Back-up bodies vs complementary bodies - they're not the same thing

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by Karim Ghantous, Aug 21, 2021.

  1. Every now and then you might see people talk about back-up bodies and lenses. Sometimes they'll have, say, an E-M1 II as their main body with an E-M5 II as their 'back-up' body. In Nikon terms, it's vaguely similar to having a D4s with a Df as a back-up (although I don't know enough about the Nikon system to make a true comparison). This makes no sense and I would say that it's bad practise.

    If your primary body malfunctions, it's certainly better to have the lesser camera than no camera at all. But an E-M5 is not a back-up to an E-M1. The only back-up to an E-M1 is another E-M1. The only back-up to a D4s is another D4s.

    The E-M5 is a complementary body. It's smaller and lighter than the E-M1 and it might make more sense to take it on a photowalk, or on a hike. So it makes sense to have one, but it certainly is not a back-up camera to an E-M1, anymore than a D3 is a back-up camera to a D4.

    You could have a Phase One system, plus an Olympus system (for example). The Olympus doesn't back-up the Phase One. It is there to do jobs that the Phase One is not suited for, such as birds in flight.

    It might be tempting to save some money and have a lesser camera as a back-up to your main camera. But I advise against it. Of course, there is the option to rent the equipment you need, and sometimes that works better than outright ownership. If your budget is tighter, the pay-as-you-go option would make a lot of sense.
  2. No, I don't think I agree.

    Yes, having an identical duplicate is the best 'back-up' option, but in most cases it's both a waste of money (if your 'main' camera is a high-end model) and restrictive, not to mention potentially back-breaking.

    There is no reason why a second body cannot be both back-up and complementary at the same time.

    Numerous manufacturers have 'lesser' cameras in their ranges that are 90% of the top spec 'pro' models, they might lack the burst rate/modularity/toughness of the top cameras, but unless your project absolutely requires that missing feature, they will still allow you to bring home results, so they serve their role as a back-up. A back-up is not always required to have 100% of the primary system's functionality, rather the minimum required to finish the task, otherwise it would be a duplicate/secondary system, not a backup.

    If those 'lesser' cameras are also smaller, lighter or encourage a different style of working, they can also be complementary, performing their own dedicated role, but able to step in to replace the primary camera if needed.

    How many pros carried a Nikon FM/FE as a back-up to an F series primary camera? Likely fitted with their other lens.

    How about someone shooting events with a pair of mirrorless digital cameras, one top spec SLR-style body with booster grip, maybe a speedlight and one 'rangefinder'-style body with a complementary lens for candids? In several manufacturers ranges, it's possible for those two bodies to have the same sensor and processing engine, so the results would be impossible to tell apart. In a pinch, either can perform the role of the other, but they are not identical.
    Karim Ghantous likes this.
  3. AJG


    As a working pro I have always had identical back up bodies so that if I had to switch from one to another I wouldn't have to fight with the inevitable small but important differences between different models. I've kept that affordable by buying used or discontinued bodies in some cases and by not always buying the top of the line that frequently had features that I didn't need. As I approach retirement, some of that redundant equipment will be going away, since I won't be depending on it for my livelihood.
  4. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Sage (and ditto).

    Last edited: Aug 21, 2021
  5. Does your car have a compact spare tire?

    A backup for any camera is any other camera that allows one to keep working. If your work requires no difference in features, then you would need the same body as a backup. I certainly don't. I have three very different bodies, two of which are DSLRs. They are very different cameras, but I could make do with the older, cheaper one in a pinch.
  6. I agree with you Karrim. I personally never have a back up camera because none of my photo taking events are that important but I do have complementary cameras. One camera isn't best at everything.
    But if I want a back up it should be an identical camera.
    Karim Ghantous likes this.
  7. A back up should be able to do the same just as well. No need to be the same (somehow, i manage fine using all the different cameras i own).
    I do not see a strict complementary v. back up division. Nor do i see a need to make such a division. I think the OP's point isn't one.
    Jochen likes this.
  8. Then there’s the case of Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees closing relief pitcher for 17 seasons and considered by many the best of all time.

    Maybe you should consider a relief camera instead of or in addition to a backup or complementary camera, or however else we parse it. Imagine having the Mercedes Benz (or any testosterone-inducing make of your choice) of cameras in your top drawer for those extra special occasions!

