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Pointing and shooting on MTB trails

Shooting photos is exciting and fun. Over past years my interest in photography has stayed but the effort that I have put to it has varied a lot during the years. Since 2004 I have been shooting digital SLRs, first Canon EOS 20d and then 5D. While technology, not least concerning high ISO capabilities, since 5D's late-summer 2005 announcement has improved, I have been (and still am) quite happy with my 5D. Given limitations of how much time I can put into more serious photo shooting and processing, I have not felt compelled to update my current SLR.

Too bulky for trail riding
While I have been quite comfortable with carrying a quite heavy SLR when traveling, my trail riding plans call for something substantially smaller and lighter. Riding light on multi-day trails also means a compact camera. Therefore, I began to search for the best possible pocket camera to accompany me on MTB trails. Because I to do some street photography (where a SLR is not always the best choice), it would be great if the new camera could be also used as a tool for some more serious photography on streets.

Key features: You can't have a cake and eat it
Following is a list of features that I would like to have on my ideal trail camera:
It's all about compromises...

  • Good image quality
  • HD video capable
  • Pocket size, light weight
  • Rugged and splash (or water) proof
  • GPS tagging
Small size inherently means compromises in terms of picture quality and user interface and expectations should be set accordingly.

After some research I came up with the following final three alternatives:

  • Sony NEX-7
  • Nikon Coolpix AW100
  • Panasonic DMC-FT4
I regard the much praised NEX-7 as a very exciting camera. I would definitely make a very good tool for street and general travel photography. It's slightly bigger size, large handgrip and three control dials makes even manual adjustments possible even in real life.

  • Stacks Image 405

    Sony NEX-7

  • Stacks Image 406

    Nikon Coolpix AW100

  • Stacks Image 407

    Panasonic DMC-FT4

My short list
As much as I like the new NEX-7, while relatively small compared to full size SLRs I found it still too bulky for taking to trails. Also, it lacks protection against elements and as a quite expensive camera I wouldn't feel that comfortable using it in a rain or dusty conditions.

This left me with the two waterproof cameras that I found most interesting in that category. Based on available test and user opinions Nikon Coolpix AW100 appears to have inferior picture quality of the two, probably party because of if high pixel count. Pocket cameras' small sensors in combination with high pixel density usually do more harm than good and that appears to be the case with Coolpix AW100.

And the winner is: Panasonic DMC-FT4
This left me with Panasonic DMC-FT4 that has a slightly smaller pixel count, is said to be waterproof to 12 meters and shock resistant up to 2 meters. It is also light and small, and its GPS sensor should be useful in documenting riding on longer trails. Again, given limitations of small point-and-shoot cameras, my expectations are quite modest. I just hope that its picture quality will be good enough for some casual shooting and that the camera remains operational also in wet conditions. I guess I will found it out, given that Scandinavian summers can be quite nasty at times.

[2013-07-18 update: Review of DMC-FT4]

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