Recent Thoughts on Cameras for Bike Touring based on my 2018 trip

Note. This is an expanded version of a page I posted as a postmortem for my 2018 Bicycle ride HERE. That page covers the basics, but doesn't go into depth. This page goes into more analysis and covers more detail. Choose for yourself which you perfer...


Most "serious" photographers use either Mirrorless or DSLRs cameras with interchangable lenses. Ten years ago I purchased a Pentax *ist DL "crop frame" (APS-C) DSLR with a typical for that time, 6 mega pixel sensor. Many of my non bike touring images, such as those in the Penang / Asia and miscellaneous galleries were captured with it.

Since my bike trips were quite a bit more recent, I used more "modern" cameras. For my 2014 trips I used a semi-compact (Fuji X-100S), while for my 2016 and 2017 trips, I chose to simplify things, and just used my cell-phone's camera. However, for 2018, I decided I wanted a camera with Image Quality ("IQ") good enough so I could make large prints. In addition, I wanted the ability to shoot at different focal length, which realistically meant having a zoom lens. My Fuji X100S has good IQ, but has a fixed (non zoom) lens. I have an old canon pocket camera that zooms, but has poor IQ. Cell phones miss on both counts. Thus I chose something else for 2018.

I looked at several options. Pocketable "1 inch" sensor cameras such as the Sony RX100 or the Canon G9X or G7X, a Micro 4/3 camera - the Panasonic LX100, and one of the Interchangable Lens cousins of my X-100S, the Fuji XT-20. Ultimately I picked the XT-20 in a kit including the consumer grade "normal" and "telephoto" zoom kit lenses.

Even with the cheaper (and lighter) "kit" zoom lens, the XT-20 is much larger than pocketable cameras, and perhaps 30% larger than the Panasonic LX100, or the Fuji X100S I took 4 years ago. And of course it weights a full 20 oz more than taking nothing (using my phone), about 10 oz more than a pocketable camera, and about 4 ounces more than the LX100 or X100S. But it's still smaller and lighter than a DSLR, and as big as it is, it's small enough to fit in my handlebar bag. Ultimately I felt that the IQ of smaller cameras wasn't signicicantly better than newer cell phones, and while the LX100 was better, it was not enough better to justify the size and weight that was closing in on the XT-20. So, I decided that to get what I wanted, I had to "bite the bullet" and carry the weight.

Another factor was that I wanted something that made me want to take pictures, and that felt comfortable to me. I like my Fuji X100S, and Fuji cameras in general. As someone who grew up with manual film cameras, the Fuji camera interface simply feel natural to me. Keep in mind that cameras are like bikes - what feels natural to each of us is different. You might love Sony (or Canon, or ...), where as I simply feel at home with Fuji.

I also purchased a small and cheap android tablet to edit the photos (Samsung Galaxy Tab A 7). The primary reason for the tablet was that my phones USB "On The Go" (OTG) SD card reading capabilities is broken, and I didn't want to buy a new phone. I could have used the Fuji's WiFi abilities instead, but felt that was too limiting.

Here is what I discovered:


One part of me still likes the idea of going back to my Fuji X100S, but in reality, it's only 4 ounces lighter, and looking at the pictures I took this summer, only about 10% were within 10% of the 23mm focal length of the X100S, so it isn't a great fit.

So, when going on a trip where photography is important, and time is not (i.e. traveling alone...) I believe the XT-20 is a good choice, and the cheaper lens I took was appropriate, especially given it's wider 16 mm wide end.

And then there's the noticable improvement in cell phone cameras. Using "computational photography", some of the better cell phone cameras have image quality that is hard to distinguish from bigger cameras, at least for prints up to 11 x 14. Gee folks, that's better than some of the 1" cameras, and without extra anything. And the icing on the cake is that the camera from the well regarded $800 Pixel 3, is now in the $400 Pixel 3a... That's looking like a real possibility for 2019...

So, for trips where photography isn't the primary goal, where weight or space is important, or where the target is either the internet or printing at or below 11 x 14, one of the new high quality cell phone cameras is more than adequate. And that's where I'm at for 2019.

Other bits:

I took three filters - a 6 stop neutral density filter, a circular polorizer, and a UV filter (AKA lens protector), and a spare lens cap - all in a small filter case. Total weight of 5 ounces. I used the ND a couple time for blurring water, with mixed results. B ut in the future, I doubt I'll bother. The polorizer, on the other hand, I used a lot. In fact, there was a period of time when the clouds were so prevelant that I left it on for a couple weeks. It did add drama on some pictures, though I could live without it. The UV was of course on the rest of the time, though it's value as a lens protector is controversial, and the camera does fit in the handlebar bag easier with no filter attached. Bottom line - other than the polorizer, I really question the value of taking filters. Now if space isn't a premium, and I'm riding by myself, I'll probably skip them. oh, and again, this assumes a more photography oriented trip, that even justifies the Fuji.

I also took a tripod. I hardly used it. So unless I am SURE I'll be taking group shots with myself in it, I might wont bother again. Of course, if I take a cell phone, a light weight GorillaPod with a cell phone clamp only weighs 2 ounces...

Note - This page is still a work in progress as I think about the bike touring / photography mix. Check back in the future to read more...

So what about 2019?

There's a part of me that want's to take the Fuji X-T20 again, but I'm looking for simplicity this year. So, I'm pretty much settled on a cell phone camera. And I'm likely to buy a Pixel 3a. They are only $400, I'll go back to having a working USB OTG, and I'll have up to date software. The up to date software piece doesn't just mean new, fancy features. It also means 3 years of security patches that my current phone doesn't have, plus a promise of 3 years of future patches. Oh, and the Pixel 3a is one of the last new phones with an honest to goodness headphone jack!

So the "tech" package will look like:

That's about 1 pound for everything (not counting the tail light...) - a savings of over 5 pounds from last year.

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Train's a-comin' - Near Chester Montana along the "High Line". June, 2017
Moto Droid Turbo, 28.0 mm equiv, F2.0, 1/6400, ISO 64