    The advantages of having a super-fine relief camera are many, among them: 1) we all know that the better camera you have the better pictures you take and 2) all that money you’ve been aching to spend on gear will no longer be burning a hole in your pocket.

    Me, I make a lot of portraits, so I’m looking for a complimentary camera, one that will flatter my most vain subjects.

    Karim Ghantous likes this.
  9. This is an old topic. Steve Sint, an active pro for many years who published extensively on photography, devoted one of his Popular Photography columns to the issue of backup cameras. On the basis of his experience, he suggested not only a backup camera, but a backup to the backup--he once had to fall back on a third camera body in order to finish an assignment after the first two failed. If memory serves, although his first two cameras on that day were identical, the third was not, and all was well. It gets pretty expensive to have three identical bodies.

    On a lighter note . . .

    I don't necessarily like all the people I photograph at events (I like most of them just not all) so that I try to include an uncomplimentary camera in my kit. As one friend described the principle that those who attend should follow: "Don't annoy or anger the photographer."
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2021
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  10. At least have a back up in the car nearby. I always threw a M4/3 with a FFL lens in the bag. A few added ounces for insurance. Besides, love those art & scene filters missing from my Nikon.
    Karim Ghantous likes this.
  11. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Always had two cameras on a job in film days. #1 my best, #2 the best I could afford. Both were Nikons, No difficulty switching back and forth, mostly done to avoid reloading film at crucial points. I never had a Nikon camera fail. Now, on a trip or purposeful photo excursion, still two Nikons in a shoulder bag, possibly more in a hard case in the car. Habit, a personal preference, and no need to change lenses in the field. The capability of the cameras is not materially different, though I prefer certain camera / lens combinations for particular genres. I think paid Work is where Back Up becomes essential. Complimentary bodies, possibly in respect to available lenses and exotic camera requirements. The words used to describe extra cameras are nothing more than that. A skilled practitioner will change and use any owned cameras fluently.
  12. I like a nice, hot body, well shaped, open to suggestions, a little bit risqué. If it fails, it gives me time for a breather
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  13. If I were a working pro, two (nearly) identical cameras might be the way to go, However even working weddings or events my latest and next latest bodies seem to do the trick, as long as they use the same lenses and accessories. If I need rapid lens changes, wearing two bodies with different lenses is about as extreme as I go. When traveling, it's nice to have the other as a backup. In that case, a Sony A7Riv is my go-to camera, with an A9 as a backup (*), or possibly an A7Siii if I'm doing a travelogue thing. There's nothing wrong with 24 MP, even for 16"x20" prints. I am tempted to forego the A9 in favor of a drone kit, which fits in the same space.

    * I have given an A7Rii and A7Riii to my sons, but kept the A9. It does things nothing else can do, from fast focusing to 20 fps. The concentric knob on the top left has the mode changes I use most often.
    Karim Ghantous likes this.
  14. Working in photojournalism I carried at least an F2 and a Nikkormat at all times, later an F4s and an N90S and still have both setups ready to go. These days though an 800 and an 810 go well together and a D4 for weddings and events. I don’t think one needs two identical bodies but you need to be able to go from one to the other without thinking about it. That way you spend your time and thought making photos and not screwing with the camera.

    Rick H.
  15. One size fit all never works.
  16. You make a good point. I do think that as cameras gain features, it's better to not have to remember the small differences in menu options between different tiers. Not always a problem, but it might be.

    No, and I'm glad it doesn't. That's the kind of compromise I'd rather not make. But it's not as if we have a choice with new cars, is it?

    I know you speak in jest but if I may be serious for a moment: a photographer should always try and make their subject look good, even if the subject is someone truly loathsome. Professionalism is an ethic.

    I hope that what you demand can be matched by what you have to offer.

    HEY HEY!

    An A9 as a backup! I love it.
  17. Camera weight is becoming the deciding factor for my daily walk.
  18. Horses for courses. The A9 would be my primary for wedding candids, action (including grandchildren), and many events (smaller file sizes). The A9 has limited video capability compared to the newer A7Rxxx cameras, and far less than that of the A7Siii.
  19. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    I carried an F2 and Nikkormat ELW for some years. IMO, about as good as it got in those days. I still have both, and they still work perfectly.
  20. I have an F3, which is a jewel of a camera. However it has no place to take an SD card.

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