Disappointed with smartphone capturing on bike

So I have been surveying with my Samsung S10 on my bike for a couple of weeks now using the Android Mapillary app and the Mapillary supplied bike mount. What can I say? I’m totally disappointed of the results. Around 1/3 of the pictures I have discarded completely. Of the remainder I have uploaded many despite them being blurred or out of focus.

In full daylight and on smooth surfaces I get quite good results (apart from some 180° rotated images). But with rough road surface, overcast weather, bright sunlight or at dawn I tend do get lousy results.

The app seems to prioritize high illumination and low ISO speed. I don’t know if that are general technical limitations for an Android app or if the Mapillary app is limited. All images are taken with f1.5 aperture despite my main camera also offering f2.3. The latter would even give a better depth of field. Instead of increasing the ISO speed or living with darker images the app increases exposure time so that pictures get blurry when riding on rougher ground. On top of that many images are out of focus in not ideal light conditions.

I have played around with some of the few available settings in the app but could not see any significant difference in the results.

Did you guys make the same experience? Is it the app or my phone (I would think the camera of this phone would not be a problem but who knows)? Is there any way to tweak the settings more, force shorter exposure times, improve focusing?

Or should I say goodbye to the Mapillary app and try a different workflow? Any recommendations? I have also installed OpenCamera now but still stick to the Mapillary app for its easy upload and because it dims the display during capturing. But are there any good alternatives I should try?

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This is strange, considering its price class.

Everyone knows that for years by now.
But it took long to appear discretely in the Mapillary Help.

I also was fooled by the continuous bragging of smartphone makers about their improved cameras that would even be good in low light. That is nonsense, while moving anyway.

There are even bad action cameras on the market.

I am still deleting my ancient bad smartphone pictures.

ive got the samsung s10e. ive never tried using mapillary with it though but i would have thought it would be up to scratch. would any of the blurring be due to the phone mount are you using? ive seen others mention that the mount that mapillary give out for free doesnt hold the phone tight enough.

when i started first i was used a sony z3 compact and used to get lots of blurry photos and problems with vibrations effecting the quality. i upgraded to the xz1 compact at some point which fixed those problems for me and have been using that ever since

theres a lot of room for improvement with the mapillary app though. its beyond me why more work isnt put into improving the app considering the mapillary platform is (mostly) built on photos that come from smartphones

one thing i would like to see is having a range where focus is allowed because i get a lot of photos that are focused on chips in my windshield. they are less than 1 foot away from the camera but its pointless focusing that close when you are trying to capture street view imagery. as you are saying, i dont know if this is a android limitation or a mapillary one

I’ve used the bike-mount together with the app on an Samsung Note 8 android phone. I’ve had relatively good results I’d say, except from the random 180 degrees rotated images that we all know about since years ago. When I used the mount I also added rubber bands around it, since I didn’t trusted it to hold the phone tight enough.

Here’s an area I mapped last summer.
You can clearly see how badly it does in direct light against it

Compared to with light from any other angle

I have since then gone over to using a GoPro 8.

There are lots of possible improvements that come in mind if one is a regular user of the app.
I also noticed that the mapillary app for Android seems largely abandoned.
Starting with the coupling of 360 degree cams, which was long talked about but never implemented on Android. Same with bugs that linger forever, such as the compass bug.
This change in course happened about the time when they removed the public github bugtracker.
I can only speculate why that is: business. Probably they prioritize implementing features for their actual, paying customers (arcgis users), who also probably prefer to capture their own pictures, probably with the “mapillary driver” app.

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I can understand no one wants to be drawn into the WIFI swamp.

Last evening I tested capturing with Open Camera and the stock camera. Open Camera has a mode to take serial pictures every x seconds (I used 3 seconds), with the stock camera I had to hit the release button manually every couple of seconds.

On Open Camera I used the standard and DRO (Dynamic Range Optimisation) modes as well as tried to reduce the brightness. With the stock camera I also tried fixed aperture and shutter speed values. With the camera mounted and the rubber bands hiding much of the display its not exactly trivial to change camera settings so the tests have been a bit rudimentary for now. But I would say pictures generally turned out better than with the Mapillary app. I still had some I needed to discard but I had much fewer pictures that were out of focus and also less blurred ones.

