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Silver Canyon Road to the crest of the Bristlecone Forest had only just opened in the spring, at least nearly as far as the Patriarch Grove. Up there at 11,000 feet in the White Mountains, some lingering snow pack still blocked further progress even at the end of May. We left the floor of the Owens Valley near Bishop and began the initial 6,500-foot climb, but not on foot. Not in a 4×4. Rather, our exploration vehicle of choice was the dual-sport motorcycle, the two-wheel SUV.
Since Outdoor Photographer’s inception, we’ve always felt an obvious affinity with environmentalism and the responsible use of the outdoors. As the means of reaching outstanding photo locations, we’ve covered everything from backpacking, canoeing and bicycling to outfitting the ultimate photo vehicle. The rides of our contributors range from Subarus to all-wheel-drive vans and pickups. This is our first focus on two-wheeled transport. It’s surprising how many of our readers and photo-industry friends ride on- and off-road. Today, with the pressures of a warming world and towering crude prices, one feels the need to turn to resource-efficient ways for continuing the adventure, like something that can go 100 miles on two gallons of gas—off-road.
Sigma 18-250mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM
Nearly all adventure motorcyclists are prone to document their trips, whether with been-there snapshots or well-crafted photographs, and all are shared profusely online. Motorcyclists have been among the early adopters for using camera and video mounts, displaying routes with Google Earth imagery.
In the case of our Bristlecone adventure, dirt bikes were the perfect choice. It’s easy to carry sufficient photo equipment in a backpack. Individual riders can do their own thing, stopping and shooting wherever their perception of an opportunity comes along. And the motorcycle is low-impact if one respects the regulations of low-noise exhaust, spark arresters and keeping to established roads and trails.
Tamron AF18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC LD
The two-wheeled adventure does require special attention to bulk and weight. So in this guide, we explore some of the gear options to help keep the load to a minimum, while not sacrificing the quality of photography. Naturally, most of the suggestions can be applied to other forms of low-bulk exploration. These items should be considered for anytime you choose to go the extra mile, or more, past the pavement or trail head.
A note about the products in this article. We’re not trying to put together the definitive guide to all of the products that could be useful for this kind of motorcycle adventure photography. Instead, we want to give you a flavor of what’s available and how you might make use of various product examples. You can learn more about the products we’ve listed in this article, as well as a host of other possibilities, by checking out our website, www.outdoorphotographer.com. Also, take a look at the November issue of our sister magazine, Digital Photo, and that publication’s website, www.dpmag.com. DP’s November issue is its annual Buyer’s Guide, and it has comprehensive discussions of just about every camera currently available, as well as accessories and other useful equipment for all sorts of photography.
Canon PowerShot G11
We’re not going to go into great detail about cameras, since it can be assumed that you’ve already invested in a system. However, if you’re looking for an upgrade that might have special applications as a riding companion, here are some thoughts.
The Pentax K-7 is one of the smallest D-SLRs, yet offers a 14.6-megapixel CMOS sensor and sensor-shift Shake Reduction that works with all lenses. The compact Pentax body is rugged and dust-, weather- and cold-resistant, all ideal for motorcycle transport. Sensor-dust reduction removes dust from the sensor so it doesn’t appear in your photos. On top of all that, the K-7 can shoot HD video at 1280x720p, plus 1536x1024p and 640x416p SD video, all at 30 fps. Estimated Street Price: $1,259.
Tamrac Aero Speed Pack 75
If you choose to travel extremely light while giving up as little as possible when stepping down from a D-SLR, the Canon PowerShot G11 is the latest in the series of compact digital cameras that have been popular with pros for their image quality, ruggedness, versatility and discreetly compact size. The G11 has a new High Sensitivity System that utilizes the new 10-megapixel CMOS sensor and DIGIC 4 processor to produce excellent image quality up to ISO 3200. Low Light Mode expands this to ISO 12,800 if you really need it. Quality at higher ISO settings allows the run-and-gun motorcyclist a greater margin for error by allowing the use of higher shutter speeds (stop action) and smaller apertures (depth of field), even in good light. A tilt/swivel LCD monitor makes odd-angle shooting easy. Estimated Street Price: $499.
Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 is a unique Micro Four Thirds camera that features interchangeable lenses. It’s not a true D-SLR, in that the camera uses an electronic viewfinder in favor of the mirror and pentaprism setup, which helps make the camera exceptionally small. The camera itself isn’t much smaller than the most compact D-SLRs, but the lenses for the GH-1 are considerably smaller than their D-SLR counterparts. The HD video is 1080p, and the sensor is 12megapixels. Estimated Street Price: $2,299.
Tokina AT-X PRO 50-135mm ƒ/2.8
Another unique and compact camera is the Sony HX1, which can automatically stitch together a single panorama when you pan across a scene. It has a 20x integrated zoom and can shoot 10 fps at full 9-megapixel resolution, and it has 1080p HD video- capture capability. Outdoor photographers also will like the low-light shooting capability, which Sony calls Twilight Handheld Mode. The camera shoots six images in rapid succession to build a low-noise image without having to use a long shutter speed. Estimated Street Price: $399.
Gitzo Series 2 Traveler Tripod
The most complete lens kit usually involves two or three zooms of varying focal lengths, but if you want to do it all with a single lens, here are some recommendations. Certainly, all the camera companies make their versions of broad-range zooms, but often the after-market manufacturers try to go the OEM products one better in zoom range, while generally at a lower price.
Slik PRO 814 CF
The Sigma 18-250mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 zoom provides a 13.9x zoom range (27-375mm 35mm camera equivalent). The OS part of the name stands for Optical Stabilizer: The lens compensates for camera shake, providing sharp, tripod-free images throughout its wide zoom range. Estimated Street Price: $525.
The Tamron AF18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC LD Aspherical (IF) Macro is another choice. The 15x zoom range of this remarkably compact lens is the widest available in a current lens for a D-SLR. Designed specifically for APS-C-sensor D-SLRs, it provides 35mm camera-equivalent focal lengths of approximately 28-419mm. Built-in optical Vibration Compensation makes the lens hand-holdable. Estimated Street Price: $580.
The Tokina AT-X PRO 50-135mm ƒ/2.8 zoom offers a fast, constant ƒ/2.8 aperture at all focal lengths for photographing in lower light at the beginning and end of the day, ideal for photographing those beautiful moments at first and last light. The 35mm camera-equivalent focal length is 80-210mm. Estimated Street Price: $530.
Carry It Safely
Many city riders prefer sling-style shoulder messenger bags. The Velocity series from Tamrac, Slingshot series from Lowepro and Shootout series from Tenba take that concept a step further with sling packs that are carried as a backpack. The packs swing to the front to access photo gear for stop-and-go shooting.
Stroboframe 300 QRC Camera Auto Quick Release
Another popular design is the combination backpack and camera bag. Examples of this are the Tamrac Aero Speed Pack 75 Dual Access Photo Backpack, Lowepro Orion and Tenba Mixx Photo Daypack. These are traditional photo bags on the bottom with a backpack compartment on top. So if you’re inclined to shoulder most of your load, this bag holds both photo and personal gear.
Really Right Stuff B350D
If your bike is equipped with hard cases or panniers, you may want to buy a slim-profile camera bag that carries a D-SLR with a lens attached, along with an additional lens or flash, and organizes all the little accessory pieces. The Tamrac Explorer series has a number of good examples. The Explorer 200 is built to be slim so it fits well in a pannier and can comfortably hold your D-SLR and a lens or two, along with some other accessories. Tamrac’s Dual Foam Technology with closed-cell foam for maximum shock protection combined with open-cell foam for vibration dampening makes this bag well suited to the task. The new Explorer 200 has a removable M.A.S. Rain Cover to protect your gear in inclement weather.
