The APB Page

You may recall that in Moultoneer 51 there was a copy of an old advertisement for a Rover bicycle which had appeared in the photographic magazine Focus in 1907, promoting the bicycle as a photographer’s accessory. Although that’s not how we are likely to see it today, nevertheless many cyclists, including Moultoneers, seem to have an interest in cameras and photography. Cycling provides opportunities for seeing, and being able to stop to take photos, which might have been missed when travelling in a car. And of course when attending cycling events there are often pictures to be taken of the event itself, and the people and cycles present.

For cyclists, though, the size and weight of any equipment carried is of paramount interest – pity the poor cyclist forced to carry the equipment shown in the old Rover advertisement mentioned earlier! Today there are many attractive, high quality compact cameras on the market, and we’ll look at some of them in the first section of this article. However, although convenient, these cameras can be rather limiting for serious photography, due in particular to the lack of control over shutter speed, aperture and focus, and the fact that they are viewfinder cameras rather than single lens reflexes (SLRs), so that you don’t see in the viewfinder exactly what will appear in the final photograph, a particular problem for close-up work. Therefore after considering compacts we’ll look at the options if you want something rather more versatile.

When travelling with a camera, particularly if you are carrying a more extensive outfit than just a compact, Moultons are particularly suitable bikes. Last year I went to Scotland for two weeks on what was intended as a photographic holiday, which included a week at a course at the superb Inversnaid Photography Centre. If you are paying to go on a photography course in these surroundings, then you want to take a reasonable amount of equipment with you, and if you are using a bicycle to get there (with help from the train) and to get around, then this is a good load test for the bike. Loading the bike with 3 35mm SLR bodies, 5 lenses, 2 meters, accessories, film and a tripod is quite a severe test. As it happened the APB was not available on this occasion, so that I used a conventional tourer. While it got me there OK, it did serve to demonstrate how much better my usual mount, an APB, is for heavy touring, and for carrying such equipment. The APB would have carried the load lower down, increasing stability, and the tripod could easily have been carried at the back; mounting and dismounting would have been easy with the step-through frame, whereas with the conventional tourer it was quite awkward, with the high load and the tripod sticking out at the back. In addition, the APB suspension would have provided protection to the camera equipment from the road and track induced vibrations. So I would certainly recommend the APB as the All Photographers Bicycle.

This review is going to be a fairly general nature, and the views expressed will be personal. In particular I haven’t had a chance to test all the cameras on the market, so many comments and recommendations are influenced by what I have had a chance to try.

Compact Cameras

In this category come the small, light cameras which can produce excellent results, although the lack of exposure and focus control, and viewfinder inaccuracies when taking close ups, can present problems when taking action shots and close ups of cycle parts.

Since we last looked at cameras for cyclists, the APS (Advanced Photography System) has been launched, so it seems appropriate to start with this, before looking at the more established 35mm scene.

APS Compacts

The principal advantages of APS can be summarised as:

  • Easier film loading
  • Cameras can be smaller as the film cassette is smaller, the negatives size is smaller, and as a result lenses are smaller
  • More attractive presentation of finished prints and film, including additional data printed on the back of prints
  • Fashionable

Needless to say, there are some disadvantages as well:

  • Film is more expensive
  • Film processing is more expensive
  • Cameras are generally more expensive than 35mm equivalents
  • Smaller negative results in lower quality results
  • Film choice is restricted to colour negative, although black and white (C41 process, rather than the more usual
  • chemistry) is just coming out, and transparency has been promised for some while, but is still not imminent
  • Some of the smallest cameras have reached the point where they may be difficult to hold

For cyclists the biggest advantage over 35mm is likely to be size and weight, but quite a lot of the APS cameras aren’t actually any smaller than the smallest 35mm cameras. So unless some of the other advantages of APS are important to you, I’d suggest that only the smallest of the APS cameras are worth considering in place of a 35mm camera. Of these, three are particularly worthy of note (prices continually change, so these are approximate):

