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Never Go Traveling Without a Backup Camera

2010-01-10 updated 2017-08-20 - Send Feedback
Related: backup, howto

Murphy’s Law says that as soon as you travel more than 100 miles from a camera store, your camera’s chance of failure quintuples!

This happened to me on a trip to Lake Tahoe with the Nikon D1. It happened to a friend of mine who took two EOS 1V film bodies to Iceland, both of which shattered their shutters the same day.

And it happened twice to Arnold Crane with Leica R film bodies in Beijing, where 2 of 3 bodies failed from water (rain) and another one (separate trip) in San Francisco (bad mirror). Arnold reports switching back to Nikon as a result, but the truth is that any brand can fail, whether or not the camera is the top-of-the-line or not.

An acquaintance bought a brand-new Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II for a fall-color trip a few years ago.

Of course, you need to gauge the cost of the trip against the cost of redundant spares. But suppose you spend $10K on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Africa or Antarctica or the place of your dreams. Or maybe it’s “only” an unusually special occasion for a loved one, but one that can never be repeated.

The point is to assume that a failure will occur sooner or later. This applies to camera bodies, batteries, lenses, chargers, computers, etc. Duplicating everything isn’t feasible, but at a minimum you should have twice the storage you think you need (in case the laptop or download device fails) and you should have two or more camera bodies and two or more lenses. Buy the cheapest body available, rent one, do something to make sure you aren’t left empty-handed.

For camera bodies, a nice usability bonus is not needing to switch lenses between one body. Lenses need not be identical, but more than one lens means you have something to shoot with. And this is one darn good reason to take at least one sturdy Zeiss ZF.2 or ZE lens as a backup—complicated AF lenses with electronics do fail (and so do manual ones!).

Take care of yourself too

Finally, for remote trips, you can “fail” too—so be sure to sign up for air ambulance service, which costs around $300 for the year, offering 1000X the protection. Doctors offices sometimes carry fliers for them.

Bad Stuff Happens

Gary G writes:

My wife and I in the last 24 years have visited over 100 countries on cruises, tours, and independent travel. Since I retired in 2006 our trips abroad are for a month or more. On cruises we of course never change cabins. On extended visits to a city like Berlin we stay for entire stay in one hotel room. On tours the operators have others move our suitcases.

Therefore, we bring at least three Canon cameras/lens combos. Only breakdown since going DSLR was (only bring FF cameras and L series lenses abroad) that of a Canon 24-105 L lens which I had dropped onto a concrete sidewalk two years earlier. Lens continued to function until it failed in Poland.

Only breakdowns at home have been Tamron superzoom lens and my wife's Sony NEX 5 (our one and only non-Canon camera since 2006). We own 10 Canon DSLRs and over two dozen lenses (most L series). No breakdowns except for aforementioned Canon 24-105 despite aggressive photography in often unfamiliar locations.

DIGLLOYD: reliability is hard to assess for new cameras without some years of experience. I also tend to trust my Canon and Nikon DSLRs not to fail.

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