• Outdoor photographers
    Outdoor photographers

Bushwalking expert John Chapman gives you the rundown on cameras for the great outdoors.

"For decades, the traditional camera for high quality bushwalking images has been the full frame Single Lens Reflex (SLR). They have a wide range of lenses and have the greatest capability for a portable camera system.

An issue for many though is that SLR camera systems are both bulky and heavy. Full frame systems have their origins in film and externally have changed little from film days except that in most cases the camera bodies increased in size, which is not ideal for bushwalking.

It has taken more than a decade but in recent years digital cameras have improved so much that excellent results that are often indistinguishable from full frame can be gained from smaller and lighter cameras.

While I will agree that large-format and traditional SLR can give a sharper or ‘better’ result, in reality most people including magazine editors could not tell what camera the image was taken with and could not care – the camera used is unimportant, the resulting image is what matters.

For those who still like the control that interchanging lenses provides then an alternative to SLRs is the Mirrorless Micro 4/3 system. The sensors are exactly half the size of full frame, the camera bodies are smaller and the lenses are around half the weight or less than full frame equivalents.

That is a significant weight saving for the serious photographer. For many years these were not quite as versatile as SLRs but with recent improvements in sensors and software these cameras can now handle low light conditions such as stars at night and produce great results.

For most though, carrying a camera body along with multiple lenses is still too heavy, bulky and can lack spontaneity. Surprisingly, one of the best options is a recent mobile phone. While the sensors are small and hence prone to 'noise' and other artefacts created by their tiny size the software that manipulates the images has become very powerful.

Noise and other errors get corrected in software and for many images they look as good and have similar resolution to larger cameras. Some phone cameras are better than others and a google search for reviews about cameras on phones will find many comparisons between different brands.

Cameras on phones handle some tasks really well. The lenses tend to be semi-wide angle and they take good wide angle scenes, great images of people and surprisingly often excel at close-ups of flowers and insects. However, the one area they fail at is they cannot zoom in close on distant objects.

There is a new model which has three different lenses but as the longest lens is equivalent to around 100mm on a 35mm system, it cannot be considered to be a telephote for wildlife.

To gain the telephoto range, the traditional route has been to upgrade to a Micro 4/3 or full SLR system. However, there is a lighter alternative which is a compact camera with a long zoom. The most popular have either a 10x or 30x zoom lens that can give a 35mm equivalent range of 250mm or more.

These cameras have a reputation of creating softer images but the same recent software and sensor improvements that have been applied to phones and Micro 4/3 have also been applied to new zoom compacts. While images with wide zooms can never be as good as those from full frame cameras, for most purposes they are more than acceptable."

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