Trail Running Cameras

What good are trail running photography tips without a camera? Not much at all. With the dizzying array of digital […]

By on March 13, 2009 | Comments

What good are trail running photography tips without a camera? Not much at all. With the dizzying array of digital cameras on the market, how is a trail runner to choose a camera? (yes, we’re completely ignoring film cameras – film. is. dead.) While we won’t tell you which camera to choose, we’ll lay out the major considerations, point out what we think are not considerations, and discuss some of favorites digital cameras for trail running.


  • Price – With the economy in the tank, this is the first consideration that came to mind. However, price is always an important consideration in choosing a camera that could get up close and personal with a rock at any moment. For starters, stay on the penny side of $200. We think the $150 is a good price point, as it’s often where you find last year’s model, which has specifications just a hair off the latest and greatest model and yet remains more than sufficient. For those looking to be even more cost conscious, there are more than capable models to be found under $100.
  • Megapixels – We don’t see this to be much of a consideration for most users any more. If you are looking to buy a new camera, even a $50 camera will give you 5 megapixels and at $100 there are plenty of 8-megapixel cameras that are small enough for running. Do you “need” any better resolution that 8 megapixels? Probably not. Consider that a 6-megapixel photo will give you a high quality 8″ x 10″ print. (See megapixel vs. print size comparison) Heck, we’ve got a 23″ monitor here at iRunFar headquarters and a 5 megapixel photo still looks great to us when expanded to fill the screen. Then again do megapixel counts even matter? In the comments, Buzz wisely points out that megapixel counts do not necessarily translate into image quality. Here’s an explanation of the megapixel myth.
  • Durability – Remember, we’re runners, not professional dancers. we fall – a lot. In fact, we feel like slackers when there aren’t any scrapes on our knees. Therefore, any camera that joins us on the trail should be ready for some rough and tumble action. For that reason, we prefer metal body cameras and hope that they take pride in their scars. If you are likely to be taking you camera on particularly wet and wild adventures, consider a waterproof camera. [Reader Areojust wisely suggests opening your camera up and removing the battery (and memory card) if your camera does get damp.]
  • Size – Earlier in the week, Tom Sperduto gave the great advice that you should keep your camera at the ready. When running, this often means putting the camera in a small waist or chest pocket. It turns out that many of these pockets are just about the size of common digital cameras. However, that “just about” includes pockets that are too small for some digital cameras. If space is going to be an issue, be sure to consider the depth of the camera (that is, the smallest dimension), as that’s where we’ve often found the tightest fit.
  • Optical Viewfinder – Just a few years ago, we did all of our shooting through our cameras’ optical view finders. Now, we tend to use a mix of the optical view finder and LCD. Go with what you are comfortable with.


  • Camera Type – Point and shoot or Digital Single-Lens Reflex? Ok, there’s no reason to think this one over – leave the DSLR at home. Save the “fancy” equipment for spectating or a hike. In his comment, Buzz B. notes some reasons to leave the DSLR at home – weight and bulk. [He does note that the larger photo sensors in the DSLRs do result in higher quality images.]
  • Weight – In choosing between point and shoot digital cameras, don’t worry about the weight.

Sample Cameras
We won’t bore you with discussions of a multitude of cameras, but here are a few cameras that might interest you.

In Tom Sperduto’s trail running tips he noted the following cameras and why he used/will use them:

  • Nikon Coolpix S550 (Boston Marathon) – ~$170 – Chosen for size (it fits in the palm of your hand) and its exceptional picture quality.
  • Panasonic DMC-LX3S (JFK 50) – ~$400 – Better image quality in a slightly bigger camera.
  • Panasonic DMC-TS1 (possibly for the MMT 100) – A more rugged camera (waterproof, shock proof, and dust proof) and great video quality.
  • Holga (favorite trail running camera) – ~$40 – Bulky, nostalgic, medium format black and white film.

Without a doubt, the Canon PowerShot Digital Elph line is the official camera of iRunFar. We started off with the Canon PowerShot S230 early in the decade and haven’t looked back since. The two biggest things that this line has going for it are size and durability.

Our first Elph, the S230, measured just 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 in. while our most recent Elph, the Canon SD1100 IS, has a similar height and width, but a much slimmer profile at 3.42 x 2.16 x 0.87 in. We particularly like that there’s nothing sticking far out from the body of these cameras, which means there’s nothing to get in the way when sliding the camera into a tight pocket.

We will avoid the temptation to sensationalize the durability of the PowerShot line; however, they have a sturdy feel in hand and hold up well when dropped… repeatedly. We admit that our S230 eventually failed, but it was after many years of hard service. Without a doubt, we felt like we got our money’s worth out of that camera.

We are on our third PowerShot…. actually on our second AND third PowerShot. We like them so much that after apparently losing the second PowerShot, an SD1000, we quickly picked up the SD1100 IS only to have the SD1000 show up a short time later.

If we had to recommend a single camera, we couldn’t. Instead, we love both of our Canons. For the clumsy or the risk-averse, go with the SD1000. It’s more expensive (~$270) than the SD1100 IS and has slightly lower image quality (7.1 vs 8.0 megapixels), but its all-metal construction may be worth it. The
SD 1100 IS is less expensive (~$150) and stands in at 8.0 megapixels. The only drawback to the SD 1100 IS is that it incorporates more plastic into the design.


  • What camera do you use when you’re trail running?
  • What are your biggest considerations when choosing a camera for the trail?
  • Had any bad experience with a camera while trail running?
  • Any additional aspects that should be considered in choosing a camera for trail running?
Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.