Yes I have another imaging device I am testing out in my quest (hobby) of better on bike riding photos.
Back in 2015 Olympus released their take on the lens only type of camera. These devices were designed to use your smartphone screen and were briefly tipped to be the next big thing however cameras in smartphones soon after reached a point where they were taking photos of an acceptable quality.
These things are now four years old and I could find one on Yahoo Auctions here for fraction of original price.
So why does this device interested me? The form factor means it can be held and operated one hand when riding much like action cams. Despite the small size it is a proper interchangeable lens camera minus the screen and physical controls, actually it is the same 16MP 4/3 sensor and Truepic VII processor as the Olympus OM-D E-M5 M2 which is still a powerful camera today.
So the idea of having that sort of imaging power in a cam size device is very appealing but I could never see a lens that would work for my purpose so I forgot about it until I came across a interesting accessory that Olympus call a Body Cap Lens. It’s the size of a plain lens cap but has small 9mm fish eye lens in it (18mm equivalent). There is no electronic connection, focus is basically just infinity and it has lowly f8 aperture but it offers a 140 degree field of view and can be picked up here for next to nothing.
Placed next to my other lens only device the Sony QX-10 you can see the Air A01 has smaller diameter but is slightly longer but even with the BLC 9mm fitted is very compact. It’s quite an impressive bit of miniaturization. Below is a photo of a Olympus OM-D E-M5 with a regular size 8mm fish eye lens for comparison.
So in theory this should be an impressive ‘on bike’ camera. But so far something has not been right. The device itself is easy to remove from pocket and operate while riding, it has a large shutter button and the size of the camera makes it easy to hold. However image quality has been very poor. The camera seems to underexpose everything by about 2EV and motion blur is an issue. The below photos have been heavily reworked in post processing but still look rather poor considering. Not much better than what an action cam might deliver. (p.s. action cams don’t take photos, their stills are a frame grab from video)
The camera seems to work mostly ok with an old Lumix kit lens I had lying around so the issue I presume to be this lens. To do 9mm and be a pancake lens results in a pinhole size lens opening with fixed f8 aperture and no electronic communication to the sensor, although the latter should not matter much because fixed focus.
There is no exposure compensation lock and you could not have a longer exposure anyway as every shot will be moving on the bike. The aperture is fixed but you can lock the ISO.
Above: At ISO800 it still struggles in some afternoon shadows from buildings. Processed from raw and even with 100%+ shadows in post processing it’s still far more pronounced shadows that what existed and all the highlights are blown. But the curvature can be reduced somewhat.
Some good points are the Air can shoot raw format and the sensor should have a huge advantage over the QX-10 for dynamic range, but alas not working so far with this lens and the others will be too big for my purpose.
It’s a shame as it also fits on the tiny Quikpod monopod which otherwise is too small to hold my regular camera and they both fit in a jacket. So this has the potential to do my onboard and remote shutter photos (via phone link) in one device. My QX10 of course should already do same but the sensor in that camera has such poor dynamic range landscapes turn out darkened with all details lost.
Well I will keep it around awhile and see what else I can do. I have a ride in Japan starting in few days so will take this along and persist to see if I am doing something wrong as I often am. I have seen reasonable results with this combo on photography forums but that possibly was long exposures that I cannot use. Otherwise it is possible I have a device or lens with a fault as both are second hand.
Related, I played with the new Ricoh Theta Z1 in Yodobashi Camera Yokohama the other day and that could be the ultimate on bike image device – but selling for around $1500 AUD so no chance I will be getting one.
Update: I used this on my Late Autumn ride which had a lot of rain but found it could take onboard images ok if the ISO is set to 1600. The 140 degree POV is very good. I had to tape the lens cap switch in place to get reliable results which would be no problem as it’s just a toy lens after all. When it worked the result was a image with far more detail and dynamic range than other onboard cameras I have been using however it still messed up too many shots.
After further thought I think main problem is no IBIS. Tend to forget that cameras all have IBIS now, even my $30 elcheapo action cam as some anti shake but this has nothing and no adjustment other than ISO.
Final update: I eventually sold it. 4/3rds image quality on board would have been something special and the 18mm POV was very good match for what I want to capture. Maybe I should have persisted. Olympus never updated their iPhone software so that stopped working with latest iOS version and that basically was when I said enough. At least now I know it’s no point to try the other Sony lens only camera with bigger 1 inch sensor as it has no IBIS.