Top Five Mountain Bike Digital Cameras

Buyer's Guides

 
Most mountain bikers I know ride with a digital camera. If they don’t, they should. We get to play in such beautiful places and have such a good time riding that every ride needs to be documented. But how do you choose an mtb-worthy digital camera? A camera that would be fine for the average person might not last a day in Moab. Since I’ve ridden in a lot of places and used a few digital cameras I thought I’d take it upon myself to compile a list of what I think are the Top Five Digital Cameras For Mountain Bikers (and other outdoor enthusiasts).

Best Mountain Bike Digital Cameras

I’m going to keep this article short and sweet. But I do want to give a little overview. Basically, there are four kinds of digital cameras that mountain bikers and other outdoor types care about: point-and-shoots, hybrids, high-end compacts and digital SLRs. Of course, there are other subcategories and variations but for the purposes of this article, we’ll leave it at those four.

Point-and-shoot digital cameras usually fit in your pocket and offer minimal control. They’re inexpensive, convenient and there is no size or weight penalty for carrying one when you ride. Many of them also have HD video modes now so you can shoot stills and video with the same little pocket-sized camera.

Hybrid digital cameras are designed to be equally good at video and still photography. Some will fit in your pocket and look like mini camcorders. In the past couple of years, small POV (point-of-view) hybrid cameras (aka helmet cameras) designed specifically for action sports enthusiasts have been hitting the market. The image quality of hybrid cameras is compromised for both video and stills. But if helmet cam action is number one, these cameras are the way to go.

High-end compact digital cameras often offer as much control as a digital SLR In a smaller, lighter package. However, they don’t have changeable lenses and they use the same small sensors as point-and-shoot digital cameras, which means they can never match the image quality of a DSLR.

Digital SLRs are the mack daddy of digital cameras. A digital SLR offers ultimate control, changeable lenses, quick response and the best possible image quality. Some digital SLRs can even shoot HD video now. However, they’re large, heavy and expensive compared to point-and-shoots and other compact digital cameras. For good reason, most mountain bikers don’t want to carry the extra weight or risk breaking a $1000 DSLR in a fall.

Photo-John’s Digital Camera Recommendations For Mountain Bikers
Based on my own experience as Managing Editor of PhotographyREVIEW.com, on the bike and talking to lots of mountain bikers, here is a list of five current digital cameras that I think will be great for mountain bikers and other outdoor sports junkies. There are so many good cameras now that it was tough to narrow it down to just five cameras. I didn’t include any hybrids or high-end compacts in the list because I don’t have any experience with hybrid digital cameras and when it comes to taking a camera on the trail it has to fit in my pocket or I’m packing the DSLR. So note my acknowledged bias upfront. If you have your own favorite digital camera or disagree with any of my choices, please speak up and add your thoughts in the Comments section at the bottom of the page.
So with no further ado, here are my top five digital cameras for mountain bikers:

Mountain Bike Digital Camera Number Five >>
Mountain Bike Digital Camera Number Four >>
Mountain Bike Digital Camera Number Three >>
Mountain Bike Digital Camera Number Two >>
Mountain Bike Digital Camera Number One >>

Photo-John is Managing Editor for Mtbr’s photography and digital camera sister site, PhotographyREVIEW.com.


Mountain Bike Digital Camera Number Five:
Panasonic Lumix ZS3 / TZ7 Digital Camera

Panasonic Lumix ZS3 / TZ7

Price: $350

I got to use Panasonic Lumix ZS3 for a day at the official Lumix introduction this past January. What makes the Panasonic Lumix ZS3 / TZ7 special is that it packs a 12x zoom lens into a pocket-sized (a big pocket) package. It also has very nice 720p HD video as well as an impressive iA Intelligent Auto mode. The iA mode is available for the movie mode as well as stills and the camera has a sports mode to help you stop action on the trail or at the jump park. The bottom line? The Panasonic Lumix ZS3 / TZ7 is a great mountain bike camera because it’s so versatile and small enough to fit in a jersey pocket or small camera case on the shoulder strap of your hydration pack.

