Bike Cameras

Just about everything I know about photography I learned by osmosis by sitting near a couple of pros in the graphics department where I work. I know just enough to understand that my photos are technically lacking in many ways. All I have going for me is that I know what I like when I see it, and I’m stubborn enough to figure out how to get the most from the limited tools that I employ.

Speaking of tools, I’m frequently asked what kind of camera I use. It’s a cheapie Canon 3S IS (now discontinued and replaced by the SX10 IS). It’s what is classified as a “super zoom” camera. Super zooms are essentially point-and-shoot cameras with long zoom lenses and some added manual controls. They’re versatile cameras, but they have poor image quality in comparison to even the least expensive digital SLR. I think they make pretty good on-bike cameras because they’re relatively small and light, they have a long zoom range, and they’re cheap enough that you won’t kill yourself if you drop one when you’re attempting a Panda Portrait (Can you imagine dropping a $10,000 camera while goofing around on your bike?).

Russ Roca, the Eco-Friendly Bicycling Photographer, is a professional photographer living and working car-free in Southern California. It’s patently obvious by looking at his blogs that he’s a real pro who employs real pro equipment. Visit his Epicurean Cyclist and Eco-Friendly Bicycling Photographer blogs to have a look.

Russ recently added an on-bike camera to supplement his professional equipment. This is quoted from a blog post from a couple of months ago:

I’m becoming less and less enamored with carrying a DSLR on bicycle trips. My current camera that I take with me is usually a D200 or D300 with a 17-55mm and 12-24mm lens.

For one, they’re not cheap to replace. They’re also not light. A single camera and lens takes up ALL the room in my Ostrich handlebar bag. When I’m tired, I’m less inclined to take it out of the handlebar bag and out of it’s separate case to take photos.

Russ eventually ended up with a Canon G10 – you can read all about it here. It looks like a super camera and, along with the Panasonic Lumix LX3, would be on my short list if I was to purchase a camera today.

So I’m struggling with this idea that I need to upgrade my camera. I’m never going to be a pro, and I don’t even see photography as a hobby per se; it’s more something that I enjoy that ties in with this blog and my graphic design business. I’m concerned that I may invest mucho bucks in a DSLR system, then end up using my cheapie on-bike camera most of the time anyway. Maybe I should just make do with what I have — there is, afterall, something to be said for wringing every last bit out of a tool.

So, I’d be curious to hear what others are using for their on-bike camera. Do you risk taking your expensive DSLR on the bike, knowing there’s the possibility of strewing that expensive glass all over the road, or do you willingly make the sacrifice in image quality and carry a less expensive point-and-shoot camera for the peace of mind? And if you don’t have a DSLR, are you happy with your current point-and-shoot camera, or would you like to have better image quality and more features?

69 Responses to “Bike Cameras”

  • Vik says:

    Alan if you are an average amateur photographer I’m not sure what the makes me….lol…!

    I use a Cannon SD870IS for most of my photos. I actually preferred the previous camera I had an older Cannon S500, but it died after many thousands of photos. I have a Cannon SLR [XTi], but I never take it on a bike.

    I like to shoot photo while riding so a small one handed camera is essential. I’d rather have less capability, but easier access than the other way around.

    safe riding,

    Vik
    http://www.thelazyrando.com

  • David says:

    My son is a graphic designer and amateur photographer, and he, too, loves his DSLR. But for my birthday last year, he bought me a Casio Exilim (http://www.dpreview.com/news/0607/06072601casioexz700.asp).

    It takes very crisp photos from the bike. Some are so good, that we’re including them in our new eBook, not that they are as beautiful as those shot by guys like Keyvon Beykpour …

    I like it because of the large display, where I can see the images clearly before/after shooting them. I see it’s priced at just $171 today on Amazon.com. At that price, if you drop it while you’re riding, it won’t send the credit markets into a tail spin …

    dr

  • Charles says:

    I agree completely. My D100 & kit goes by car or works at home. On my Longbikes Slipstream, a Nikon P60 has a permanent home in the rack box.
    I’ve carried a pocket Point-n-shoot since the old Olympus XA 35mm came out many years ago on the theory that you will miss all the good shots if you don’t have a camera handy. Most of these small cameras can do a surprisingly good job once you learn to navigate their often non-intuitive control menus.

  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    Alan,

    I’ve been struggling with the same questions regarding cycling cameras. Earlier this year I bought a Canon G9–only to sell it a few months later. Like the G10, which replaced it (and is somewhat larger), the G9 is an excellent small camera, but alas, simply not small enough to be disappear on a bike ride. In fact, it’s a bit of a brick in your jersey pocket and/or handlebar bag. As they say, “the best camera is the one you take with you.”

    Take a look at the Ricoh R10. It offers a generous zoom range that includes the essential wide end of the focal range, 28–200. It also has three other features that are hard to find in other small digitals: a built in level, a square format option for blogging and excellent ergonomics. The ergonomic advantages cannot be over-stressed. If you must struggle through endless menus and manipulate slippery, identical buttons you will miss shots. Ricoh is more popular in Europe–especially France– than here. But they do have two American dealers: Adorama and Popflash. I haven’t tried one yet but it’s on my list…

    Couple more notes on small cameras: ALL of them are useless at high ISOs, even though many of the manufacturers include ISO 1000 and above on the selection dial. You’ll need to stay well below ISO 400 for decent quality photos. If you expect to print large photos at high ISO, you really need an SLR. Same thing goes for action shots. But I’ve found cycling with an SLR to be more about photography than biking. You simply cannot ever ignore that extra five to ten pounds of photo gear.

    Finally, the camera review sites tend to split almost non existent hairs.

  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    Also–and importantly–the R10 weighs about 1/3 as much as a G10. It’s closer to a cell phone than a G10.

  • Perry says:

    Alan,

    Right now, I am using a Canon PowerShot SD1000 and I am very happy with it in all respects. I got an 8 Gig card and use if for video. I hang it from places with a little tri-pod that has flexible legs to get some shots I want and say to myself, “if it falls and breaks, so be it.”

    I wouldn’t do that with a DSLR camera and if I took less pictures and video, it would defeat the purpose of why I want a camera to begin with. So my point is that I have to agree with Russ in that even if you get the DSLR, you will need a pretty good point and shoot for the “rest of the time.”

