Carrying two cameras around may sound a little excessive, and yes, it has the potential to put a crick in your neck, but there are some great benefits that help justify this practice beyond just excusing a gear nerd's need to collect...at least, that's what I'm going with for the purposes of this post. I am by no means an expert photographer, but I did just test the waters of toting around two cameras while on a vacation in Paris and I'm ready to preach the gospel.
Over the past few years, I've been having a blast taking photographs with my grandfather's Pentax K1000. Equipped with only a 50mm lens and this classic manual camera, I've been happily chipping away at basic photography techniques and concepts without the distraction of a complicated kit or advanced camera features. Just when I started to feel comfortable with some of the basics, my folks dusted off their Minolta XG-M from somewhere deep in a dark closet filled with totes, fanny packs, and mis-matched gloves.
I was so excited, not only at the prospect of learning a new-to-me camera system, but also about being able to carry two cameras. Professionals have duplicated gear for back-up purposes for years, the practice is not new and is often referred to as "redundancy". Though this is not at all necessary for simply having fun with photography, if you're lucky to have two systems, the benefits are great:
- Shooting different film speeds: Load one roll for indoor light, one for outdoor light, and roam freely
- Fewer lens changes: Change up the focal lengths, one camera for close ups and one for wide-angle
- Camera features: Different camera bodies have different strengths. The XG-M features LED indicators in the viewfinder, making it easier to use in lowlight than the K1000.
- FOMO insurance: Film cameras are mechanical and likely not fresh out of the factory. If something fails, having a back up is handy.
- Mixed Media: Different film sizes, digital and analogue, rangefinder/polaroid/SLR, B/W and color film, options options options
When my wife, Kimber, and I decided to go to Paris this year, I chose to bring only film cameras along. I wanted to live the trip through my eyes rather than a viewfinder and I find having a finite number of frames helps me ration my camera time. I bought 5 rolls, two each of Fujifilm's Superia X-Tra 400 and 800 and one Fujifilm PRO 400H, and anxiously planned the best way to ask TSA agents for a hand check.
The trip, spanning 5 nights in Paris, was absolutely wonderful. We enjoyed the museums, wandered the streets, gorged ourselves on unforgettable food, and even made it out to the Palace of Fontainebleau to see where Napoleon kept his sleevies for his armies (if you haven't heard that joke before, I'm sorry I ruined the punchline). All in all, the trip was perfect and using two cameras proved to be both easy and fun. Let's go over my points from above:
Shooting Different Film Speeds
For the majority of the trip, I kept my Pentax loaded with the slower speed, 400 ISO film to be used outside in bright daylight. My Minolta held down the fort for indoor shots with the 800 ISO film. Having two different film speeds loaded and ready to go at all times meant I didn't have to struggle with shutter speed limitations when we decided to stroll into a museum midday or when the sun broke through the fog. I could simply put one camera back in the bag and take the other one out.
Fewer Lens Changes
I didn't have to change lenses on this trip. I kept a 50mm lens on my Pentax and a 35-70mm zoom lens on my Minolta giving me more than enough versatility for walking around Paris. The Pentax worked as a solid go to in most situations and I was able to use the Minolta to zoom in on details or go wide to take it all in. Even in bright sunlight, getting wide angle shots of buildings or other scenic views was easy on the Minolta because the 800 ISO film let me use much narrower apertures than I would have been able to with the 400 roll.
This is where my doubling made a big difference. Generally speaking, my Pentax is my favorite camera that I own. It's simple, requires little maintenance, and seeing the exposure meter's needle flick up and down as I change settings still makes me smile. This, however, is also one of its downsides in certain conditions. Because the needle is silhouetted against the scene coming through the lens, it is only visible in bright conditions. My Minolta uses LEDs to show exposure readings, taking the guesswork out of lowlight metering and making it easy to take photos inside say, the dark and moody Cathedral of Notre Dame.
Another big feature difference (which I haven't tested much at this point) is that the Minolta body also has Aperture Priority mode letting the user set aperture while the camera chooses the shutter speed. This could be a huge advantage over the Pentax in street photography where timing is key.
I ended up coming home from this trip with two unused rolls. I screwed up loading film in both camera bodies for each of their second rolls. The film didn't actually advance and I got to enjoy the sinking "oh no" feeling each time I rewound a "completed" roll of film and it only took 2 seconds to wind the film leader into the canister. Luckily, these rolls weren't loaded at the same time and though I still vividly remember some photographic moments that I never actually recorded, I still ended up with photos from each place that we visited.
The moral of the story:
- If advancing your film on a Pentax K1000 feels like a MACK truck downshifting on the highway, you probably loaded your film wrong.
- If your Minolta XG-M's film counter is rising, but you don't have much resistance on the advance lever, you probably loaded your film wrong.
- If a very sweet, elderly French man sees your camera, reminisces about photography in broken English, and you chat with him about the beauty of film while walking in Napoleon's footsteps, you probably loaded your film wrong.
I haven't had a chance to experiment much with the final "Mixed Media" bullet from above, but I look forward to playing with different types of film in the future. It could be really fun to capture the same subjects in both color and B&W.
Clearly, carrying two cameras is not always necessary, but for special occasions it can be very fun. When it comes to shooting film, having two camera systems can make your life a lot easier when you're exploring in unknown conditions. Sure, you can get the same flexibility with a solid DSLR and two or three lenses, but if you've been bitten by the analogue bug, don't feel too bad about expanding your kit if you're lucky enough to do so. It's worth it.