How-to: Choose a Camera for Touring

Bicycle touring and photography seem to go hand and hand, and it makes sense. You get to travel to incredible places at a relatively slow pace, there is plenty of time to kill, and after the tour is over you want to be able to share your experiences with others. Just thinking about the staff at Adventure Cycling, where I worked until recently, there have been some incredible photographers within our own walls over the years, including Aaron Teasdale, Tom Robertson, John Sieber, and our co-founder, Greg Siple.

I'm by no stretch a great photographer, but I do love shooting photos on bike trips. One thing I have learned over the years is that it is really easy to start geeking out on camera equipment just as you can on bike equipment, which is incredibly dangerous. I don't need a fancy DSLR, just like a don't need a custom Co-Motion with a Rohloff hub, but I want them both anyway. Fortunately, common sense takes hold of me before I dig myself too far into debt, and I find a good compromise. For those of you in a similar boat wanting a high-quality camera, but not wanting to drop thousands of dollars, there are some excellent options available.

Four years ago I bought a used Canon G9 for a bike tour, and even now I still toss it into my jersey pocket for nearly every ride I go on. The current Canon G12 is capable of taking very high-quality photos, in addition to 1280p x 720p HD video. There are a lot of manual control options available -- so, depending on your skill level, you can really play around with aperture and shutter speed for some unique photos. If the G12 holds up as well as my G9 has been, it's a camera that can survive a lot of tours, making it a pretty good deal for $500.

If you want to be able to swap lenses but don't want a heavy or bulky camera, the mirrorless Lumix cameras from Panasonic look really attractive. The Panasonic Lumix DMC GX-1 camera body is very low profile like a simple point-and-shoot, but it accepts a number of zoom lenses to give you a ton of options. Just like the camera body, the Panasonic lenses are small and light, so you would have no problem fitting this camera along with two or three extra lenses into a small handlebar bag. You can shoot high-resolution photos at 16 megapixels, and you have the ability to capture 1080 HD video. The camera runs around $800, which includes the 14-42mm kit lens.

This article originally appeared at Josh's Adventure Cycling Blog column, Touring Gear and Tips, on February 4, 2012. Obviously, it is not an exhaustive piece on choosing a camera, but it puts forth some good ideas. We'd love to hear from you readers about your choices in cameras for touring!

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Top photo by Sarah Raz; others by Josh Tack

4 responses so far ↓

Val - Jul 18, 2012 at 9:17 PM

An important factor, if you'll be camping in places without electricity, is whether the camera requires a rechargeable battery. I've long been using the Canon PowerShot A series cameras, which are not as full-featured as the G series, but some of them run on standard AA batteries which can be readily purchased.

Some advice for the over-50 (or so) age group is to make sure your camera has an optical viewfinder so you don't need to whip out your reading glasses every time you whip out the camera.

Paul Smith - Jul 19, 2012 at 2:53 PM

I agree that a smaller camera with manual controls is about perfect. I still lug my 20D around, but that means wearing a pack when otherwise I wouldn't so I don't have to put the camera on my bike and I have easy access to it. I do like the quality of the images though - and it lets me use a bright lens for photos under the trees in dark, dense New Zealand bush.

The best camera things I've bought for cycling trips are a remote shutter release and bendy tripod thingy. I do lots of trips alone and being able to mount the camera in trees and odd locations, then release the shutter from my bars as I ride by is brilliant.

Ismail Mustapha - Jul 26, 2012 at 6:16 AM

I agree the Lumix GX1 with either the 14mm or 20mm pancake lens is an excellent choice. Video quality is almost as good as the GH2, which is BTW, one of the most highly-rated video-capable HDSLR cameras around, at any price. If I am not waiting for the GH3, I would have bought this to accompany my GH2.

Bruce - Jul 27, 2012 at 2:00 PM

When you select a camera, remember: 1- DLSR+lenses= bulk+weight; 2- Sensor size impacts heavily on image quality(see Wikipedia on sensor size); 3- Cold/wet weather can be lethal to digital photo equipt, so keep your camera in one of those little Pelican cases during wet weather & keep it next to your body in the cold weather; 4-You'll want good wide-angle capability but probably won't need much telephoto reach, and you'll definitely want a "faster" lens (f-stop of 2.0 @ wide-angle setting). Slower lenses do poorly well in low light. 5- For unassisted self-portraits, the Joby Gorillapods are great (they grab onto anything) and the X-Shot2.0 is invaluable. 6- You need more & better advice than you'll find in these thumbnails, so read Shutterbug & Outdoor Photography mags. Also scour the websites of and call B&H and Adorama in NYC & pick their brains. They know worlds more about this stuff than us rank amateurs. Forget the big box stores as info sources - they have the best help $$ can buy for close to minimum wage. 7- If you research, study, compare and contemplate long & hard before you buy, you should end up not regretting your purchase.

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