My Camera

My friend Don Patterson bought a good digital camera last fall. It was an Agfa 1280 which has 1024x768 resolution, and a true color LCD display for composing that was usable in sunlight. I had, and have used for some pictures on my web bike pages, an inexpensive ($100) digital camera, but the camera Don bought produced much better images. He loaned it to me to play with and I found it worked really well for capturing bicycling images that I could use on my web page. There were two problems: it cost too much money ($600) and I had to stop riding to take pictures. The cost issue was resolved by waiting for six months till a newer model, the 1680, came out and the web price of the 1280 dropped to $300. I solved the second problem by improvising a mount for the 1280 on my handlebars. This camera rode with me for two months of touring and took about 1000 pictures of roads, views, signs, flowers, clouds, people, etc.

The mount has three parts. The first part, on the right in the middle image above, is a Cateye HL500b headlight mount. I removed the mating part from one of my HL500b headlights and modified it to mount to the 1280s tripod socket. You can see its release button sticking out towards the center of the handlebars. The camera is mounted by sliding it backwards onto the headlight mount until it locks in place. The headlight mount is still usable for mounting my second HL500b when the camera is not mounted. The second part of the mounting provides support for the main body of the camera.

The Agfa 1280 is a swivel lens camera which does not have a viewfinder that you look through, but has a color display on the main body. This main body of the camera must be supported on the bicycle since the swivel and the camera tripod mount are not designed to take the stress they would get when the camera is riding on my handlebars. I used the mount for my Cateye Astrale cyclecomputer as the base for this part of the camera mount. I had to move the cyclecomputer back off this mount and connect it, with soldered wires, to the mounts contacts. You can see it sticking out behind the camera in the bottom image. Then I built up a support pad using weatherstripping material and Goop to just above the height needed to support the camera. This pad is visible under the camera in the central image.

The final part of the support system uses the camera's wrist strap to hold the camera body down against the support pad. You can see this in the center and bottom images. In the center image the strap is seen coming down near the left hand (from the front) side of the camera. In the bottom image you can see the dark strap behind the handlebar and handlebar bag. I used an improvised locking clamp that I made by bending wire from large paper clips to attach the end of the strap to the bottom of my handlebar bag.

This arrangement worked well. The camera survived about 5000 miles on my handlebars - note that my handlebars are mounted on a softride stem which absorbs most of the road shock when I am riding. I don't think the camera would have survived if I had not use that stem!

Next year I plan to build a different mount, one that does not use the camera's tripod socket but just supports the camera under its main body. There are two reasons for this. I want to be able to use the swivel to aim the lens up or down - this year I had to 'point' the whole bike (85 lbs!) to aim the camera and I discovered that I don't need to be able to swivel the display in order to be able to see it well - this years design permitted that. I'll build a well padded mount on the cyclecomputer mount and I'll figure out a way to attach the camera without interfering with its display or its controls. This camera is very well laid out for bicycling use. All the controls are on the front (shutter button) or side (mode controls) or top (information on the display control).

The only 'problem' I had was that, given the relatively slow speed of digital camera sensors, I couldn't take sharp pictures if I was moving too fast (30 mph) or the road was really bumpy or the light was bad. The slow camera response to the pressing the shutter button (two seconds or so counting autofocus time) also cause me to miss some shots. This time has been reduced in some new (and much more expensive) cameras, but neither of these problems was major.

I used the camera by turning it on, which is easy to do while riding, waiting about half a dozen second for it to start up, composing - as I rode - the image on the display, pressing the shutter, and turning the camera mode switch to off. The image processing takes place after I have turned the mode switch since the camera's computer doesn't check that switch till after it stores the image. The image is visible during the processing, so I could check on it before the camera shut off. The entire process takes about 15 to 30 seconds. Images are stored as jpeg files which, in the 1024x768 mode I use, means they are 150 to 250 KB in size. I used an 8 MB smart media card in the camera which, at this image quality, is approximately equivalent to a 36 exposure roll of film. The camera uses AA NiMH batteries which I charged every few days. I had two 8 MB and a 4 MB smart media cards with me as well as three sets of batteries, but I never needed to change either cards or batteries while I was on the road. I have an adapter that lets me read the smart media cards on my laptop computer and each night on tour I would work with and store that days images and then put the card back in the camera and reformat it. After reformatting (10 seconds?) I'd check the battery meter and, if it showed any depletion, swap in freshly charged batteries before putting the depleted set in my fast charger. An hour or two later they would be fully charged.