  • Dave Kee says:

    I have a Nikon D40 DSLR and a new Panasonic LX3 both of which I love and use for off camera lighting “Strobist” type shooting, but my “bike” camera is an old (for digital) 2MP Canon S100 Digital ELPH. It is always in my belt pack which also holds my wallet and cell phone. One hint: if your point and shoot has a forced flash setting leave it on all the time. This use of “fill light” will improve most daytime pictures.

  • Darren says:

    I think you are on the right track. If you want a DSLR you can always find one second hand. I have a D70 that I bought new a few years back and hardly used until earlier this year when we had a kid — It takes fabulous portraits. I hate lugging it around so I mostly use my Canon Elph SD700is, which is a great little camera. On recent trips to Europe and Belize I took the Elph instead of the D70. I did this for several reasons: 1) I didn’t want to carry it; 2) I was afraid to walk around with it hanging off my shoulder; 3) I hate getting it out of the case. The SD700is can easily fit in a pocket and starts up fast. I even picked up a waterproof case so I could use it when snorkeling. The G10 is a nice camera, but not as small as the Elph line. It does have more features (e.g., hot shoe), takes higher res photos, and has a nice, big LCD, though. You likely won’t be putting it in your clothing pockets unless you’re wearing a sturdy jacket.

  • Alan says:

    @Vik – I love your photos Vik! Your tour diaries are always wonderful. Thanks for the input.

    @David – That’s amazing that your $170 Casio has provided shots that are good enough for inclusion in your book. BTW – tell us more about your book!

    @Charles – Thanks for the input!

    @Gordon – Great input on the G9/10, I’ll consider the size. I’m carrying around the S3 right now – I’ll have to compare the size to the G10. I’ll definitely check out the Ricoh R10. Regarding ISO – I hear you. I never take my S3 off of ISO80 – if I can’t get the shot, so be it. The grain at higher ISOs is just too ugly to tolerate.. LOL.

    @Perry – Thanks for your input Perry!

    @Dave – You have some nice cameras there Dave. :-) I’m seriously considering replacing my S3 with an LX3 for my on-bike camera. Do you ever take yours on the bike, and if so, how does it handle?

    Thanks everybody – your input is much appreciated-
    Alan

  • artur says:

    dear Alan

    this post makes me feel like I must tell you that not only I use the very same camera you do for all my photos, but that I actually purchased it under your influence in the first place!

    it was back in ol’ recument blog days, when you were still ‘one of us’… ;^)

    I’ve taken some short photography courses during last vacation and plan to do some more; I don’t see a pro camera in my future (other prioritie$), so right now I’m all for “wringing every last bit out of a tool”, as you put it

    my flickr page

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/23763461@N07/

    all the best

    a.

    http://www.pespracima.blogspot.com

    _____________

  • Tamia says:

    I think your photos are great, Alan, and yours also, Vik, and I’ve learned a great deal from both of you.

    This is a very interesting discussion, because I’ve come to digital photography after a hiatus when a fire consumed my prized Nikon film SLR and lenses. I was a very serious photog then, and lost heart after the fire. I did replace the Nikon eventually, with a great film SLR, but never recaptured the magic with film. Then a year or so ago I bought a Canon Powershot A550 digicam for my work. Digital shooting led to a return of the pleasure of photography. It didn’t matter than it was just a point-and-shoot camera (which I’d looked down my nose at long ago). Freedom from film was liberating. So much so I extolled its virtues in my weekly column.

    Now, after learning more about digital photography, I’m considering a DSLR for more professional shooting. But on the bike, the Powershot will always be my preferred cam. If I drop it, or it is splashed, or simply dies, I’ll not be out of pocket all the bucks that a DSLR will cost.

  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    In the film world SLRs and compacts produced the same size negative however, this is definitely NOT the case with digital cameras. Compact digitals have much smaller sensors than those that are used in digital SLRs. You can’t expect to come very close to the quality you can get on any SLR from a compact digital.

    Still I think a compact is the only realistic choice, if you expect to carry a camera regularly on bike rides.

  • David says:

    Thanks, Alan. The book is called “The Ride of Your Life” aligning heart and mind for success in long distance cycling.” It will be released on January 8 by RoadBikeRider.com

    The aim of this book is to help roadies who have been successful at riding centuries make the leap to brevets, doubles, ultras, etc.

    Keep the pedals turnin,

    dr

  • Bruce Arthur says:

    I purchased the Olympus E420 with a very small 25mm f2.8 lens. It’s not as small as I would like, but it is far smaller than any other DSLR and I love the pictures I get. I took it on a bike tour in Vermont this summer. It takes a bit of space in my bag, but it was worth it.
    http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/olympuse420/

  • Roland Smith says:

    While I love the manual settings that I can change on my Nikon D70s, the camera that lives in my bike bag is a Canon digital Ixus 970is.

    I won’t belabor the virtues of a small camera for daily use, as others have already done that. But it is interesting to see that a new compact camera has twice as many pixels as a DSLR of a couple of years ago!

    And while the Nikon can be operated manually (which is a requirement for some shots e.g. clouds and sun-rays) the quality of the pictures from the ixus is sufficient for me.

  • Tamia says:

    I forgot to give the name/URL to a camera review site I’ve been using as I try to decide on what DSLR to buy — Imaging Resource:

    http://www.imaging-resource.com/DIGCAM01.HTM

  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    “it is interesting to see that a new compact camera has twice as many pixels as a DSLR of a couple of years ago!”

    More pixels do not guarantee better photos, in fact on small sensor cameras more pixels will simply smear the results after a point. This is a cynical marketing technique.

  • Dave Kee says:

    @Alan: The LX3 is still too new and too expensive to use as my “bike” camera, but I have found it has replaced my DLSR as my walk around carry camera even though the D40 only weighs 25 ounces itself. One big advantage of the LX3 is that by stopping at 10MP, Panasonic has retreated from the pixel wars that have resulted in the increased noise levels at higher ISO’s as noted by Gordon above. It is a great little street camera and I am shooting a lot in the dynamic B&W mode.
    Dave

  • Alan says:

    @Dave

    Thanks for the info Dave. Do you have any of your photos posted to Flickr, Picassa, etc.?

  • Vik says:

    “More pixels do not guarantee better photos, in fact on small sensor cameras more pixels will simply smear the results after a point. This is a cynical marketing technique.”

