What camera for your Harley-Davidson? – Part 1

You like your Harley-Davidson? You want to show off your dreambike to the world? You want to drive to beautiful places and brag about it?

Well, you need a good photocamera! Please do not use your mobile phone, except in case of emergency.

There is a wide choice of cameras out there, today all digital,  from  cheap “point and shoot” to the more expensive prosumer digital SLR’s. But first of all you have to make up your mind on 2 fundamental questions:

First, does your Harley have more storage place then needed for a pack of cigarettes? If not, your choice will be limited by the camera size, as it will have to fit into your shirts breast pocket. On my Road King Classic, I already have problems to store in the saddlebags my big brick of a Nikon D1, a digital SLR, with its long lens.

Secondly, you have to consider what you want to do with the zillions of pictures you take. Do you want to publish them on the web, or do you plan to print them in postersize for your walls?

If you want to print in large size, you need quite some megapixel in resolution, but if you mainly plan to publish via the web and watch the pictures on a PC screen, with no intentions to print, you do not need to worry to much about the pixelcount of your camera. Less is more. Take the pictures posted on this blog, most are resized to 450×253 pixels, so they have smaller then 115.000 pixel count, that is 0.11 megapixel.

If your modern digital camera has a resolution of 10 megapixels, you do not really need them and will throw them away again, as you have to downsize and resample them with some bicubic algorithm using a photo processing software. 6-8 megabytes are fine for most needs, and you may be surprised to learn that my 10 year old Nikon D1, has less then 3 megapixel. Yes, its antique, but still enough for my web publishing needs.

I am happy to see that the pixelmania nonsense of the last 10 years stopped, as specially with compact cameras the fact of “more pixel” does not always translate in a better picture quality. The reasons for this is: size matters, and I mean the size of the CCD or CMOS, the element in your camera that converts the light of the scene into bits and bytes that will be saved on your memory card. This physical size of the CCD is one of the most important quality determining factors of your camera. Check out this table of different CCD sizes:

Now to squeeze 10 millions pixels into a tiny small CCD area reduces the size of the pixel, and this reduces its ability to capture light. Also, with these tiny elements, the more radical they are packed on a small CCD, the more they disturb their neighboring pixels, all in all resulting in a lesser picture quality, specially in low light conditions. With a iphone you may be able to take a relatively recognisable picture in sunshine, but the first clouds will quickly make your phone a very very useless “camera”.

There are good compact cameras out there, and I am again and again tempted to buy one for the road, to carry it around all the time, but then I do not want to compromise on the optical qualities of my digital SLR and its lenses, as photography can be for many a hobby in its own right.

If you go for a compact camera, buy one with a good optical lens. Go for a brand name, as you do not just pay the name, price is a indicator of quality. The Carl Zeiss optics in some cameras, like the Sony Cyber-shot, make a big difference and are worth every cent. Remember: the smaller your CCD, the higher your pixelcount, the more the glass optics have to carry the burden for a high picture quality.

Because the second most important element for a good quality picture is the lens, and they are governed by a simple rule: the heavier it is, the more expensive it is, the better it is. A big lens lets pass a lot of light to be captured, but the glasses in a good large lens are expensive to manufacture.

Remember the embarrassing disaster with the Hubble space telescope? This satellite is basically not much more then a big lens in front of a huge CCD, but as the lens was badly build, the pictures were blurred and distorted, and Hubble needed correcting optics.

Now, what camera would I presently recomend? Lets look at the 2 main categories, DSLR and compact. In the DSLR section, lets forget the GBP 3000+ professional cameras, as keen amateur, or prosumer, you have 2 grade levels, which I want to illustrate with 2 models, the Nikon D300s (better) and the Canon EOS 550D (good). Nikon or Canon as a brand? this is only important if you already have lenses from one maker, otherwise join the heated debate if you want. Both brands have camera models in each quality and price segment.

If you can afford it, have the space and the money, go for the bigger one. Remember: the pixel density is of importance, not the pixel count. But don’t forget you also have to buy your first lens if it is your first DSLR.

In the compact section it is much more crowded, and I selected 3 representatives. The Panasonic is basically a SLR without mirror, it has interchangeable lenses, but not many lenses to choose from. I you go compact, I would go really compact and select the Canon S90 (good), or Sony TX5 (not bad), because if you go for the Panasonic, you can as well upgrade from the start to a DSLR.

For in-depth analysis and reports I recommend you to browse the website dpreview.com .

In the next installment of this report I will discuss the importance of the focal length of a lens and the difference between a fast and a slow lens, with their impact on your creativity of picture composition.

Until then enjoy your ride, and your camera of choice, be it a DSLR or compact. Make nice pictures of your Harley-Davidson and the places you visited, and do not miss to share them.

to be continued…

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3 Responses to “What camera for your Harley-Davidson? – Part 1”

  1. […] for your Harley-Davidson – Part 2 Welcome to Part 2 of my photographic ramblings. In Part 1 I outlined the different camera types you may want to use to take gorgeous pictures of your Harley […]

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