Bike Cameras Revisited

Panda Portrait with G10

Back in November of last year I asked the readers of this blog for advice on bike cameras (see here). I received a ton of input and the post ended up generating more comments than any post before or since. In the interim I’ve come to realize photographers are a helpful, if not opinionated, bunch!

After much research and hand-wringing, I ended up purchasing a Canon XSi DSLR. The XSi is a reasonably priced, relatively small/light consumer-level digital SLR with great specs and the ability to accept a wide selection of lenses from Canon and other aftermarket lens makers.

I ended up with four lenses: a Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS which is the “kit” lens that came with the camera; a Tokina AF 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro DX wide angle that I use mainly for capturing images of bikes/riders within larger landscapes; a Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM that is my low light “standard” lens; and a Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM macro that I use for all of my bike detail shots. Of these, the kit zoom sees the least amount of use. The others are all excellent lenses that serve their particular purposes quite well. Of the four, the Canon 60mm macro probably gets the most use.

After experimenting with various ways to carry the kit on my bike, I ended up with a Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home camera bag. The 7MDH, as it’s sometimes called, is a beautifully made, messenger-style shoulder bag, perfect for carrying a small to medium sized DSLR with 2-3 extra lenses and accessories. You can read my review of the 7MDH here.

As much as I’ve been ecstatic with the image quality and overall performance of the XSi and lenses, there was a small hole in my system; the kit is plenty comfortable for carrying around town on errand runs, joyrides, etc., but it’s a little much for taking on my daily multi-modal commute along with lunch, clothes, and other items needed for a day at the office. Consequently, I found myself grabbing my old Canon S3IS for those trips when I would be carrying a load and hopping on-and-off of transit multiple times. Since my original intention was to replace the S3IS, yet I still occasionally found myself using it, I decided I needed a higher quality, compact camera to “fill the gap” so to speak. With that in mind, I started saving my pennies and set out to find my perfect sub-DSLR compact for on-bike use.

These were my base criteria:

  • Pocketable or at least “pouchable”
  • Small enough for one-handed use on the bike
  • Full manual control
  • Raw output
  • Relatively wide, fast lens
  • Reasonably high image quality

Using the above criteria I fairly quickly narrowed down my list to the Panasonic LX3 and the Canon G10. Without getting into all of the technical arguments for one camera over the other, I can say the Canon is a better fit for me and I ended up purchasing one recently. I haven’t spent much time with the G10 yet, but the initial results are promising; the image quality looks excellent (see the zoomed image at the top of this post), the size is perfect for one-handed use, and it’s quite comfortable on the shoulder in its tiny Crumpler 1 Million Dollar Home bag.

Only time will tell, but I’m hoping the G10 will meet the need for those times when it’s not practical to carry a kit bag loaded with a DSLR and extra lenses, while providing the manual control and image quality I’ve become accustomed to.

21 Responses to “Bike Cameras Revisited”

  • Tamia Nelson says:

    Great introduction to the Canon G10, Alan. Looks like a terrific small digicam for those times when I want a compact and lightweight camera capable of sharp pictures, along with ease of use on the bike. You’re tempting me to consider replacing my little Canon A550… Thanks for the review.

  • Greg says:

    How about cameras that mount on the bike or the body?

  • Alan says:

    Hi Tamia,

    Here’s an excellent shootout of the top three advanced compacts:

    The Coolpix, PowerShot, Lumix Challenge

    Regards,
    Alan

  • brad says:

    I’ve had a G9 for the past year or so, and agree that it’s pretty portable (but not as portable as a true compact). The megapixel count is a bit high for my taste (12 megapixels) — since it uses the same sensor as much smaller cameras you actually run into more image issues with artifacts and other problems at a resolution this high. I’m happy enough with the G9 for now, but I’m watching the emerging breed of larger-sensor compact cameras and hope to eventually switch to one of those after the technology has some time to evolve. I find that I rarely take even my G9 with me on my bike because it’s too heavy and bulky, and I even think twice about bringing it with me on trips. Funny, for decades I had no qualms about bringing an SLR and extra lenses on trips, but I like traveling light now and was spoiled by a couple of good small compact digital cameras before I upgraded to the G9!