I guess the Mapillary supplied bike mount is not the best ones. Vibrations don’t get damped and that is much cause for camera shake and blurred pictures. @filipc thanks for the link but it’s a bit hilarious when they write “Ride slow and preferably on smooth surfaces”. I can hardly ask the city council to pave the way before I start surveying. On the contrary, I would expect the Mapillary app to take rough surfaces into account. The app should use a maximum exposure time and then vary ISO and aperture. How can images not be blured if pictures are taken with 1/50 secs on bumpy ground? In my test sequence some images turned out darker but still offered much more information that way as bright but blurred ones.

Another advantage of not using the app is I can better review and rotate pictures before uploading. Two disadvantages are I don’t have distance based capturing and the display is on all the time eating more battery.

Hence my question again: Are there any best practices how to use a smart phone on a bike? I’m not going to buy an action cam. Which apps for capturing or display control are recommendable? Is a dashcam app better? I’ve never tried one.

Drive with one hand and hold the smartphone in the other.

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If you bike in a more upright position, you could mount your phone on your chest, as described in the official instructions for walking.

Or on your head.

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my older smartphones had much better quality than my newest phone

but as said before, use a action cam when on a bike

currently I am using a car dashcam with buildin gps on my bike (needs quite some processing afterwards but finally no more blurred pictures)

The official Mapillary bike mounted didn’t work at all for me, but recently I switched to the SP Connect Universal Phone Mount Set (https://www.amazon.de/dp/B07BGT2R9W )and after some tests it works like a charm. But I am not sure if they are still producing it, because I didn’t find it on their website. I have to say that I switched to Openstreetcam, because the Mapillary app have just produces shit pictures, since I switched to the S8.

The legacy photography API problem must be solved by now, I suppose.

That looks good since it leaves both the display and the cameras free which many mounts don’t. But I would be a bit scared that the phone could jump out of the mount when hitting a curb or something. I suppose one could add some extra rubber bands.

The one I got from Mapillary (this model) keeps the phone tight with clamp and bands but makes it difficult to handle and the bands often accidentally press the buttons. The manufacturer of your mount also has some quick fix mounts which look good as well, a bit pricier, though. I have to think about it. I suppose the SP connects are not only good for taking pictures but also for using the phone for navigation which might make them worth buying.

It wont jump out of I am quite sure. As you can see on the 2nd picture, there is this red and green pin with them you can lock or unlock the security mechanism and on the back is a screw so that the mount securely holds the phone. The only thing which annoyed me was to make the mount fixed on the handlebar. Mounts with screws are actually better and you could buy one from SP, but its quite expensive.

I got the best results holding the phone in your hand using a gymbal, and holding the bike with the other hand.

Got relatively ok sequences with that (better than most sequences on bicycles).

Here’s an example: https://www.mapillary.com/map/im/25MTj6iy0xzeEnk5RN7tlA

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Let us simplify further and ride a unicycle.

I have been trying several alternatives in the past, mainly because the Mapillary app was overheating my phone. Some of the apps I remember using are DailyRoads Voyager, Hidden Camera Snapshot, Open Camera, Time & Tide and Tina Time-lapse. I don’t think all of those are maintained anymore, so they might not even run on current phones, but they allowed more control than the Mapillary app. Several even allowed to turn the screen off while capturing, greatly increasing battery life.


So I got a new bike mount now and if not improving picture quality it helped a lot with usability of the phone during the ride. A few days ago I took a ride in late afternoon with diminishing light and sun being quite low. I alternated between capturing with the Mapillary app and Opencamera. I also changed the focus mode between autofocus, continuous focus and focus set to infinity.

In both apps I got the best results with autofocus. I got significantly fewer blurred photos with Opencamera. Actually, I discarded all of the pictures taken with Mapillary since about 3 out of 4 pictures were either blurred or out of focus. From the Opencamera pictures I only discarded about 1 out of 10. At some point I reduced the brightness a bit to not have to expose too long. Pictures are still showing a lot of detail even if being a bit darker than usual. OK, as was to be expected, at some point it became too dark to take any usable pictures.

Not using the Mapillary app also has the advantage that I can correct mis-rotated images before upload. And compass direction gets recorded not like in the Mapillary app where it is only taken for the first picture.

Now I still have to work on the placement of the mount on my bike. Currently, I have the brake cables in the pictures. :slight_smile: