Posted by: kerryl29 | January 7, 2019

Two Cameras Revisited

Just 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 revisiting the topic now because it became a recurring theme during the Alaska trip a few months ago.

(R to L) Debbie, Ellen and I take in the majesty of The Mountain, Denali National Park, Alaska

The Mountain Black & White, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

As background, I’m using the same two camera bodies I mentioned in the four-year-old post:  a pair of Nikon D800Es.  The camera has now been updated twice by Nikon and I haven’t bitten either time.  (We’re coming up on seven years since I purchased my first D800E and I still have no immediate plans to replace it.  This is a reminder that you don’t have to get the latest and greatest; there may be a reason why you could, but it’s not imperative, no matter what the marketing hype implies.  But I digress…)  But on every single extended photo trip I’ve taken over the past four and-a-half years–and on some of the day trips I’ve taken during that time frame as well–I’m reminded of just how nice it is to have two identical camera bodies.

Red Jack Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Red Jack Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Those photo trips–the ones where I’m reminded of the benefits of carrying two camera bodies with me–include Alaska.  I dutifully brought both cameras with me and realized the benefits essentially each and every day.  That’s no different than every other trip I’ve made since picking up the second (used) D800E body in 2014.  So why am I raising this subject again?  Because the people who accompanied me on this trip didn’t have a second camera and that became a bit of a thing.

Lower Brandywine Falls, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Brandywine Falls Black & White, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

The first “no second camera” incident was the one I related in an earlier post.  Ellen’s camera hit the pavement in the dark.  Something broke; it seemed likely that the camera was damaged.  Now what?  It turned out that the only damage was to the lens; the camera survived the fall and was fully functional.  But it certainly appeared for some time that Ellen was going to be without a camera.  Of course, a trip back to the camera store in Fairbanks might have rectified that problem.  And yet, with a second camera in tow, that’s a problem that wouldn’t have needed to be rectified.  In fairness, this little mini-story concludes with a bunch of couldas and wouldas; in the end, the camera was fine, so what’s the big deal?  True enough, but I’ve both seen and heard of enough camera horror stories–the kind that completely ruined entire photo trips–to know that this sort of thing isn’t limited to hypotheticals.  Cameras can and do bite the dust, occasionally at the most inopportune of times.  You have absolutely no need for a backup camera body right up until the moment when you do.

Sneffels Range Sunrise, County Road 5, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Golden Band, County Road 5, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

The second part of the no-second-camera story is the one I addressed in the previously linked piece:  the logistical inconvenience of only having one body when engaged in photo opportunities that will frequently involve wildly different focal lengths.  This is always a potential issue–particularly for someone like myself who frequently engages in a great deal of long lens landscape photography–but it’s especially consequential when photographing landscapes in a location where wildlife opportunities could pop up at any time.  Like Alaska.

Even without the presence of wildlife, a second camera–with different focal length lens mounted and at the ready–can be the difference between making or missing an image (or several).  A good example of this arose during my first trip to the Canadian Rockies, in 2014.  During one sunrise shoot, I was using the camera with the wide angle lens and with it, obtained a number of images at daybreak, including the one you see immediately below.

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Seconds after this image was made, I looked over my right shoulder, toward Elliot Peak, and saw a striking scene of fleeting light.  The shot demanded a telephoto lens.  I simply pulled the camera I had been using off the tripod and placed it in my bag, grabbed the second camera body, the one with the telephoto lens, and placed it on the tripod, adjusted my position and composed the photo you see below.

Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The light you see on the peak was short-lived, given the mostly cloudy sky to the southeast.  Within seconds,  the rising sun was buried behind a shroud of clouds and the light was gone.  If I’d had to fiddle with a lens change there, that second shot never gets made.

Tenaya Creek Intimate, Yosemite National Park, California

Dogwood Blossoms, Tenaya Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

In any event, this lens switching thing was an issue off and on throughout our time in the Denali area of Alaska this past August–probably most notably during our time on the Denali Highway, but during other excursions as well.  But it became a nearly constant occurrence when we were in the Brooks Range.

Long Pine Lake Sunrise, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

Moonset, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

The first time Debbie said something about being sick of constantly switching lenses, I calmly related my two-cameras rationale.  In fairness, it took quite a bit of incessant switching before the first complaint hit the airwaves.  If you haven’t been through a long day of photography when circumstances keep changing, requiring a seemingly infinite number of lens changes, you have no idea how bothersome it becomes.  There’s a tendency, after awhile, to start asking yourself whether it’s “worth the trouble” of changing lenses.  That, of course, is when a line has been crossed:  when your equipment (or lack thereof) starts to supersede the creative process.

Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

After listening to my spiel, Debbie raised a couple of pretty reasonable counterpoints.  The first was concern about being weighed down by an extra camera body; most of us are already overburdened with heavy gear bags.  (I plead guilty to this.)  The last thing we need is more gear to haul around.  My response to this was that you don’t necessarily need to carry that second body with you all the time.  (I pretty much do, but it’s not a requirement.)  If you’re going on a lengthy hike, you can pare down to a single body (and cut back on the lenses too), if you really need to save weight.  But when you’re shooting out of a vehicle (i.e. stopping along the side of the road), that’s not really an issue.  Why not give yourself some flexibility on such occasions?