  • Alan says:

    Hi Greg,

    I don’t have any experience with mounting a still camera on a helmet or bike. I have played around with video mounted on the bike and only had mixed results. With the low tech set-ups I’ve tried, camera shake was a problem. It would be interesting to know what others have done..

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Alan says:

    Hey Brad,

    It’s funny how everything is relative. After carrying around an XSi and three lenses for the past 6 months, the G10 feels tiny. :-) So far, I’m very pleased with the image quality at base ISO…

    Alan

  • Shelly says:

    I’ve had the G10 on my wish list every since it replaced the G9. I am so happy my camera choice is held in such high regard by yourself. Now I am more certain than ever it will be the camera I replace my 10 year old (3.3 megapixel ) camera with. Yeah for the day that happens. In the meantime I can’t wait to see your new pictures with the G10.

  • Steve Fuller says:

    I have a friend that shoots photos for a living. The G8 was his choice for a portable camera with the image quality he required. I think you’ll like the G10 a lot. I’ve been looking for something to replace my 7MP Minolta DSLR that had the (Sony) sensor die a couple of years ago. I’ve bought a couple of compact handhelds. While they work well for traveling, I haven’t been happy with the image quality from the CCD compared to my Minolta.

  • Miguel Marcos says:

    I’ve had a G9 for a while now. I’m with Brad on the portability. I own a Canon 400D so the G9 in comparison definitely is small and “pocketable”. But after a while I stopped bringing it along with me everywhere. Apart from being a little big, it feels a little heavy for its’ size compared to other point & shoots.

    What drove me to get the G9 was the raw output which I continue to appreciate. However, since I don’t carry the little devil with me everywhere now, I’m not capturing things I’d like to. This has led me to reconsider the need for raw in such a small camera and for on-the-go situations. I’m reaching the conclusion that, where portability is the primary factor, I’ll be happy enough with quality images even if it’s jpeg only. I also thought I would make more use of the manual and custom settings available on the G9 but, again, having it around for portability means I want to pull it out and shoot instantly so I never used those settings very much.

    Interestingly, I have made a lot of use of video on the G9, much more than I thought I would. The quality of video is excellent. It is limited, however, in that you cannot change the zoom while recording. But it is handy.

    I’m now considering unloading my G9 and getting a Lumix TZ7 (or ZS3 as it’s labeled in the US). A friend of mine got one and is happy with it. The zoom is excellent in range (25-300mm equivalent), video is a HD variant, weighs 229g (vs the G9’s 370g), it’s a little shorter and thinner so it’s friendlier in the pants pocket, and reviews are universally positive. I would miss the optical viewfinder. The G9’s optical viewfinder is bad but at least it has one. I don’t like going LCD-only.

    As far as mounting a camera on a bike, I’m satisfied enough with my Ultrapod II. Apart from being a small tripod, it has a decently long velcro strap which I use to attach to a handlebar or other similarly sized area.

  • Rick says:

    Here’s another pro-digicam shootout from Shutterbug:
    http://tiny.cc/7Q2Tt

    Images are better to view online than they were in their printed magazine.

    I also like to check the DxOmark Camera rankings where some of the top digicams made it to in clude the LX3, G10 and Nikon P6000 in that order and all very close.
    http://tiny.cc/G88i4

    I love the low light capability of my LX3’s 24mm f/2.0 Leica lens which makes it my top choice for anything indoors with natural light. Having three image formats (4:3, 3:2, 16:9) is pretty cool with the wider formats loosing only a few pixels.

    I’m looking at the new Lumix ZS3 to replace my Canon S3 IS for a compact super zoom.

