Sometimes, two is better than one when it comes to gear purchases.
Every now and then, I feel the need to state the obvious. It’s not that I am repetitious by nature. But it is usually the result of a seemingly innocuous moment in my day leading to a profound, albeit logical, realization. Today’s realization? It can be darn good to have your backup camera be the same as your primary camera.
Now, I’m sure that many of you reading this just let out a collective “duhhhh” after reading that last sentence. And, on a basic level, it’s not like this is knowledge I didn’t already possess. But, as circumstance had dictated, over the course of my nearly twenty-year career, I’ve never actually found myself in possession of two identical bodies at the same time.
I’ve had backup cameras. I’ve always had a backup camera. As a professional photographer, going out into the field without a Plan B is like going to Vegas without setting a bit of non-gambling money to the side to afford your return ticket. Sure, you might make it home. But, if the chips don’t fall your way, you could be in for a long night. If you’ve taken on the responsibility of shooting a big advertising campaign for your client, trying to explain to them that you suddenly have to stop shooting and the tens of thousands of dollars they are spending on cast, crew, and location will be wasted because your camera isn’t working is the type of conversation you might want to avoid. So, having a backup camera is non-negotiable.
What I have always done, however, is to buy one camera at a time and use the previous body as a backup. As much as we like to debate it, if we’re being honest, technology usually doesn’t change all that much from generation to generation. Sure, the new camera comes with all the bells and whistles. But, assuming your old camera was made anytime within the last five to ten years, there’s a high likelihood that it isn’t a clunker. The old body might not be as nice, but it can probably do the job in a pinch. And for a backup body, which will presumably spend a lot of time in the bag, this can be more than adequate.
So, up until this point, my strategy was always to buy the new body when it felt necessary to accomplish my goals, keep the previous body as a backup to the new body, and sell the previous backup to raise money. I kept things like megapixel counts and basic functionality in mind. But put little onus on the bodies being identical. Sometimes even going so far as to have entirely different brands as backups. And it worked for me. It always worked for me. So why am I here today talking about how great it is to have identical bodies?
Well, I was fortunate enough to get one of the first batch of the Nikon Z 9 cameras. I preordered mine very early and have been absolutely in love with the camera since its arrival. Other than making me believe in love at first sight again, the camera reminded me of something else. With the functionality of the camera lining up extremely well with my own personal use case, I realized that, despite the high price tag, I really wished I had ordered two. Not just to say that I had two. But, rather, because I realized that, if I had two, I could literally sell off all the other bodies in my possession because the Z 9 was capable of doing all the jobs I had previously spread across multiple bodies with certain talents.
Getting two bodies of a highly in demand camera wasn’t super easy. But once I was able to get my hands on an identical backup, my workflow took a dramatic turn for the better. So, what exactly are the benefits of having two identical bodies rather than an assortment of disparate tools?
Well, the first reason is fairly obvious. They can back each other up. If your primary camera goes down, you can pick up the second one and keep on trucking. You can still do this if your backup isn’t identical. But the advantage of having your backup being identical is that you don’t lose any of the creature comforts that often come with familiarity with your primary body. Your brain doesn’t have to go through any of the mental gymnastics often required when trying to remember the different button placements between bodies. There’s no change in the ergonomic feel of the body in your hands. Even the viewfinder and pressure required to activate the shutter button should be the same. These may seem like small things. But, let’s face it, if you are having to turn to your backup body in the middle of a high pressure shoot, it’s quite likely that you are stressed enough as it is. Having to handle that stress while at the same time remembering how to change the menu items on a body you rarely use won’t be the end of the world, but it will hardly make your life easier.
But one of the biggest reasons I love having identical bodies is that, while they can certainly support each other, they can also complement each other. I’ve mentioned it before, but an increasing amount of my work, if not the majority of work these days, is coming as a director/cinematographer versus only as a still photographer. Even jobs primarily driven by stills almost always include some form of motion component. Modern mirrorless cameras make switching better photography and video as easy as flipping a switch. So, it’s entirely possible to do an entire job, both stills and video, with a single body.
But despite the basic principles of still and motion being basically the same, in practice, they are two entirely different art forms. There are considerations that you need to take into account to create the best video content that you just don’t need to take into account for stills, and vice versa. There’s a reason motion picture cameras look like multi-tentacled robots from some futuristic alien movie and still cameras can sometimes slide into the pocket of an oversized coat. Each art form simply requires a different approach.
So, if you are looking to maximize both art forms, you are likely to want to be operating both with different camera settings and a different physical configuration to your rig. You can keep building up your camera to video configuration, then breaking it down to still configuration between shots. But, depending on your production, this might not be the most efficient way to go. What having two identical bodies allows you to do is to leave one body permanently set up in a still configuration while leaving the other permanently in its rig for video. That way, if you find yourself on a job where you are needing to frequently bounce back and forth between each, you can save yourself a great deal of time and be more productive. At the same time, because the cameras are identical, they can still act as backups. So, if your still camera, for example, did go down, you would still have an identical backup. All you would have to do is switch the configuration. Same thing would go if the video camera were the one to fall by the wayside.
Of course, there are even more practical benefits to having twin bodies. In my case, having identical bodies allowed me to drop the weight of my camera bag by about a third. Previously, my backup solution was an entirely different brand of camera. This meant that I had to not only carry two different bodies, but two different sets of lenses and accessories. Even when I’ve had the same brand as a backup, but had one be a DSLR and one a mirrorless, there were additional adapters and tidbits required to occupy space in my bag. By having both bodies be identical now, I am able to use the same lenses and accessories for either. So, there’s no need to have multiple sets of everything. Two sets will suffice. Of course, because I am a glutton for punishment and can’t seem to get my mind around the idea that I don’t have to absolutely fill every nook and cranny of my camera bag, I have simply filled in the vacated space with more gear that was previously having to be left home. But that’s a problem to be dealt with another day.
Having two identical bodies isn’t absolutely essential. As I mentioned at the top, I haven’t had this setup for years and I was just fine. So, as long as you have an adequate backup to get the job done, don’t feel you need to rush out and buy a second camera. Even being able to afford to have identical bodies is a privilege I don’t take lightly. But now that, after all these years, I’ve finally found myself in a position to have an identical backup, I can see firsthand the benefits of having two to tango.