My quest for good photos while riding continues.
It’s been a hobby of mine since 2013 to find a device that takes good photos while I am riding – the operative word being photos, not video.
Nobody reads anymore
I’ve heard those words a lot lately. I met a guy who was 77 touring Japan making videos of abandoned train lines with an old iPhone 5 his son gave him. Unedited shaky clips, yet his channel had over 100,000 views. Video undeniably is wildly popular (although is your audience engaged… debatable).
I’m not anti video. If you were to look at any photo of myself from 1990 to 2002 I will be holding a video camera (or a beer ?). I shot video for 12 years, became quite proficient and was turning out polished material by the end, I even produced a computer graphic music video used in a large night club (long story). Problem is I never wanted to view any of those videos ever again. At some point I concluded I was making things to entertain others but preferred photos for my personal memories.
It’s nearly 20 years from then and with the incredible gear video makers now have at their disposal and blogs being so out of vouge I’ve been questioning should I be including some video? If I was seeking traffic then yes of course, but I have no desire to monetize the site so subscriber numbers matter not one iota.
My main issue remains, I still prefer photos and enjoy reading. I’ve not watched tv in six years and searching for non affiliate sales driven content on YouTube is like looking for a unicorn. So despite feeling like one of the last people who values the written word and publishing to a platform that’s sliding into digital obsolescence I’m still unsure if I should return to producing video.
But I digress, on to the quest.
The onboard camera quest – continued
I’ve already posted this previously, but a brief recap of how I came to be fooling about with these old cameras.
Getting a good quality still photo while riding is not easy. I started testing this with a camera I was gifted in 2013, the Canon SX230. A regular camera is simply too difficult operate while riding. The control layout suits holding with right hand which I need for the throttle.
I moved on to using the Polaroid Cube action cam. I loved this device because it was so well suited to the task. It had a powerful magnet in the base and was waterproof so I could leave it sitting on tank and then pick it up and one press it turned on and then press again to take a photo. Action cams don’t take photos per se but grab frames from their video and the Cube images were very poor unless in bright sunlight not moving fast. I lost it in Croatia.
I replaced the Cube with the GoPro 5 Session. I mounted this in a magnet case and also had it sitting on tank. Initially it operated via one press to switch on and then it would automatically record video and grab a still frame every 1/2 a second at 4K resolution. It was actually pretty good but GoPro updated firmware and removed the automatic stills from start up replacing that with low res timelapse frame grabs. I never thought to try reverse engineer the firmware at the time and sold the camera. Since then all GoPro’s are same, default to video and 1080 mushy timelapse and require you to go into menu to change to photo mode.
Instead I tried another action cam, a clone of the GoPro which had a simplified method of switching to photo mode but it’s video frame grabs were not close to the Session 5 quality thus the photos were not good enough even for my modest blog.
Next I tried the Sony QX-10 lens only camera. These devices were released in the period when phones still took poor photos and the idea was you used them via wi-fi with the phone being the cameras screen. They never caught on and can be bought cheap as a toy now. I had moderate success with this, it is a proper camera with 18MP sensor but the lens FOV was not wide enough.
Then I spotted another lens only camera. The Olympus Air A01 has a M4/3 sensor camera squeezed into a tiny case and Olympus made a 9mm toy lens which adds almost nothing in size or weight.(9mm = 18mm on a M4/3 sensor but still fairly wide) The problem I encountered was the Air A01 lacked stabilization or ability to lock a fast shutter so onboard with the movement images rarely were useable.
The last few rides I have been using my Theta SC camera. Having a 360 degree FOV means no matter where I hold it I am always in the frame for selfies, then Ricoh’s post processing software allows me to rotate the image and take a screen grab. Mostly only good for selfies as those fisheye lenses push the scenery far away.
The Theta SC is too low resolution to digital zoom but otherwise I love it so I tried to update to a high resolution 360 camera to expand the places I could use the format.
