“Which camera is best for mountain photography?” is probably the most frequent question people ask us. “Which camera do you use?”, “Which is the best camera for mountains?” Our usual unsatifactory reply is that equipment is no longer a decisive factor for very good photos.
With the level of competion out there and the amount of epuipment available, we can understand why people ask these questions. In this article we would like to give you our honest recommendation – NO BS – for the best camera when it comes for all budgets, large to small.
BUYING GUIDE: THE BEST CAMERA FOR MOUNTAIN PHOTOGRAPHY
Our camera choice
Already in 2013 we decided that we would choose between the Nikon D600 or D610. Simply becasue they are the lightest SLR full format camera then and still today.
Excellent image quality (especially in the “depths”), stability and a wide choice of lenses were aslo added benifits. The successor models D750 etc. are basically identical in construction. Even today, in 2020, we would not change anything about this choice and would strike again especially on a good deal.
Since 2017, we would in principle recommend most corresponding competitor models (segment: “entry-level full format”) from Canon again – in 2013 the image quality, difference of 1000 Euro in price and difference in weight simply could just not compete.
Sure, there are cameras with more pixels, a little bit more image quality (e.g. Nikon D800, D810, D850, Canon 1DX…), others again with hundreds of additional functions, still others are lighter (e.g. Mirrorless from Sony) and others look much more erotic in advertising.
We have chosen this body because the image quality is easily sufficient or even better for large and high-quality magazine double pages, the weight is still “wearable”, there is a large choice of lenses and the price for the performance was/is reasonable. Top image quality. Medium price segment. Reliable. Bingo.
Our lens choice for mountains
Since the selection of lenses is even larger and more confusing than the camera itself, we’ll give you the percentage points with which we have taken our halfway presentable pictures over an average of 10 years+:
50%: Standard zoom, the “always on”: For full format cameras we currently use a 28-75mm, f2.8 from Tamron. It does not cost the world, is crisp, has hardly any faults, is sufficiently fast and has for the price the best overall package for people who sometimes wear their equipment for days on end. A similarly good choice for crop sensors would be an 18-55mm.
20% standard tele zoom: 70-200mm. Here we have a heavy f2.8 model from Tamron (without image stabilizer) for paid shootings and specific projects. Otherwise we put an old, light and cheap used Nikon with aperture of 4 in the backpack. Fortunately, mountains don’t run so fast from A to B, so the lame autofocus is luckily easy to overcome.
15% fixed focal lengths: 35mm, 50mm, 85mm f1.8 by Nikon: If we want to carry little weight but still get high quality results or if we like to experiment or reportage-like results, we use one of the fixed focal length lenses. Althoug rarely used, these lenses produce the most pleasing results – why the standard zoom is always on the camera is a paradox we are yet to figure out ;).
5% ultra wide angle: 14mm, f2.8, manual focus by Samyang. Cheap, sharp, but very special. We use it very rarely for special effects or for milky way shots.
0% Everything else: Sure, there are even better, higher quality lenses and even more telephoto options – but these are hardly “portable” anymore and cost so much that you can’t refinance them with photography alone. That being said a sharp 400mm, f4 would certainly be fun to use at least once in a while. If you’d like to make it available to us and drag it up the mountain – Sherpas are always welcome guests ;)!
A guide of our favourite gear we use for mountain photography… backpack, and everything thats necessary – and we also tell you, what’s useless.
Step by step guide for beginners to learn manual photography. Here we give you our most valuable tips to be the boss of your camera and nail all those setting you might have heard of.
Criteria for choosing a camera for mountain photography
Image quality: most outstanding, without flaws and a wide dynamic range.
Weight/Size: Preferably as small and light as possible. Every 100 grams added or taken away is felt when hiking in the mountains for hours – your back and knees will thank you. Choice of lenses: The chosen camera system should have many lenses to choose from in order to be able to put together an attractive overall package in size/shapes/weight.
