There are so many camera options when considering a primary camera and a secondary backup, so there’s quite a bit to take into consideration. As the saying goes, two is one, one is none, so for big trips and always for professional work, a backup is a must. If you are looking for a second camera, how do you know what to choose? Rather than looking at specific brands, here’s a look at which gear combinations might be the best for your still photography projects.
Two Identical Cameras
For many years, I’ve worked with two identical cameras. There are pros and cons to every combination of options but having two matching cameras with crop, including micro 4/3s, or full-frame sensors in your arsenal might be one of the simplest options.
- Identical sensors mean there’s little reason to change lenses from one camera to another.
- Button configurations and focal lengths line up across cameras for easy transitions between two cameras with different lenses.
- The image quality in your final edit will be completely cohesive.
- Color corrections are super.
- Shared chargers, batteries, and memory cards for redundancy. This is especially great for travel.
- Easy copy and import settings from one camera to another.
- Fewer software drivers need to be updated.
Crop Sensor Plus Full-Frame Sensor
For how I work, this combination has been the most challenging. All of my Nikkor lenses are FX and there are gaps in focal lengths when transitioning from one camera to another. I often find that I need to swap lenses from one camera to another when working with cameras of two different sizes, but there are plenty of advantages in doing so.
- Complimentary configurations and options for added utility and a greater range of applications.
- Extended zoom available on a crop-sensor camera. This alone is a deciding factor for many uses.
- Easier to photograph wide angle perspectives in narrower spaces with a full frame.
- Full-frame sensors typically offer better dynamic range and low light performance.
- A smaller camera will be more compact, and offer a lighter weight option useful on the go or in more discrete situations.
- Typically choosing a crop-sensor camera will be less expensive.
- Button configurations and image quality esthetic may vary.
- Chargers, batteries, cards are potentially different.
Two Cameras From the Same Manufacturer
Most photographers probably stick to one brand, but not always. There are advantages and disadvantages of course, here's a look at some reasons why you might want to use one camera manufacturer.
- Professional level service and support is easier to obtain from a camera manufacturer. One of the primary considerations of CPS and NPS is the quantity of gear you use from a given manufacturer.
- Lens mounts match up for swapping lenses, getting more utility out of all that expensive glass.
- Image files are the same type, which is easy for software upgrades, and more importantly, the color and visual feel will more closely match.
Film Cameras With Digital Cameras
Another curve ball is photographing digital with film cameras. 35mm film shares essentially an identical size with a full-frame digital sensor. Adding in a crop (DX or APS-C) DSLR or micro 4/3 will look more different through the viewfinder. Medium format (120) film in square or 645 does the same thing, and this can be an advantage (more on that below). Here's a few helpful tips on working side by side with film and digital formats:
- Match ISO and film speed for faster f-stop and shutter speed conversions in consistent or shared lighting situations.
- Pay attention to the metering mode set on both cameras. I tend to use spot metering and manual exposure but it’s certainly a preference.
- Don't forget to charge your film cameras regularly. My digital cameras get far more use and are charged after each project, whereas my film cameras often are not. This is especially true if the same roll of film has been in the camera for a while.
Gaining Added Perspectives
If you are using different image sensors, you can also use the shift as a challenge in seeing differently. I love photographing with a 645 or square crop medium-format camera because it forces a change in the way I see and compose. It tends to be a slower (and more expensive) process, so I tend to be more intentional about composition, exposure, focus, and so forth. If you want a similar exercise in the digital world, try photographing at the same focal length with a fixed prime or a zoom lens without changing the focal length.
My Camera Setup and Thoughts
I've been in all of the situations above over time, and my current camera lineup uses three full-frame cameras, none of which are identical. One of which has plenty of resolution to crop in if needed for additional reach. The other two are more rugged machines, with larger buffer capacities for continuous shooting and built-in grips. None of my cameras share identical batteries and chargers, so that means I need to carry at least three chargers and six total batteries for redundancy. The only shared memory card format across all three of my cameras is Compact Flash. I keep a second, dedicated Think Tank memory card holder full of smaller capacity (older) CF cards in my primary camera case at all times as another means of being prepared. There are times I miss having the added reach of a crop sensor, but I prioritize the ease of transition across full-frame cameras.
Regardless of what you’re using, cameras are just another tool in your toolbox, and different tools serve different uses and folks differently. This post is centered on DSLRs but there’s no one option that wins in every scenario. From mobile phone cameras to medium format monsters, there are additional benefits to gain from a camera other than sensor size and even image quality. Portability, button configurations, frame rate, video capabilities, and internal backups to two cards are all additional factors that you might want to consider. Hopefully this helps you in choosing your camera lineup.