Tales of catastrophic gear loss...
VSL reader and now contributor, Kurt Hansen, suggested that automatic file transfer from cards in cameras to alternate storage, while shooting, traveling, having coffee, etc. would safeguard valuable files from loss in the field. He used as an example the scenario where a camera is accidentally dropped overboard on a ferry crossing. A few literal minded readers immediately went to the position of, "I've never dropped a camera overboard from a ferry." I suggest they take a wider view and assume that a ferry accident is "stand-in" shorthand for any kind of camera-tastrophe. And I imagine we've all had one or two, at least.
Thought I'd share one of my most depressing. I was working with an assistant on an annual report for a company that does water and waste water treatment plants in cities and regions across the U.S. It was early days for digital so we were supplementing our digital camera gear with a few well chosen pieces of film gear that still seemed better suited to outlier shots. One day our team of client, ad agency representative, assistant and myself found ourselves at a plant with a large, primary wastewater intake tank. A catwalk stretched about 60 feet across the tank, about 35 feet above it. For some crazy reason we decided that it would make a great image if I climbed up the ladder and walked across the catwalk to the center of the tank and then shot directly down with a super wide angle lens.
Wide angles weren't as wide on the APS-C sensors of the earlier cameras so I grabbed a Leica M6 rangefinder camera with its usual 50mm and, in a small shoulder bag, a 15mm f8.0 Hologon lens along with a circular, graduated neutral density filter on the front and a (not very accurate) bright line finder. I kept the expensive 15mm in the bag as I climbed the ladder so it wouldn't accidentally bang around.
I've never been particularly comfortable in high places but we used to push through our lesser phobias on a routine basis in order to get the shot for the client. The catwalk flooring was made of metal deck plate with the usual diamond shapes on it and it had metal railings on either side that camera up waist high. I slowly edged my way across to the center and surveyed the scene. My assistant and some of the others would be in the final shot unless I moved them. I pulled a small Motorola walkie-talkie off my belt and toggled the talk key to get my assistant's attention. We spoke and she moved the group out of the shot. I put the walkie-talkie back on my belt and started to prepare the camera.
I took the 50mm lens off the front of the camera and tucked it into the bag. Then I pulled the 15mm out and started to put it on the camera. I can't remember if it was a gust of wind or just a momentary lack of courage but I felt a bit of vertigo and, in a panic, grabbed for the railing. But in order to grab for the railing I had to ..... drop the lens. It all seemed to happen in slow motion. The lens turned over and over again as it rushed toward the churning contents of the tank. It hit with a plop! wavered for a second or two and started to sink. By this time I'd regained whatever composure I had left and pulled the walkie-talkie off my belt again. I yelled to my assistant, "Quick, jump in there and grab the lens before it sinks too far!!!" Of course, I was kidding. She grabbed her walkie-talkie and replied, "I quit."
While the lens would not have been saved by an automatic back-up I think Kurt's approach has much merit. I am reminded of a first world tragedy that struck one of my peers. He placed his new, super deluxe camera and zoom lens on the roof of his car as he took a cellphone call. He became so engrossed in the call that he got in, started up the car and drove off. The camera finally slid off as the car was negotiating a turn at around 45 MPH an it hit the pavement with lethal impact. My fellow photographer didn't realize what he had done until he pulled into the driveway of his home and went to unload his gear.
He would have been well served with an automated, remote back-up system for his files....
But I am assuming that none of my readers have ever done anything nearly as zany with their cameras, right?