I’ve posted a few times that in my experience the best way to get a good photo while riding is just get off the bike and compose it properly – but that doesn’t stop me from taking photos on the move and looking for ways to improve them.
I’m not talking about onboard video because even $40 Chinese knockoff action cams can do 4K but POV riding videos are boring and I have no interest in adding to the dozens being spammed to Facebook motorcycle groups. However a good onboard photo can really be interesting.
Action cams don’t actually take photos. They grab stills from their video called a vidcap. Even the latest GoPro or DJI models. This produces a soft image with poor dynamic range. When you watch video at 24 or more frames per second your eyes don’t have time to see each frame in detail and your brain assembles the images into something that looks far better but pause and then you see that the still frames these cams record are poor compared to a camera or a phone.
The quest so far.
It is quite hard to use a regular camera while riding. I was gifted a compact camera from my former workplace and I used this on my ride in Malaysia. But the button layout on cameras is always for right hand. Trying to use this left handed while riding was near on impossible. The other issue is a regular camera lens is not quite wide enough field of view. I got a too many sideways images onboard and once they are rotated level the field of view is very narrow.
I looked then for something easy to hold and easy to operate one handed and found this device from Polaroid.
The Cube had a magnetic base and would sit on the fuel tank ready for use anytime. It was simple to operate while riding, press the button on top to turn on then again to take a photo/vidcap. The multi aspect single LED communicated everything easy via different colours including confirmation of the image. The 124 degree angle of view was much better but it had poor dynamic range and low resolution and really did not like taking a photo while on the move. The rare good image like above was actually taken stopped.
I tried using my phone for one ride in Philippines. On a scooter you might manage but otherwise never going to work.
I tried a clone of a GoPro. With double the megapixels of the Cube the video was actually very good but this did not translate to better stills. I liked the 170 degree angle of field of view but it was too fiddly to use while riding. The button layout is for right hand and the default operation is video. I’d often passed what I was going to shoot before it was ready to use. These control issues apply to all current Gopros too.
I also tried the GoPro session 5 for awhile. Same size as the Cube but such a troublesome device. Initially it would one touch start recording 4K video and stills every second. Quality seemed fine – great! Then it mysteriously stopped doing this and would only record low res stills every 5 seconds. I got it factory reset but problems persisted and often end of days riding I would have nothing recorded.
Having photos that are low res or not framed right is one thing, but not having any photos recorded at all was heartbreaking so I got rid of the Gopro asap.
I tried one of these next – the Sony QX-10 lens only camera. These devices were once billed as the next big thing. Phone cameras (at the time) were mixed quality so these were designed to be used with their screens. But camera makers underestimated how fast phones would advance (they still do) and these became obsolete almost as soon as they went on sale.
I found a used one cheap on Amazon. 18MP sensor same as in their cybercams with stabilization. It takes a far better photo than any action cam but 24mm lens isn’t always wide enough. That is because when holding at arms length it is never level and so the field of view gets reduced when I rotate and level the image in post processing. I have had some success with this device but of the hundreds of photos taken few have the scene framed correctly and like the action cams the best images were taken when stopped.
I met a guy in Sri Lanka using a 360 camera to video his ride so I picked up a second hand Ricoh Theta SC just to play about with. One ride I realised because it is 360 you can just hold the camera out anywhere, no need to point it at either the scenery or myself then afterwards I can choose how I frame the still image.
How does that work – Ricoh provide software where you can spin the stitched image in any direction as well zoom in/out then do a grab of screen where you like. The resolution is initially 5.7K but that is for the full 360 degrees, once you look at any one part like above that drops to about 1.8K which is pretty low.
Initially I found the quality too poor but my post processing continues to improve. The above was processed with Topaz Sharpen AI. This is machine learning software that can dramatically improve the sharpness of low res photos. Then I used Luminar to lift the shadows, correct exposure, some dodge and burn, fix blown highlights, temperature, vibrancy and the sky. Then I used Polarr to fix blemishes and final minor crop. Photoshop pros no doubt could do more but I’m getting better.
You can also have full 360 degree images. I have not been posting many as prior to relocating my blog I could not use Ricoh’s hosting nor able to enhance the image much. But not everything looks good in 360 either. Without things all around me like on this bridge the photo would be better in 2D.
Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA
When selecting a still image from the spherical image you can change the angle of view by zooming in or out even beyond 180 degrees.
However these ultra wide view angles push the scenery far away from the viewer. For comparison below taken with the Sony QX-10 is about 84 degrees field of view from it’s 24mm lens.
I think the 360 camera has the edge so far for photos on the move. Despite some limitations you are almost guaranteed in post processing to spin the POV and be able to frame the scene. The resolution however has hit a wall at 5.7K and 8K is really needed in this format considering how the image is wrapped into a sphere. It may be awhile before next gen models are affordable but if you don’t mind doing some work to clean up the images then you can have some fun using these devices already.