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Sunday, 09 February 2020


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My neighbor and I co-invested in a Honda snow blower 10 years ago and it never fails to start. That's a sample of one, but I've also owned several Honda cars and have come to appreciate how reliable they are.

I bought a Panasonic GM5 with a 12-32 lens as a package, intending to sell the body. Never got around to it, and now have the GM5 and GX7 always with me. In good light, each has a slow zoom, wide on the GM5, tele on the GX7. In poor light, I put two fast primes on. Never lose time swapping lenses, just pick up the right camera!

When I worked in software development a lifetime ago, I knew this guy who used to quote some statistic that back-up power systems (e.g., aux power supplies) had failure rates that were higher than the computers they were "protecting."
Still, if my livelihood depended on it, I'd want a backup body too, statistics be damned. It would only take once....

I don't know if I'd say I have a 'backup camera' exactly, though I'm generally too lazy to sell cameras that have been superseded by something better so I always have one or two around. They mostly collect dust.
For at least 20 years I have pretty much always had 2 identical bodies in use. Since I shoot mostly landscapes, one has a wide-ish zoom on it, the other usually a 70-200 zoom. I know it sounds extravagant, but when the light is changing fast, it avoids that excruciating feeling you get when the light just *dies* while you're changing lenses. When photographing people, it's a 35 mm f/1.4 on one body and an 85 mm f/1.4 or 135 mm f/1.8 on the other. The best expression or telling gesture *always* happens while you're changing lenses.

I have a nine year old Toro two stage that might be the best engineered thing I own that is not a camera.
It starts on the first pull even after sitting in the garage for six months and it can shoot a frozen dog turd into outer space.


Try this one. Have a couple and they are heavy duty and work well. Solid enough to push and hack in icy snow conditions and are not heavy.

On backups -- did you notice that Kirk T had a recent failure-- his least used S1R backup died on him. And despite his long, close relationship with a good local camera store, that one goes back to B&H for an indefinite R&R period.

You can't have too much redundancy.

How did you deal with lens change when you had just one body? I find I need a second body not as a backup but to avoid the pain of switching lens. Or did you just use a single lens?

I have a failed history with the Scouts.
Soon after joining we went on a weekend camping trip. In cold miserable rain we set up camp, built a pole bridge across a muddy creek, tried to cook hot dogs and beans on a fire that wouldn't stay lit, slept in soggy sleeping bags and other such pleasures.

It wasn't long before I asked myself "Why?" I quit Boy Scouts on returning to civilization. Total membership was a month or two.

Valuable experience? Not much.

What a lovely article, Mike. Don’t you have a picture of the snow on the picnic table? Like you, we’ve had no snow this winter and it has got dreary. But the snowdrops are out now, and that’s always an encouraging sign of better things.

I have neither a backup snow shovel nor a backup camera (unless you count the iPhone), although I suppose I do have implements that I could press into service to clear snow - basically, garden spades. No, the only backup capability I do pay attention to these days is data, and I believe I have that covered. Maybe. Hopefully, I’ll never find out....

Honda. With caterpillar treads. Don't let gas sit in the carb. Rather, shut off the fuel, let the engine run until it starves out.

We bought a snow blower some years ago anticipating truly disastrous winters -- and ostensibly to reduce the strain on my back. Turns out that humping 75 pounds of snow blower can be as difficult as the good old fashioned shoveling. It is a toss up between the snow blower and the shovel at the end of the driveway after the plow goes through.

[I agree, Bruce. Using the (single-stage) snowblower (on my gravel driveway) is as 65% as effortful and difficult as shoveling. --Mike]

Small engines are notoriously finicky, and ethanol in gas kills them. The one exception I have found are any tools with Honda engines. They seem to always work. I have had a small Honda snowblower for 32 years. All I do is drain the gas (regular with an anti ethanol additive) at the end of the year and change the oil . Every other year I change the spark plug.
It has started on the first or second pull for all of those 32 years.

I buy cheap plastic shovels every year and keep the old ones for backup. The old ones typically get used on the wooden decks of our porch. The new ones get used on the driveway. I find the plastic-edged shovels work better—for me—than the metal-edged shovels.

My snowthrower gets serviced every other year. It's now about 12 years old and still works fine.

Here's a great photo from a big snow storm that dropped about 55 inches of snow in northern Arizona in January 2010. Yes, Arizona!


Note the cheap plastic shovel.

Re: Boy Scouts.

Tom Lehrer here: https://youtu.be/VTRHv1I0xig

Other, longer, live versions also available on YouTube.

Re: Snow shovels & John Krumm's suggestion.:
Cutting three or four inches off the end of a "grain scoop" blade results in a shovel much more useful for lifting and throwing heavier snow.

When I bought my snowblower, I thought I was buying a ridiculously overpowered tool for the job. Now I would gladly buy one twice as expensive. But that said, the most important thing about a snowblower is the engine. From what I've been able to gather, Honda motors are highly coveted, but Briggs & Stratton are also good. Anything else and I've been told you're risking your motor not starting at the worst possible moment. Mine has a Briggs & Stratton motor and hasn't failed me in almost 10 years. It helps that it has an electric start option. I've only needed it once or twice in those 10 years, but when I needed it, I was glad I had it.

