The True Cost Of Upgrading Cameras

Mirrorless cameras are all the rage these days within the photography industry. Every time Canon, Nikon or Sony release their latest and greatest camera discussion seems to dominate social media feeds for weeks. A typical price point for a flagship appears to be at least $3,500 these days. 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 unless you're Jeff Bezos, 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 professional-quality camera for instance (almost all modern digital cameras are capable of such results), will you gain an additional $3,500+ in value above what you would get from continuing to use your existing camera? Will that additional clarity in long night exposures help you to sell an additional $3,500 in prints above what you would from your previous camera or do you really need a 400 megapixel pixel shifted image? That's just breaking even. Does this camera help you make images you couldn't previously? Will anyone care about the difference? If the answer is no, then you might have wasted $3,500. If you own a Canon Rebel, will you gain an additional $3,500 in value by purchasing the Canon R5 over what you could make off of the Rebel? If you are an aspiring professional photographer, then perhaps in this case. Maybe the R5 or Fujifilm GFX 100 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 and nor do art collectors. Stock agencies do but any DSLR made over the past decade will generally make the cut, including some high-end compact cameras. I'm not bashing the R5 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 new camera 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 both a business and photography workshop.
  • $3,500 invested in a Fidelity healthcare mutual fund today could be worth $57,282 in 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 cameras in the past five years. If it's three cameras at a value of $3,500 each, do you know how much that mutual fund would be worth in 20 years? That same amount of spending on cameras over 20 years comes out to about $42,000. That same amount of investing would be worth an estimated $460,880 over the same period of time. That's about $500,000 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.

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