7.11.2020

Why I continue to buy cameras in pairs --- when it's possible. And why it kinda makes sense. At least to me...


I remember the shooting day when I went through three medium format cameras before the job was completed. That's three cameras in one shooting day. I was photographing for a company that, at the time, was a big competitor for Home Depot. They were called, Builder's Square. We were shooting a print advertising campaign for their ad agency based around the concept of kids sports. The project took place on locations around San Antonio and we undertook the project in the dead of Summer, during the heat wave of 1990. All the interior sports (basketball, volleyball, etc.) were problem free. I had a small crew of three helpers and the client/agency fielded about five people who in turn played hosts to a flock of attending clients. 

It was one of those dry Summer days during which getting under 100° would have been delicious. Illogically, the ad agency saved the most grueling part of the project for last. In the late afternoon we we're setting up to shoot lots of photographs of kids playing baseball. In combination with triple digit heat, and an ongoing drought, the winds started to pick up when we got to the baseball field. We were on the the receiving end of the remnants of a dust storm from the flat, arid west Texas dust lands. But the light was good and the kids were thrilled to be at a photo shoot and we soldiered on. 

I brought along three Hasselblad film cameras and a brace of lenses to do the project. We set up and started shooting tests and first images when the blowing sand and dust infiltrated the shooting camera and it locked up. I took a deep breath and tossed it into a case and pulled out a second ELX motor drive Hasselblad. I attached a lens while inside my car as a safety move. But within a half hour that body decided to stop working as well. The agency people sensed my ..... anxiety? worry? growing sense of impending doom? The dust and sand got into every piece of gear!

But I assured them that we had already gotten a lot of good images and that we had one more camera in the equipment case that we could count on. I pulled a well used but well maintained H-Blad 500 CM out and set it on the tripod. My assistants and I all crossed our fingers for good luck and breathed a huge sigh of relief when, at the end of the shoot, the camera was still fully functional. If we'd had to go back and re-shoot I would have been on the hook for the talent fees, the location fees and the additional travel and work time for the assistants. And I'd also be that guy whose cameras ALL broke and couldn't finish the shoot. 

That was a big lesson for someone really just hitting his stride in the commercial market for photography. With film cameras you really did need back up gear that you could sub in if and when your primary cameras decided to take a mechanical sabbatical from work. Stuff broke. Stuff needed adjustments.

While digital cameras seem to be much more reliable my work shooting corporate events taught me the value of having multiple camera bodies for a different reason. When you are working quickly there's not always time to change lenses. If you've been photographing a speaker on a giant stage and you've got a 300mm lens on your camera, on a tripod, but now you need to pivot quickly and photograph a demonstration on the side of the stage, with a wide angle lens, you'll probably want to leave your telephoto lens and camera right where they are and grab a camera with a wide zoom lens off your shoulder and hustle over to the demo area to get the shots. 

It's the same with theatrical photography. I shoot a lot of actor close-ups from mid-way up the audience seats from the stage but often I'll want to go from some tight one, two and three person groupings to a wide, overall shot to capture something like a special effect or a really neat (and very, very temporary) lighting cue. To work at the best efficiency I bring (at least) two identical camera bodies and put a 70-200mm on one and a 24-70mm on the other, set them for identical color balances, and profile settings and put the one I'm not using on the seat next to me. When I need it I grab it and tweak the exposure and then shoot quickly. When I need to go back to the telephoto zoom camera it's sitting right next to me, ready to go. I plunk down the wide zoom camera, grab the tight zoom camera and it's little more than a gesture to go from 24 to 200mm in a flash. If I time it right I almost never miss a changing light effect or an actor's dramatic close up. But the secret is in having the two bodies ready at all times. 

I can't imagine how much delay there would be if I brought only one body and tried to change lenses over and over and over again (in the dark) during the run of a live show......


But I know what you're probably thinking. Something like: "Yes Kirk, we get the need to have the right gear at hand for commercial work but the Canon G16s you picked up this week are for art, travel and play. Why on earth would you need two of them?"