The Pulpit and Cottonwoods, Temple of Sinawava, Zion National Park, Utah

The Pulpit, Temple of Sinawava, Zion National Park, Utah

The second objection was the expense of purchasing a second camera.  My answer to that is that you don’t have to buy a second new camera body.  That second camera can be used (mine is!) or, if you really don’t feel a need to carry a second camera except on the occasion of a long(ish) trip, renting can be a good option.

The point is, there are ways of getting a second camera into your hands without busting your budget.

Mooselookmeguntic Lake from Height of Land Overlook, Franklin County, Maine

Mooselookmeguntic Lake at Sunset from Height of Land Overlook, Franklin County, Maine

The second time Debbie complained about being sick to death of switching lenses I simply responded with an admittedly snarky sing-songy “Two cameras.”

The third time Debbie complained about being fed up with switching lenses I simply held up two fingers.  No words were necessary.



  1. Great to see that my old D800E is still going strong 🙂

    • It remains rock solid; absolutely no problems in the (closing in on) five years since I bought it from you.

  2. I have seen the light, and I agree that having 2 cameras is an advantage because inevitably the telephoto is on the camera when a shorter focal length is needed or vice versa. Carrying the extra weight is still a consideration for me, though, but your point is well taken about paring down at appropriate times.

    • It’s always good to see the light. 🙂

      Seriously, there are plenty of ways to be flexible with that second body, even if it’s going the rental route for occasions like the trip to Alaska. For instance, I noticed, during one of our many visits to the camera store in Fairbanks, that they did have a 5D3 available for rent.

  3. I tried this for the first time using my D90 as the main body with a 10-20mm and my D40 with an 18-250mm telephoto.
    It actually worked out rather well because while I was set up on the tripod waiting for the correct light (just before sunset) there was an egret that came around and I was able to quickly get shots of the egret without needing to worry about changing lenses and having to re-set for the landscape shot.
    Now, if I am planning an outing for shooting, I bring both with me. Just in case.
    By the way, both of these bodies work really well for me still after all these years.

    • Sounds like I’m preaching to the choir. 🙂

      Glad to hear that this approach is working for you.

  4. Now that I’ve switched to the Sony α6000, the added weight of the camera would be negligible. I’ve been giving an extra body some serious thought. Any suggestions for finding a used one?

    Some truly wonderful images in this post (as usual)!

    • I have an a6000 myself (my wife bought it for me a couple of years ago so I could easily photograph our pets 🙂 ). That’s is a tiny, tiny kit–not just the cameras, but the lenses as well. For those who are okay with cropped sensor mirrorless systems, the size/weight savings can be immense; a pretty complete, flexible package can fit in a glorified fanny pack that weighs less than three pounds.

      Options for purchase of a used camera body, beyond something like eBay would include:

      You’d almost certainly be able to do better (in terms of price) from an individual via eBay or Craig’s List or something like that, but those are definitely caveat emptor situations. The places I listed above are all reputable.

      • Thanks, Kerry. I appreciate the suggestions! I opted for tiny so that the camera is at hand at virtually all times. The 70-300 zoom goes with me on outings, but it would be great to switch back and forth. One never knows when a bird or wildlife opportunity might pop up.

        • We’re looking at a trip back to the Bosque del Apache in NM… so, this was a timely push you gave me. I’ve been muttering about how slow my 70-300 zoom is to focus. Looking at a 2nd camera body suggested that the 6300 was supposed to be improved focusing… so, I bit the bullet. A ‘new’ body for the old lens (from keh). Hoping it helps with the bird opportunities at the Refuge. (Hope it’s not impacted by the stupid shutdown!) Only second thoughts are wondering if it’ll mean a whole new set of buttons to learn or discover. I’m still learning with the ‘old’ 6000!

        • Part of the sluggishness of the focusing may be the lens itself. (Don’t quote me on that, as I have no experience with the a-series 70-300.) But that possibility aside, just about every succeeding generation of mirrorless cameras has snappier AF than its predecessors (i.e. that a6300 is better than the a6000; the a6500 is better than the a6300). I wouldn’t anticipate a whole lot of an ergonomic learning curve with the 6300; the controls are laid out similarly. I know that there are a few more customizable buttons on the 6300, but when you get the new body do a quick side-by-side comparison and you should be able to identify the few differences without difficulty.

          Best of luck!

  5. Great post, Kerry, wise words. Gorgeous photos, as always. The Elliot Peak photo is stunning.

    • Thanks very much, Lynn!

  6. Love your shot of Red Jack Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan.

  7. […] The next stop was at a lake just north of Sukakpak Mountain.  We parked along the side of the road and walked down to the edge of the lake where we spotted a bonus:  a moose cow in the shallows at the other end of the lake.  I switched back and forth between my long lens and wide angle rigs, demonstrating yet another example of the benefits of two cameras, as outlined in the preceding post. […]

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  9. […] Southwest.  I have detailed, on more than one occasion on this blog, why I insist on having two identical cameras with me when I’m on an extended photo trip.  I hadn’t expected the second Z7ii to […]

  10. […] 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 wouldn’t have come to fruition without the second […]

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