“Should I use my smartphone for trekking photography for a trek that I am planning or should I buy a DSLR?” Recently a follower of mine on my Instagram asked me this question. And a few months back I went through the exact thing during my trek to brahmatal, a high altitude trek in the Himalayas. I told him that he doesn’t need a DSLR for his trip, your smartphone will do the job. I also gave him some tips. & also told him to go through my recent trek pictures as all were clicked on mu $200 smartphone. This compelled me to write this blog.
Smartphone photography has improved a lot. In recent years smartphones have come a long way in the camera department. It looks like the gap between a DSLR and a Smartphone is shrinking day by day. But let’s make this clear and I am taking this as a photographer, DSLR/Mirrorless is irreplaceable. Smartphones are never gonna take their place, but they are getting real close. If you like most people are just gonna post on IG then a smartphone is just fine. But if you are a professional and you sell landscape prints or something then DSLR/Mirrorless is for you.
This post is for hobbyist, trekking enthusiast who wants to click some dope shots while hiking or trekking for sharing on social. But if you have a DSLR or you are a professional use your gear.
Now you might say, “Hey I have a GoPro, why can’t I use that?” Okay, no hard feelings here but if you are taking you are using your GoPro for photography, then don’t. I mean yeah it takes cool pictures but they are made for video mainly. So if you have one take it with, you can slide it in anywhere. But if you are just buying a GoPro for a trek then don’t, rather save up some more and buy a decent DSLR.
So I am mainly gonna talk about trekking as a week-long thing like a Himalayan trek where it would take 6-7 days to do the summit and come down. and not a small hike but this would apply to that also, so no worries there.
So let’s get started,
Here are the reasons to use smartphone for photography while trekking.
Well, this one is pretty obvious though. Which one is more portable? A DSLR/Mirrorless or your smartphone? It’s your smartphone, its portable, its always-on with you wherever you go in your pocket.
But there’s more to it than that.
Do you require huge lenses for your smartphone? I mean there are those clip-on lenses but only a few are worth using. Most DSLR’s come with a kit lens, primarily a pretty big zoom lens. Well prime lenses are smaller but are more expensive and you cant zoom so you have to carry an extra zoom lens.
All of this adds to your equipment and you require a camera bag for all this. It also adds in extra weight. And while trekking this matters a lot (Considering you are carrying your bag, which you should).
And having a camera around your neck or your camera bag around you while trekking is uncomfortable and will only hamper your trekking experience, plus it’s not safe, we will see that in the next point.
2) Risks Involved with a DSLR/Mirrorless
The biggest risks I can think of that might come to your camera while trekking is water (if it’s raining), blunt physical damage by dropping it or if you damage to it if you slip or fall.
If you are going for a trek during monsoon or say you are going through a rainforest then there is a high probability that your DSLR might get wet. Even if you have a protective cover on it, it’s risky. And not all cameras are water sealed, your sensor might get damaged, your lens might pick up some moisture. After that, your camera would be pretty unusable for the rest of the trek and would just extra weight.
The other thing we talked about was physical damage. Maybe you drop your camera (highly unlikely) but still if that happens your lens might break, rendering the camera unusable. But what’s most likely is you for some reason fall or slip if the trail is muddy and the camera is around your neck. Well, that’s gonna hurt, but your lens would be broken, maybe the LCD panel cracks. Forgot about you not getting to use it, look at what it will cost you.
I was gonna put theft in here but that’s highly unlikely during trekking. But it might happen before and after the trek while travelling so always keep that in mind.
Well, now you might say this can happen to your smartphone also, true but NO it won’t.
Smartphones these days are quite strong (Not you iPhone) and most are water-resistant. Even if it falls there might be some scratches but no major damage like an expensive camera lens getting wrecked. And you can always carry your smartphone in a ziplock plastic bag while trekking. Which btw you should always do during a monsoon trek.
3) Gear required
I won’t be going much in detail here because this point is similar to the things that we discussed in portability.
Your smartphone is an all in one package, most smartphones nowadays have 2-3 lenses, mainly a wide and telephoto. And the clip-on lenses that come for smartphones are pretty small and lightweight. And in most cases, you don’t even need them.
But with a DSLR or a Mirrorless, you need a lot of stuff. First thing you need a lens, your kit lens might do the work but if you want quality then you have to go for prime lenses. But these are costly and you can’t zoom with it. You will be in most cases carrying at least 2 lenses with you. You also need a memory card, extra batteries, maybe a tripod (not needed always though), your camera bag to carry all this stuff.
