Can a 'technically worse' camera can outperform a full frame DSLR – and snag your winning shots on a professional shoot? Take it from me: if you're not bringing a B-camera to your shoots, you could be missing out on the best shots of the day.
When I pack my gear for a professional photo shoot, I always bring 3 cameras. That may seem a little excessive, but hear me out: each camera body serves a distinct purpose – and has the ability to snag photos that the other bodies can't.
Here's what I bring:
- The "A" camera – A beefy powerhouse with a big sensor and top tier lenses guaranteed to get the money shot.
- The "B" camera – A tiny and discreet back-up shooter with a wide angle, quick performance, and easy controls.
- The "BTS" camera – A junky, full-auto camera that anybody on set could use.
In this write up, I'll explain why I've had my best success on professional shoots using this set up, and how you might benefit from it too.
PS: All photos throughout were shot on set using my "B" camera, the Fuji X100F.
Packing for a Photoshoot: Which Cameras to Bring?
This past week, I was booked for two shoots with two very different clients: the first job was for Brompton bicycles, and the second was with the fabulous drag queen BibleGirl.
Both shoots had clear creative direction and a shot list of about 30 frames that were imperative to nail.
Knowing this, I brought along my oldie-but-goodie Canon 6D, a full frame DSLR with unbeatable image quality and ISO sensitivity compared to anything else in my kit, along with a Canon 35mm f/1.4 L, a Canon 100mm f/2.8 L, and a Canon 200mm f/2.8 (and, just for fun, a Helios 44-4 59mm f/2).
Big and heavy, this full frame camera ensured that I could deliver the professional quality and high resolution that I knew my clients were expecting.
Once I had my "A" camera packed away, I threw in my Yashica T2 as a 'BTS camera'.
I'm passionate about the work that I do, and I love tossing this fully automatic film camera to somebody on set and having them snap behind the scenes candids of the shoot.
Sometimes you can deliver these to the client and delight them, which is a great way to impress and encourage future work. Otherwise, if they don't turn out, you can just keep them to yourself. Either way, while not a necessity, the 'BTS camera' certainly has utility – and makes the whole process a lot more fun.
Lastly – but certainly not least – I tucked the Fuji X100F in my jacket pocket as a "B" camera and headed out the door.
What Makes the "B" Camera so Effective?
On a technical level, the "B" camera can't do anything your "A" camera can't. The reason I'm writing this post has less to do with pixel peeping and more to do with my lived shooting experience: explaining how the "B" camera can discreetly snap the moments that your "A" camera would disrupt.
Your "A" camera is big and heavy – a physical limitation imposed on your shooting experience –, and it carries with it the innate expectation of getting "The Shot".
When I'm shooting with my Canon 6D, my compositions are slow and careful. I know that the file size of my RAWs are huge, so I'm very deliberate in what I shoot. While being steady is certainly not a bad thing, I find myself less likely to get close and work the scene, interact with my subject in a dynamic way, or try unconventional angles.
By the same token, no matter how experienced your models are, "A" cameras will have a negative psychological effect. They're intimidating and they're scary. It's harder for people to relax in front of them, and you'll have to work through stiffness and nerves until you and your subject get in to the flow of things.
Conversely, the "B" camera is cute and unobtrusive, making it perfect for snapping away carelessly and nailing those looser, more experimental shots on set. Photographers and subjects alike are consistently more willing to play to the lens, get silly, or get weird – all because the camera doesn't look like it could suck out their soul.
On set, you can conceptualize the "B" camera, zippy and little, as 'bonus shots'. Instead of nailing everything on the "A" camera, the "B" camera can supplement a location or a look and patch up any holes there may be in terms of missed shots on the "A" camera. In practice, this alleviates a lot of pressure – and makes your shoot that much more enjoyable.
If you have a second shooter on set, you can also compose some fabulous contextual shots with the "B" camera.
What Camera is Works Best as a "B" Camera?
The concept of a "B" camera is non-specific to makes or models. For me, the Fuji X100F is a total workhorse and epitomizes what a "B" camera should be. Additionally, TCL-X100 is a great way to extend the reach of the fixed lens in a pinch.
If you're in the market for a "B" camera, here's what you should look for, in order of importance:
- A pocketable form factor to stay discreet
- A lens with a wider focal length (between 23mm - 50mm) and a fast aperture
- Speedy autofocus to nail those candid moments
- Simple controls for a second shooter to quickly acclimate to
- Flexible metering modes to ensure correct exposure in a variety of compositions and lighting situations
Why I'll Always Carry a "B" Camera
While going through the catalogue of photos from my past two shoots, I noticed that my "B" camera shots caught my eye far more than I expected.
While there were consistently more garbage frames (missed focus, blur, or poor compositions), the photos that stuck around had a more dynamic feel than those from my Canon 6D.
In fact, there were some important moments that required the nimbleness, discreetness, and speed that only my "B" camera could offer.
So here's my advice: next time you're booked for a shoot, bring along your favorite point and shoot and see what kind of images you get compared to your "A" camera. The sheer difference in style and emotion will surprise you.
Digital strategist, writer, and image maker based in Manhattan working with clients in the tech and entertainment industry.