    Excellent point as with many things more does not equal better. More MP can be a good thing if they are implemented with quality technology and image processing, but more MP can just as easily result in a poorer quality image if it is not implemented well.

    Since so many people buy cameras solely on MPs that is a lot of motivation for a company to jam in as many as possible on a sensor quality be damned.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    I am a PaS photographer. I take pictures to share some of my experiences and to keep photos as a method of jogging my memory. I tend to buy technology a few years behind the curve.

  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    Alan,

    The LX3 has a good reputation but one of its features can be a deal killer: a very limited zoom range. You do have the option to add more range with accessory lenses, but for the extra expense you might just want to buy an SLR any one of which will have far higher quality than any compact.

    Compared to the LX3 the Ricoh R10 will go wider at the wide end and all the way out to 200mm–vs 60mm for the LX3. Additionally, the R10 has a built in level and a square photo option for blogging. Finally, it’s significantly smaller and lighter and unlike the LX3 has a built in lens cap.

  • Dave Kee says:

    @Alan: Put me under the gun, but sure see http://www.flickr.com/photos/8665328@N03/ . Most of the newer shots that are not OF the LX3 were shot WITH the LX3. Not to get into it with Gordon, but the Ricoh R10 has an f/3.3 28mm wide end vs the LX3′s f/2.0 24mm. He is right on the tele end. Since I like off camera flash (Strobist) shooting the hot shoe was a must, but obviously, not critical in a “bike” camera.

  • Alan says:

    @Dave

    Didn’t mean to put you on the spot. :-) The photos look great. The detail in the leaf photos is impressive. I like the idea of the fast, wide lens. Thanks again..

    Alan

  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    True–the LX3 has a faster lens than the R10, but how much does that actually matter in a cycling camera? A faster lens does not mean better photos, just lower light capabilities. However, most bike rides take place during well lit hours. Do you really see the need to squeeze out high ISO photos on a bike ride? Indeed, will you even WANT to take photos if you’re caught out on a bike near dark? My G9 has high ISO capabilities and a fairly fast lens, however, I kept it at very low ISOs to preserve the photo quality. All the small sensor cameras pick up a lot of noise above 200 ISO. Your photos will look much better if you simply set the camera at the lowest ISO and forget about it. If you want high ISO photos, go for an SLR (and I’d say, leave the bike at home).

    I’ve tried the LX3. While it seems well built, its ergonomics leave a lot to be desired. The operations buttons are slippery, small and not particularly intuitive. And since the lens cap is not attached to the body it’s likely to disappear on a ride.

    The LX3 lens starts slightly wider than the R10 but has no telephoto capabilities. You’re limited to a wide view and something a bit more than “normal.” Sorry but I want more from a cycling camera.

  • Russ Roca says:

    Alan….i just came back (a few hours ago) from a Thanksgiving bike tour….I just posted a bunch of G10 images in a flickr set:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/russroca/sets/72157610492000907/

    I think it’s a great camera. I do miss the wide end and may get a LX3 as well to cover that side and also for the faster lens. However, I’d say for about 80% of the time, the G10 fit the bill.

  • Charles says:

    Compact cameras are always a good choice. A high end compact can approach or exceed the price of a cheap DLSR so don’t assume a DLSR is cheaper.

    There is an interesting new option that you may want to keep an eye on. The Panasonic G1. This is an SLR-like camera using the Micro-4/3s standard. http://www.four-thirds.org/en/microft/index.html

    Basically it doesn’t have a mirror like an SLR, but it uses interchangeable lenses. It has live view capabilities like a point and shoot and the intelligent auto is very smart. It also has the full manual capabilities of an SLR, but uses a high quality electronic viewfinder instead of an optical view finder. The benefits of this standard are smaller camera sizes and much smaller lens sizes making it good for travel. This standard is very new, so this is the only camera released so far (last month). Right now two lenses are available 14-45mm and 45-200mm. You have to double these to get the proper zoom compared to a full frame camera (28-90 and 90-400mm)

    This camera may be a little big, but this is a link to an olympus mockup due out next year. http://www.photographyblog.com/index.php/weblog/comments/olympus_micro_four_thirds_camera/ I’m sure the design will change, but the overall size isn’t much different then the G10. You can use a zoom, or a nice fast prime. It uses the same sensor as 4/3s cameras so it’s quite a bit better then compacts, especially in dimmer situations. (20mm 1.7 planned for release early next year) If you like wide angles a 7-14mm (14-28mm by 35mm standards) is also planned for release around the same time and there is nothing like that for compact cameras. It takes video like compacts and should support autofocus too. The video version of the G1 is also due out early next year.

    It’s been getting pretty good reviews and the kit lenses seem top quality. If you aren’t happy with the quality of compacts, but unhappy with the size of DLSRs take a look at this camera. The announced lenses seem nice and Olympus’s plans for a more compact version means you should have a size available for any occasion.

    For high ISO pictures, try messing around in B&W. Some compacts handle it better then others. You’ll still get a little grain, but the results can be quite pleasing where it just won’t work in B&W.

    As far as DLSRs check out the Oly E420 and E520. Amazon has the E420 with basic zoom for under $400 and little over $500 with the pancake. I’m sure you can find it even cheaper with the Christmas Holiday sales. Go a generation older to find them even cheaper.

  • Darryl says:

    Alan;
    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, you pictures are very well done. You clearly know what tickles your visual bone. A lot of people don’t have that ability even with the most expensive cameras. Technique will come with practice, and you’ve practiced a lot.

    Now, for the technical issues.
    I have two DSLRS, lenses, flashes, tripods, light stands and a kitchen sink. I used to shoot for newspapers and the SLRs are great because of the wide variety of photo situations I had to cover. That meant working in lighting conditions that would drive compact cameras bonkers like high school sports, plays, and night time activities.

    However, you’re not covering events for a newspaper that mashes all the technical life out of a photo. You’re shooting for yourself and your beautiful website. So, the question I asked customers when I was working in photo retail is what do really want to end up with, and where are you going to display the pictures most often?

    For web pages, most compact cameras will do fine. I worked at a state university photo department and a 3 m.p. image I shot for an alumni magazine was blown up for a roadside bill board. Mega-Pixels don’t mean much unless you’re shooting for a magazine or a fine art wall hanging. The images you display on your website are no bigger than 4×6 inches. All compact cameras look wonderful at that size.

