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How To Safely Carry DSLR Camera Gear on an Adventure Bike

 With the right setup, you can bring your DSLR for more professional photos.

Published on 08.26.2014
Chad Berger Scenic Photo
Professional photographer and Motojournalist Chad Berger shares pro tips on how to carry DSLR camera gear on an Adventure Bike.

The very nature of adventure riding lends itself to fantastic photo opportunities. We travel to amazing locations most people never get the opportunity to see. Capturing these moments in photos allows us to relive our journeys long after they are over. You also get a chance to share your once in a lifetime experiences with family and friends, and great photography encourages others to explore the world.

If you appreciate high-quality photos, there’s no substitute for a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera. The problem with bringing your DSLR camera gear while traveling on a motorcycle, is that it’s not terribly convenient. Dust, vibration and lack of storage space are the primary challenges. However, with a little bit of planning and the right luggage these challenges can be overcome and you’ll be rewarded with stunning photos that are much better than anything you could capture with a point and shoot camera.

Your Basic DSLR Kit
Photography gear can be very expensive and the more you bring, the greater the risk of damage, loss or theft. Having the option of interchangeable lenses, flashes and other accessories increases your creative options, but you have to be honest with yourself and decide how much you are willing to carry and how likely you are to actually use it.

Most people rarely use any of the “extra gear” they bring and stick to shooting with a single zoom lens out of convenience. A DSLR body with a single zoom lens should be adequate for most trips and will take up less space. You are also less likely to get dust in your camera when you aren’t swapping lenses.

Choosing a Zoom Lens
Most camera manufacturers and aftermarket lens companies offer a zoom lens that covers the typical range needed for Adventure Riding photography. A lens that covers approximately 18mm – 130mm will offer a fairly wide angle for landscapes and shots where you are close to the subject, while still allowing you to zoom in for close up shots.

There are also “all-in-one” lenses that cover everything from wide angle to telephoto range (18mm – 200mm+). These lenses are a good solution if you decide you only want to carry one lens. But like anything in life, there are compromises when you try to get too much out of any one thing. All-in-one lenses are usually a bit slower to focus and less sharp at both ends of their focal range. The Adorama website has a good review of all-in-one lenses.

Tank Bag Storage
One of the most convenient and safest places to keep a DSLR camera is inside your tank bag. Higher-end cameras are typically well-built and can easily handle the rigors of living in a tank bag of an Adventure Bike. With the tank bag located at the center of the motorcycle, it’s easy to access your gear and it’s an area that is less likely to suffer damage in a fall.

Touratech’s Photographer Tank Bag is an ideal solution with good padding and adjustable/removable inner dividers to keep your camera and accessories secure. You can also add foam or heavy duty bubble wrap to the bottom and sides of an existing tank bag to improve the protection from impacts and vibration.

Camera Tank Bag Storage
To keep weight down, you can pad the tank bag with something you were already bringing like a set of gloves, stocking cap, shirt or scarf.

Some people like to use a small camera bag that fits inside a standard tank bag. The internal bag adds additional protection and you can keep it unzipped while you ride for fast access to your camera. LowePro has several models of top loading camera bags that fit inside tank bags of various sizes and Touratech makes a padded camera bag insert.

Packing Extra Gear
So what are your options if you want to bring more photography gear? You can still keep your basic camera gear in a tank bag for quick access, but for those important shots that require more set up, you can store extra lenses, flashes and other accessories on the back of the motorcycle or in panniers.

Hard Luggage

Hard luggage gives you the option to lock your equipment securely if you will be away from your motorcycle. Pelican style cases are a popular choice for carrying electronics because they are very durable, weatherproof, isolate vibration and can be used as a top case or pannier.

Twisted Throttle offers a variety of different sized Pelican cases along with mounting kits and luggage racks for most Adventure Bikes. You can also find padded divider sets that are easily customized to hold your equipment. The only drawback of using Pelican cases is that they can be quite heavy and impact your handling.

