Do You Have a Back-up Camera? aka Nobody’s Perfect

by | Jul 12, 2021

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

This post could easily qualify as one of my Stupid Photographer’s Tricks series because of what’s happening at in the beginning of this shoot but it sorta, kinda works out in the end…

Back in the 1980’s, I photographed weddings using Hasselblad cameras. During one wedding my 500CM body and 80mm lens locked up. (Later a camera repair person made me a tool to manually cock the shutter so I could remove the lens, which I couldn’t do during this wedding. That’s important because…)  While I had a back-up 500C body, my back up lens was a 150mm f/4 that made photographing even a small wedding group, like this one, a challenge. It was also held in a tiny venue and to capture the group I had to stand in the doorway of the chapel using a Vivitar 283 as my only light source, all the while thanking Kodak for the latitude of its color negative film.

In those wonderful pre-pandemic times, when I was able to shoot glamour models in my home studio, I had a shoot scheduled with my former muse Erin Valakari and Kelly Alexander, a charming young model. For this session I was planning on using my Panasonic Lumix GH4 and when I began the session, its LCD screen would not turn on. Chimping is not as big of a deal with mirrorless cameras because you can see if a subject blinks (or not) via the electronic viewfinder but using the EVF to make menu choices is not that easy.

I have lots of cameras in my gear closet but on that day few of them had charged batteries. Yes, there’s a lesson for me there too. I wanted to use my Olympus E-M5 Mark I but couldn’t quickly find its charger. Meanwhile both of these talented models are standing around getting bored. I finally found the E-M10 Mark I’s charger, put its battery on charge, then grabbed my Olympus Pen F that’s always charged and sitting on my office desk and started shooting with it while the E-M10 Mark I’s battery was charging. And before you ask, all of these chargers and cameras have since been co-located so this doesn’t occur again.

You would think the rangefinder style design of the Pen F would not lend itself to studio shooting but my Pocket Wizard PlusX easily slid onto the camera’s  hot shoe and fired my lights. The next thing I noticed was how much nicer the images on the Pen F’s screen looked compared to the Lumix GH4. Both camera’s screens measure three-inches but the Lumix is a 1.03m-dot LCD and the Pen F is 2.36m-Dot OLED. Initially I thought those differences had to do with when the cameras were made but the brand new Lumix GH5 Mark II only has a 1.84m-dot LCD screen. Really, Panasonic? When looking at the images on my computer, the images looked noticeably better too. The Pen F’s sensor is 20 megapixels vs the GH4’s 16, so obviously more is better megapixel-wise too.

How I made the photo: The camera I used to photograph Kelly and Erin was an Olympus Pen F with Oly’s 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R kit lens at 28mm. Exposure was 1/125 sec at f/11 and ISO 400, shooting in my now-standard RAW+JPEG mode. Lighting was provided by two Paul C Buff DigiBee DB 800‘s and one Alien Bees B800 monolight. The background was a handpainted Carbonite muslin from Silverlake Photo suspended from…you guessed it. The image was converted to monochrome and toned using Silver Efex Pro and then soft focus from the Glamour Glow filter was added to give it an old-fashioned look as befits their clothing and pose.

Because I refuse to use and can’t afford  Adobe’s Photoshop subscription service, shooting the Pen F left me with 444 ORF Olympus Raw Format files that I couldn’t open with Photoshop CS6. (Please don’t email me about my financial situation; I don’t judge yours, please don’t judge mine.) Adobe Camera RAW CS6 opens the Lumix GH4’s RW2 files but not Oly’s Pen F RAW files. I downloaded Adobe DNG Converter and that did the trick at the time*, converting ORF’s into portable DNG files I could use with this older version of Photoshop.

As to the camera’s status: After the models left I reset the GH4 to original specs and voila! it was working fine…at least for a while.

What have we learned today?: This is how this particular shoot went and why it’s important to have a backup and not just any backup camera but one with a fully charged battery.

*Update: The latest version of DNG Converter will not run on my 5K iMac and its installed OS. My workaround was to install the newer version of the software on my 23-inch iMac that also has a later operating system and, yes, the whole process is awkward. But what’s a poor hippo to do?


If you’re interested in learning how I shoot portraits and how I use cameras, lenses and lighting in my in-home studio and on location, please pick up a copy of Studio Lighting Anywhere, which is available new from Amazon.com for $31.96 or used starting around seven bucks, as I write this. The Kindle version is $19.99 for those preferring a digital format.