Cameras for Bicycle Tourists

People who see my touring pictures often ask me what sort of camera I would recommend for bicycle touring. In answering this, I need to make a distinction between what sort of camera I use myself and what I would recommend for other people. I am an admitted photo nut. I gladly carry a full SLR system on my bicycle, sometimes I've even lugged a medium format rangefinder system. If you were that photo-obsessed, you would not be asking for my recommendations, because you'd already have your favorite system put together.

So what do I recommend for people who aren't obsessed? What do I use myself when I'm more interested in riding than in perfectionist photography?

I recommend a lightweight, reasonably-inexpensive point-and-shoot camera, one that's weather-resistant and easy to use with your gloves on. Light weight is an obvious advantage for touring -- even when I carried a full film SLR system, it was the very lightweight and compact Olympus OM-series, not a massive auto-everything wonderbrick. Low cost makes sense for a camera that may be dropped, sat on, or lost. I'm not suggesting something so cheap that picture quality suffers, but nothing gold-plated, either. The need for weather-resistance is obvious, you don't want a camera that stops working in a light drizzle or goes haywire over some spray at the beach.

So with those criteria in mind, what specific cameras do I suggest?

For a pocket camera that's suitable for cycling, boating, etc., the Pentax Optio W60 is an easy fit in a jersey pocket, it's waterproof to 13 feet, has a large, bright display, and performs quite well for a P&S camera. I even took my wife's older W20 body surfing in the saltwater at Pismo Beach and it performed beautifully. If I'm spectating at one of my wife's triathlons, it's a great camera to take out wading in the lake without worrying about dropping it. (I do tie a foam float to the wrist strap so I won't lose it if I drop it in the water. The camera is waterproof, but it doesn't float!)

When looking at Pentax cameras, film or digital, be sure to watch for the W or WR designation, for Weather Resistant -- some similar models are not nearly as suited to touring duty.

Another relatively recent innovation is the bicycle video camera. Various companies now make cameras designed for helmet or handlebar mounting. Obviously you won't get rock-steady video with a camera bouncing around on a bike or a helmet, but I've had reasonably good video from the Oregon Scientific ATC3K, a compact, waterproof VGA video camera that records up to two hours on a 4GB SD card. The sound isn't great because of the waterproofing, but the waterproofing can be removed if you'd rather have better sound. I have a sample video here.

You wouldn't want to watch hours of this video as a vacation documentary, but it's more than good enough for documenting traffic interactions and road conditions.

This page written by Josh Putnam. Please feel free to email questions, comments, corrections, suggestions, etc.

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