    (Also keep in mind that even though photos are enlarged for wall display, the picture within the scale of your field-of-view is probably smaller than a 4×6 at a foot away. For example, if you hold your thumb about six inches from one of your eyes look at the pictures on your website and compare them to the size of your thumb. Likewise, sit in your favorite chair at look at your TV screen. Chances are the TV is as small if not smaller than your photos. Size isn’t everything if it’s all kept at arms length.)

    So, then it becomes what camera is most comfortable to use. Go to a camera store and try a whole bunch of them. Take your bike bag, and see if they fit, imagine them bouncing on your chest as you move around. Do you like real viewfinders or LCD’s? Do they fit in your hand? Are the buttons too small or too many? Are the menus easy to navigate? Can you download the images in your favorite computer OS?

    In the end, it comes down to my favorite corolary: The camera that annoys you the least is the one you use the most.

    But to really answer your question, I use a Canon A630, 8 m.p., because I have no editor to impress other than myself. In the meantime, I still have to come up with an effective holster to have it ready while I”me riding. And like most cyclists, I’m a gadget freak. Someday I’ll hear the siren call to upgrade. Then someday I’ll actually build my own website. LIke that’s gonna happen soon.

    In the meantime, enjoy the journey on the road and in the viewfinder. The previous posts have given very good suggestions.

    Regards,
    DJ

  • Alan says:

    @Russ

    Awesome photos Russ. I’m anxious to read your follow-up on the G10. For those who are interested here’s the address of Russ’ site:

    http://epicureancyclist.blogspot.com/

    Thanks!
    Alan

  • Alan says:

    Gordon, Charles, Darryl, et al -

    Thank you so much for all of the thoughtful input. I need to go through and re-read all of your suggestions, which I’ll do this evening (back to work today).

    Thanks again-
    Alan

  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    I’m with Darryl: comfort counts. Alas, that ruled out the brick-like G9 for me–and the G10 is larger.

    If you’re a truly dedicated wide angle fan, you might want to check out the Ricoh GX 200, which has similar features to the LX3 but is much more ergonomic. The lens is better too. It’s largely free of the distressing barrel distortion that the LX3 expects you to live with at the wide end. This is a much-beloved camera by many pros.

    Finally, beware of camera tests. Most never get past the camera’s default settings, which are often far from ideal. As Darryl says, your hands-on test counts more. Bike photography often happens when you’re tired and must grab a shot. It’s hardly a time to wade through the byzantine G10 menu system!

    Ricoh is hard to find in most photo stores so I’ may just order one from a place that lets me exchange if I’m not satisfied.

  • Fritz says:

    P & S cameras have their place for exactly the reasons you cite: affordability, flexibility, weight and ease of use. It’s difficult for me to pull an SLR out when I’m Just Riding Along for that shot of the goofy whatever, plus SLRs weigh about a ton if you’re on a long bike ride.

  • Alan says:

    So what do the knowledgeable folks here think of a camera like the SX10 IS, the successor to the camera I’m currently using? The thing I like about my S3 IS is that it enables a fair amount of spontaneous creativity with its long zoom, swing out LCD, relatively light weight and small size. I like the fact that I can hold it at odd angles, zoom in and out, and see the LCD without having to get into odd positions myself – it encourages experimentation. I only wish the image quality was better!!

    Thanks-
    Alan

  • Fritz says:

    I like Canon Powershot cameras, I like the flip out screens, and I like IS. Doesn’t the SX10 seem a little large, though? Will it fit in a handlebar bag?

  • Alan says:

    @Fritz

    I carry my S3 in a small camera bag slung across my shoulder messenger-style for easy access. Even when I was using a tiny SD500 I carried it this way. I definitely wouldn’t want a camera on-bike any larger than the S3 (I’m assuming the SX10 is about the same size) without also gaining the advantages of higher quality output.

  • Darryl says:

    Alan

    Here’s some rhetorical questions to consider:

    What’s so disappointing about the quality?
    What are you expecting your pictures to look like (as opposed to how they look now)?
    Who are you trying to impress?
    Is it the camera or your technique that needs updating?

    Like I said earlier, cyclists and photographers are techno geeks at heart, which means a lot of us like the latest toys. Don’t get trapped into thinking that just because your camera isn’t the latest that isn’t any good. I personally use what I have until they drop dead or they are irretrievably obsolete, which, unfortunately, in this digital world means obsolescence comes before mechanical failure.

    Another consideration is some of us gizmo-heads define ourselves by using traditional gizmos, fashionable gizmos, politically correct gizmos, peer-approved gizmos, anti-peer gizmos, or I’ll use-whatever-works gizmos. By choosing how we define our use certainly narrows the search criterion.

    DJ

  • Alan says:

    @Darryl

    Excellent points Darryl.

    I guess the bottom line for me is that I want to continue growing and improving. Maybe the question is whether or not my camera is posing limitations – I imagine it does, but it may all be in my head. I don’t have enough experience to have any idea if going to a more serious camera would actually help me progress, significantly improve the quality of my photos, and make the process more satisfying. It may very well be that a new camera would be a disappointment and only help highlight my own shortcomings… LOL.

    Thanks for the food for thought…

  • Derek says:

    Having an xtracycle gives me more peace of mind hauling spendy gear, but when I don’t wanna do that, I’m pretty happy with my canon SD700IS. Does a pretty good job in most conditions- I think it does just about as well as one can expect from just about a credit card sized camera.

  • Charles says:

    @Alan,

    Sorry for the late response. Many people actually consider the S3 the best of that series. The lens on it is quite fast compared to newer models and the higher pixel counts arguably result in a worse picture. 6MP is about perfect for compact cameras and modern models far exceed that. I would be in no rush to upgrade to the SX10.

    I also have to keep myself from always upgrading to the newest gadget and cameras are always bad about that. A good photographer can take a great photo with a crappy camera. The problem is when the limitations of the camera or lens don’t let you take the photo you want. What part of the S3 do you find limiting?

    Your camera weighs 510g and 113 x 78 x 76 mm, the SX10 weighs 600g . Panasonic makes some other highly rated super zooms you could compare to. Quality probably won’t differ by a lot.