One last comment: shoveling snow by hand, especially if you are older and less-than-perfectly fit (but even if you are fit) is incredibly dangerous. Even using a snowblower requires far more physical exertion than I would have thought. A snow shovel is a good backup and useful for areas the snowblower isn't practical, but do NOT overdo it. Heart attacks are common. And we all love T.O.P. (and you) too much to want you risk that.

Another camera? Another lens? Just gives one something else to think about. You end up playing more than shooting.

It’s my understanding that Honda started the consumer trend of homeowner snow blowers with their HS35... with that in mind, and the fact that they have many years of small engine expertise, I can recommend them, having used their HD520 for over tens years without failure to start. These are single-stage machines, needing to push them a bit to supplement the snow screw that pulls it through. If you have a stone driveway, or accumulated debris in the snow, the rubber-edged screw vanes spit out small items where a normal 2-stage metal vane would jam and shear the pins. But any machine will generally be reliable with care and proper maintenance. I still shoot from time to time with my 8008s’s because they’re just as reliable.

My only snow shovel broke once. In July. Northern Hemisphere July.

I had six yards of mulch in my driveway and was using the shovel to load the wheelbarrow. Try buying a snow shovel in July.

For some reason my local Home Depot had 89 snow shovels in stock* and one had my name on it.

Every now and then I think about buying a backup but I never do. Slow learner.

*They did indeed have 89 in stock on a shelf in the back of the store near the ceiling. Some internet searching showed that every Home Depot within 100 miles had a large stock of the same shovels. Either someone in purchasing had hit a wrong number or they got a super duper deal on them.

Forgot to add: I agree with James. For me, it helps if my "backup" camera isn't just a duplicate of my primary camera, but instead functionally different but using the same lens system. Right now, I use a Panasonic GX7 and a Panasonic GM5 (one of the best cameras I've ever owned, BTW). In the past I used a Nikon D300 and a D60. Even further back, I had a Nikon F3 and a Nikon FE2. I like the "big, full-featured camera" and the "small, light camera" combo. And when traveling, I will usually bring both, put a different lens on each, and I'm happy as a clam. I particularly like putting a portrait-length prime on the bigger camera, and a slightly wider than normal lens on the smaller camera. I would say both cameras get equal use, and I never really thing of one as a backup to the other. That said, I can't tell you the number of times I've forgotten to charge the battery in one and been extremely grateful to have the second body with me...

Did you actually think of your second camera body as a "back-up" in the film days? I certainly didn't. Most of us working photographers, at least in the news and documentary work, carried two or three camera bodies so that we would have several lenses and several 36 exposure rolls of film readily at hand.

I like this photo of Co Rentmeester for a variety of reasons,
but two Nikons and a Leica was pretty standard, and he wasn't shooting news, this was on a trip where he was shooting for Life Magazine among others. He missed getting the cover of Life because of the very first Super Bowl.

The advent of digital and zoom lenses meant we thought that one camera could do it all. Until it broke, hence the back-up. I carry one camera and maybe a couple of lenses at most, except when I am going to be paid for the work. Then I carry redundant systems, even to the point of tripods and heads.

Now and then it pays off, one time I had my trusty Nikon DSLR (which I had not used for a year) and was able to able to borrow a lens from NPS (I had not been a member for 25 years, but they handed me the lens). It worked. Another time a client called the afternoon before a job and asked how quickly I could move from one location to another. After a discussion I said, "I think what you want is for me to be set up and ready in both locations simultaneously, right?" And luckily I was able to do that with the help of the new assistant and duplication of equipment. And I did it on very short notice.

Between my 35mm days and the digital era I worked in large format. Then I carried tools and parts and found myself fixing cameras on-site. Now that's something we cannot do these days! Good riddance I think.

For the first 25 years I lived in my current home I used something like John Krumm's "this high quality scoop shovel"

Mine had a steel shovel end, much more durable. I didn't find that just shoveling snow was enough of a work-out, so the weight of the shovel was a help on that. And the view from my driveway is really lovely near sunset.

These are "manure shovels" Not well suited for snow really. Unless you want more of a work-out, as I did at the time. The steel ones are really good for mucking out horse stalls of course. The aluminum ones are intended for use shoveling grain.

Since the blade is aluminum it will wear out quite quickly on a driveway.

Fyi the frozen dog turd joke is courtesy of my old friend ERic Wall

Like that photo...

You only read the Hornblower books twice?

I belonged to a Boy Scout troop and never got a badge... Explores, too, but no badges. We weren't big on them. What we did do was go camping once or twice a month in the Catskills and Adirondacks. I don't believe any of our group even had "official" uniforms or parts, thereof.
But, always, had a backup camera!

Those comments about the Boy Scouts really are funny.

I did not make it past Indian Guides.

Didn't play no group sports either.

It's all tied together.

The back-up camera thing is how I got into fixed lens cameras. I was heading for a short trip with my heavy Nikon kit but received an email warning from Qantas that carry-on luggage would be kept strictly to the promulgated weight limits. So I ditched a body and some prime lenses on the theory that a 24-70 zoom, a short-tele, and body would cover 99% of my needs but at the last second threw in a Sigma DP-1. Lo and behold, the little Sigma covered 99% of my needs. The next trip (a holiday), I carried only the little Sigma as an experiment and was very happy. Thereafter I drifted to carrying a Sony Rx-1 (as more versatile) plus the 28 mm and 70mm Merrills for variety. Three bodies- still much lighter. Gunna try the new Fuji x100v and adapter lenses next time...

Do the old, obsolete cameras I didn’t get round to selling before they lost any remaining value count as backups?

A backup camera is an excuse to buy another camera when you know the one you have is perfectly suitable.

For a backup at those moments when one decides that there is nothing else interesting to discover, try "Camara Democratica: Fotografías y algo más" at https://camarademocratica.blogspot.com/

Sorry about a third comment but I think I may have something useful left to share. Some TOP readers may be unaware that there are two classes of motorized snow removal devices, snow blowers and snow throwers.
Blowers refer to two stage self propelled machines. Throwers are small machines that need to be pushed and are generally worthless in deep wet snow.
I have had both and I really love my big two stage monster. You just bundle up and take your time and like a good saw, let the machine do the work. I find clearing the drive enjoyable and not at all tiring.
Our lane is about a hundred feet long and fifty feet wide and the Toro has cleared two feet of wet snow off it in about a half hour.
When I turned sixty ten years ago I stopped shoveling snow entirely. I did this after the second time I landed in the chiropractors office with a twisted back after the first snow of the season.
Now that my doctor has me eating statins like candy there is absolutely no way I am going to ever pick up a snow shovel again.

Hmm. I like Luke's comment. Gives me an excuse to save up for that D7100 to go with my D3200 :D

Having a shovel as a backup to a snowblower is kind of like having a phone as a backup to a camera.

Health insurance should cover the cost of a two-stage snowblower for anyone who's over 60 and lives north of the Mason-Dixon line.

My scouting experience was even worse. I was only in Cub Scouts but the “den” as they call it consisted mostly of kids who couldn’t get into any other dens on account of occupying that gray area between being a ten year old with poor impulse control and full-blown psychopathy.

The only problem was that the den mother was my mom, the meetings were in our house, and I couldn’t quit until the other kids were driven away by my mother’s health food. Years later when I read “Lord Of The Flies” it was pretty familiar territory.

I have a solution for the effort of removing snow. Get a teenager. 8^)

Since he grew up in California, and we get few shoveling required snowfalls anymore here in Albuquerque, my son is almost delighted to get out and shovel it. I am not sure how long this state of affairs will last.

A backup body is a good idea.
During a trip to Brazil in 2012 my Nikon D700 had fungus on the sensor (my fault from improper storage) that i didn`t notice until i arrived with my guide at a native village. No more photos on that trip.

Maybe people on this board are too analytical.

BT comments that he didn't make it past Indian Guides and didn't play groups sports, either. I played football in high school for two seasons, 9th and 10th grades. I was big enough and quick enough, but I was a guard, and a guard never sees anything and never knows what's happening, so I quit and took my seat in the stadium where I could actually see what was going on. I was ashamed that it took me two seasons, but then, I was still young. In Boy Scouts, I was at a Scout camp and an adult handed me a knife that I needed for some reason, but then didn't let go of it and we had a little silent tug of war. Turns out, I was supposed to say something positive, like "I have it," before he'd let go. He was teaching me that. Life is too short for that kind of tiresome horsesh*t. Either tell me what to do, or give me the f*ckin' knife. The neighborhood kids taught me more about hiking and screwing around in the woods than the Scouts ever did. I thought the Scouts was more for the benefit of adults with an authority problem than for the boys. But that's just me.

Back up cameras are worth their weight in gold when you work for clients instead of self-pleasuring with photography. I had a brand new (three month old, $3700 purchase cost) camera body bite the dust at a shoot last week. It took me five minutes to switch to a second, identical back-up camera. Shoot finished, client happy, busted camera headed for warranty service. Until the camera comes back I'm switching to the other model in the system. And yes, I'm switching because I have an identical back-up for that model too.

No back-up? keep rolling them dice...

Can't imagine flying on a plane with no redundancy in its vital control functions.

Hi Mike:
I live somewhat east of you along the shores of Lake Erie. I very much agree that winter's snow transforms the gray, dreary landscape. This winter has been a non-existant and, so far, a disappointment. The snowfall you mentioned fell here as well. It transformed this ski/snowmobile trail in western New York into a fairyland. A bit of freezing rain, hoarfrost and moist snow (in that order) clung to every surface. The image attached is a stitch from two Sigma DP2m files.

_SDI0349-Pano-1 copy

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