The Kandao Qoocam 8K was a piece of crap, it did not perform as advertised (good example how dishonest affiliated YouTube reviews can be). This was the only new and expensive item I have bought for this hobby, everything else I buy and sell used online. But I was lucky by shopping with Amazon I could return it to obtain full refund.
Mostly now I just stop to take a photo, even if that means turning around or walking long way back. But there are occasions when I cannot stop due limitations and also some roads that I feel are photogenic and I want to record, hence I keep toying with gadgets – and this is the latest.
Casio EXILM FR100 Freestyle Camera
I remember first seeing the Casio ‘freestyle’ cameras in Tokyo about 2011, those had rotating screens and makeup lights and a software beauty mode which was innovative. This model arrived much later about 2016 still with focus on selfies but by then phones already had hi-res front cameras and could be triggered remotely by selfie sticks.
Casio made some good compact enthusiast cameras, I used to play with them every year when visiting Akihabara, and nearly bought one. I never saw those distributed beyond Asia nor these freestyle cameras. As far as I can tell there were three models, a 24mm, 16mm and a 180 degree fisheye model. The later had option to add another camera module thus become a 360 camera.
I found the 16mm models selling for next to nothing here and 140 degrees FOV should suit my quest well. The sensor is 12MP which is down from the Sony QX-10’s 18MP but my new iPhone is only 12MP and has outstanding image quality so obviously pixel count is not as important as marketing tells us.
Besides a wide field of view I need the device to be simple to use with just left hand while riding. The Casio in this regards is almost perfect. It has a standby mode it can sit in all day long. From there one press on the shutter awakens it instantly then press again to take photos. The screen portion is not needed the lens portion can be operated independently. I can rapidly press the shutter and it keeps up or there is a burst mode I can set which will fire off a pre selected number of frames. So far I am happy with single shot.
The detachable screen is where you adjust settings and unlike the Air-A01 I have full control over modes and functions. It has onboard stabilization so I found even in auto mode I get acceptable results.
The separate screen stays in standby and is instantly connected on waking but even if you shut down the devices they instantly connect when powered on no fiddling in menus and apps. The screen can be used as remote control or there is a Casio app but as of writing I cannot get it to connect to device and I doubt it will as never been updated.
Straight up I am impressed with this camera on the bike. The image quality is better than I expected in low light which is where video still frames from action cams are mush. It is easy to orientate also, that was a problem with the Sony and Olympus which were both round and hard to know how far off level I was holding them.
It gets the shot right most of time, above was in quite late shadow but the paint and reflections are nicely captured as it the motion and sure the sky was blown out but all the more important things were captured in difficult lighting whilst moving.
I tried changing the camera angles and it does reasonably intelligent job at picking where to focus. I could of course set aperture to have all in focus or fast shutter but happy so far.
I think the FOV is decent compromise between the Theta’s ability to capture most of me and bike but push the scenery away verses the Sony QX-10 which was good for scenery but mostly excluded the rider.
It is easy to place the cam on anything then take selfies using the separate small screen’s dedicated shutter button. 16mm means always in the frame unless very close. It can mount to a tripod also.
So far I am not that impressed with what the camera has produced using it this way however I like it can easy be clipped to anything and with constant connection to the remote I can take a selfie in a couple of seconds and get a shot I would not have bothered to shoot if needing to setup my tripod and camera. That possibly holds much more value than I realise at the moment.
The small sensor of course seems to struggle with high contrast (how does Apple get theirs to work so well?) and it gets some lens flare in the winter low angle light but I already have other devices for off bike photography.
I’m really happy with the Casio FR100. While riding the one touch operation from standby makes it easy to use and the image quality is quite reasonable. The off bike possibilities are an unexpected bonus. All this from something I got in as new condition in original box for under $100A delivered. Lots of fun to be found in older and lower spec photography gear at present while people are focused on big sensors.