Read Panasonic Lumix ZS3 / TZ7 Reviews Write An Panasonic Lumix ZS3 / TZ7 Review
Key Specs:

  • Resolution: 10 megapixels
  • Lens: 12x 25-300mm f/3.3-4.9 with O.I.S. image stabilization
  • Video: 720p at 30 frames per second
  • Image Stabilization: optical
  • LCD Display: 3 inches
  • Waterproof: no
  • Shockproof: no
  • Size: 1.29 x 4.07 x 2.35 inches (3.27 x 10.34 x 5.97cm)
  • Weight: 0.45 lb. (204g)
More Panasonic Lumix ZS3 / TZ7 Related Content:
Panasonic Lumix ZS3 / TZ7 Introduction
All Panasonic Digital Camera User Reviews
All Digital Camera User Reviews
Digital Cameras Forum
More Panasonic Digital Camera News & Articles
Panasonic Digital Cameras Web Site

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Photo-John is Managing Editor for Mtbr’s photography and digital camera sister site, PhotographyREVIEW.com.

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About the author: John Shafer

John Shafer, a.k.a. Photo-John, is a photographer, cyclist, skier and general outdoor lover. He’s happiest when he’s on his bike or skis, taking pictures in the backcountry. He’s been on the Mtbr team since 1999 running PhotographyREVIEW.com as well as contributing photos and articles on Mtbr. John has been taking pictures since college and believes everyone can be a good photographer if they just learn a few simple rules. He loves big mountains, rocky singletrack, powder days, 6-inch trail bikes, coffee and tacos. Look for him pushing his bike uphill, carrying an inappropriate amount of camera gear in an overloaded backpack.


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  • Chris says:

    I’m not too crazy about riding with a $1,700 body and a $1,000 lens on any trail worth its salt … even with a nice hardbody case, that camera is toast if you really fall.

  • Photo-John says:

    Chris-
    That’s a pretty common response. But digital SLRs are a lot more rugged than most people realize. A lot of us have been riding with them for years and riding all kinds of terrain. I almost always ride with one – Moab, Whistler, Downieville, Garda – wherever. I often ride with a DSLR, two lenses, a flash and all my riding gear. I’ve crashed hard while carrying a digital SLR plenty of times and I’ve never damaged a camera. The bottom line is, the guy who rides with the camera gets the photos. It’s a matter of priorities.

    If you really don’t want to risk it, get a point-and-shoot or a less expensive digital SLR. For this article I chose what I thought were the five best digital cameras for riding – not an easy task. If you want to look at some less expensive options, check out the Budget Holiday Digital Camera Guide on PhotographyREVIEW.com.

  • eyan says:

    Not your average mtber camera. Too complicated for quick stop and shoot. Higher def than any screen (you could print crystal clear posters with 18mp.) Only a real pro could take advantage of this camera’s strengths. Only a real pro could afford it.

  • Photo-John says:

    Thanks for your comment, eyan. The article is for the “Top Five” cameras, not the “Average Five” cameras. I believe the Canon EOS 7D offers the best performance in the smallest DSLR package right now. Yes, it costs a bunch. But I think you underestimate the audience reading this. And for the people who can’t spend that much or wouldn’t use a DSLR on the trail, I’ve listed three sweet point-and-shoot digital cameras that don’t cost much and will deliver the “average” mtbr member plenty of great digital camera performance.

  • Luke says:

    I agree with ‘john’. The 7d is perfect for biking. I ride with it all the time. I just makes sure it is properly secured and has plenty of padding. I worry more about the lens then the camera itself but honestly people have dropped camera off elephants with $4000 lenses on and they have survived just fine. Also the 7d is extremely well made. If you get a L series or 17-55 2.8 (my lens) you get a lens that matches up with the camera’s durability (still paranoid). For action shots the 8fps is awesome and the auto focus makes shooting a moving subject much easier. Not to mention the video ability while amazing you have to use a tripod to get good shots. Oh and the ability to do slow motion is awesome.

  • Mark says:

    I’m just getting into MTbing and wondering what lens’s you find most useful?

  • Brian Mullin says:

    My fave of late is the brand new Canon S90. It is one sweet camera, that is lightweight and small. It takes RAW pictures, has excellent control system for manual/semi-manual shooting, an awesome wide-angle f2 lens, and takes very good low-light photos.

    Nice work John.

  • Photo-John says:

    Brian – I like the S90 a lot, too. I’ve had one on loan from Canon for a few weeks and it’s sweet. The image quality is awesome, too!