  1. Canon IxusCanon Ixus Z70The Canon Ixus, currently priced at about £229. This tiny and beautiful looking camera has been a huge success, and demand exceeded supply for some time. It has now been supplemented by a fractionally smaller, and cheaper, Ixus L1 (£119), which has a fixed focal length 26 mm lens in place of the 24-48mm zoom (equivalent to 35-70mm in 35mm). A very recent addition to the Ixus range is the Z70 (£260), which has a larger zoom range (23-69 mm, equivalent to 29 – 85mm in 35mm) and the useful facility to change the film mid roll. It also has a more powerful flash. It is a little larger than the original Ixus, but in some respects this is an advantage, as it is easier to hold.
  2. Pentax EfinaThe Pentax Efina, priced at £179. This is very similar in specification and appearance to the Ixus.
  3. Fuji Fotonex 3500ixThe Fuji Fotonex 3500ix, priced at £280. I only came across this recently, and again it is obviously intended to appeal to the same buyers. One advantage is that it includes mid roll film change – a film can be removed before it is finished, another one put in, and then later the original film can be put back, and will automatically skip over the pictures taken previously. This might be useful to keep particular subjects on a single film, to allow fast film to be used when necessary, but revert to higher quality slower film at other times, or to put a black and white film, or transparency film, in for some pictures (when they are available).

I had an Ixus for a while, but I did not really get on with it, the main problem for me being that the small size and delays while the electronics worked resulted in some camera shake, and generally I wanted a bit more control over the camera. John Pinkerton now has that camera, and produces excellent results with it, so the problem seems to be more with me than the camera!

All these are beautiful little cameras (jewellery?!), but not cheap; however, they should last many years, and are likely to hold their value better than some cameras. They may well be regarded in years to come as classics.

Modern 35mm compacts

There are still plenty of 35mm compacts on the market, and the smallest are no bigger than all but the most diminutive APS cameras. Generally, feature for feature, they are cheaper than APS cameras, the film and processing costs are lower, film is more readily available and in more types, and the bigger negative means they are potentially capable of better results. For cyclists the Olympus mju range has always been attractive and popular, as they are particularly small and light, and the capsule design, with a sliding front cover, gives good protection to the camera, and means that a case can usually be dispensed with, saving more in size and weight. The mju II (£99) is even smaller than the original mju, and the mju Zoom is now available with a zoom ranging from 38mm to 140mm (£230) (versions with more modest zoom ranges, and hence probably better lenses, are still available). I had one of the original mjus, and still have my early mju Zoom (35-70mm zoom only) and I’ve been very satisfied with them. The Pentax Espio range is also worth considering – the cameras are attractive, well specified, perform well and generally get good reports in tests, but they are quite a bit larger. The Espio 928 (£179) is particularly interesting and appeals to me, as the zoom range starts at 28mm rather than the more usual 35mm, and extends to an adequate, if not outstanding, 90mm. As mentioned before, zoom ranges tend to be wider than on the smallest APS cameras.

Compacts are available which sport very long zoom ranges, but there are a number of serious drawbacks to these, and you would be well advised to consider these before choosing one:

  • The cameras are usually bigger
  • The quality of the optics is usually not as good
  • They have slower lenses (smaller maximum apertures), which means that they don’t cope as well with low-light situations

Sadly the zoom facility is often used by people as a substitute for moving closer to the subject! Often, though obviously not always, it is possible to move closer, although of course you can’t then use the different focal length to change the picture perspective and background framing.

Older 35mm Compacts

Having mentioned the limitations of compacts in terms of lack of exposure and focus control, this might suggest that it’s worth considering one of the older generation of compacts. Certainly many users of the old Olympus XA cameras, Rollei 35s etc swear by them. Personally I wouldn’t choose one, as the lack of, or limited, focussing aids is a handicap, and they still lack the accurate picture framing of an SLR. Much of this also goes for the inordinately expensive modern compacts from Contax, Nikon, Minolta and Rollei. As I know some Moultoneers own Leicas, perhaps I should not say what I think of those cameras*. If you are looking for a good, controllable camera which is reasonably compact, then I’ll offer my suggestion after considering SLRs – and it’s one of the cheapest options too.

* The original product had a profound impact on the market and the industry, which is still evident today, many years after its introduction. The use of a smaller format and a degree of portability which had not been possible before were particularly important features of the design. Nowadays the company still successfully produces beautifully engineered, high quality, but high priced products. However, they seem primarily aimed at a niche market, principally those who are enthusiasts for the marque itself, and collectors. The impact of the company’s products on the average user, and also on professional and even more general enthusiasts, is minimal today. [Yes, I know that this description could be applied to other products …..]