While on a tour, I believe it is imperative to take a lot of photographs to make sure you have a good record of the trip. The big questions I used to struggle with were “How to capture; How often; With what camera.”
On the Move
So, let’s look at my current “on the move” gear. I use an Olympus Stylus TG-4. My reasons for choosing this camera are as follows:
It is waterproof;
it has built-in GPS;
a large (3″ diagonal) viewing screen;
it captures HD (1080p) video;
easy to manipulate controls;
it shoots raw (‘.ORF’ for Olympus) images;
The TG-4 typically hangs around my neck from a sturdy lanyard when I am riding. Unfortunately, the lanyard is not long enough to allow me to put the camera on and off over the helmet: I have to remove the helmet to remove (or put on) the camera. In the past I had non-waterproof cameras (e.g. the Olympus Stylus SH-50) I used for this purpose. Before starting each day’s ride, I used to have to gauge the probability of precipitation in order to determine whether to put the camera on or not; and when I had it on and ran into rain, I would have to stop, remove the helmet, then remove the camera and put it away into the tank bag… This was a pain!
The second drawback I found with past on the move cameras was that I would snap a lot of pictures while riding, and then had trouble remembering where exactly a particular picture was snapped. With the built-in GPS, the location of the photograph is recorded at time of capture as part of the photo’s metadata – no more wondering where it was snapped!
Having a large, bright viewing screen is paramount to help with framing the photos and ensuring video captures what I want. With the nice large screen, I am able to keep the camera within my peripheral vision, gauging the approximate framing, without losing sight of the road while riding. Capturing on the move handheld video (either in cruise control mode, or using the clutch-less shifting) in this way is possible, and actually delivers better than expected results. The controls are large enough to manipulate with gloves on, and provide a quick way to glance at the current settings.
Capturing images in RAW format, while the files are typically a bit larger than JPEG, gives me more control in post-processing, recovering highlights or shadows e.g.
Of course, there are some drawbacks to this camera as well (there is no such thing as ‘perfect’…): Due to the GPS (and wi-fi), the batteries don’t last as long as on my previous on the move cameras. To mitigate this, I only turn wi-fi on when I need it (e.g. to quickly transfer a photo from camera to iPhone to post on social media. As for the GPS, I am willing to accept shorter battery life for the convenience of having location captured in the photo’s metadata – I just carry 3 backup batteries that I can quickly swap (while stopped), if needed. I have found that, depending on the amount of photos I take, the camera will need a fresh battery approximately every 3-4 hours.
Above, we looked at what camera (if any) we can use to make photographs while on the move. Given the specific ‘job’ intended for such a camera, I don’t believe there are very many options around. And for some, the whole idea of taking photographs or video while moving from a motorcycle is not appealing anyhow – they would rather stop and take photos that way.
I do both. I like the ‘on the move’ feel I get from photos I take while riding, and the stills when off the bike are great reminders of the tour and the surroundings the motorcycle was in at the time. So, assuming we want to take photos while on the move and being stationary, there really are three fundamental options – the same options of course apply if one doesn’t want to take photos while riding the motorcycle…
1. Using the same camera as ‘on-the-move’
This is an obvious one. Clearly, whether we’re moving or being stationary, a lot of the attributes I looked at above apply here as well. GPS, large viewfinder, HD video, easy controls, shooting RAW. I think being waterproof and having built-in wi-fi are nice to have’s, but probably not necessary when mainly used as a stationary camera – unless you use the latter in conjunction with your smartphone (cf. below.)
2. Using the smartphone
Most of us are probably using a smartphone these days, and most of those have built-in cameras with reasonable resolution to be used as a ‘walk about’ camera. The obvious advantage of using the smartphone as one’s camera is that we don’t need to bring anything else along – chances are we bring the phone with us anyhow…
Most smartphones geotag the photos at capture time, using the built-in GPS, or the cell and/or wi-fi signal to help with accuracy (assuming we’re in an area with cell service). We already like the screen (one aspect of why we choose a particular phone…), and that same screen typically makes a great viewfinder when taking photos. It’s not waterproof, unless we buy a waterproof case, and we might even be able to use a lanyard or some other safety measure to use the smartphone as an ‘on-the-move’ camera, if we really want to.
Most phones also capture HD (1080p) video, with some even capturing 4k now. The controls, if available, are a bit less convenient, typically, since they will be software controls on the touchscreen, instead of physical buttons. But we have learned to manage this with our daily use of the phone already, so while a bit less practical, probably not a huge issue for most folks.
Few smartphones shoot in RAW format (Android Lollipop is the minimum requirement, I believe); the vast majority will produce JPG files. While not a deal breaker, just be aware that a messed up photo (blown highlights, underexposed, etc) will be more difficult to ‘fix’ non-destructively.
One big advantage of using the smartphone, when within cell range, is of course that it’s connected – you can snap a photo and immediately share it with your buddies via social media etc. This is where the wi-fi capability on a separate camera comes in handy – most manufacturers have apps that allow you to transfer photos from the camera directly to your smartphone, from where you can then share to your favorite social network as well…
3. DSLR or other (semi-) pro gear
For the sake of brevity, let’s call this category “pro camera,” and include DSLRs, like the Nikon, Canon, Sony cameras, 3/4 size, mirrorless, etc., that let you change lenses, regardless of the sensor size.
Clearly, this type of camera will typically produce the best quality photos, and, by changing lenses, give you the freedom to change the framing of your photos. On the flip side, these pro cameras are heavy (or at least heavier than the previous options), and bulky, requiring more space to store when taking along on tour – especially, if one wants to take advantage of different lenses. Usually, the bulk of these cameras also have limited GPS/geotagging abilities, unless you take along a dedicated GPS unit for the camera, and while some have built-in wi-fi (this may become more mainstream in the near future…), most do not, and again require a separate piece of equipment for this.
So the trade-off is clear here: quality and artistic freedom for weight and space. Where that balance is will depend on each individual… With my Nikon gear (D4S and D800), I never took my pro camera gear on tour with me, opting instead for my on-the-go camera as my primary, and my iPhone as a back-up and connected device, since most of my on-the-move cameras did have built-in wi-fi. I since sold all my Nikon gear and switched to the Sony full frame mirrorless system (currently, my main camera is the A7R Mark II), and I plan on taking it along on my next tour: its weight and space requirements are much less than my Nikon gear, and the artistic results are (at least) on par with my previous gear. When paired with my “go to all around” lens, the Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS FE, I will have a great system to get professional quality tour photographs.
One ‘trick’ to solve the geotagging issue most pro cameras have is to spend $3.99 (as of right now on the Apple store) for an app called gps4cam. With this app, I start it in the morning, before I head out and just leave it running in the background until I get to my destination. Then I stop the ‘recording,’ and the app gives me a QR code, which I photograph with the camera I want to geotag photographs from. That’s it. I will put up a detailed tutorial on how I use this app together with my A7R Mark II in the future.
The beauty of using this app (or an app like it – I use this one, but there may be others…) is that it’s independent of the camera you use, and the activity you’re engaging in (motorcycling, biking, hiking, vacationing, etc.)
s look in more detail at gps4cam... The app is installed on your smartphone (versions for iOS and Android are available, at a cost of $3.99 and $2,99 right now, respectively.) There are also Mac OS X and Windows versions for the needed desktop companion app. The nice feature of this little app is that no additional hardware or gadgets are needed, since you most likely already carry your smartphone around with you anyhow. In addition, the app works with any camera, regardless of make and model, DSLR or point-and-shoot…
In the video below, I walk through the process of how to use the app to geotag the photos you have taken. Before we get into the video, though, you need to ‘prepare’ the geotagging: on your smartphone, you start the app by hitting the big green button “Start a new trip.” I recommend leaving the settings on ‘Standard’ in the beginning.
After hitting the green button, a screen pops up that lets you ‘name’ your trip. I typically will start a new “trip” for each day of my tour, so I might enter “2015Summer-Day1.” That’s it. Your smartphone will now store your location every 5 minutes, creating a “track log” for that day.
In the evening, when at the hotel, open the app again and stop the trip by clicking on ‘QRCode’ (the red button at the bottom left of the screen). This generates a QR code that you now photograph with the same camera you have been using throughout the day to take photos. Once done, upload your photos to a location of your choice (I usually copy them off the camera’s memory card onto my hard drive. Once complete, start the gps4cam desktop app and follow its instructions to geotag the photos. Once complete, the location data is part of the photos metadata and you can move the photos to any location you like.
Let’s see how that works in real life :)…
For anybody interested in purchasing the TG-4 as their ‘on the move’ camera, here is a link to it on Amazon. Note that if you purchase this camera using this link, I do get a small ‘commission,’ which helps offset the costs of running this Web site. Thank you, if you do!