    On the compact side you could try the Ricoh GRD2 or GX200. The lenses are fantastic. The sensors aren’t much different so you’ll have the same problems with high ISO and dynamic range. They do store RAW though and render B&W well. The Panasonic LX3 has a bigger sensor and does a bit better at higher ISOs and has a better dynamic range. The Sigma DP1 has an SLR sensor in it for great dynamic range. The slow lens cancels out much of the advantage at high ISO. However, 2 of these cameras have a fixed lens (no zoom and wider then the widest at your camera) and 2 have more limited zooms. (Both go wider then yours) Wide lenses tend to be popular for urban photography and buildings. Yours is 36mm, while many new cameras do 28mm or sometimes 24mm.

    For better dynamic range and/or better high ISO performance you pretty much need to go a little bigger. I mentioned the two compacts that excel in this area currently. Otherwise you are looking at DLSR or DLSR like.

    I’ll mention Oly and Panasonic here. One, I’m a fan. Two, their cameras are smaller then the competition. Three their basic lenses also are much better then the competition. Since you are looking at something small and light (like me) these are probably what you’ll be using.

    Oly E520 and E420 (490g / 440g (130 x 91 x 53 mm ) + lenses) 14-42 and 40-150 weight 190g and 220g and give you a range of 28mm to 300mm (have to double their numbers) A little under the zoom of your camera (432mm) Heavier, but MUCH better quality.

    My new favorite the Panasonic G1 (360g and 124 x 84 x 45 mm + lenses). Also has the flip out screen you like. Quieter then the above cameras and slightly better sensor then the E520 and E420. 14-45mm and 45-200mm (28-400mm) (195g and 380g). A little heavier, more reach. You mentioned the zoom, but if you don’t need the telephoto all the time your load is lighter. One thing to note, in 09, Oly is planning a compact sized camera that takes the same lenses. Probably good for small zooms or primes. Excellent quality for the size.

    Both have some nice wide angles available or coming out if that interests you. Without knowing what type of photos you take and where the S3 lets you down it’s hard to suggest too much. Numbers from dpreview.com, but I don’t really recommend their reviews. (Ack, too long. Sorry)

  • Darryl says:

    A few more notes on the thread that refuses to die:
    You can get one feature or capability without given up something. It’s the “conservation of trade-offs” as I put it. You are going to miss something as soon as you go for something else, like money.

    But what I really wanted to mention are these two posts on the Momentum Planet website by writer David Niddrie. One idea is to mount a camera on your helmut. Old idea.

    http://www.momentumplanet.com/gear/review-helmet-hero

    Review: Helmet Hero
    By David Niddrie
    “As a photographer and a cyclist, I have tried a number of different ways to take on-the-go images while riding around town with my friends. From attaching my point-and-shoot Fuji to the handlebars with a Gorillapod (works quite well, actually) to riding no hands downhill just to “get the shot;” I was happy to test something made for this kind of work: the GoPro Helmet Hero sport camera.”

    The other is have your bicycle BE the camera, thanks to Yahoo. Clever idea.

    http://www.momentumplanet.com/features/flickr-bikes-have-purple-pedals

    Flickr Bikes have Purple Pedals

    “Yahoo has taken a different approach and let the bikes do the shooting. They gave 15 custom, purple city bikes (Electra Townie 8s) to urban cyclists around the world. The bikes are equipped with a bar-mounted, solar-powered GPS camera phone and upload images to photo-sharing site Flickr every 60 seconds while in motion.”

  • Alan says:

    @Charles

    “Sorry for the late response. Many people actually consider the S3 the best of that series. The lens on it is quite fast compared to newer models and the higher pixel counts arguably result in a worse picture. 6MP is about perfect for compact cameras and modern models far exceed that. I would be in no rush to upgrade to the SX10.”

    That’s good to know. I plan to keep my S3 and I’ll definitely pass on the SX10.

    I also have to keep myself from always upgrading to the newest gadget and cameras are always bad about that. A good photographer can take a great photo with a crappy camera. The problem is when the limitations of the camera or lens don’t let you take the photo you want. What part of the S3 do you find limiting?”

    In terms of size and flexibility, I’ve been happy with the S3. It’s mostly in the area of picture quality that I’m not satisfied. This is the kind of stuff that nags me…

    “For better dynamic range and/or better high ISO performance you pretty much need to go a little bigger. I mentioned the two compacts that excel in this area currently. Otherwise you are looking at DLSR or DLSR like.”

    I thought so.

    “Oly E520 and E420 (490g / 440g (130 x 91 x 53 mm ) + lenses) 14-42 and 40-150 weight 190g and 220g and give you a range of 28mm to 300mm (have to double their numbers) A little under the zoom of your camera (432mm) Heavier, but MUCH better quality.”

    Great info. Is the main difference between the 420 and 520 the image stabilization?

    “My new favorite the Panasonic G1 (360g and 124 x 84 x 45 mm + lenses). Also has the flip out screen you like. Quieter then the above cameras and slightly better sensor then the E520 and E420. 14-45mm and 45-200mm (28-400mm) (195g and 380g). A little heavier, more reach. You mentioned the zoom, but if you don’t need the telephoto all the time your load is lighter. One thing to note, in 09, Oly is planning a compact sized camera that takes the same lenses. Probably good for small zooms or primes. Excellent quality for the size.”

    I’m seriously considering the G1. It’s a bit pricey, but it seems custom-tailored for my purposes.

    “Both have some nice wide angles available or coming out if that interests you. Without knowing what type of photos you take and where the S3 lets you down it’s hard to suggest too much. Numbers from dpreview.com, but I don’t really recommend their reviews. (Ack, too long. Sorry)”

    Mostly I’ll continue to do what I’m already doing here on the blog, but hopefully with more flexibility and higher quality. No sweat on being “too long” – your input is extremely helpful and pixels are free. :-)

    Thanks very much!
    Alan

  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    Alan,

    Here’s Pogue on the G1:

    NYT – David Pogue on the Panasonic G1

    At this point, it’s an expensive experiment. Could end up a dead end.

    Since you want much better quality and don’t seem to mind the extra bulk or weight, you might just go for an SLR. You’d be buying a platform for a lens system. Super expensive Nikon and Canon lenses are rentable. Those brands are probably higher quality than the competition. Unlike Canon, Nikon bodies are backward compatible with nearly every Nikkor lens made over the past fifty years. This is a huge advantage.

