20 March, 2007

Cameras, Food, and Bikes

One of the neat things about browsing Japanese touring sites is studying the great photos of food. In Japan food is a very visual art and it can be as much a part of the scenery as the mountains, wildflowers, and babbling brooks. I recently resolved to start taking similar photos on my rides and even bough a tiny camera for the purpose.

As a life long amateur, and occasionally professional, photographer I have always had an interest in cameras. I grew up two doors down from a retired photographer who was a great friend and teacher. By junior high school I was tooling around on a French bike with a Leica 3C in my handlebar bag. I soon graduated to a Pentax, then various Nikons, and a part time job in a photo studio. Over the years I've even bumbled into shooting a few magazine spreads, some advertising, and one magazine cover, mostly for editors I knew since I never pursued this sort of work.

I know a lot of other cyclists are also amateur photographers so it seems logical to start a discussion of cameras for cyclists.

As I see it, a cyclist's camera must be small, have a long battery life, have a built-in flash, have at least some minimal manual over-rides, and be rugged. Digital cameras make the most sense, though I do love film and old Leicas.

Most of us display our shots on computer screen or enlarge them to no more than 11 x 14, so an SLR is not really necessary. The small sensor of a digicam may be a compromise, but it is a wise compromise. Likewise, 6 megs. are sufficient and extreme zoom lenses are usually unnecessary. What is important is to have a sharp lens and good software to control noise.

There are many sites that offer camera reviews, but my favorite is Steve's Digicams. His reviews are evenhanded and thorough and the "Best Camera" section cuts to the chase. So which camera did I buy? It's a Sony T50 (since replaced by the T100). It has super battery life and a strong flash (for a pocket camera), and I can operate it with gloves on. The image quality is as good as any pocket size digicam I've seen.

Any thoughts? Please leave your comments about photography, cameras, food, etc.

By the way, that first shot is not from a Japanese site. It was sent by Ryan Watson from a "Bike-Picnic last Sunday with homemade sushi in Japanese Bento Boxes my Love gave me for my birthday"!

The second image is from the very cool Pass-Hunter.com site.


neil m berg said...

A great time for the camera talk. For years I have carried a Rollei 35. It is small, tough and originally reasonably priced. BUT...I think I need to go digital. My wife looks at the old camera and just rolls her eyes. I think I know how the old woodchucks that insist on using typewriters must feel. This is going to be hard. Incidently, the Japanses food likes like the compact flyfishing stuff I carry.

neil m berg said...

"looks like the compact flyfishing stuss"

Chris Kulczycki said...

The Rollei 35 was great, but my favorite compact film camera was the Ricoh GR1. I've spoken with National Geographic photographers who used that tiny camera as a backup and when they didn't want to be noticed. The lens was amazing, and from a fairly obscure company to boot.

Greg said...

Canon S230 Digital Elph. Small, rugged, good enough lens for me. Now I gotta get out on rides and take the crazy food, crazy ride pics. Mmmmm bento.

Ben said...

Ive used a Canon digital Elph, which was nice and small, but gave it to my sister when I moved to a digital Leica. Its a lovely camera and I've toured with it but it freaks me out to have it attached to my handlebar. I recently bought a plastic holga and am loving it. Its more bulky than a small digital but weighs almost nothing, takes great and interesting photos, and I don't care if I crash and smash it because it cost $20.
Love the photos of the food. A favorite photo of mine is of a half eaten apricot taken while hiking in France a couple of years ago.

Anonymous said...

I use a Leica IIIc :-).
Always works, from -40 to 120F.
Needs no stinking battery or a meter. Always have it with me riding.

Built in '53, I am sure it hasn't missed a beat. CLA five years ago.

The shutter is totally quite, it is unobstrusive, an immune to rain, snow, whatever.

You still got yours?

Chris Kulczycki said...

I sold the Leica IIIc, but I still have a beat-up M3 ;<) They are great cameras.

ANDY said...

I use and love my Panasonic Lumix FX7 (now a 9, I think). It's got a Leica lens and is super simple and easy to use.

Like any point-and-shoot camera, images look like crap when used inside with a flash. But with natural light or outside in some sun, everything is beautiful.

nv said...

Funny, I now earn my keep cooking after having worked in photography in NYC for 8 years...
I guess food, bikes and cameras somehow go hand-in-hand.
At this point in time, digital imagery still cannot really touch film in aesthetic terms but, that said, I use digi cameras exclusively. Main reasons - expense, immediate editing and NO photo chemicals! I certainly don't miss the darkroom!
I've never had great luck with point-n-shoot digicams. I don't baby my equipment and I've broken every digi PNS I've owned within a year of purchase. It's always the lens/lens motors that break - so going with an enclosed lens camera such as Chris' T50 seems to be a wise idea.
I've decided to stop buying PNS cameras because I feel I'm basically compromising both camera and image quality solely to have a small camera. I've decided to purchase a Nikon D40 next - it's small for a DSLR and it will easily fit in a shoulder bag or handlebar bag. If I'm going to take the time to take and store pictures, why not take the best image possible(within reason)?
When the weather clears here in Mass, I'll send in some pictures of ride meals.
Nice post, Chris.

Alan said...

Last weekend we bought a new point and shoot digital camera; a Canon something or other (suggested retail $399, but can't remember the model name). Compared to our current, but now ancient digital camera it is a major step up; smaller, lighter, more features across the board. I'll save the old digital for bike rides and canoe trips - no loss if it gets trashed or dropped in a lake.

