This photography series was kindly sponsored by GoPro.
A modern phone is an amazing little computer and a camera fitting in the palm of your hand and in normal daily life, it might seem like it could do everything you want for your photography needs on a motorcycle trip short or long.
I would agree a phone could fit the bill for a short ride of a week or so and nowadays is not far off the quality of a small point and shoot but it does have its restrictions.
If you are looking for quality images from your phone and you say it produces them but would like them to be a little better or be able to do some post-production at a later date to enhance and edit your photos, you really need be shooting in Raw Format to get all the detail a standard shot from your phone just doesn’t give you.
Just so I don’t lose you, let me explain what a RAW file is and why you should be using them if you want better photos…
Normally when you shoot with a digital camera or smartphone, the default setting is for it to save the images you take to your camera’s memory card in a compressed format.
The standard on most cameras and devices is a format known as JPEG. and that simply stands for “Joint Photographic Experts Group”, which is the name of the group that created the format.
A RAW file on the other hand, is an uncompressed version of the image file. Essentially the camera takes the image data from the sensor, and saves it in an unedited and uncompressed format on the memory card, but the RAW file cannot be shared easily without editing and then saving as a JPEG.
Why would I want a big file that I can’t share instantly?
Because with a little edit, it could be the difference between a good photograph and a great photograph, being able to bring out details that simply don’t show in that compressed JPEG.
You are on that week-long BDR, the phone is your camera of choice. Before you go, add a couple of apps to have the potential to make your images better or if you feel the urge at a later date.
The first is called Pro Camera its a paid app ($8) but worth having on your phone, if that’s what you are taking. You can use it to take images, set it to take in RAW format and it will also give you JPEG as well for quick shares on the spot.
When you get home and think ‘I love this photo, but I know it could look a little better…’ now you can do a detailed edit from the RAW file and make it what you want it to be.
The second app is Snapseed, a very easy to use and understand editing suite, with how to’s built-in.
What if your phone is good but the camera on it isn’t, maybe you don’t have the newest iPhone 12?…and you have no plans to buy a new phone!
Consider a GoPro, at around a quarter of the price of that new iPhone it is going to take photos as good or better and has RAW capability built-in, and you can Bluetooth it to the GoPro app to edit and/ or share photos.
Do you get home and have lots of photos of your bike in some great places but virtually none of yourself? Grab a little tripod or handlebar mount holder for that phone and be in the picture occasionally, they start at a few dollars for tabletop versions, weigh almost nothing, and fit in a tank bag, or if you have the magic arm mentioned later you could use that instead.
That about covers it, why even bother with explaining what to take on a long trip or even RTW I’ll just use my phone/ Go Pro and I’m set, right? Depends!
Not 100% wrong, many riders have ventured off RTW or multiple months riding with just a phone and been perfectly happy.
The big problem when only having a phone you are going to let a massive amount of memories be just that, because you couldn’t get close enough with that phone to get ‘the shot’, or the phone wasn’t capable because of it small sensor.
In no specific order here are a few examples of what you might see on a very long trip and a phone will not take great photos of, but a quality camera will –
Milky Way (and Devils Tower)
Scary wild animals
people at a distance
…wild-fires, lightning, meteor showers, civil unrest, skylines, whales, volcanos, shots of other riders at a distance,…and that list could go on and on but you get the idea.
Your bankroll for a long trip might have taken you years or decades to save up and the last thing you don’t need is to blow a big chunk of it on camera gear that you may or may not use, so here’s a camera gear shortlist.
What a lot of people who are moving from just using a phone to a camera like to shoot from a distance for comfort, there is a great all in one option for that. These next three cameras will give you a lot more reach than your phone and also give you great images.
A bridge camera – it’s not a point and shoot, and it’s not a DSLR, its a mix of both, try and find one that has a good zoom range, good battery life, and the aperture drops reasonably low so if you do see an amazing starry sky you can take the photo…with a tripod of course.
A low priced example of a good bridge camera would be a Panasonic LUMIX FZ80 that has a good wide-angle and an amazing zoom 20-1200mm Lens, F2.8-5.9 Aperture.
A higher-end example with a bigger sensor for better quality photos would be something like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV with a 24-600 zoom.
…or if you really want reach, how about a 3000mm zoom so you can stay a long way off and still get that shot! Nikon P1000 is your camera
If you decide to go the whole way and get yourself a DSLR or Mirrorless camera I can tell you from experience with my work being featured in dozens of magazines worldwide and numerous websites you really don’t need too much gear for travel.
It can simply be the old adage of: ‘f8 and be there’ or standing in very cool locations can be a lot more important than the gear in your hand.
Probably 90% of my images are taken in the 18-85mm range, if I need to zoom I move my body most of the time, if I want a close up of a person I ask. Formulating the shot is another ballgame.
For me, a camera set up these days for RTW travel is a Sony Mirrorless a6300 (because is weather-sealed and durable), coupled with an 18-105mm f4 zoom 95% of the time
The other 5% I carry a very small fast prime lens, for night shots and walking around town where I use my legs as the zoom and it does not look too ostentatious.
If you do decide to follow me with this zoom/prime combination do yourself a favor and get a fast, wide prime, it will benefit you in lowlight shooting conditions so you can keep your ISO lower to reduce noise in your photos.
For night shots or astrophotography where I need the camera to be steady or if I want to be in the photo I carry an old German antique Bilora tripod and weight it down with my hydration pack to help stop movement, it packs VERY small and only cost $25 from a thrift shop.
A great app for astrophotography is called PhotoPills. It will show you the best hours to shoot for darkness, location of the Milky Way, planets and moon phases plus it gives you correct settings for your camera/ lens combo look into PhotoPills, it’s only $10 and worth every penny.
Additionally to this, I have a Sena 10C Evo mounted to my helmet and a couple of GoPros because I keep telling myself to take more video… it’s happening slowly.
Other than the cameras, there are two spare batteries for the camera, pus the one that’s in it and two spare batteries for the Go Pros, and the small USB chargers that I can use on my bike or a wall outlet.
A 6″ Ram arm to mount one of the GoPros on the bars, and an 11inch Adjustable Articulating Friction Magic Arm & Large Super Clamp mounted somewhere on the bike too, with or without the other GoPro on it.
With this set up I can mount the GoPros in various locations around the bike to vary the video and not be too similar in every capture.
For saving/ backing up there are a few things involved – SD cards, I carry a bunch, 22 in a mini-case, and an additional 4 installed in the cameras, plus an additional 12 large SD cards. I use them in rotation and don’t delete anything until I’ve used them all
For back up I’m using four mini SanDisk SSD hard drives, that’s around 5 TB combined with the cards, which simultaneously gets backed up to my computer for the final images if need be (1Tb), the cloud and SmugMug have unlimited storage, but if all else fails quite a few of the photos might end up on a ride report where they are also saved.
That last paragraph might seem a little excessive but when one of your streams of income is photography you back up, and back that up and back that up, in case of loss, theft, or corruption of files, the good thing is now with technology everything is small and light.
I’m sure you’re thinking that sounds like a lot of stuff, surprisingly no, because some are always mounted on the bike or in the tank bag (to the left of the tape) and the rest fits in a very small pack and in the side bags
In conclusion, as I have gone all the different routes above with my photography over the years, in my modest opinion a good camera body with great or exceptional glass is the way to go.
There are amazing deals that pop up in used gear, here on the flea market and from reputable sellers with guarantees like B&H Camera, Adorama, KEH, MPB, etc. Outhere are so many incredible possibilities for amazing photographs all over the world it seems a shame not to be able to capture them with the true clarity you saw them in real life.