Soft Luggage
Soft luggage options are typically lighter and can offer reasonable protection from the elements. The downside of soft luggage is that your gear is less secure if you are away from your bike. It’s also not a good idea to use soft panniers for carrying your camera gear because of the lack of protection in a fall.

Many adventure riding photographers rely on a backpack camera bag strapped to the seat or luggage rack. A backpack camera bag offers quick access to your equipment and a convenient way to carry your gear if you decide to go for a hike. The Lowepro Vertex line of backpacks are popular for adventure touring and three sizes of the Vertex backpack line are available to accommodate just about any photographer’s kit.

Watch adventure travel author and photojournalist Helge Pedersen’s video as he describes his backpack camera bag setup.

Lowepro has a new waterproof camera duffel bag that seems like it was made for adventure motorcycling. The Dryzone DF20L bag is a roll top dry bag with a padded internal bag specifically designed for carrying camera equipment. The bag offers many tie down points and easy access to your gear. This light-weight waterproof bag is ideal for more intensive off-road use.

Carrying a Tripod
If you are serious about taking photos, then you are most likely thinking about carrying a tripod on your motorcycle. A tripod opens up a lot of creative opportunities for photos including self-timer photos, long exposures and landscape photography. Unfortunately, tripods are not easy to carry and the good ones are expensive. The good news is that many companies are starting to make more compact tripods designed for travel photography. Two popular brands that make travel tripods are MeFoto and Benro.

The rule of thumb is that if you can’t access it within 15 seconds, it probably won’t get used. One of the best places to carry a tripod is on top of a tail bag or duffel bag. When carrying your tripod outside of a storage bag, always make sure you tighten down all screws and knobs and keep an eye on them during your trip. Vibrations can easily loosen screws, rendering your tripod useless.

tripod strapped to top bag
Strap your tripod to a top bag to keep it protected in a fall and easy to access.

Final Thoughts
With a little experimenting, you’ll learn what combination of luggage and packing techniques work best for you to safely carry your photography gear. Managing all of your equipment on the trail can be a bit of work, but the results are well worth the effort. You may never have an opportunity to return to the places you travel again. Bringing your DSLR camera gear will allow you to take the best photos possible!

Author: Chad Berger

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3 thoughts on “How To Safely Carry DSLR Camera Gear on an Adventure Bike

  1. I’ve always carried my DSLR in my tank bag with a single lens (the one I think I’ll need for particular leg of the journey). Other lenses tend to be kept in my panniers safely with all my clothes. They only come out when I’ve reached my destination for night.

    Not had any problems so far.

    I’ve now switched to a Sony A7 which uses a USB connection for charging, so it’s easy to charge it up wherever I am in the world.

  2. I’ve settled on a Canon 6D full-frame DSLR with 50mm f1.4 lens for my motorcycle trips. I used to use a zoom lens but decided it wasn’t worth the extra bulk, plus I love the sharpness and speed of the 50. That said, I may in the future switch to a 35mm f1.4 instead. The wider field of view would be helpful. Either way, I prefer shooting with primes instead of zooms.

    While riding, the Canon lives in my tank bag. I also carry a smaller camera on a lanyard around my neck for shooting while I’m riding. I’ve been using an Olympus XZ-1 for this, but next season I’m going to try using my Panasonic DMC-GF1 instead. Its larger sensor delivers much better images, and the 20mm f1.7 pancake lens is excellent.

    That GF1 (or a newer model such as the GX1) actually makes an outstanding travel camera even on its own — that’s what I was using before I got the Canon, just not on-bike. Much more compact than a DSLR, but still delivers superb images, especially with RAW captures and post-processing. Other excellent alternatives to DSLRs would be the new crop of APS-C-sensor compacts such as the Fujifilm X100 series and Samsung NX series, or even a Sony RX1 for those who are feeling flush. In fact, with these choices on the market, I don’t think there’s any compelling reason to haul along a DSLR unless it’s a full-frame model.

  3. Carrying camera on tank bags are not at all recommended. Cameras equipment are very sensitive to vibration and causes internal damages which cannot be seen externally due to vibration. Lens elements move out of place which causes issues like AutoFocus not working etc.

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