Posted by: kerryl29 | December 30, 2014

Thematic Interruption: Two Cameras

I purchased my first digital SLR–a used Nikon D100–in the late summer of 2003.  In late September of that year, I took the D100 and my film camera with me on a photo trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, along with a pair of tripods.  My plan was to use both cameras, side-by-side, which I did on the first full morning of the trip.  After a few hours of comparing the two, I didn’t use the film camera again–not on that trip or at any point afterward.  Not long after I returned home from the UP, I purchased another D100 camera body (also used), ostensibly to be used as a backup.

In fact, I used the second D100 as a second camera.  At the time, I had one ultra-wide angle zoom lens, a wide-to-short-telephoto zoom lens, a true telephoto zoom and a fixed focal length macro lens.  I typically had one of the shorter zooms mounted to one camera and either the telephoto zoom or the macro (usually the former) mounted to the other camera.  This allowed me to change gears in a snap.  Rather than taking the time and going to the trouble (and it really is trouble, as I’ll note below) of changing lenses when I wanted to go in an entirely different direction photographically, I’d simply change camera bodies.

When I upgraded to the D200 in 2006, I didn’t wait all that long before purchasing a second camera.  It was fairly easy to justify.  At the time, my wife was into photography so I could tell myself that the second body would serve the purpose of giving her a camera to work with.  And, the D200 wasn’t a super-expensive camera, so the cost wasn’t insane.  As a result, I still had the benefit of using two identical cameras, and I utilized them the way I had done with the D100s.

Larch Forest,  Saddleback Pass, Banff National Park, Alberta

Larch Forest, Saddleback Pass, Banff National Park, Alberta

Larches on Saddleback Mountain, Saddleback Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

Larches on Saddleback Mountain, Saddleback Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

By the time I moved up to the D700, the situation was different.  By this time, my wife’s interest in photography had waned significantly and the price of the D700 was far more than the D200 had been (something like $1200 more).  Since moving from an APS-C sized sensor to a “full frame” (i.e. 35mm film-sized sensor) camera meant an investment in lens upgrades was necessary, I couldn’t justify the cost of two cameras.  So, for the first time since shooting with a digital camera roughly six years earlier, I was left with a primary camera body and a mere backup–something to use in case the primary camera broke or was stolen.  In truth, I never had the need to use the backup camera.

When I bought into the D800E about 2 1/2 years ago, I faced the same situation that was staring at me at the time I moved to the D700; there was no way I could justify the expense of two D800 series cameras; in fact, I had to swallow hard just to get one.  But after using the camera for a few months, I concluded that I would probably be sticking with this camera for a long time.  Unlike the previous iterations, which saw me upgrade every 3-4 years, I figured I’d stick with this format for the foreseeable future.  A minor, incremental update definitely wouldn’t cause me to go to the expense of updating, I was convinced.  That presumption was confirmed when Nikon announced the successor to the D800 line of cameras earlier this year–the D810.  It’s a fine camera, no doubt, and includes some improvements over the D800/E lines, but most of the upgrades had little or no impact on my style of shooting and it certainly wasn’t enough of an upgrade to justify–to me–the cost of forking out another $3300.  In fact, my hope fell on the opposite side of the fence:  perhaps there would be enough interest in the D810 on the part of other D800 series owners that I’d be able to get a second, D800E body at a significant discount on the used market.

Pyramid Mountain from Patricia Lake at Sunrise, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Pyramid Mountain from Patricia Lake at Sunrise, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Pyramid Mountain at Sunrise, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Pyramid Mountain at Sunrise, Jasper National Park, Alberta

To make a long story comparatively short, that’s what happened.  This past summer, I had the opportunity to purchase a used D800E that was in perfect working order for roughly half the cost of a new D810 (which was introduced at a price identical to that of the D800E a couple of years earlier).  I was able to justify the expense to myself due to the significantly lower price tag and my expectation that I would stick with this camera format indefinitely.   In the end, I made that purchase and, for the first time since I abandoned the D200 for the D700 at the tail end of 2008, I had two identical camera bodies.  My trip to the Canadian Rockies was the first photo excursion I made with these two cameras in my pack, one attached to my 24-70 mm lens, the other attached to the 80-400 mm.  If I wanted to go ultra-wide, I’d replace the 24-70 with the 14-24 mm; if I wanted to use my macro lens, I’d replace the 80-400.  I had forgotten just how nice it is to have a setup like this in place, but I was reminded–in short order–every day while I was on the ground in Canada.