    Take a look at the Nikon D40.

  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    Alan,

    You probably got the soft trees in your photo above because your camera went to a high ISO setting to compensate for low light. No compact will do much better. If you want sharp high ISO photos, you’ll need to consider an SLR. Then you will see a quantum leap in quality across the board. SImply moving to another compact wont pull out those low light shots, however.

  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    The soft handlebar shot looks like an AF error. There you will see an improvement on almost any one of the more modern compacts.

  • Alan says:

    @Gordon

    Thanks for the link to the Pogue article (I repaired the broken link). He makes good points, though video is not at all a deal breaker for me.

    Your point about just going with a Nikon body makes a lot of sense. I’ve been lurking around the For Sale forum at FredMiranda.com and there seems to be no shortage of used Nikon equipment available.

    Thanks again-
    Alan

  • Roland Smith says:

    Small compacts often have belt pouches available for them. That’s what I use if I want to haul my Ixus 970 around for easy access. It fits snugly and has a snapper closure so it won’t fall out.

    I quite like carrying stuff on my belt. Multitool, cellphone and camera all within easy reach and without bulging up my pockets. I barely even notice it’s all there.

    The biggest downsize to compacts IMO is often the slippery anodized finish of the housing. I make a point of always putting my hand through the attached strap before taking the camera out of the pouch.

  • Darryl says:

    I like SLRs for the versatility. I like compacts for the ease of use. In a perfect world when I could go and buy the compact of my dreams it would be the Canon G10 (whichever is latest. They breed like rabbits.). The reasons are it has built in zoom, flash, stylishly black. interchangeable lens elements for more wide angle and/or telephoto effects, a real viewfinder that doesn’t display misleading LCD images, flash shoe for external and separate flash capability (for old-timers like me who know how to set up lights), RAW and JPEG image processing. It’s smaller than an SLR but bigger than really small compacts. I have biggish hands and small cameras are actually more cumbersome than bigger cameras. (For the same reason I don’t like my cell phone is because the buttons are very small to use and the ones on the side are activated when I don’t want them to be.)

    Better still, I would have a Leica rangefinder, just because. In my day, they were the chic camera to have. Also in my day, as they are today, they were exclusively priced out of my range; but I’m dreaming, right? Would a Leica make me a better photographer? Yes and no. Technically, no. Most people would not know what camera took what picture; and rightfully so. The subject rules the picture, not the camera. Intrinsically, yes, because with some people just having an expensive camera forces them to pay attention to their technique to justify the camera. For the similar reason that getting a larger camera than 35mm makes some people be better photographers because the cumbersome nature of the camera forces photographers to slow down and pay attention to what they are doing instead of being casual about its operation.

    Today, almost any name brand camera will do a very good job. It comes down to which feature really truly makes it a joy to take with you.

    A word about camera lenses on SLRs. Yes, Nikon lenses go back to the stone ages, but not all Nikkors (Nikon lenses) have all the little modifications that interface with modern autofocus cameras. I go back to the near-stone ages and before AF became possible. Even back then, one had to be careful about what vintage of lens goes on what vintage of camera, no matter what brand. So stay with what’s current to keep your head from swimming in technical minutia, unless you like arguing with other photographers about which widget works best in what era. (Can you tell I’m a Canon fan?)
    Also, obsolescence is instantaneous. As soon as you walk out the photo store, the model you have just purchased with hard earned money and homework has just been replaced with a newer model. So, if you need to buy a how-to book on photography, at least your model will be illustrated in the latest edition.

    You can buy a camera that’s so way old, that it’s beyond style and currency that it’s funky in it’s own way. That’s what I”m counting on when I break my 35 year-old SLR out of storage. “Why, look! It’s ol’ DJ with his funky obsolete SLR. Isn’t he SOO cool that he’s no longer a slave to fashion?”

    Yeah, right. I bet he rides a klunker, too.

    I’ve rambled on long enough. Thanks for putting up with my ruminations.

    DJ

  • Charles says:

    (I’m almost afraid to post this now, but I spent long enough typing it up I might as well, 1am, so I’m off to bed.)

    So many more comments. I’ve enjoyed reading them.

    First a couple comments on your photos. It looks like the first one has chromatic aberration. I think you are referring to the colored ‘haze’ around the silver. Generally they call it purple fringing since purple seems to be the most common color. This is the lens’s fault. You can’t generally put 12x or 18x zoom on a lens without serious compromises and this is one of the common ones. Distortion, and vignetting are others. This is generally why high quality zooms don’t have a large zoom range.

    The second photo probably suffers from lens problems too. It looks like you focused on your bike and the trees were a ways in the distance. There is a depth of field (DoF) that determines how much of the picture appears sharp. This is related to the aperture, focal length of the lens and sensor size. This is why many compact pictures look like everything is in focus compared to a SLR when you can get a blurred background. Those trees are probably far enough away that they are out of your DoF and thus appear a little blurry. It does look like there may be some purple fringing going on there too. (That normally happens when contrast differs a lot along a line)

    Getting a new compact with a better lens would likely improve these photos, but you’d lose a lot of zoom range.

    —–

    Any modern digital SLR camera will take great photos. They are all made fairly well. Yes, Canon and Nikon have a lot of used equipment available. It can save you money, but it’s likely bigger and heavier. A camera that you don’t bring with you because of the size and weight doesn’t take any pictures, no matter how much you saved.

    The G1, the first EVIL camera (Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lens) isn’t an expensive experiment and it isn’t going away. Photographers have been asking for something like this for a long time. It doesn’t meet everyone’s needs, but you’ll find few who don’t express an interest in it. Samsung and Oly has plans to release an EVIL camera and others will follow. This brings back small, quiet high quality cameras like rangefinders that they haven’t been able to create a digital version of yet. (except the M8, but that’s $6000 just for the body!)

    Some reasons it’s a good fit for me and others who are looking at a compact system.

    o Lenses – A large part of lens size is dictated by flange distance. The distance between the lens and the film or in this case sensor. This is one reason lenses for rangefinders were so small. Micro 4/3s specifies a 20mm distance compared to 40mm in the 4/3s standard. Lenses should be at least 20% smaller and lighter then comparable 4/3s lenses, more so for APSC and full frame cameras.

