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Climbing Camera Review

Tips from the pros for choosing the best camera for your climbing photography.

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Rock and Ice contributing photographer David Clifford owns more camera gear than anyone we know. His off-the-top-of-his-head knowledge of every camera and lens on today’s market is encyclopedic. Narrowing down today’s wide range of cameras – from point-and-shoots to pro DSLRs -to just four cameras was shockingly easy for Cliffy. These four cameras are his top choices for climbers. All are available from the retailer B&H Photo (

eosCanon EOS 5D Mark II | $2,700 (body only) | 5 Stars

The 5D Mark II is a 21-megapixel DSLR that is the first of its kind to shoot high-def full-frame digital video. The HD video captures sound, and it’s possible to attach an external microphone to the camera, too.

While the video-recording feature is the highlight of this camera, the Mark II also happens to be a middle-road (in terms of price) DSLR that takes brilliant photographs.

One of the best new additions is a high-resolution three-inch LCD preview screen that helps you edit your images in the field, and make sure that you have the shot and that it’s in focus.

The EOS 5D Mark II is built with a magnesium-alloy chassis that is dust-resistant; perfect for the harsh climates climbing photographers frequent.

The full-frame sensor has an ISO range of 50-25600, which is a bit ridiculous. You will rarely need to shoot at ISO 25600, but having the ability is rad! Think of capturing moonlight on your next cold mountain epic. You can even make a video to remind yourself of how badly you were suffering.

  • 21 megapixel, full-frame 35mm sensor.
  • Shoots jpeg, RAW, and jpeg RAW.
  • Reasonably fast for action photography, capturing 3.9 frames per second.
  • Extensive weatherproofing features keep dust out.
  • Shoots full-frame high def video.
  • Weighs just under two pounds.
  • Lenses: A 24-120mm Canon lens will do you right. Or, go big with an arsenal of these three f/2.8 L Series zoom lenses: the 16-35mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm IS.

nikonNikon D3 | D3 $4,100 (body only) | 5 Stars

Nikon came to the party with two top-of-the-line cameras – the D3, at 12 megapixels, and the D3x, which is twice as expensive for twice the resolution (24 megapixels) – that both shoot at an unheard-of frame rate. The D3 fires a whopping nine frames per second, which rivals most machine guns.

The D3’s distinguishing feature is its ability to shoot in low light. You can shoot at 1600 ISO and produce images that are as rich and crisp as if you were shooting at ISO 200. This function is particularly relevant to climbing – avoid the harsh shadows produced by midday sun and instead shoot your subject in shady light.

The D3 has the ability to shoot full-frame format (FX), or a higher-speed, cropped format (DX). This is particularly great because you can use your super-wide angle and go to DX to get closer to your subject or simply shoot more frames per second.

With dual CF card slots you don’t need to change cards while hanging from a static line. There is also a live view so you can hold the camera in tight spots or overhead, and frame your shot without looking through the viewfinder. The ability to record TIFF, RAW or jpeg gives you the freedom to go for quality or quantity.

With ample resolution and sharp new glass, this is the camera for the new breed. You can shoot your ass off anywhere and the photo editor can fix your schtuff and get you a cover.

The FX-format CMOS sensor produces exceptional images that do not lose any crop.

A fast 51-point auto-focus means you won’t miss the shot, ever. Did I mention the ability to fire at nine frames per second?

  • 12 megapixel, full-frame 35mm sensor with high-speed crop feature.
  • Shoots a whopping nine frames per second.
  • Excellent color rendering, even in low light.
  • Shoots raw, TIFF and three choices of jpeg.
  • Three-inch VGA preview screen.
  • ISO 100 to 25600.
  • Lenses: Get the Nikon 14-24mm and the 70-200mm. Add a Zeiss (manual focus) 50mm f/1.4 ZF Planar lens to your bag and you’re ready for just about anything. Sickness. Check out an F-stop Satori Bag to house all your equipment and perhaps a Navin for jugging!

G10Canon PowerShot G10 | $410 | 4 _ Stars

With a whopping 14.7 megapixels, the new G10 from Canon is the best point-and-shoot camera you can buy. Combining top-notch optics with a compact size that will fit in a coat pocket, this camera produces high enough quality to land you a cover shot or a two-page spread in Rock and Ice. One of the best features of the G10 is that it’s capable of capturing true wide-angle shots, not just semi-wide-angle as most point-and-shoots do. Open the 28-140mm lens all the way up, and capture the full breadth of an entire pitch. Or use the 5x zoom to zero in on a closer perspective. (Did you get the hands!?)

The G10 has an ISO range from 80 to 1600, not to mention Canon’s excellent Image Stabilizer function: Even in low-light situations, such as on the final pitch of the day, you can still come away with bright, usable images. The aperture boasts a range of f/2.8 to f/4.5, which is pretty solid for a point-and-shoot.

Unlike most in its class, the G10 has the ability to shoot in RAW and/or jpeg. RAW files allow major adjustments to the exposure, color balance and sharpness in your post-production editing. This camera gets you the shots you want without the hassle of lugging around an expensive DSLR.

  • 14.7 megapixels.
  • Ability to shoot true wide-angle (28mm equivalent in 35mm cameras). Its 5x optical zoom effectively equips you with a 28mm to 140mm lens.
  • Built-in flash.
  • Two inches thick. Weighs 12 ounces.
  • As close to a DSLR as point-and-shoots get: manual shutter, aperture, and ISO control; exposure compensation; RAW shooting capabilities.

olympusOlympus FE-370 | $139.95 | 3 _ Stars

The FE-370 point-and-shoot digital camera is a sleek rig that’s perfect for grabbing quick action shots. It is small (.9 inch thick!) and light (4.5 ounces), and takes great pics in a respectable 8-megapixel set-up. This little gem is packed with goodies like face detection, a 5x optical zoom (36-180mm zoom equivalent), a digital image stabilizer (perfect for that hanging belay when you’re shooting down on your partner with one hand), and a bright 2.35-inch screen for previewing photos.

Some ISO control allows you to bump up at stepped intervals from 64 to 3200, but at this ISO, the photo’s resolution will be poorer than the U.S. auto industry.

For the photographically unapprised, the FE-370 comes with 15 Scene Modes (such as Portrait, Night Scene, and even something called Cuisine) that automatically adjust the exposure to give you the best chance of nailing the shot. (Sorry, there is no Butt Shot on the North Face of Castleton mode.)

The FE-370 also shoots video with sound at 30 frames per second. This is the perfect camera for capturing still images for the Everyman’s Exposed, and video for You Tube.

  • 8 megapixel point and shoot.
  • Comes in blue, black, silver and pink.
  • 5x optical zoom (35-180mm).
  • Built-in flash, and image stabilizer.
  • Video and sound recording capabilities.
  • Easily fits into your pocket.
  • Runs on a LI-60B rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Get an extra one, and bring the spare when you head out into the field.

Helmet-HEROGo Pro Helmet HERO Wide | $189.99 | 4 Stars

This hybrid video/stills camera is easily mounted to your helmet, but also comes with a headband strap, extendable arm and sticky back for tabletop mounting. It takes up to 56 minutes of video and five megapixel photos (one every two seconds on the fastest setting). It’s waterproof to 100 feet and has a 170-degree wide-angle lens. The Go Pro plugs into your computer via a mini USB port, but also comes with RCA jacks so you can hook up to the TV and watch the day’s radness directly off the camera. What’s not to like?