Picking the best DSLR for hiking can be a tough choice - there are many factors to consider. Do you want to go with a convenient, lightweight camera that you can whip out in an instant? Something cheap that you won't cry over when it falls to the ground? Our experts discuss amongst themselves the best DSLRs for hiking, and there are their top choices:
1) Nikon D40
The D40 is a camera that is extremely popular, and is loads of fun. We've reviewed many "serious" cameras in this site but the D40 is just simply fun. The D40 is lighter than most other DSLRs, and features fast performance and easy to use controls. It's so lightweight that you can just carry it everywhere rather than a point and shoot. Its light weight is a huge benefit.. I mean who wants to hike 1-2 miles in sunny, rocky terrain or forest carrying lbs of equipment?
The screen is also a marvel to look at. Bright, sharp, and very vivid. We recommend pairing the D40 with the 18-55mm II kit lens. It has great optical performance, and doesn't weight a ton either. Perfect in combination with the already light D40 body.
The D40 takes great shots, and is versatile. Sure, it only has 6 megapixel resolution, but all our photos look solid with clarity up to 13 X 19 prints. Using an ISO level of 800, and 1600 the noise level was very low. Colors, exposure and sharpness were all as we expected. As long as you don't blow up your prints, you should be happy with the image quality of photos you take with the D40. The D40 supports ISO level up to 1600 plus a H1 1 level which is the equivalent to ISO 3200.
Since you'll be taking wildlife and landscape photos, you won't need an incredibly fast camera with lots of frames per second, so the D40 gives you enough performance for the money and your needs. The shutter lag and autofocus speed are definitely not D40's strong points. If you want to shoot fast moving objects(which we don't see the need for while hiking), you'll need to spend a bit more for a better performing camera.
Targeted at beginners, and people who want the portability of a point and shoot and the superior image quality of a DSLR, the Canon D40 is a popular camera to take while hiking. It's especially made for those who want a lightweight option and don't want to carry around loads of equipment (there are some that carry tripods, and lenses even on 10 mile hikes) Trust us, you'll thank us when you feel how lightweight it is.
2) Olympus Evolt E620
If photography is a major goal while hiking (rather than enjoying the natural scenery/relaxing), then the Evolt E620 is a great camera to bring with you. We recommend pairing it with the 14-54mm lens.
The Evolt E620 is still a relatively light DSLR. No, you probably can't fit this into your pants, but it should fit into any jacket. We like how you don't need any padded zoom bag to hold this camera - so it's easily deployed. One thing to note however: there's no image stabilization in the E620, which generally speaking isn't a big problem unless you're shooting in low light and don't have a tripod.
We took several shots of landscapes with the E620 and they all blew our mind. It's such an improvement over the E560 in many aspects. We compared photos we took of landscapes using the E620 and higher class cameras like the D90, and noticed very little difference in sharpness, quality, accuracy and noise level. The photos all had consistent and accurate colors. Exposures looked solid, and metering was good. Using an ISO of 800, we were pleased with the details of trees, flowers, animals, mountains, and various landscapes.
The performance is not as fast as other competitors, but you won't notice it at all while taking landscape and nature photos. Simply put, it's fast enough, powering on and shooting in 1.4 seconds, focus and shoot takes .4 seconds, and .8 seconds in low light. Shot to shot takes .5 seconds w/o flash, and .8 seconds with flash. And burst mode is 3.1 frames per second. Again, you're not taking pictures of fast moving objects so this is something you can overlook.
All in all, the E620 is a nice camera for the intermediate DSLR user that is lightweight and favors great image quality over fast performance, which is exactly what you want when hiking. Since it sacrifice a bit on performance, the price is reasonable, and you can typically find it on sale in Amazon.
3) Nikon D700
The D700 is also a very popular option among serious photographers of landscapes, and worth a look if you're seriously shooting photos while hiking. It's pretty lightweight considering other cameras of this caliber weight 3+ lbs, while the D700 weighs just 2.3 lbs or so.
Like the other 2 cameras reviewed here, the D700 isn't the fastest performing camera in its class, but it's actually among the fastest. Power on to first shot is just .2 seconds. Autofocus to shoot is .3 seconds in good light, and .6 seconds in dim lighting. Shot to shot takes .5 seconds (same with flash and no flash). It's burst rate is 4.9 frames per second, which is the only thing that falls below the competition. So, it actually will perform well if you're trying to shoot photos of that moving deer.
Of course, the photo quality is simply superb with the D700, if you use a very good lens. We took several shots of waterfalls and bushes, and they all turned out extremely sharp. Exposures were great, there was a broad dynamic range. Colors were accurate, and noise is not seen at all in low to mid ISO. It wasn't until we reach ISO 12,800 that our photos started losing detail.
The only semi-negative thing about the Nikon D700 is the resolution. The largest usable print you could get out of the D700 is probably 14.2 X 9.4. In addition, there's no movie capture.
All in all though, we are quick to overlook those little things, and focus on the positive. It's lighter than most cameras of this class, it features outstanding image quality (expect to see detailed, sharp images of everything you shoot), and great performance. If you ask serious photographers what DSLR they bring while hiking, we're willing to bet a fair share will say the Nikon D700.