Back Up Cameras – Do You Carry One?

I’ve lost track of the number of camera reviews where, for any camera less than the latest top end pro model, the author treats it merely as a potential “back up” camera, as if it’s only good enough to be called upon in an emergency as a desperate last measure.

Anyway, that minor rant aside, even if we’re not pros with thousands of pounds’ worth of gear at our disposal, it does make sense to have a back up camera of some kind if we’re going on any photowalk we hope will bear photographic fruit. 

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Many who use an (D)SLR or mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses might have their main camera, then an older/cheaper/simpler body that’s also compatible with the same lenses and system.

Some instead just use a compact (digital or 35mm film) as a second camera, either for if/when their main camera fails, or as an alternative when it’s not worth breaking out their big guns.

Others still simple use their smartphone as a backup.

When I shot film, on occasion I would take more than one camera out with me.

Not so much as a back up, but more because I had two new (to me) cameras I was keen to try, and felt I had enough time to run a roll of film through each of them.

These days I just like to use one camera and be fully committed to that single device for the duration of the photowalk, rather than constantly having options and decisions in the back of my mind. 

So I don’t carry a back up.

Except I do. My smartphone. 

On the rare occasion where I’ve misjudged the life of my batteries (or forgotten to take a spare), dropped and broken a lens, or I’ve simply been disillusioned with the main camera I’ve taken, I’ve relied on the phone camera.

It’s always with me anyway, so nothing extra to pack, and performs more than well enough to be able to use and know I’ll be pleased with the output.

How about you? Do you have a back up camera? When have you needed to use it? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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18 thoughts on “Back Up Cameras – Do You Carry One?”

  1. I’m not the kind of photographer that needs back up. Photography for me is just a relaxing hobby, so, like you my back up camera is my phone. Also my W.A. lens more and more often if I need one. I do have “back up” cameras at home thought in case one fails, so I can keep using my lenses while the other camera is being serviced. (One well-know tech here in the USA had one of my cameras for both Obama administrations) I have two identical Exaktas, A Leica CL in case my M-5 heads south, etc.

    1. I think yes as “amateurs” or hobbyists, the need for a back-up is far less than if we were shooting a wedding or something where camera failure could be disastrous. The thing most likely to fail in my experience is batteries, so I usually have a spare and make sure the main one is fully charged, and I can’t recall every running out.

  2. The same here, my phone – currently Galaxy S9 – is my “back up”, should the Nikon fail (had a scary moment recently when the SD card kept giving error messages). But in all honesty, I have considered my smartphone as my main camera for a few years now. Other cameras have become a kind of back-up for those moments when the smartphone cannot take a certain type of photos (for example with shallow depth of field).

    1. Do you know before you set out that you might want to take photos with shallow depth of field, to use your example, so take another camera with you only then? I’m assuming you don’t always have your Nikon with you, but your phone you do?

      1. Yes, I only take my (small) camera bag and Nikon with me when I know in advance which photos I want to take, for example during a visit to The Hague’s Japanese Garden or a model shoot. I feel that I need a kind of prepared “self-assignment” to enjoy my photography. At the moment, for example, I am doing an experiment making photo series in which one specific color dominates. I do not take the Nikon with me for this project, those images really need the snapshot aesthetics of a phone camera.

      2. I love this self-assigment idea Robert, you’ve mentioned it before.

        Are you looking for scenes where a colour dominates naturally, by chance, or altering the images afterwards like those images that are b/w with just a red hat or umbrella? (Which personally I think are ghastly, so I hope you’re doing the former. : ) )

      3. Ha ha, no, not the selective color nonsense (if I ever do that, I hope people will take my cameras from me to protect me against myself). I have made cards with different colors, and I plan to draw a card with a certain color (currently orange) once every few weeks. Then I will take as many photos as possible with that color as the main element, and see if I can make a selection for a series after two or three weeks or so.

