Smartphones for motorcycle travel photography



Well, I know I'm late to the party - the last few years have seen smartphones change the way we produce and consume photography. There's no question that it's possible to create fantastic imagery with a smartphone. 



What's kept me away is my completely irrational dislike of telephones - I do not have a land line, or cell phone. I love to talk with people! Just not on the telephone...
So when I realized that the 5th generation iPod touch was essentially an iPhone minus the phone. I figured it was worth trying out.

I've mentioned in the past that I recommend traveling with two cameras; A "serious camera" for the best quality photos, and a point and shoot that can be quickly pulled out to capture those "on the road" moments.

On the road repairs - perfect place for a smartphone snapshot
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I carry a Nikon D600 as my primary camera and was using the excellent Lumix LX2 as a point and shoot. But it's battered and beat, held together with tape and long due for retirement.

I must say that I'm shocked to find the iPod as a potential replacement for the  aging LX2.
After all the iPod has only a 5mp camera, no real control of aperture or shutter speed, the tiny sensor is awful in low light and dosen't handle high contrast situations well - blown highlights look particularly nasty. The image quality could best be described as "acceptable" not brilliant.



Nikon D600 image:
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iPod Touch 5G image:
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But for most of the photos you will be taking with a point and shoot -Ate here, slept here, met these folks, saw this crazy thing - nearly any camera will do. These are the story shots.


Somewhere in America... Outrunning the storms...
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The paradox with these smartphones and their lower image quality is that you're not limited to snapshots. There many examples of excellent photography taken with mobile phones.
I still believe the number one element of a good photograph is a thoughtful composition, and with good light and considered framing a smartphone can do justice to your vision.

iPod Touch 5G image: Plenty of light on a cloudy day, post-processed with Snapseed on the iPod - pretty damn impressive.
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Nikon D600 image: Better "quality" in terms of tech' specs, but I prefer the above image.
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The real game changer with a smartphone is the post-processing and social media sharing built in to the device.
With my regular point and shoot I have to wait till the end of the day to get the laptop out, pull the photos off the memory card, process the photos with Adobe Lightroom, export them, then upload to twitter, flickr or ADVrider.

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Now I can snap and process the photo, and upload to twitter all while sat on the bike. This is a WOW moment for me. Snap, process, upload - get on with the motorcycle trip.

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With the iPod I also have access to Gmail and Google Drive, Twitter, my Motojounalism.com blog, Google Maps Horizons Unlimited, ADVrider, Garmin apps, anything else you can think of.
It is essentially a tiny computer after all.
But with this being an iPod as opposed to an iPhone,  I am limited by the availability of wifi (easy enough to find these days).
But I don't think this is a bad thing. Temporary disconnect from the wired world is a raison d'ĂȘtre of motorcycle travel. Twitter seems to be the least invasive way of letting family, friends and followers know what you are up to. It's certainly less invasive than futzing around with laptops, AC adapters and memory cards. And of course you can choose to stay off-the-grid entirely.

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The danger with a smartphone is that it's easy to get sucked-in to downloading every app and be tapping away at the screen like a numpty when you should be socializing the old-fashioned way with the people around you. This requires some discipline...

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Snapseed is a post-processing app for iOS and it's the closest thing to Adobe Lightroom that I've found. My first impression is that Snapseed is more suited to processing iPod photos than Lightroom is. Snapseed seems kinder to the photos and the vintage effects help cover-up the shortcomings of the iPod's camera. Visco Cam is an alternative, with an extended camera-control interface offering separate exposure, focus and white balance control, but this might run counter to the idea of the iPod as a quick-draw"snapshot" camera. If a photo really needs to be nailed I'll pull-out the Nikon D600 and do a proper job.

Fantastic user interface with Snapseed


Will some sort of iPod permanently replace a compact camera in my kit? Can the lower image quality be put-up with? I'm not sure yet but I will give it a shot.

What do you think of all this?  Let me know in the comments!

6 Response to "Smartphones for motorcycle travel photography"

  1. Anonymous Says:

    When I got my first smartphone I liked to have a camera with me all the time.
    Right now I have my smartphone since exactly 2 years and took over 2500 photos with it. In the meantime my real camera broke and I didn't thought about replacing it because I still had my smartphone camera.
    But time went on I started to hate the crappy quality of the smartphone camera and finally got a Sony RX100 as both point and shoot camera and primary camera.
    In the end I can say that a smartphone camera is a nice to have for those shots when there isn't even time to get the point and shoot camera out but if there is just a little bit of time and the photos don't need to be artsy take the point and shoot camera in automatic mode and be happy about the nice quality. For everything else the is either manual mode or the bigger dslr.

  2. Barron Says:

    Great post! One option available if you would prefer to use your dslr or other digital camera is to put an Eye-Fi SD card into your camera. I am using this for my dslr for on-the-go instagramming. Basically after I take a photo using the dslr, the Eye-Fi card automatically copies the photo to my smartphone. Then, on the smartphone I use Snapseed to process it, then share it to Instagram. I am using the Eye-Fi Mobi, btw.

  3. Walk_n_wind Says:

    A camera, WiFi access - total content creation from a device that fits in any pocket. And no monthly fee? Well done.

  4. Anthony - Motojournalism Says:

    @Barron Woah - hey... Never thought those Ey-Fi cards would be much use, but wow! Now can Snapseed handle RAW images or would I need to choose JPG (+ RAW of course)
    to transfer to the smartphone?

  5. Anthony - Motojournalism Says:

    @ Walk_n_wind Yep, I'm... Frugal like that :)
    (no worries about SIM cards or roaming when travelling internationally either)

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