Mt. Edith Cavell from Cavell Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Mt. Edith Cavell from Cavell Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Mt. Edith Cavell at Sunset, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Mt. Edith Cavell at Sunset, Jasper National Park, Alberta

The primary advantages to utilizing a two-camera setup in a manner comparable to the way I do it are as follows:

1. Less lens changing.  This has two principal benefits of its own–less time carrying out procedural moves in the field and fewer opportunities to accumulate dust inside the camera’s lens mount.  The first of these I’ll discuss immediately below.  The second is an obvious benefit to anyone who has ever had to deal with sensor cleaning (which means anyone who has shot with a DSLR and has ever changed lenses).  Sensor cleaning is a necessary evil to anyone shooting with an interchangeable lens digital camera–as is cloning out the visual evidence of dust during the post-processing phase of digital imagery–but the less of  it I have to do, the better.  No matter how careful I am about trying to avoid the dust problem when changing lenses in the field–and I’m very careful–it can’t be avoided entirely, so the less lens changing I have to do, the less sensor cleaning I have to deal with.  That’s a win-win.

2. Greater in-field efficiency.  From a creative perspective, I don’t want to feel as though I should try to avoid changing lenses because of the time it takes to do so (or because of sensor dust fears).  Having two cameras, with different lenses mounted, minimizes this potential problem.  It also means there’s less chance of missing shots.  While the situation was unusual for me, I found myself with numerous unanticipated wildlife shooting opportunities while I was in Canada.  If I’d had only one camera with the wrong lens (and it almost certainly would have been the wrong lens for wildlife) mounted, I would have missed most–if not all–of these opportunities.  A few of these chances that ultimately didn’t work out–photographing wolves and bears–wouldn’t have even been considerations without my two-camera setup.  Landscape opportunities in changing light situations also would have been far more difficult–and might have been missed entirely–if I’d had to spend my time swapping out lenses.  On occasions too numerous to count on the trip–the visual evidence for some of these occasions accompanies this entry–I was able to very quickly go from wide to telephoto in rapidly changing lighting conditions and successfully capture both versions of scenes that I had my eye on, for one reason only:  the two camera setup.

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

3. Related to number two but treated separately because of the notable significance was the ability to very quickly check out massively different perspectives of a subject simply by putting one camera down and picking up the other.  Sometimes this led to unexpected photographic opportunities and sometimes it led to the rejection of extensive exploring of an entirely different perspective.  Either way, the central point is the existence of the ready opportunity to pursue the creative option.  With only one camera, it’s far more time-consuming to do this and I will admit, with some chagrin, that in the past I wasn’t always willing to go to the trouble of undertaking something that can often amount to little more than a wild goose chase.

4. Identical ergonomics.  Since, with two identical bodies, the controls are the same, there’s no fumbling around to adapt to any differences that might exist between a primary and backup body that aren’t the same.  The cameras can be configured to be absolutely identical, right down to the custom functions, if that’s the photographer’s desire.  This makes swapping one rig for the other an effortless experience.


Paradise Creek Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

As a practical matter, I leveraged the advantages of my two-camera setup multiple times every day while in Canada with the exception of my day at Lake O’Hara, and that was only because the weather was so awful that day that I scarcely pulled out one camera, let alone two; had the conditions been even decent I would have undoubtedly benefited from my arrangement there as well.

Now that I’ve relived the benefits of having a second, identical camera, it would be very difficult to go back to what I had been doing for the six-odd years that preceded my purchase of the second D800E.  Hopefully I won’t have to do so any time soon–if ever again.



  1. Your shot “Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta” is beautiful!

  2. Nice shots….I even enjoyed your painful journey through various camera upgrades. There is only one thing sure….you haven’t finished upgrading yet Nikon will see to that….they will also see to it that it will be more expensive than the last !

    • Thanks.

      Re upgrading…I’ve never said never (irony intended). But it’s going to take a lot more than an incremental update for me to even consider pulling the trigger at this point. I’m very happy with the D800E and, with two cameras now in hand, I’m even more heavily vested in working with what I already have.

  3. Really enjoyed these. Outstanding, of course.

    • Thanks very much!

  4. I agree with you regarding the incremental improvements of Nikon (and Canon) bodies the last couple of years. My old Canon 5DII could have been replaced with the MKIII, but the improvements weren’t worth the price to me. It’s nice to avoid the upgrade expense, but eventually the shutter or something else critical will fail. I can only hope that Canon will have released a doozy of a replacement by then.

    Your two D800Es, on the other hand, should be solid for a whale of a long time.