OP/TECH, LensCoat and Zing are three manufacturers that make a variety of camera and lens pouches from the do-it-all fabric
neoprene. These protection products let you turn any motorcycle bag into a camera bag. You can see the range of their offerings by going to their individual sites or see all the products together at www.adorama.com or www.bhphotovideo.com.
These pouches or body bags (there are many names for them) are, in many cases, our preferred choice. As just one example, they combine well with Wolfman Luggage and, more particularly, the Enduro bags for smaller bikes.
Tank bags or handlebar/number-plate bags afford some of the best placement for both convenience and protection—in the latter case, the handlebars and the tank or frame structure tend to protect the bags in the event of a tip-over or washout. Another pannier manufacturer, Moto-Sport Panniers, makes a line of Dirt Bagz, which are soft bags for the bike, and Baja and Bavaria Panniers, which are hard-sided motorcycle luggage lines. The hard-sided cases add significantly more protection, obviously.
For carrying a camera at the ready, here are a few ideas. OP/TECH makes a Stabilizer Strap that works in conjunction with your camera’s shoulder strap to keep the camera from swinging by holding it against your chest while you ride. There are a variety of chest pouches from Lowepro, Tamrac and others, but a newcomer with some interesting design features is Clik Elite, which has a Medium SLR Chestpack.
There are too many good tripods that can be useful on a motorcycling adventure for us to mention in these few pages, so we’re including just a few possible examples. With weight and size being a factor, the Gitzo Traveler GT-1550T carbon-fiber tripod with Gitzo G1077M ballhead will keep your camera steady and take up a relatively small amount of space when not in use. Folding down to 14 inches, it can fit in a 17-inch pannier, yet expand its five sections to reach a maximum height of 57.5 inches with the center column extended. Estimated Street Price: $699 (tripod and head).
A more budget-minded possibility is the Flashpoint F-1128 carbon-fiber tripod. While larger than the Traveler, it’s also considerably less expensive. At this price point, the Flashpoint is very serviceable and you won’t mind knocking it around on rocky-road adventures. The Slik PRO 814 CF is a carbon-fiber tripod that you might consider; it supports up to 12 pounds and extends from 19.3 to 63.18 inches. Another budget-minded and minimalist choice is the Slik Sprint Mini. Smaller than the Gitzo and less expensive than the Flashpoint, it’s an example of a tripod at the bottom of the D-SLR size range, but one that’s useful for this kind of travel photography.
The Novoflex MagicBall is a unique ballhead with a low profile and an open design that makes it easy to pack in a pannier or clean off debris if you carry it outside of your luggage as you ride into the hills.
Riders can be an impatient sort, always pushing the wind, so a quick release between camera and tripod is useful for stop-and-go photos. There are too many quick releases to mention here, as virtually every tripod company makes its own proprietary versions. Really Right Stuff is well known to OP readers as maker of ballheads and quick-release plates, among other support gear. Its Quick-Release B350D Body Mounting Plate is robust and gets the job done.
It’s also popular to mount cameras or camcorders on bikes and helmets. There are many manufacturers that make specialized motorcycle camera and video mounts. We’ve tried some. For video, we ultimately opted for the Stroboframe quick-release bolted to the top of a helmet to—quite simply—hold a compact camcorder with full HD capability. The extra weight is noticeable, but you don’t need the muscles of a Formula 1 driver to deal with it. The Canon VIXIA HF20, for example, offers HD with a 32 GB Flash memory in 12 ounces. The Stroboframe has a snap-in feature that makes it particularly easy to mount and remove the camera with helmet on.
Mark Your Photo Spots
The Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx is a full-featured GPS unit that’s at home mounted on a motorcycle’s handlebars. The 60CSx is waterproof so it won’t short out on you should you run into a little unexpected rain or accidentally drop the bike as you’re crossing a stream. A built-in barometric altimeter lets you know your elevation, and the full-color TFT screen is bright enough to see, day or night. There are preloaded base maps of roads and highways, and you can load other maps as necessary before you head off-road. Estimated Street Price: $285.
Clik Elite: www.clikelite.com
Really Right Stuff: www.reallyrightstuff.com