Picking Out A Camera For Bike Touring

Nikon D80 SLREven the most gadget-adverse bike tourist is likely to carry a digital camera.

After all, when you finally round the last switchback to reach that glorious mountain peak, you’ll want a photo to remember the moment! A digital camera also allows you to create a small income stream by selling your travel photos online. This takes work but can be enjoyable if you like photography.

So, what should you look for in a camera? Here are our tips:

#1. Smaller Is Usually Better.

We carried a Nikon D80 SLR for 4 years. It took nice photos but it was also heavy, prone to dust spots and its large size sometimes intimidated people. In our opinion, a compact camera will often take just as nice a photo and it’s a lot easier to handle.

For a good example of what a small camera can do, check out the photos on the 14 Degrees site.

Panasonic GF1They were taken with a Canon Powershot G9 (the latest model is the Canon Powershot G12). In 2011, we traded in our SLR for the Panasonic Lumix GF1 with a 20mm pancake lens. The GF1 is still a great camera but has been replaced by the GF5. For something more advanced from Panasonic’s micro four-thirds range, you might also consider the Lumix GX1.

If you’re determined to go for an SLR, you probably have your reasons. We won’t argue. Just get a large handlebar bag.

#2. Battery Life Is Crucial.

Go for the longest lasting battery you can find. You may not be able to recharge your camera each night and the last thing you want is a dead battery just as a magnificent view opens up in front of you. For reasons of battery life alone, try to avoid cameras that use an LCD screen as a viewfinder (these eat energy), or get a spare battery.

You will have to decide whether you want a camera that takes AA batteries or a Lithium Ion cell. On the upside, AA batteries are universally available and you can usually carry multiple sets. On the downside, they often don’t last as long as a Lithium Ion cell. Either way, you’ll probably have to take a charger with you because very few cameras allow batteries to be recharged via USB or while still in the camera.

#3. Get A Big Memory Card.

Whatever comes with the camera won’t be big enough. Memory cards are cheap these days and the more room you have, the less you’ll have to worry about burning CDs on the road. It’s worth going with one of the better known brands like Sandisk for speed and reliability.

A 2GB card would be a minimum size but 4-8GB is better if you plan to use the video function that comes with many cameras. A larger card will let you shoot more photos in the highest quality, which will be useful down the road if you ever want to sell your photos or print poster-size pictures of you and your bike.

#4. Back Up Your Photos.

How you do this will depend on the length of your trip and what else you’re carrying. Because our trip is long, we have a laptop for picture editing and storage (we use the open source and free GIMP program for photo editing). We store the pictures on the laptop.

We also upload pictures to our personal server, to Flickr and – when we’re on a long trip – we burn DVDs of our photos to send home and upload our pictures to our website (usually a quick process even for full-sized JPEGS but sometimes it has to be delayed because of poor internet connections). Every few months, we delete the photos from our computer to free up space. If you’re not carrying a laptop, many internet cafes or photography shops will burn a DVD for you.

#5. Get A Mini-Tripod.

GorillapodYou’re unlikely to need a full-size tripod but there are a few intriguing miniature options, including the Gorilla Pod with legs that wrap around anything.

We use it for taking self-portraits and shooting videos on the move (the tripod will wrap around your handlebars to hold the camera securely to the bicycle). It also offers extra stability when you need a slow shutter speed to take photos in low-light situations.

#6. Organise. Organise. Organise.

If you don’t sort your photos, it’s easy to end up with a digital version of the jumbled boxes full of paper pictures most of us have stuck in a drawer somewhere. We download our photos directly into folders based on each country we visit and sometimes further broken down by region or a specific event. This makes it a lot easier to find photos later.


  1. Andrea
    7th June 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    Having just done a six month tour with a DSLR, laptop and external hard drive in tow, I would add a few comments. I’m serious about my photography too and I have to say I haven’t mastered the business of taking lots of pictures on the road and mixing it with my travel. I just managed to burn myself out.

    However, I strongly urge anyone taking a dslr to also take an external hard drive as dumping them into your laptop will fill up your memory in no time and render your laptop less functional. Whereas your external harddrive only needs its memory for storage so it can store more, freeing up your laptop memory.

    Secondly, I regret the time i spent editing my pictures on the road. Its fun to do it a little but now i am home and don’t even want to look at my pictures because I have already looked at them so much. On my previous trip when i only took a compact digital i enjoyed the whole editing process so much more once I got home.

    The problem for me at least all comes down to taking too many pictures. I don’t want to spend my time on the road editing. I’d rather do that at home. Suffice to say managing your own personal photography practice on the road is quite a business.

  2. Rob Thomson
    22nd July 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    Hey guys, I just noticed this blog post of yours. Thanks for the mention! I am honoured.

    The Canon G9 finally bit the dust a few months ago, and upon much deliberation (a full write-up on that here: http://www.14degrees.org/en/?p=1465), I replaced it with a Panasonic GF1.

    I am quite torn though, between which I would recommend for a a long tour on a bike (or skateboard 🙂 ); that is, the Canon G9 or the Panasonic GF1. The mighty big bonus with the GF1 is that you can get beautiful depth of field and very nice low-light performance. And this of course opens up a myriad different creative avenues if you are so inclined.

    The drawback with the GF1 is that to fully make the most of the camera, I’d want to carry three separate lenses (the 20mm pancake, the 14-140mm zoom, and the 7-14mm super wide angle). This adds weight, complexity, and not to mention cost! At present I only have the 20mm pancake, and an old 1970’s Canon 50mm manual focus lens (very nice lowlight performance, with a very reasonable US$50 price tag!).

    The G9 (or G12, now) on the other hand is small, simple, can take conversion lenses for ultra wide angle shots, and has a good zoom.

    As for organising photos, I did this by uploading photos to Flickr. Basically, my Flickr account (http://www.flickr.com/photos/14degrees/) consists of only my best shots, all categorized by country. Uploading to Flickr is easy enough; I was able to do that at least once or twice a week at internet cafes (I didn’t carry a computer).


  3. Kevin
    25th April 2012 at 7:56 am #

    I have a number of DSLR’s but I find them too heavy for touring I use a Canon G12 which is light and has an excellent battery life.

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