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Tuesday, 18 November 2008


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I'm adding a comment here regarding your photo.net article since I'm not a member there and couldn't post.

One thing you didn't mention in regards to disposability and ROI in digital cameras, certainly in comparison to film cameras, is that they generally pay for themselves in film cost savings. This was a big factor in the early years that people have now mostly forgotten. We are so used to it now we don't even think about what used to be spent each year on film. In a sense the recurring expense of buying film has shifted onto the camera and now we find we are buying cameras each few years as a different recurring cost.

As someone who doesn't mind being behind the cutting edge in cameras this continual advancement in models is quite nice. I'm quite happy that the Canon 5D Mk II is out finally as I've been waiting quite a while for the 5D (used) to drop in price. And now it's getting quite close to what I paid for my (used) 20D. I expect in a few months I'll buy a used 5D for around 1K$ and be very happy finally with a full frame sensor to make the lenses I have wide again. I say, let the advance continue and others cover the cost of always owning the newest and best out there.

So, "Just Posted: One New Essay?"

Chris S raises an interesting point, so I looked at my own situation in comparison.

First up, I now shoot a whole lot more film now I've gone digital that I ever did before. I shoot a lot more frames of digital but get about the same absolute keeper return.

In comparing my current film shootng, $1000 every 3 years just about covers the cost of film it replaces, excluding cost of capital. So it's not a big winner (for me at least). I'm sure if you shot several rolls a day/week the numbers would change.

My biggest problem with the short lifespan of digital is the throw-away culture it fosters. I hate to see waste like that.

(Yes, I know there's waste with film, I hate that too. I don't even throw away the little 35mm pots - anyone know of a good use?)

Like Chris, I'll comment here since I, too, am not a member of photo.net.

In at least one case newer cameras in a line reduced a specification that is important to me. The original Canon 1D could sync with a flash at up to 1/500th, but subsequent models reduced the maximum sync speed to 1/250 sec. (Mark II) or 1/300 sec. (Mark III).

I used my original 1D model's fast sync speed a lot when shooting horses jumping fences indoors, and resisted "upgrading" because 1/300th isn't fast enough to eliminate motion blur. Just a couple of months ago I replaced the 1D I purchased in 2002.

Newer isn't always better.


Just did my own calculation. I can easily shoot 700 frames a month with digital although a typical month is more like 300. Since I was shooting medium format before I went digital that's about 25 rolls a month.

With film I had processing and a contact sheet done for me commercially at about $18 a roll because darkroom time was too precious to spend on tasks like making contract sheets (and the commercial firm did it better than I could). So processing and contacting alone would have cost me $1080 a month if I was shooting the equivalent in film of what I shoot digitally. Except, of course, that I couldn't afford that. I shot a LOT less when shooting medium format.

So even without taking the cost of film into account I figure that shooting digital gives me value on the order of $12,000 a year. Makes a $3,000 camera look cheap since it pays for itself in about 3 months.

There is a cost to film that goes far beyond the physical cost. Film has an environmental impact that has to be factored into any cost equation. The chemicals pose a significant health risk if not handled correctly. And then there are all those pesky developer stains on your clothes...still film has a certain allure. I really miss the excitement of opening a box of slides and spreading them across a light table.

I don't see a point in debating the ROI of DSLRs. I all depends whether you are a professional photographer or a hobbyist.
As a professional the ROI will be trivial to calculate. As a hobbyist there is no need at all for something like ROI. You only have to ask yourself 3 questions:
1) Would I enjoy owning this equipment?
2) Can I afford it?
3) Would I feel at ease with this equipment?

While the first two questions are obvious, the third one may need some explanation. Buying expensive gear and enjoying it is one thing. But carrying a bag of stuff worth $5k or even $10k to some strange locations may bother you quite a bit.

If you answer all those questions with yes, just go ahead and have fun.

The cost of shooting digital vs. film is not a proper argument because there are too many mitigating factors.
If you used to shoot a roll of film a day in your Canon Elan and now shoot 50 exposures a day on your digital Rebel then digital may work out to be cheaper for you. (not counting computer and software upgrades, storage etc.)
In my case because I shoot with Leica rangefinders it would take 20 years of shooting film at my average rate to pay for the M8.2.

I just wish people would stop slamming film shooters for the chemicals they use. Does anyone really think that there's nothing bad in a digital camera, or that the making of one is an energy-free, non-polluting, dolphin-friendly process?

Come on people, use the brains you have and look at the whole picture (ha ha - sorry). There's a lot of environmental cost to the modern imaging process - that's just a fact of life, whether you shoot silver or silicone. Before we crucify the silver guys, we need to look at the environmental cost of the cameras we use, as well as the cost of all the ancilliary computer, printer, ink, memory card and storage accesories that we need so that we can pursue our interest or profession using digital.

Think about all the stuff (that's a technical term, BTW) that actually goes into making a digital camera - the heavy metals, the radioactive isotopes, the corrosive chemicals used to make the printed circuits and ICs, the sheer volume of energy that is needed to bake all the electronics, the really, really bad stuff in modern, high-yield batteries (and there's a lot of it, too), the by-products from plastics manufacture - I could go on, but I'm sure you see my point. The same is true of the computers we use in our interest - the environmentally detrimental elements in those (and the monitors, printers etc) are enough to give you nightmares, if you sit and think about it. And let's not even mention the electricity used by all this electronic equipment - that has an huge impact on the world, too.

Please, let's count the ACTUAL cost to the Earth before we go spouting off about how wonderfully caring we've become in the last 15 years. If we added it up, I'd say we're actually worse off, environmentally, than we were back in the film-only days. No facts to back that statement up, just a feeling.

Me? I'm off to run some Tri-X through my old Mamiya SLR. :~) And I'll enjoy it, too. If I see a dolphin I'll give it a pat, just for you.


I like the essay, but I'd like to see your take on the expense of film.

I used to shoot about 10 rolls of Velvia a month for personal work. I can't remember the exact cost of film plus processing, but it must have been around $18. That pays for a $2160 camera in a year. It seems that everyone shoots many more frames now.

Seems to me, a digital camera is all about saving the cost of film processing.

And what is the environmental cost of all the digital cameras manufactured, tossed for "upgrades" when then next great thing comes along ... or have to buy new because the repair cost of the failed electronics just don't make any sense?

Speaking of articles and essays, I've been keen on this new online Photography Magazine over at www.photographybb.com Not sure how "legit" they are as I've had two articles published with them, but it seems to be at least a halfway decent read. Perhaps this could provide some fodder for TOP...? Enjoy the posts as always, thanks for all that you do Michael!


When I first got interested in photography many years ago I was introduced to an artist who had just put up a large exhibition of his work. He groaned & told me "If you get into photography be prepared to spend a lot of money." I suppose he could have said something more positive but it certainly turned out to be true. I spend large amounts on materials every year, most of it film based & I don't regret one cent of it, because of the pleasure it brings me. That's my ROI.

BTW Rob G, don't pat the dolphins - the oil on our skin is bad for theirs. ;-)

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