    Smaller digital lenses for Canon or Nikon cameras won’t work if you try to move up to a camera with a larger sensor. You are stuck buying many lenses over again anyway, or buying them initially and getting stuck with something heavier, larger and more expensive that you might never use.

    o Cameras – SLRs are stuck at a certain size. Since you have to have a mirror, prism, phase focus system you can’t make them too much smaller then you can now. Micro 4/3s can bring an interchangeable lens camera almost down to the size of a compact. Here is a link to Olympus’s prototype they plan to release late 2009. SLR quality in a camera that small AND you can use the same lenses on any Micro 4/3s body. A SLR will never reach this size. The fact the same lenses work the same way on every camera from the bottom end to the top is nice too.
    http://www.dpreview.com/news/0809/08092208olympus_micro_four_thirds.asp

    o Noise – If you are used to compacts an SLR is noisy. Micro 4/3s doesn’t have a mirror so it’s quite a bit quieter then a typical SLR. Nice for shooting when you don’t want be the center of attention. The G1 uses a shutter, but it might be possible to use an electronic shutter for a completely silent camera.

    o Live view – This is what you use when you shoot with the LCD on the back of a compact. It’s slow and somewhat awkward on SLRs, but since light hits the sensor directly with no mirror there is no delay when taking a picture. Focusing is much faster then a compact too, similar times to consumer SLRs. Makes the Oly prototype possible. :D

    Both Nikon and Canon have a huge range of lenses. Everyone has small light consumer grade lenses. 4/3s and Micro 4/3s have some of the sharpest and best. Yes, lens selection is low now, it was just released, but more are coming, including a nice fast pancake prime and extreme ultra-wide.

    Another small advantage is the 2x crop factor of the 4/3s standard is you can cover a huge range with only 2 or 3 lenses. Generally more then you can with with any other system at better quality and less weight. Finding a solution that goes from 28-400mm for under 600g as sharp as the G1 lenses is tough.

    Now I’ve explained why I think this is the ultimate travel system. I’m really excited about EVIL cameras and how this new technology will change digital photography, particularly in size/weight.

    I don’t want to get into a holy war about cameras brands, so this is will probably be the last I promote micro 4/3s here. Any digital SLR now-days takes excellent pictures and many do slightly exceed the G1 in ISO sensitivity and dynamic range (more so for the FF cameras). You can’t go wrong with any of them as far as picture quality. Find one that feels good in your hand. I wish I had the money for a nice Nikon D700 too for low light shooting.

  • Ron Georg says:

    Howdy–

    As a bicycling reporter, I need to carry a camera on my bike. I prefer SLRs, so that’s what I carry. I wouldn’t refer to it as risking expensive equipment, though, since it’s just a Cannon Rebel XTi. I’ve seen them advertised for under $350 lately. It’s also ridiculously light compared to other cameras I’ve owned. In fact, I was a little put off by that at first, and I was leaning toward a Pentax which had a similar price and much more significant heft. Then a friend who’s both a cyclist and photographer asked a simple, rhetorical question: “You’re going to carry that on your bike, aren’t you?”
    I’m very glad I went with the lighter camera. I carry it in a Lone Peak Alta handlebar bag, and the only real drawback is I can’t put anything else in the main compartment, as it’s filled with foam to protect my camera. I’ve been carrying it like that for about a year now, and it hasn’t suffered any undue wear from the treatment.
    Happy Trails,
    Ron Georg
    Moab

  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    Couple of clarifications: Virtually ALL the Nikkors made over the past 50 years do work on my D70s. My MF lenses continue to focus manually, which is often my preferred method anyway. I do a lot of nude photography, so focus is really subjective.

    The other manufacturers have regularly abandoned their customers as new electronics came along. For example, the great Canon MF optics of, say, the 70s will not even mount on a modern Canon body.

    I hope you’re right about the G1′s bright future. If you are, perhaps the camera will move down to a competitive price level. Right now, you can buy 2 Nikon D40s with lenses for what a G1 costs.

  • Slo Joe Recumbo says:

    Alan,

    I have a DSLR, Nikon D70s, for when I go on vacation and want the versatility that the DSLR lenses give me.

    BUT for my on bike camera, I’ve gone back and purchased an old Nikon Coolpix 4500 which only has 3.3 megapixels. I bought it because I can put on a neat wide angle lens and the “swivel” attachment lets me take pics of cyclists behind me and be able to see what I’m shooting. Same thing works for while on the bike. And the other neat feature is with the swivel I do what I call “shooting from the hip” shots which are candids in town while I’m walking of people or people scenes without being an annoying photographer in your face.

    I figure I’m not going to blow most of these up to 11×14 or 16×20 “works of art”. And if I was to go to that size there are some good interpolation (?) imaging tools if I really had to push the boundaries.

    So bottom line: I’m using a very old discontinued camera that I love.

  • Charles says:

    @Gordon

    If you have a lot of old manual focus lenses you might find the adapters available for 4/3s and probably soon for m4/3s interesting. Because the back flange distance is short compared to most other brands it’s perfect for adapters to use the old lenses. With m4/3s even shorter distance Leica M adapters are possible probably as well as some others. The G1 has an interesting feature where it will zoom in on your focus point making manually focusing these lenses even easier then the original cameras (according to some). You can focus with live view too and with the flip out screen it’s rather unique.

    http://forum.getdpi.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4194 – Some cool examples with the G1

    Some of the adapters available for 4/3s (and usable on m4/3s with the 4/3s adapter, probably m4/3s native versions coming)
    http://www.cameraquest.com/adapt_olyE1.htm
    http://www.cameraquest.com/adapt_olyE1.htm

    Not suggesting you convert, but it opens up interesting options.

  • Alan says:

    @Charles

    Thanks for all of the information. I’ve been leaning towards the Panasonic G1 and it’s good to get your input. Its size and weight are very attractive.

    I really like the articulated LCD on my Canon S3 – I use it for shooting discreetly in public with the camera at waist high, and I use it for Panada Portraits and shots taken with the camera set on the ground. The G1′s articulated LCD would be a big plus for me.

    I don’t forsee the need for a large selection of lenses, and I certainly don’t need “pro” quality (but I’d like better than low end point-and-shoot quality). It sounds like the 14-45mm is very nice for a kit lens. I’d probably eventually add the 20mm 1.7 and 45-200mm as funds allow.

