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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Savant

Focus on Travel Cameras


Since many adventure motorcyclists are also into travel photography, I thought I'd share a little on my gear choices.

Over the years I've used several camera systems for my travels and the search for perfection will likely continue. Traveling on a motorcycle is similar to backpacking in that space is limited and the quest for "smaller, lighter and better" never ends.

My career as an advertising photographer required many camera systems and much heavy gear. For adventure riding I wanted to be unencumbered and leave the gear behind. High end pocket cameras got great results, within their limitations, and for me that usually meant lack of lens range. Pocket zooms inherently cannot be made to perform at pro levels due to optical physics and complexity, so the better ones usually have a limited zoom range. The quality they do produce is frankly astonishing considering the physics, but generally they lacked lens range on the telephoto end. I tried super-zooms, only to find the resolution and fringing unacceptable for my tastes.

On the North America trek - specifically the U.S., Canada and Alaska - I carried a Lumix GM-5 System with interchangeable lenses that worked very well and was miniscule. It reigns as the smallest ILC camera with a viewfinder in the Micro 4/3 format and sported a 16 mp image. The body is the size of a deck of cards and in the M4/3 system there are a couple hundred lenses or more that work with the body. IQ was very good for such a small system. My only complaints are that the tiny viewfinder made hitting critical focus difficult when in a rush. Otherwise very happy with the quality and improvement over pocket cameras, however though the diminutive size was incredible for traveling, it was almost too small for my large hands and shooting quickly was difficult. I wanted to find a system that still was small but would let me shoot faster and check focus more easily.

Lumix GM-5 and GF-7 with two kit zooms

I'd carried my Fujifilm XT system and lenses on a couple of previous trips into Mexico and got great image quality, and even though it is much smaller than a DSLR, it still took up a fair amount of room.

A couple of years earlier, I'd bought a Sony Nex 5N to take on a trip into Mexico and other than very limited lens choices at the time, I felt it gave great image quality in a small package that wasn't "too" small. I couldn't live with the optical quality of kit zooms they offered, though I loved the size of the lenses. Having used the best lenses in the world as a pro, I was used to razor sharp images a la Zeiss, Leica, Nikon and Canon amongst others.

Time passed and Sony improved their lens range with several pro grade lenses. In packing for a possible year on the motorcycle, I had more than usual and space was a premium. I found my existing Fuji XT system to be just a little too large for the space allotted. The old Nex 5N and lenses easily fit in the space, so I decided to check out the latest Sony gear and was happy to find they'd added some Zeiss lenses to the mix. I jumped back into the E-Mount system with two older A6000 bodies and some mint condition used Sony/Zeiss glass. I took more gear than I really needed, but the system is small enough that it's still reasonable for size and weight.

In Guanajuato, Mexico, I had a street vendor make a leather carry bag to my specs that fits the system perfectly and more importantly is very low profile on the streets. It looks like a leather shoulder pouch instead of a tourist camera bag that shouts "steal me".

Currently I'm taking the 2 Sony A6000 bodies with 6 lenses - 16-70 Zeiss zoom, 55 1.8 Zeiss prime, 85 1.8 Sony prime, 55-210 Sony travel zoom, 30mm Sigma 1.4 prime and 12mm Rokinon manual focus ultrawide. Two bodies were chosen, mainly for a backup body in case of failure on such a long trip, but also to allow a second mounted lens for shooting. Amazing that 2 bodies and 6 lenses fit in the 3" x 10" x 12" leather bag. That's a complete pro location system.

In Use: On the bike, the tank bag carries one body with 16-70 zoom attached, a 55-210 lens and batteries. The two zooms give a range of 24mm to 315mm equivalent for any situation I come upon and are close at hand. The leather bag with second body and other lenses reside in a locked case. Having a split system leaves me some gear in case the tank bag kit gets stolen.

On the streets, I carry a body w 16-70 over my shoulder and tucked under my arm. The 55-210 in a cargo pants pocket on short walks. Exploration days, I carry the entire kit in the leather bag, One body in the bag with lens mounted and the other tucked under my arm or in hand.

The 16-70, 55-210 and 55 1.8 are mainstays. Least used are the 30 1.4 and 12mm 2, both of which are razor sharp btw - as are the 16-70 and 55 1.8. The Sony 55-210 is a mixed bag - sometimes very sharp at some length/aperture combos and at other times just average. I've never figured out the "sweet spots" of the lens, but the size and range are perfect for travel. All other E-mount zooms in a similar focal range are massively larger. I suspect that the 85 1.8 and 16-70 will be my main walkabout lenses.

I've never found the "perfect system" or the way to carry it, so it's a variation of all the above - sometimes all in the bag, sometimes just a body and lens, lenses in pockets, etc.

Other Options: I think a high end pocket camera such as the Lumix LX series, Sony RX100 and similar in a coat pocket is a great way to go and would allow one to dismiss a tank bag completely. All my old ride reports were done exclusively with the Panasonic Lumix LX3, LX5 and LX7 pocket cameras, but the short zoom range was frustrating. For any trips of less magnitude than this one, I'd be perfectly fine with the GM5 or a pocket camera, but this may be a once-in-a-lifetime trip with a monster variety of shooting opportunities and I want to increase my chances of getting more and better shots as much as I can within the size constraint envelope.

My six lens A6000 kit with 3" x 10" x 12" bag, vs my Lumix GM-5 four lens kit and pouch

Images captured with the GM5 system are as good as with the Sony, save the larger chip resolution of the Sony. The quicker autofocus and larger viewfinder of the Sony are pluses.

I'd love to have the GM5 and the two primes with me to complement the Sony. The GM5 and a couple of lenses are easy to slip in a pocket and so small they don't draw any attention. But then again, if I had the room I'd also like to carry a drone and an espresso machine.

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