The hot photography topic over the past few days has been Canon’s announcement of the upcomingÂ 5D Mark III. I’ve seen a number of posts already being written about it on various social media platforms and blogs. Naturally I took a look at the specs out of curiosity but there is nothing being announced that strikes me as ground-breaking or even that significantly different from the 5D Mark II. When the Mark II came out, I believe it retailed for $3,500 if I remember correctly, and that is what the Mark III will sell for when it is released. Not exactly cheap so that leads me to the topic of this blog post: What is the true cost of upgrading cameras?
I don’t care who you are, whether you are Kobe Bryant or a 25 year old just starting off your photography career, when something costs $3,500 you should carefully consider what benefits you would be getting for that kind of money. If you already own a 5D Mark II for instance, will you gain an additional $3,500+ in value above what you would get from continuing to use the Mark II? Will that additional clarity in long night exposures help you to sell an additional $3,500 in prints above what you would from the Mark II? That’s just breaking even. Does this camera help you make images you couldn’t with the Mark II? Will anyone care about the difference? If the answer is no, then you just wasted $3,500.
If you own a Canon Rebel XTI, will you gain an additional $3,500 in value by purchasing the Mark III over what you could make off of the Rebel? If you are an aspiring professional photographer, then perhaps in this case. Maybe the Mark III makes you seem more professional so you can pick up more jobs or the ability to sell more images though to be honest, publishers almost never ask what camera you photograph with. Stock agencies do but any DSLR made over the past six years will generally make the cut, including some high-end compact cameras.
I’m not bashing the 5D Mark III as I’m sure it’s a fine camera but I’m using it as an example to question why people feel the need to upgrade every time a new camera comes out. If you look at this from a practical financial standpoint, there is a lot of opportunity cost to purchasing cameras. If the Mark III doesn’t make you more than $3,500 above what you could with your existing cameras over the lifetime of the camera, then consider what you could have done with the $3,500 instead.
- $3,500 can get you three week trip to Alaska or just about anywhere else in this world.
- $3,500 can pay for two Mountain Light Photography workshops and then some.
- $3,500 invested in Fidelity Low-Priced Stock mutual funds today will be worth nearly $25,000 within 20 years. If you have kids or are planning to have kids, that can fund a California State University education for four years.
- Now take into account how many times you have purchased DSLR’s in the past five years. If it’s three cameras at a value of $3,500, you know how much that mutual fund would be worth in 20 years? That is $85,000 in opportunity cost. That same amount of spending on cameras over 20 years comes out to $178,000 in opportunity cost.
My calculations above don’t even consider the computer and software upgrades necessary to process the files. Generally when a new DSLR comes out, it forces us to upgrade to the latest version of Lightroom and/or Photoshop if you want to process RAW files. For some people, they need an entirely new computer to handle the files. I get it though. Cameras are sexy and photographers get emotionally attached to their craft so the rational side of the brain gets shut off.
What photographers should spend more energy on is honing their vision and on the educational process. That is the hard part of photography and the most rewarding. Your photography should be in a constant state of evolution over a lifetime, and I don’t see how owning every latest and greatest camera model helps you to achieve that. Hand me a 1985 Nikon and a roll of Fuji Provia, and my scenic photos would look similar to what I’m currently doing with my modern DSLR.