    Cheers,
    Rick

  • Miguel Marcos says:

    Here’s a review at Luminous Landscape comparing the Fuji F200EXR, Panasonic ZS3, and Canon SX200. The G10 and LX3 are mentioned in context as sources of raw files with a couple of issues. The author and I coincide on the Canon G series.

    http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/pocket.shtml

  • Tamia Nelson says:

    I’m only now experimenting with RAW vs JPEG with my Pentax K200D, so I’m not yet sure which I’ll use for what kinds of conditions, but I very much like the idea of having the RAW capability. That, in addition to the crisp images, helps make a G10 attractive as a substitute for my less capable carry-along-always Canon A550.

  • Alan says:

    @Rick, Miguel

    Thanks for the links.

    A couple of more pertinent articles over at LL:

    Pocket Battleships

    G10 vs. Med. Format

    Alan

  • Pete Olson says:

    “In a future release Adobe plans to update the DNG specification to include an option to embed metadata-based representations of the lens compensations in the DNG file, allowing a mosaic DNG conversion. In the interim Adobe recommends only converting these files to DNG to allow compatibility with third party raw converters, previous versions of the Camera Raw plug-in or previous versions of Lightroom.

    Of course, this is a moot point if one shoots JPG or uses some other workflow/toolset. It sounds as if Adobe will eventually add full support for Panasonic’s RAW format, though I’ve yet to see an indication of when that might happen.

    Alan”

    Alan- I have an LX-3 and the full raw support has been available since December 2008 with Lightroom 2.2 (which I use) and ACR 5.2 (which would need a newer version than my Photoshop Elements 5 to work). I assume the subsequent Adobe releases will also work with this camera. I like the LX-3 a lot for travel, cross country skiing, biking and as a general dslr substitute. I prefer the trade off of having a 24mm focal length equivalent versus the longer zoom range and it does have a fast, good quality lens. -Pete

  • Alan says:

    Thanks for the information, Pete. I removed my original comment you referenced to avoid confusing anyone and spreading incorrect info.

    Congrats on your LX3! :-) Awesome camera.

    Alan

  • Bicycles and Cameras Part II « photopol.us says:

    […] some wonderful imagery of their riding experiences and their bikes. We particularly appreciated this entry about Alan’s search for the perfect camera for his daily bicycle commute. […]

  • Rana says:

    I’m amazed at the amount of discussion the camera/bike combination generates where ever it comes up. I did go with the LX3, but also use the Lumix TZ4. Both are super compact — fit in a Tamrac waist pack — and return good quality. Put the TZ4’s zoom on the LX3 and it would be near perfect for me.

  • Saddle Up says:

    Funny somtimes how you find the right information right when it’s needed.

    By the way, how do these cameras hold up to being knocked around in a handlebar or seat bag?

  • Alan says:

    @Saddle Up

    I pack everything tightly, so the cameras aren’t moving at all. I suspect they don’t get any more jolting than a camera carried on a waist pack or in a photo backpack.

    Russ Roca, who has done a ton more hauling camera equipment around on bikes than I have, told me he’s never had a problem with a DSLR, though he did have a problem with one of his rangefinders. Mostly it seems that modern cameras are up to the task as long as they’re packed well. I think of them as portable computers with lenses and treat them accordingly.

  • Chris S says:

    Oh the high end point and shoot debate. I ended up taking an Lx3 to Italy and Spain less than a month ago. I didn’t think the virtual lack of a zoom would hurt as much as it did. Upon returning I traded the camera in for a G10. The in camera colour control seemed better with the Panasonic. I took the G10 back (the camera shop guys hate me!) and got a Panasonic Fz35. Very happy with this camera – however – before we go away again I will order another lx3. The wider angle faster glass in a smaller package is very handy especially indoor “people” shots without a flash and yes I will carry two cameras.
    These are my personal preferences of course! My week with the G10 was good. I loved the solid feel and appearance of the G10. While the Panasonic images are clean the G10’s pics are as good. I’m just learning how to use WordPress. It is amazing what is possible.

  • Miguel Marcos says:

    I ended getting an LX3 and have now given up on my G9. The LX3 is not as heavy, a bit more pocketable though the collapsed lens sticks out a bit but above all the wide end is lovely. I like the controls and layout, the menu system is easier to understand than Canon’s. 16:9 format is optional. The video is marvelous. A keeper.

 
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