Not important: Everything else like Wlan, Wifi, great screen, 1500 million motif presets and focus options and image processing. In mountain photography all this is irrelevant, often even distracting.
General lens recommendations: The standard set for mountain adventures
Two standard zooms:
- 25-70mm (full format, 18-50mm for crop sensors), preferably with 2.8 aperture
- a telephoto zoom 70-200mm (the 2.8 aperture models are incredibly heavy. Models with aperture of 4 are much lighter and cheaper.
In addition, a standard fixed focal length of 35/50/85 mm with 1.8 f-stop or/and an ultra-wide angle 10-20 mm depending on your taste or if you’re ever feel artistic. If you are unsure, you test in store or shop for a used deal.
Our camera purchase recommendations for mountain photography
The big budget – 1500 Euro and more
- A full format camera (like the D610) with 2-4 excellent lenses.
- We still recommend the classic DSLR models from Nikon or Canon in 2020, although the Mirrorless models (e.g. Sony) are sometimes much lighter. The main reason is limited lens choice and the fact that there is a high level of material wear in outdoor sports and mountain photography.
- Invest in a good photo workshop and learn quickly and purposefully at the most beautiful locations.
Our tip: The halfway light Nikon (D750)/Canon full format models. If you like to film additionally, you should choose the new models with electronic shutter/display (Nikon Z6, Canon RP, Sony A7III).
Medium budget – 500 Euro to 1500 Euro
- An SLR camera with 1-2 lenses. Invest in 1-2 standard zooms (as mentioned above), plus maybe a cheap fixed focal length (around 100-200 Euro, aperture 1.8)
- “Rule of thirds“: Use two thirds budget for the lenses, and 1 third for a camera body
- Buy used equipment – lenses hardly lose value with good treatment.
- Take a lot of pictures and invest in high-quality technical literature.
Our tip: It is better to invest in a larger sensor (Aps-C or full format) and good lenses
Small budget – up to 500 Euro
If you have less than 500 Euro at your disposal, you have to be creative. We favour 2 options:
- Save until you have more money and shoot with what you have. In the meantime, learn the basics of photography in your free time. Read our photo guides and tutorials, they are free! And take lots and lots of pictures! A modern smartphone that you already have with a decent photo app is enough to get you started. Save files in raw format and targeted image editing will get you started faster.
- A used, older DSLR body for about 200-300 Euro, plus a “Nifty Fifty” – standard 50mm fixed focal length with 1.8 f-stop – for 100 Euro. The rest you invest in a cable remote shutter release, additional battery, memory cards, tripod and a wrist strap – it makes sense to buy them in this order.
Our tip: used older body, a Nifty Fifty and practice and save!
Our recommendation 2021
For 8 years now, the Nikon D610 and D800e (for landscape photography without mountain tours). You recognize the durability that a camera choice can bring. Top image quality and all other features we outdoor photographers don’t need. Furthermore, we are currently shooting with the Nikon Z6 – the video options are also relevant here – and the Sony Alpha 6400 as a small and inexpensive “always with you” film and photo camera. (We are not sponsored by Nikon, it simply makes sense to stay with one supplier in order not to have to buy different lenses.
Conclusion Camera Equipment Mountain Photography
Is the Nikon D610 now the best camera for mountains? Well, certainly not the best, but sufficiently good and not too heavy, although lighter is always nice. You can already see from our wavering answer that there is no such thing as the best camera. In our opinion the best camera is the one you have with you.
No matter what brand or product name is on it and no matter what great features it has the experience you have when out doing photography is always much more important than the camera itself.
In our opinion you can take beautiful mountain pictures with every camera nowadays that have manual possibilities.
Here are some extra tips from our time in the Dolomites, showing you how you can take nicer pictures, as well ast 10 tips for taking better landscape photos.
Hi, i am Marius, i love exploring the mountains and nature. Friends say, i know the mountains better than most locals, but actually i get lost all the time while photographing ;). Read more about the Mountain Moments Team.