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Issue 11 (Sep/Oct 1999): Visual Eyes

column photography cameras

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#1 Mike Woeller

Mike Woeller


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Posted 01 October 1999 - 04:00 AM

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I know I talked about gear in a past issue, but this summer has prompted me to yet again write an article on another piece of gear you definitely want: a back-up or an insurance plan.


Well, we all like to think of ourselves as being careful. We all like to think that nothing can happen. Well, this summer at work it’s been funny, and yet sad, when people turn down a maintenance plan that covers accidents (more on that later) or a back-up, with the words "Oh, I’m always careful with my gear, it won’t break." It’s truly sad to see the same people come back three months later with a dead camera. "But I didn’t do anything to it," they say, or, "It just fell out of my hands." The fact of life is, that things do happen, and things do break. One trip to the beach has the potential to destroy a camera. One fall from a KAP rig WILL kill a camera. I was most certainly glad to have taken my back-up to Wildwood. I lost a lens to the sand. Had I taken my regular gear, I would most likely be saving up for new gear now. So what to do? Back-up camera or insurance, that’s what!


A great friend of mine has the simplest answer. "I take disposables with me to beach events," he says, "That way, I get shots of my friends and their kites and their antics and the sand stays out of my Nikon." Disposable cameras are always one answer, and probably one of the least expensive for a casual shooter, especially one that doesn’t need 80 zoom lenses and 4 flashes, and 6 tripods. But for some who want a tad more out of their pictures, or just like the feel of their camera, having a back-up that is similar is a must. The first thing to keep in mind when choosing a back-up camera is purpose: What will the pictures this camera takes be used for? If you simply need shots for the kite album, consider a small point and shoot with mid-zoom (about 90mm). Need super shots for your portfolio, get that SLR (if you go the SLR route, be sure to get the same brand as your main camera). Need the pictures on a PC. Consider a cheap digital that has the resolution you need. Next, after you pick camera type, check your wallet. One way to do this is to get a mindset of how much are you willing to use. This camera is going to take some abuse, so bear it in mind. Most people are comfortable in the $150 to $200 range, more for digital. Last thing to consider would be the role this camera will play. I know I prefaced the article saying to use your back-up camera at dangerous events, like the beach, but for some it is not an option. Will you relegate this camera to being pulled out ONLY when the main has failed? Or are you going to play it safer and use this one as your main at the high risk juncture? The biggest factor here again, is the price of replacement, and the purpose of the prints.


The only other option besides a back-up is to have your camera insured or put under a maintenance agreement. Exercise extreme caution when going this route. The first thing to do when looking into insurance is to check your homeowner’s insurance, if you have any. Chances are, there is a clause or provision in there about equipment of an expensive nature. If you don’t have a policy with such a protection, your next step is to check with the credit card company that you purchased your camera with (if you paid by plastic). Some card companies have a repair or replacement agreement. The last is to check with the retailer you purchased your camera from. Often times they have a maintenance agreement that protects against certain things. Hopefully, when you were offered such protection, you took it, or are at least within the time limit allotted to purchase it. If considering a new or back-up camera, check to see if you can get these policies. Some caveats about this type of protection:

With homeowners or credit card insurance, read the fine print very very carefully. Check for things such as registration (filing the serial number with the company before protection can occur), report times, deductibles, covered amount, price minimums, etc..

With retailer protection, be sure to see exactly what they are offering you. Check if they cover accidents, misuse or abuse. Check about coverage for loss or theft. Also check to see who you will deal with. Will you take the camera to your nearest store, or mail it away to the main office?

With any of them, the camera has to break first. With most, you will then take the camera (or whatever is left of it) to a center and they will mail it off to a repair center. Then you wait. And wait. And wait some more. And then wait yet more. And more. Camera repairs take a notoriously long time to respond to. If you have only one camera, that means you will be out of action for that time. Check to see if your repair center has a loaner camera program. Or remember the first section about back-up cameras?

We all pray that nothing ever befalls our kites or our cameras. The plain truth is, sometimes it does. This article by no means advocates camera abuse or misuse, but it does show that should anything happen, you have alternatives to keep you in the action. Remember to always shoot safely, especially safety for yourself. Our bodies are not as lucky as cameras to have insurance and back-up parts.
Mike Woeller

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