    • As regards Canon…by all accounts they’ve released some killer zoom lenses over the past year or so (16-35, 24-70, 100-400, etc.) and I keep wondering if they’re now poised to release a breakthrough camera (both in terms of resolution and dynamic range) that will really show off that glass…

      As far as my camera situation is concerned, when I bought into the D800E back in the late spring of 2012, I really felt that, for the first time since I moved to digital capture nearly nine years earlier, I wasn’t waiting for/chasing the next upgrade. It’s with some satisfaction that, 2 1/2 years later, I still feel that way. Nikon–and the rest of the camera manufacturers–may proclaim their products “obsolete” after a couple of years, but I don’t have to acquiesce in marketing hype. 🙂

  5. Beautiful!

  6. Great photos as always! I am glad you posted them. I have been trying to decide which camera I want to end up with next. And it’s nice to see actual examples of your d800/e shooting the types of scenes I like to see when I am out. Looks really good.
    I too am a fan of buying used. I cannot afford to buy new. Since this is a hobby for me I have to buy on the cheap and keep it until I can afford an up grade. I was hoping that eventually cameras would get so good that you would end up with a pretty good set up for a very reasonable cost.

    For me it has come down to a d800/e or a D3X. I would like to try to use a d3x. It was such an expensive body when it came out I really want to play with one. Maybe someday. Been enjoying your series of Canada. I used to travel to Nelson in the summer quite a few years ago. Canada is a beautiful place. Thanks for post….

    • Thanks!

      Re the cameras you mentioned, the D3X originally sold for $8000, if I recall correctly. I have no idea what a used one would cost at this point, but the sensor in the D3X is several generations old–the D600 series, at this point, is capable of better IQ than the D3X, at a far lower cost. About all you’d be getting from the D3X, in comparison, is a fully pro body. At this point, the D8xx is a far better camera and it probably costs less–maybe far less–on the used market.

      • Interesting. I will have to have a look at the newer bodies. I must admit I have not been following the new bodies as much as I should. Thanks for the info. Will definitely check it out.

  7. Interesting post. Apart from the ‘OMG my camera just died’ on the trip of a lifetime, I hadn’t really thought about why people carry 2 heavy full frame cameras. As a hobbyist I can’t justify it but certainly can see the beauty and ease of use from 2 bodies. Now just to win the lottery and then find someone to carry it all 🙂

    • My original thought about a second body was as a form of insurance, but I very quickly realized that there were other, significant benefits, at least based on my shooting proclivities and interests. Obviously if your top priority is to go light, this isn’t the best option, but then, a DSLR with a bunch of heavy lenses might not be either. 🙂

      • Oh I’ve got the DSLR with the heavy lenses that I cart everywhere, just that being a hobbyist I can’t justify the expense of another body.

        • Understood. I’m just kind of ruminating on the question of whether the DSLR and the heavy lenses still makes sense…or, perhaps more accurately, how much longer it will make sense. I’m talking about my own gear, BTW.

        • I like the way the full frame DSLR’s manage the low light shots with less grain which is why I can’t see me changing to a mirrorless lighter camera soon. But for back country hiking on a good day they would be fantastic.

        • FWIW, there are now some mirrorless cameras that are terrific low light performers–the Sony a7, for instance–and I suspect that we’ll see this become more and more common in the coming months and years.

  8. You have produced some gorgeous photos, the Mt Edith photo is a personal favorite.

  9. Once again there aren’t words to describe how your photos touch me, or how they inspire me to become a better photographer!

    I agree with using two camera bodies, that’s what I’m using now, however, since I’m more of a wildlife photographer, I keep one set-up for wildlife with a long lens all the time. The second body is for landscapes and macros, completely different settings. I’ll be on my hands and knees shooting a macro and see a bird or something that I want to shoot, I just grab the other camera and get the shot. No changing lenses or settings. Sometimes I’ll have one body set-up for wildlife “portraits” and the other for action shots. Once in a while, I’ll even set them both up for landscapes. 😉 There’s nothing better than two bodies!

    • As always, thanks very much for the kind words.

      Yup, sounds like you’re making the most out of having two camera bodies. Good deal!

  10. Great article which reveals how to resolve some of our toughest field problems.

    • Thanks very much.

  11. Wow! A great article you wrote here, and great pictures!

  12. Beautiful sceneries!

  13. […] shooting the wide scene, I leveraged the two-camera strategy that I described in my last post, to capture the peak portrait that you see immediately […]

  14. […] over four years ago I posted a piece on this blog that provided the rationale for my two cameras strategy for in-field photography.  I’m […]

  15. […] word that a second Z7ii body would be available to me before I left for the Southwest.  I have detailed, on more than one occasion on this blog, why I insist on having two identical cameras with me when […]

  16. […] (and as quickly as possible) pulled out my camera with the long lens attached (once again, the two cameras strategy worked; if I’d had to switch lenses this photo series never would have […]

  17. […] study has come up several times in previous blog entries, discussing the advantages of carrying two cameras, with different lenses mounted on each body, in the field. Certainly, the second image […]

  18. […] I added another Z7ii body.  (For more information as to why I have two identical camera bodies, go here.)  Along with the Nikon FTZ adapter (purchased at a steep discount at the time of the original […]

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