If you think about travel for a few moments you'll realize that flying from Austin to Iceland or Rome or St. Petersburg is more expensive by far than a second camera body. And staying in nice hotels isn't cheap either. So if the whole point of your trip to one of these far away places is to take photographs (the 'busman's' holiday!) wouldn't it be a shame if you arrived, the weather was perfect, the people were amazingly beautiful and graceful....and your camera died on the first day?

Never happens? Hmmm. I remember a trip I took back when I was shooting with Leica M film cameras. I loved the 50 Summicron lens and my idea of heaven was that 50mm sitting on the front of a beautiful M3 Single stroke camera. I found a mint M3 SS about a week before Belinda and I left to go to France and Italy back in 1986. I asked the head repair guy at our local camera repair facility to give the M3 a close inspection and, in a moment of bravery/stupidity, decided to lighten my usual camera load by taking ONLY the M3 and the 50mm lens along with me. That, and a brick of Kodachrome 64 film. 

After checking into our hotel in Paris we headed out into the streets so Belinda could immerse herself in the Paris street life while I stumbled along behind and tried to take great photographs. About an hour into our vacation the film advance lever on the M3 locked up and the camera became a very beautifully designed metal brick. I was crestfallen. Depressed.

I went to the FNAC at Les Halles and bought another camera. I couldn't justify buying another M series camera so I defaulted to the then brand new Contax Aria camera (small and lightweight) along with a very sweet little 28-85mm zoom lens. But it was never the same. I had my mind all wrapped around shooting with that Leica and I was too immature to just let it all go. I was selfishly sulky. I went back to the FNAC and bought a small Minox ML (super compact 35mm) and was happier but still pissed at having to spend thousands to replace a camera that had the reputation for being indestructible.

I've never gone on assignment or a personal photograph trip since without at least one back up camera which uses the same batteries and lenses as my primary shooting camera. If the back up and the primary are the same model of camera then so much the better. Less friction going back and forth between different menus...

So, I bought the twin G16s because I remembered that Belinda made beautiful photographs in Montreal with the predecessor to the G16 (the G15) and I thought at the time how great it was for her to travel with such a compact and highly portable solution. When we can travel again I thought it would be freeing to take along nothing but a small point and shoot --- after all, I'm supposed to be good at photography and I should be able to make decent photographs with just about any modern camera; right?

But I would hate to be wherever it is that we've just spent 24 hours getting to and having a single, lone camera die. I'll always to pack a second one. And that's why I buy cameras in pairs. 

Especially when the used cameras I'm buying are less expensive than some dinners we've had. And small enough to stick in a jacket pocket. And that's my rationale.

The heat in Austin is oppressive right now. I dread hitting the pool in the morning because I'm sure that even with aerators running all night long the water temperature is going to be uncomfortably warm. That led me to think about cooling beverages and desserts with ice cream. So I posted some here. 







Do you buy cameras in pairs? Why not? What would change if you did?

What's your favorite cold beverage? Did you know that Canon R5s overheat when shooting video? I heard all about it at the camera store today. Not a pretty topic for a newly launched camera.....

A pet peeve I just realized I have today is one about blogging. I hate it when blogger finds a subject that his or her audience finds to be juicy and then leaves the blog static for days at a time. I guess I think blogs these days should be more daily stream of consciousness. Something to look forward to in 24 hour installments. But maybe I'm not being smart and efficient as a blogger. Maybe I should just put stuff up intermittently. Opinions?

Bored with staying home. But committed to doing the right thing. Hope Texas gets its stuff together soon....

I saw a post from five or six years ago come up on the stats for the blog today. I re-read it. It's still true. De-bunking the breathless five minute CEO portrait sessions...

You might enjoy: https://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2014/01/myth-debunking-five-minute-marathon.html

Here's a gratuitous photo; just for fun...

Ben, standing in for Ottobock Canada President, Mark Agro.

Texas State Senator and former Austin mayor, Kirk Watson.