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Phone camera or DSLR for hiking

A few kilometres hiking on a moderate or difficult trail while lugging around a DSLR camera can be a pain in the neck… especially if your camera has a heavy lens and the strap is fraying. Increasingly I debate whether to use the phone camera or DSLR for hiking trips, trying to figure out which will be the most useful while also keeping me comfortable.

While many times I forgo the ease of a iPhone camera on our hiking excursions because I want to capture the best shots for this blog, I sometimes want the freedom of not carrying around something heavy.

When A Phone Camera is Awesome

  • When you are hiking for exercise. Nothing ruins a good, sweat-inducing hike than having to stop to fiddle around with settings and to make sure your shot is perfect. A phone camera is much easier to grab, get ready and then take the shot… and then keep going.
  • No need to take a tripod with you. Image stabilization with most phone cameras makes it much easier to get a non-blurry image.
  • When carrying a heavy backpack, the last thing you need is a heavy DSLR around your neck, or on your hip. It just weighs you down even further.
  • When you plan to shoot simple photos without the need of a good zoom lens.
  • Photo-editing apps give you enough capabilities to edit to the desired effect.
  • When you want the option of shooting video, without the bells and whistles.
phone camera or DSLR for hiking

This photo was taken with an iPhone 5 – pretty darn good for a phone camera!

When A DSLR Camera is Awesome

  • When your goal is to capture beautiful photos that you might print and hang on your walls, sell or use for your blog etc. With the capability of shooting RAW photos, that allow for finer post-processing, you can get a better shot with a DSLR than with a simple phone camera.
  • You’re planning to take photos of animals and birds in the forest – you will want a good DSLR and a zoom lens for a crisper image than with a phone camera. Professional photographers know that when photographing wildlife, you will need a great, large lens that shoots more than 400mm and a tripod to keep it steady. After all, you have to position yourself a distance away to avoid scaring your subject away.
  • Macro images are your goal – taking a close up of a bug on a leaf, or the fine details of a flower with a macro lens. While phone cameras are getting better, they still don’t give you the same level of control a DSLR can.
phone camera or DSLR for hiking

During our visit to Mountsberg Conservation Area, my husband Frank had his DSLR with him, with a zoom lens to be able to photograph any birds that visit the area.


It all comes down to the purpose of your hike – whether you are doing it for exercise, relaxation, or whether you want to build your photography skills and portfolio.

Over the past few years there has been talk of how the phone camera is killing the point-and-shoot camera, but I would also argue that it’s pushing the DSLR back into the hands of amateur photography hobbyists and professionals.

With new technology such as mirrorless cameras, which are even lighter and capable of producing high-quality images, the debate as to which camera to bring on a hike continues. I have yet to explore this type of camera, so perhaps it will be the solution to the heavy DSLR.

Which do you prefer – the phone camera or DSLR for hiking, and why?


Feature photo taken by Frank Bourne of Outdoor Adventurers

One comment

  1. This is a debate I’m always having with myself. There have been so many times that I have left the DSLR at home and regretted that decision. And there have been plenty of times I lugged the heavy “good” camera on a hike and barely used it. The things I consider are:
    – Have I been to the place and know what to expect? If it’s a hike on a familiar trail and there isn’t anything spectacular about the time of year, I’ll leave the DSLR at home.
    – Am I planning on blogging the hike? (Pshaw… let’s face it. I plan on blogging everything).
    – How lazy do I feel that day?
    – What is the risk to my DSLR and how much space do I have?
    No matter what, I don’t think I’m ever going to completely get away from wishing I had one camera with me over the other.
    Great post! Glad I’m not the only one who has this challenge.