When bad things happen to good cameras, or, Why experienced photographers carry backups

Experienced photographers know: equipment breaks. That’s why experienced photographers carry backups. I mention it because I ran into a problem last weekend. Would have been a big problem—well, it would have been a disaster—were it not for my having not one, but two backups with me.

I started the morning shooting with a Pentax K10D and planned to use it as much as possible. For a while it was working fine. Here’s a boring but otherwise satisfactory shot taken shortly after I got on board with my host, Corinthian Sailing Club former commodore Michael Mittman:

Michael Mittman

But once we got out on the water, something happened. I don’t chimp every photo but eventually I did review a couple photos and I found this:

One of the many things that can go wrong with a camera!

This, I’d seen before. A couple years ago, at the State Fair of Texas, this problem appeared for the first time. At shutter speeds over 1/1500th of a second or so, the shutter curtain no longer moved out of the way fast enough, causing a part of the photo to be blacked out. By the time this problem appeared, a Pentax K20D had replaced the K10D as my primary camera and I didn’t feel like spending the money to get the K10D fixed. So long as the shutter speed was under 1/1000th sec—which in my photography is almost always the case—everything was fine, so I continued to use the K10D as a second body now and then.

Now, I’m not sure what was causing the camera to use a very fast shutter last weekend. It was a very overcast day. And I haven’t used the K10D much in the last 10 months or so; so perhaps some problem arose with its metering. But I didn’t have time to think the problem through while I was out in the middle of the lake, and I didn’t need to, because I was able to switch immediately to the other cameras I’d thrown into my bag the night before: the Panasonic LX3 with its terrific Leica wide-to-normal zoom lens, and the Panasonic FZ35, which its remarkably good superzoom capability. I wouldn’t take either of the Panasonic compact cameras to a portrait shoot (too little control depth of field due to the small sensor) or a wedding (poor low light performance) but for this assignment for the East Dallas Times, I thought they’d be fine and they were.

Leukemia Cup Regatta

The moral is simple. Don’t go out without a backup unless you can afford to come home without photos.


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