    So that’s as close to a plan as I have right now, but we’ll see how many times I change my mind before I actually make a purchase. :-)

    Alan

  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    I’d wait for the G2–if there is one.

  • Apertome says:

    Great discussion here! I echo the others’ comments about how much easier it is to carry a Point & Shoot. I bought a warranty for mine that covers accidental damage. Brings me a lot of peace of mind, knowing that if I break it, it’ll be repaired or replaced. Actually, although the camera survived being dropped multiple times at 20+ mph, when I got hit by a car, it broke. I had to wait several weeks, but I got a new version of the same model to replace my broken camera, at no cost, thanks to that warranty. Might have to shop around to find a place that offers such a warranty.

  • Alan says:

    @Gordon

    Thanks for your input Gordon. Do you carry your SLR on the bike with you, and if so, what kind of bag/case do you use?

    Thanks!
    Alan

  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    “Do you carry your SLR on the bike with you…”

    It’s simply to big to manage easily, Alan. I’ve only taken it along on a handful of rides, and then I used a padded trunk bag, which made any kind of spontaneous shooting difficult. A handlebar bag would probably work better, a back pocket best of all.

    Here are a few shots I took with the SLR (the wide angled shots were done at 18mm):
    http://bikesocial.blogspot.com/2008/10/ride-around-eureka-bay.html

    For these and the Crater Lake and Scio Oregon shots I used the G9
    http://bikesocial.blogspot.com/2008/09/does-this-look-like-it-downhill.html

    Finally, I used the G9 for this shot and the related Crater Lake shots. Mind you, I’ve never seen more intense color saturation anywhere, but the G9 appeared t be equal to the job
    http://bikesocial.blogspot.com/2008/07/coming-attractions.html

  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    To clarify: I mean that ideally a cycling camera should be able to disappear into a back jersey pocket. A G9 will do that–barely–, but it does feel like a bit of a brick after a while. An SLR requires a dedicated, padded bag.

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  • Jack Semotchko says:

    The best SLR bag I’ve ever come across for cycling is the Photoflex Galen Rowell Chest Pouch. It was designed by Galen, arguably one of the greatest outdoor/nature photographers and teachers who ever lived. He wrote about using this bag extensively when he was running or cycling. As an adventure photographer Galen often wrote that keeping photo gear to a minimum was always foremost in his mind, and this bag fits that purpose. He mentions it in this article which is a little dated regarding the cameras, but not the lenses, bags or the philosophy: http://www.vividlight.com/Articles/403.htm. I doubt that the bag is made anymore, but there may be others like it out there. A Google search turns up some good comments on the style.

    I don’t often carry an SLR on the bike anymore unless I have a specific objective that I’m going out to shoot. Then I know what lens and accessories I’ll probably need so I can keep it to a minimum. Otherwise, I follow Galen’s maxim and carry the smallest SLR with only a short zoom lens. These days I’m very pleased with the results I get from my old Nikon Coolpix 4500 that I’ve carried for years in a handlebar bag or pocket. The 13 x 19 photos hanging on my families and friends walls testify to what others have said here about the overrated pixel fixation most of us are possessed with. Some of my favorite wall art was made with that 4 MP Nikon. And many of those only happened because I always have that camera with me. As a P&S, it definitely has its limitations, most of which can be overcome by always carrying about 15-20 lbs of SLR gear. Like others here, I’m convinced that the best tool for the job is the one you have with you. Alan has more than proven by the quality of the P&S photography he’s published on his blogs over the past few years that it’s not the camera that makes the photographer!

  • Alan says:

    @Jack

    Jack, thanks for the link to the excellent Galen Rowell article and the information about how you’re using your cameras. I’ve been carrying my new Canon XSi w/short zoom on the bike and it’s been working out well. It only weighs a little more than my old S3 and the image quality and low light capabilities are far superior. Only time will tell, but so far I feel like I made the right choice.

    Thanks again for your help-
    Alan

  • Matt says:

    OK, so I’m months late. I won’t reiterate all the opinions above (I like the Panasonic LX3 in theory but just got one, so have no actual experience yet). I would note that the Ortlieb handlebar bags have an accessory camera bag insert that provides some padding and structure. The bags are pretty waterproof (for rain, not submersible) and with the larger version I’ve carried a Nikon D700 with 17-35 f/2.8 lens, a substantial combo. I have also carried a Sony R1 (really a nice camera, since stolen), Mamiya 6 and Contax G2, though not all at the same time, so it depends on how ambitious you want to be with your gear.

    As one commenter noticed, at least in film days you had the same film with your NIkon SLR as you did with a tiny Olympus XA. I have great hopes that the Panasonic G1 evolves into something like the Contax G1/G2 film cameras, relatively compact, relatively large-sensor cameras. That would be ideal.

    A final cycling photography hint: when taking photos of other cyclists, get in front of or beside them to take your photos, otherwise all you get is a lot of photos of people’s bottoms. You can blaze away with digital one-handed aiming backwards, there’s no incremental cost to each photo, so shoot away! You can even mount your camera in back (I’ve done a tripod head screwed to a rear rack) but it does shake the crap out of your gear.

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  • Nelson Ralls says:

    I have quite an unusual position these days, but I use film cameras almost exclusively. I mostly shoot black and white and develop it myself in the kitchen sink. I then scan the negatives. I just like fooling around with the analog process and stuffness of film. Are large number of very high quality film cameras are available for next to nothing. The barrier to entry is very low, and its pay as you go. Also if I accidentally bounce a camera that cost me a couple of dollars off the ground I don’t cry quite as loudly.

  • David Cambon says:

    LX3 pictures:

    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/5881

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  • David says:

    Alan, I’m coming in late on this thread but thought I’d let you know that I got a Canon S90 recently and have been mightily impressed with it. It’s got the same sensor and image processor as its big-brother G11 but in a pocketable form factor. The low light performance is exceptionally good both because the sensor has low noise and because the lens is a fast f/2.0. I basically leave it on the low light setting all the time but with the flash disabled, which takes care of the only real knock I’ve ever heard against it, which is limited battery life. Though you can expect ~200 shots per charge with the typical frequency of flash usage, with the flash disabled we find that 500 shots per charge is routine. FWIW.

  • Alan says:

    @David

    Thanks for the report on the S90.

    Regards,
    Alan

 
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