4) Skill level
This point is very important and will be tied into the 5th reason.
What is your Skill level??
Are you a professional??
Or just a hobbyist who likes to post your travel/trekking pictures on Instagram?
This is important because if you are just gonna post on Instagram your trekking pictures for fun then you don’t need a DSLR. You are better off with your smartphone.
Also if you don’t know how to use a DSLR properly most of the times you’ll end up with blown out or out of focus images. Computational photography has come such a long way now that beginners can easily click amazing photos. All you have to worry about is the composition of the picture and framing.
Once your basics on how to frame a shot are clear then moving towards a DSLR makes sense.
Otherwise, stick to your smartphone.
5) Desired quality and use of photos
This ties in with the previous point that we discussed. What is your skill level? What is your desired quality of the pictures? And what are you gonna do with these photos?
So what do I mean by desired quality? Everyone wants their pictures to be of the best quality and that’s true. Nowadays the photo quality of smartphone pictures has come so far that they are indistinguishable from DSLR’s.
And the desired quality has also do with the use of the photo. I mean what are you gonna do with that photo? Are you gonna print it? Say you are a landscape photographer and you sell prints of your beautiful landscapes or sell them on stock photography websites. Or are you just gonna post them on social media (Instagram, Facebook, etc.)
If you are just gonna post on social then you don’t need a DSLR at least in the beginner phase or say if you are just a hobbyist posting for fun. A smartphone camera will do your job.
But if you are a professional or amateur trying to make some money by selling high-quality prints or by selling pictures on stock photography websites. Then use a DSLR. But keep the above-discussed points in the mind of the safety required in handling a DSLR while trekking.
6) Back to the basics (Your gear is not important)
Sometimes it’s just better to dial down. Just forgot about your shutter speeds, your frame rates, your ISO and all the stuff involved with photography and concentrate on the basics.
What do I mean by basics?
What I mean is framing your shots better and in such a way that your pictures should be telling your audience the story of that moment from the trek. You should focus more on what type of framing of the picture and the subjects involved in the picture would make the picture more compelling.
7) The Special moments
Sometimes there are these moments if you don’t capture em fast you’ll miss out on them. And smartphones are always handy, quick and easy. The time required to remove your camera from your camera bag (If it’s in there at the moment) and powering it up and framing and clicking it is a lot and till then that moment has passed away.
What I am saying is smartphones are always there on you.
8) They are improved
Smartphones have got a lot better and you don’t even need expensive phones like iPhones to click better pictures.
Even the mid-range and budget smartphones have amazing cameras. And with computational photography getting better and better all of the pictures are perfect. It’s just about how you frame your shots and the post-processing/editing of your pictures, and that too in your phone.
I mean yeah camera batteries last longer these days, cameras have become power efficient. And you can buy multiple batteries as they are a lot cheaper. Most people have 2-3 batteries and if they run out hmmm.. What can I say?
But when it comes to smartphones you can have a power bank with you, I would suggest keeping a 20,000 mah power bank with you.
And if you are on a week-long trek up in the hills where you cant charge your camera batteries a power bank and smartphone combo comes in handy.
So this is not such a big game-changer reason so it depends on your personal preference. But whatever you decide there are some precautions you need to take with electronics or anything with batteries if you are doing a winter trek.
10) Enjoy the trek first, photography is secondary
Why are you going for a trek?
To just click cool pictures or because you love trekking, the nature, the mountains, the sounds of birds and the forest.
You should be enjoying the trek first, yes photography is cool, ya I know even I love to click cool landscapes but experiencing the trek comes first.
So should you be using a smartphone to click pictures during your trek?
I have now given you the reasons to use a smartphone for photography while trekking.
Now, this is up to you to decide. I have given you the reasons above for you to make a decision.
If you are cash strapped and can’t afford a camera and you are going to this amazing trek and you won’t capture it in all of its glory, avoid buying a DSLR or a mirrorless. I went through the exact thing when I was going for brahmatal trek, its a high altitude trek in the Himalayas. I decided to use my $200 phone and the results were just amazing. You can check the pictures on my Instagram @mostlywanderer & ill put some of the shots here. You decide for yourself.
And as I said if you are a professional, like if you sell prints or sell on stock photography websites then just go for it, take your camera with you. But if you are clicking just to post on Instagram then a smartphone will do the job.
In the end, it’s your descision.
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