    Mark – That’s a pretty open-ended lens question. I would need to know more. What’s your budget, what camera do you have, are you talking about gear you’ll ride with, etc…? I think your best bet is to visit PhotographyREVIEW.com and post a question on our Digital SLRs forum. We can get into the subject a little more deeply, there. Plus, you’ll get more opinions. Here’s a link to our digital SLR forum: http://forums.photographyreview.com/forumdisplay.php?f=5

    In general, I really like the 18-200mm image stabilized zoom lenses on APS-C sensor digital SLRs. I’ve used the Nikon 18-200mm VR and I own the Canon 18-200mm IS lens and they’re both great all-purpose lenses that work well for casual mountain bike shooting.

  • Photo-John says:

    I added a couple of new articles to PhotographyREVIEW.com that the readers of this article might be interested in. They cover cameras, DSLR lenses and safe Internet shopping. If this article didn’t quite tell you what you needed to know, check these stories out:

    Five Great Zoom Lenses Under $1000 >>
    Five Budget Digital Cameras >>
    Online Digital Camera Shopping Tips >>

    And if you have questions, post them here or on the PhotographyREVIEW.com forums. I am checking back in case people have questions or want to abuse me for my camera choices here :-D

  • leroy says:

    photo-john,
    excellent points you make, and excellent list. I myself would remove / change one or two point and shoots, add the S90 to the list and the Nikon D90. It bridges nicely between the 7D and the GF1.
    Maybe see you in Garda next year, and I’ll take a picture of you taking pictures with my M9! (you aren’t moving so… perfect camera!)
    hohoho happy holidays.

  • Chris says:

    FYI: You’ve got the wrong waterproof and shockproof information for the Panasonic Lumix GH1.

    My roommate bought the Olympus 1030SW after I showed it to him, we ride with it all the time and love it. I can only imagine that the Stylus Tough 8000 is even better. When I get the extra change, that will be my purchase. I need something I can fall on. My DSLR rarely goes with me on a ride, at least not a challenging ride.

    Thanks for the article!

  • Photo-John says:

    Thanks for the comment, Leroy. Did we meet when I was in Garda, a few years ago? I haven’t been back since. But I sure would love to make a trip there again. It is beautiful and the riding is sick!

    You have an M9 already? I haven’t even seen one yet. Do me a favor and write a review for it. Your review will be the first on the site and I would be psyched to have your review. Here’s the Leica M9 review page: http://www.photographyreview.com/cat/cameras/digital-cameras/digital-slrs/leica/PRD_446288_3127crx.aspx

    The Canon S90 was a tough call. I really think it’s an excellent camera. But if it’s wet I wouldn’t take it out. And I really like the extra zoom on the Panasonic and the high-speed features of the Casio. The Nikon D90 is an awesome digital SLR, too. I have been recommending the D90 and the D5000 to lots of first-time DSLR buyers over the past year. But as an all-purpose, compact action camera, I think the Canon EOS 7D is the best thing going right now. Making a list of only five cameras is a tough thing. But anyone who wants can add their own favorites to the comments here and then people can check the reviews for them on the site. Here’s a link to all of the digital camera user review categories: http://www.photographyreview.com/cat/cameras/digital-cameras/CAT_3065crx.aspx

  • Photo-John says:

    Chris-
    Thanks for pointing out my mistake on the Panasonic GH1 specs. Copy and paste failure – it’s fixed now.

    I do like the Olympus waterproof cameras. The 1030 SW served me well all last winter. I kept it in a case on my shoulder strap when I was skiing and I never had to worry how much snow got on it. And it was a good powder year! The image quality doesn’t compare to some other point-and-shoots or my digital SLRs. But it’s right there when I need it and I don’t have to worry about it one bit. I also took it to a water park – can’t do that with the Canon S90! :-D

    If you want to look at alternatives to the Olympus Stylus 1030 SW and the new Olympus Stylus Tough 8000, check out my article on Outdoor And Waterproof Digital Cameras: http://reviews.photographyreview.com/blog/outdoor-waterproof-digital-cameras/

  • leroy says:

    Photo-john,
    again excellent points… I forgot about the plastic casing of the S90, its the reason I didn’t buy it as an always with me pocket camera. As for the M9, unfortunately I am only dreaming, sorry for me misleading anyone. It is the top of my “wishlist” for gear though, but it would be a major investment as I don’t have any Leica gear at all. If you have the time, there is quite a solid review of the M9 here: http://www.imx.nl/photo/index.html.

    as you said, the most important camera is the one you have with you to take THAT shot.