      4. That’s really cool, love it.

        By the way I also like your gear list on your site and how most of it is crossed through. Less is more!

      5. I always thought that I bought and replaced (too) many different cameras. But twenty or so (including phones) in four decades of photography is actually not much at all.

  3. I used to carry my iPhone everywhere I went and never once had to use it as a backup for my old all – mechanical film cameras. I did, however, use a light meter app in the iPhone. But now I have an Apple Watch which is a better match with some new heath issues and I no longer carry the iPhone. Even when I was carrying the iPhone I relied mostly on Sunny 16 to estimate exposure and only used the iPhone app for tricky situations. On my last couple of photo outings I put my tiny Voigtländer VC II meter in my pocket, and didn’t once take it out to use it.

  4. Don’t really keep a backup per se but some of my heavy modern Nikons are sitting dusty but organized on the shelf if I were ever to get myself in a temporary pinch. I was just reading one of your newer essays about going back from time to time as it were, getting glimpses/finding out how we might have evolved in the craft. I don’t know if this is exactly germane to the idea you were exploring but it reminded me so of my own profound evolution the past couple years, how much more important portability and elegance in the tools I use, have become. Those Nikon cameras are spectacular instruments yet brutal beasts of burden and toil for me now, it’s hard to believe (depressing and maybe even a little embarassing) I used to take them into the backcountry so far. What a determined fool I was. The only plans I have for them these days are mounted atop tripods where I can swivel them about with ease (particularly if I’m shooting at water). Now the question of my actual images, what comes out of the tools….that’s not unrelated but a far more complicated conversation. Well, maybe not that complicated. Giving myself far too much credit as a photographer 🙂 Sorry I’m not really adding much here with my thoughts. It is what came to mind and being that so many of your recent essays deserve more acknowledgement on my part as I’ve quietly enjoyed them…….hope you’re having a good week and some pleasant early summer bike rides to and from work.

    I like that monochrome of the parlor or chapel, above. At least I think I spy a pew. Is that from the inside of an old church? That’s some kind of wild bouquet.

    1. Thank you Ty, I appreciate your comments, and I’m glad you’r enjoying the essays.

      Not been on the bike much this week as I’m off work, on Paternity Leave. 🙂

      How you feel about your Nikons is so similar to my Pentax K10D. I absolutely loved it in so many ways, and the handling was excellent, with the weight giving it a real feeling of quality and confidence… But, ultimately it was too heavy and cumbersome to use as often as I wanted. Especially with the older manual film lenses I was using. I had a rather fantastic Pentax-A 35-105mm zoom. Wonderful lens, on a wonderful camera, the K10D. But wow it was like hauling around a military weapon like a bazooka or something. Even with a very light and compact Pentax-DA 35/2.4 lens, the K10D was still too much most of the time. And yet, just the last couple of weeks, I’ve been looking fondly as DSLRs again more than I have done in a couple of years…

      Regarding the photo, thanks, yes it’s one of the most weathered churches I know, and one of my favourites. I adore these old buildings, the more primitive the better.

      1. Paternity leave? Does that mean the same thing as in the States? A brand new little baby? Or is it one of the kids home from school with polka dots (I seem to recall we have a brood of very similar ages)? Congratulations if it’s the former!

    1. That’s wonderful, Dan! Congratulations! I’m terribly sorry if you’ve dropped any hints of this in your recent essays and somehow I’ve missed them. My warmest regards to you. Now if you keep blogging every 36 hours we’ll really know you’ve got your shit together.

      1. Thank you, and dn I doubt I dropped any hints, I’m rather private like that, and this blog is predominantly about photography, not families.

        Ha, re the 36 hours, actually this week as I’ve been off work and taking my older son to trampolining all three sessions (2h15m each!) I’ve had more downtime than usual to write. Plus the invaluable schedule post function on WP allows me to write more irregularly than the posts appear, so the ebbs and flows are evened out.

        We’ll see how it goes when I’m back to work full time!

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