I still can't seem to part with my Pentax Spotmatic F, but I rarely get around to using that camera any more. Neil, I'd love to look at your Rollei someday. I always thought that would be a great travel camera. I'd also like a Yashica T4. I've not used one but have read wonderful things about the camera. Digital cameras, despite their limitations, have become just too easy to use and too convenient to stick with film, especially for traveling.

nv said...

I have a Yashica T4. I used it pretty much exclusively from about 97' to 99' for stealthy street photos around NYC. Honestly, it's not really all it was hyped to be. Yes it's a very decent camera but the light meter needed a neutral density filter taped over it to get an accurate reading, the camera body design was dated (in a bad way) even for the time - and it was too large for what it was. I think the hype was basically due to it being one of the first inexpensive P&S cameras to have quality glass: a Zeiss lens. Don't get me wrong, it's a good little camera, it just isn't going to work miracles ;)

Alan said...

I've gotten so far removed from shooting film that I DO need a camera that can work miracles. It is rather sad how quickly one's skills go to pot.

Anonymous said...

I used the Rollei 35, the Singapore-built model with the three-element Zeiss lens. GREAT little camera if you don't mind a "what's ergonomics?" design. Once while in college I was carrying it for walkabout duty on campus open house day, and someone drove a golf cart through a plate glass wall at the Provost's office. I used the Rollei 35, T-Max 400 film, and you could see the spiderweb of cracks in the remaining portion of the glass wall IN THE HALFTONE IMAGE IN THE PAPER WHEN IT WAS PRINTED! By the way, the driver wasn't injured.

Currently for film I'm using a Pentax IQZoom 35-70mm point and shoot on the bike. The "digital" camera is a handmedown Sony so old its storage medium is floppy disks.

They may not be reading this, but I'm SURE there's someone out there still using an Olympus XA-1 as their bike camera. And there are probably polaroid shooters out there doing the instant scrapbook thing.

Brian said...

My late wife was a photographer and I have a bunch of her old 35mm cameras (several Nikon's & a Canon rangefinder). These were used a lot. The old Nikon F's were sturdy workhorses built like tanks. Anyone interested?

Okulus said...

The Sonnar lens on the Rollei 35 SE is one of the finest fixed lenses on any compact camera. I think it beat the Ricoh GR1, which says a lot. (I liked the GR1 quite a bit, too).

For a digital equivalent, I nominate the Fujufilm Finepix F30. 6 MP, very good Fujinon lens and long battery life, and a screaming bargain right now.

Brian, those cameras will find an appreciative reception over at photo.net.

James said...

I wonder if there is a japanese bento box designed for bicycles? A 3 piece box made out of Stainless Steel from Nitto? Designed the mount on a front rack?

Alan Bentrider said...

We like bento boxes as well:


The Canon digital ELPHs are nice - I have an older SD400. The newer models have higher pixel counts but the image quality is about the same. It takes surprisingly good video; with a 2gb card I get around 20 minutes at 30fps. Videos here:


The Recumbent Blog

Sprocketboy said...

When I began doing bike tours I was using an East German Practica 35mm SLR, which worked quite well. I switched to a great Canon AE-1 but it was just too bulky for cycling and when I became more serious about riding a bought a little Olympus point-and-shoot for my slides. But slide shows are like something from the Early Victorian Age now and last June I received a 7.1 megapixel Canon Powershot A620 for my birthday (after I did a lot of research!). The Olympus, with which I took something like 4,000 slides, and the AE-1 will languish forever now as the Powershot is a terrific camera. Not the lighest, it is still quite compact and will fit in a jersey pocket. It produces images that look great in 8x10s and I can download the pictures onto my blog (www.tindonkeytravels.blogspot.com) immediately or e-mail them to friends. Cycling adventures deserve good photos. No more scanning means more time riding!

Alan said...

Not exactly a Bento box, but Sigg makes nice food container in two sizes. They will easily fit into a bike bag and they come in red. I bought mine on ebay.

Chris Kulczycki said...

Here is a page of bento boxes and related items: http://tinyurl.com/2lzu5o

But I really don't like any of them. The Sigg cases are okay; my son has one as a lunch box. Somewhere I've seen a real aluminum rectangular bento box. Anyone know of a source? Heck, that would be a good item for VO to sell.

Alan said...

Way back when, Early Winters sold aluminum boxes similar to what Sigg sells, but in a much smaller size. I bought one, nos, on ebay several years ago. I've not seen a true aluminum bento box as you describe, but they would be great to have. Aluminum cookware and food containers is another vice unto itself. I'd scare myself if I added up the number of cook sets I have for backpacking.

nv said...

I use stainless steel food boxes that I buy from Pearl River mart in Manhattan. They have a similar box on their website:
The clasps that hold the lid on mine are different but they are inexpensive, come in several sizes, look nice and get the job done. They are not liquid-tight; they will leak.
Pearl River has lots of neat items, it's probably worth poking around their website - tho I recommend a trip to the store.


Jim G said...

I use cheap and nearly-disposable Aiptek pencams to document my cycling adventures...


Bob Rogen said...

Hello all. Well, I am as passionate about photography and cameras as I am about bikes and riding. I use Leica M and Cosina Voigtlander rangefinder cameras and lenses primarily, but I also have and use a Nikon FM2/FM kit. But the precision and feel of the Leicas really speak to me so they are ususally the camera with me on and off the bike. I also have some Canon rangefinder gear and plan to use that more. (Note to Brian from his March 20 post: what model of Canon rangefinder camera do you have? I can assure you it would find a warm and welcome home with me if you want to discuss off this site).

My current project is to make a bomb proof foam insert for my Leica M cameras and two lenses in my Berthoud handlebar bag. And as for bento boxes, I will be on the look out for some cool ones when we go to Japan in September.