  • Brian says:

    Ok, I have this camera and I love it. BUT, there is no way I would ever consider this the best MTB camera. There is no way I am going to have this thing banging around in my Camelbak. The only camera it is smaller than is one of the pro bodies. If you want similar feature in a smaller size try the Rebel Ti1 or better yet the Powershot G11. Also the the new Canon S90 is also supposed to be excellent camera in a small package.

  • Photo-John says:

    Brian-
    I assume you’re talking about the 7D? I’m not sure that I would say it’s the best camera, either. As far as having it “banging around” in your Camelbak – you need a better pack. I’ve been riding with DSLRs for years and right now I ride with the Clik Elite Medium Nature camera pack. It’s the best pack I’ve ever used for mountain biking. Before I had the Clik Elite I would put my camera in a Tamrac fanny pack inside my hydration pack. In fact, I caught an edge and had a full over-the-bars yardsale crash on my skis last week with my 7D in the Tamrac in my ski Camelbak, and the camera was fine. My neck was sore for days, though.

    Bottom line – yes there are smaller, lighter, less expensive cameras. But there isn’t another DSLRs that offers the same combination of mtb-useful features and power that the 7D does. I do like the new Canon S90 a lot. But I’m not so down with the G11. I did a pro review of the G9 when it came out and I think it’s just too big to be practical. It just ends up in the backpack and if I’m carrying a camera in my backpack, I might as well have the full power and quality of a digital SLR.

    Thanks for the comments. I am enjoying reading everyone’s opinions. But I put a lot of thought into everyone of these choices and have good reasons for them. That said, the 7D definitely isn’t for everyone. And for anyone who does think it’s too much, the Canon T1i is a fine choice, although I think I’d probably go Nikon then and get the D5000. Out of all the current entry-level DSLRs, I like the Nikon D5000 the best. Here’s my Nikon D5000 pro review: http://reviews.photographyreview.com/blog/nikon-d5000-review/

  • Mike Cazz says:

    Any of these cameras will take nice photos and clearly the Canon D7 will do so. What this article really fails to cover clearly is the video quality. yes pictures are a wonderful thing, but having video of your local riding buddies is the best. It also completely does not cover video and vibration. Since this article is about mountain biking and most of the cameras have video, how could they not test the camera mounted to the bike? Capturing your rides is awesome and I would bet most of the cameras if not all will suffer horribly from rolling shutter issues.

    I am not telling everyone to mount a $2000 camera to the bike, but certainly this option should be tested in the lower priced models.

  • Jacob Cioffoletti says:

    I have the Stylus Tough 6000 and it is the same exact thing as the 8000 except it is only shockproof 5 FT, Waterproof 10 FT and 10 Megapixles… I love it, I take it on every ride, Climb and hike. I highly recommend it!!! If you want to see some pictures I have taken with it go on my facebook, My name is Jacob Cioffoletti

  • Julio says:

    Can you rate this now with the new canon powershot d10 and panasonic ts1 and other “rugged” cameras now on the market? Can you take into account which would be best for filming a ride and enduring the extreme vibrations a rocky downhill would give a camera?

    Thanks!

  • Julio says:

    Also, the canon D10 and panasonic were found to have far better picture quality in this very thorough review I read: http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/Q209waterproofgroup/
    They did several real world tests and the olympus was foudn to be lacking vs. the canon and panasonic.

    What I, and all MTBers want to see, is a video clip from each camera of a fast, technical downhill to compare quality and to see if the camera survives!

  • Francois says:

    I’ll put in a vote for the Canon G9-11 because of the light and motion control. And it’s not an inappropriate SLR.

  • Photo-John says:

    Inappoproriate? Why do you say that, Francis? Just because you don’t want to pack a DSLR doesn’t mean it isn’t right for someone else. I’ve listed a complete range of cameras here to address the needs of all types of riders and photographers. You get to choose which one is right for you. And I know a bunch of pro outdoor photographers who never ride without a digital SLR. For some, the EOS 7D would be a lot smaller and lighter than what they’re used to carrying.

  • Francois says:

    >>DSLR Inappoproriate? Why do you say that, Francis?

    I say they are inappropriate because they affect the ride negatively. The climbing, descending, handling, jumping, technical riding and safety all suffer. For me, the ideal bike, shorts, camera disappear and the riding passion is maximinzed.

    Of course some folks will take the DSLR out on rides since they want the best photos possible. Even I do. But it is a compromise. If there was a titanium/carbon DSLR that would be awright.

    fc

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