from a company called Peak Design. They are expensive but amazing quality.
A shoulder strap is as you’d expect – it provides the versatility of allowing you to hang your camera across your body, over your shoulder, or around your neck by adjusting the strap length.
A camera clip like the one Peak Design makes attaches to your belt or backpack and allows you to clip your camera to it for easy access.
Best Bags & Protection for the Sony A6300
For clarification, a camera bag is used to carry your camera and accessories. A camera case is used to house the camera in for protection. You can also buy a camera “skin” which usually wraps around the body of the camera and stays on permanently to prevent everyday wear and damage.
Again, I really like Peak Design for their camera bags.
If you’re looking for carry cases, I’d go for either the Aenllosi carry case (camera + bigger lenses) or the WERJIA Hard Carrying Case which fits just the A6300 with its kit lens.
If you want a protective skin for your camera, have a look for the Market & YCY silicone rubber camera case.
Underwater Case/Hosing For The Sony A6300
Underwater housing for the Sony cameras tends to be expensive. Expect to pay £200-300 as standard. If you really want to get one, the Sea Frogs cases are quite good, otherwise I feel the money would be better spent on getting a GoPro which is natively waterproof.
Best Tripods For the Sony A6300
The tripod you should get for your A6300 depends on the lens you use for it. The kit lens sits close to the body of the camera so doesn’t change its centre of gravity, whereas a longer lens will need a tripod with more stability.
The next thing to consider is what you want to use the tripod for and how high you need it to go.
My favourite all-around tripod is the Peak Design (you can see I’m a fan) travel tripod. It’s expensive but a great do-it-all tripod.
If you want something cheaper and versatile, you could consider a Joby Gorillapod. These are small but have bendable legs so you can attach them to things like trees and railings to get the height you need.
I also really like the Anker NEBULA tripod which is small but extends to about 40cm high.
Cameras That Failed My Requirements
When deciding on my perfect camera for hiking and travel I considered a few others, but as mentioned above, none were weather sealed, plus most had smaller sensors than the Sony a6xxx series.
Only the Sony a6300 and a6400 met my requirements.
In close second came the Ricoh GR ii & Gr iii. While these cameras are not weather-sealed, they are much smaller than the Sony a series, plus have the same APS-C sensor. If you are not going to be exposed to extreme weather and are happy with a fixed 28mm lens, then these cameras are a very good option.
Other Cameras That I Considered:
- Sony rx100 series – small, but not weather sealed and only 1” sensor.
- Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II – small, but not weather sealed and only 1” sensor.
- Fujifilm X100F – APS-C sensor, but bigger than the a6300 and not weather sealed.
Not much to say here other than Sony make really good all-around cameras and leads the market with their versatility and quality.