« How To Shoot Ilford XP2 Super | Main | Blog Notes: Connection Speed »

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I expect the upgrading frenzy will start to go down as digital starts to mature; at some point, getting a higher pixel count or higher useful ISO does not mean that much any more. For many photographers, there is a point called 'good enough for me'. Once you upgrade and fail to see a difference in your pictures, the need to upgrade again and again will peter out. At some point, people will start to invest in lenses again.


Digital has improved my cash flow, my work flow, and has re-ignited my passion for photography. I'm a fulltime freelance writer (15 years now) who shoots photos to illustrate his work.

Before digital, the work flow was something like this: buy film, shoot film, take film to be processed, wait for processing (possibly shopping for things I really don't need during the wait), get prints, discover screw-ups, buy more film, fix screw-ups, process film, submit story and pix. I was aware of burning money with every roll of film I bought and had processed.

With digital, it's shoot pix, check pix on camera or computer, fix screw-ups, submit story and pix to magazine digitally. There's no guilt for bad shots and the entire process is faster.

In addition, digital allows me to indulge in my two non-professional photographic passions: (1) take a camera everywhere and see what happens, and (2) cloudscapes. If I burn a hundred frames a week having fun, the cost is exactly zip.

When I was in college, I shot film, developed and printed it, dodged and burned, the whole nine yards. Today, for me anyway, shooting film would be like communicating in Morse code: an interesting, antiquated art that's not terribly relevant to how I work today.

Don't let my wife see this column!! Some things are best kept in the dark.

Tricky comparison: Just to locate myself on the x-y axis of photography and photo gear consumption, I'd put myself in the category of joyful amateur. But I am also a gear head. True for kitchen utensils, true for bicycles, true for photography. Those are just where my interests lie. For others, it might be audio equipment, electric guitars or cars.

There are certain kinds of costs of the new world in photography which are similar to the old: For instance, Now: interested in the D800; then interested in a Zone VI 4x5 and all of its attendant extra bits. . you get the idea. If you want to spend $2K a year on photo-related products, there is always someone to take your money. But film photography was a mature industry when I got interested in it in the 1980s. And there are styles of consumption from that older world that are decidedly not translated into the new. For instance, once I got a good enlarger, there was never a need to upgrade -- in fact the one I bought in 1994 is still set up in the basement. Not so with the current digitalia: Every aspect of the current photo-supply chain has planned obsolescence built in: camera, battery, card, computer (chip, RAM, ND, monitor), processing software. I have turned over all of that twice in the last ten years (more often on the computer - hard drive failures both times - UGH). And I fully expect to replace every aspect of that production chain again at least once in the next ten years. In fact in ten years, I question whether I will be able to buy a new OEM battery for say, a Leica M9 or a Nikon D3 or even a new SD or CF card. Maybe I will, but thinking about the number of nutty proprietary battery sizes and shapes out there and the state of digital storage ten years _ago_ (or 15, or choose a number that makes you say "gosh - 8-inch floppies . . .") I am far from confident.

In other words, my behavior as a consumer in this industry has fundamentally changed from a use-to-extinction model to a use-until-the-fashion-changes model (or from a model based on cycles of mechanical failure to a model based in some perverse way on Moore's Law).

Now, I am an outlier. I don't have a single friend or family member who doesn't think that my expenditures on photography are straight-up crazy. And I would bet that many TOP readers (exceptional folks that we are) are in a similar boat. In conclusion, my general sense is that photography has gotten more expensive (in an annual expenditure sense, not a per picture sense), particularly for the tyros, like me, who are susceptible to flavor-of-the-month marketing and the incredibly frothy market in photo consumer products.

Ben Marks

Well, my cost analysis goes like this: after I lost access to the small but very well equipped darkroom I designed and helped build (handling film formats up to 4x5, plus Ciba or B+W up to 16x20), I had to use a commercial lab. By this time photography was becoming a big part of my art work, and the switchover to using a commercial lab was so cost-punitive that gradually my photography went into dormancy.

All I can say is thank god for digital. Have I spent more on equipment? Well, yes and no. That darkroom's equipment alone, not including the plumbing, electric, or walls, cost $10K of 1990 dollars. That would translate to nearly $17K today. Yes, I have bought a bunch of digital gear over the last 10 years via upgrading. But now I'm very close to a stopping point for significant upgrading. And one big reason I've been willing to do it is that now the process itself is no longer prohibitively expensive, I again have complete control over my output (like I never did before!) and can print up to 44" wide. Digital has been somewhat expensive up front, but it has been manageable. Film finally wasn't for the bulk of my work.

Who put you up to this? My wife? But seriously, time is money - whether you are a professional or a hobbyist. As a senior, my children constantly remind me I have more money than time. I used to spend endless hours in the darkroom isolated from my family but in the digital age I reconnected and get input on the post processing. How much is that worth? Yes, I spend at least $1500 a year updating hardware & software but that is offset by the savings in entertainment. Because I take many more pictures than I used to ( and more keepers) the cost per file has dropped and my ability to print has expanded. Now get my wife off my back.;)

Another factor to consider is that if you do want to digitize your film, the time involved if you do it yourself is not trivial. I did purchase a $3000 D800 with the intention of keeping it for at least 5 years... upgrade-itis is a condition that can be mitigated by multiple infections of lens lust.

I'm sure that digital is somewhat cheaper for me. I know you wanted to ignore workflow issues, but a very significant impact of the cost is that with film, I shot far fewer frames, while digital frees me to shoot more. That mindset alone has made a big difference in my photography. I'm not advocating spray and pray, but I can shoot anything I want, solely for the sake of seeing how it looks when shot, with no concern for whether it might be a keeper. I experiment and learn. You know how they say your first x,000 photos are junk ? They go a lot faster when they're free. So to me, spending a bit less is nice, but getting a lot more for my money is better.

I know plenty of enthusiasts in my photo club and elsewhere who continually sell their DSLR bodies at depreciated values as soon as their make comes out with the next generation. If you factor in shelling out for upgrades of Photoshop or Lightroom, and computers with the power to handle them, it can be well over $1000 a year.

The key to economical digital photography is to get a camera that is good enough, and then shoot it into the ground, and be selective about making large inkjet prints. Buying high end lenses, on the other hand, is OK, because they can often be resold at most of their cost, as long as you don't break them.

For film, I am finding the hybrid approach fairly economical. I shoot B&W, develop and scan it at home, and then print selectively. Of course the cost of upgrades to software and computers is still there in that case.

I started doing photography a little over ten years ago. I had a couple of nice Japanese rangefinders when I was living overseas a kid but they were quickly stolen so they don't count. I'm all digital by choice and technical inclination.

For the first few years my major expense outside of a couple of bodies was lenses and software. Since then I generally sell some of my existing equipment to fund new purchases. That keeps my annual outlay to around $900 a year. Not a trivial amount for a hobby, even a serious one.

On the other hand my previous hobby of 35 years was motorcycles. I spent much more money on bikes, gear and traveling than I will ever spend on photography. By the way bikes and cameras are a natural mix. Too bad I never managed to combine then.

Switching to my first digital SLR in 2005, the Nikon D70, was shockingly liberating. The difference shooting digital vs film made an enormous difference to me, and it radically changed how I shot and actually opened up my career in photography.

Because even though I suspected that digital was not cheaper than film in the long run, I had never been able to let go of that mental cash register that comes with film, the one that rings up "fifty cents" every time I pressed the shutter release. You could have sat me down over a spread sheet that gave me permission to shoot way, way more film than I had ever shot before, but nothing would have shut up that voice in my head.

I had been shooting for about 35 years when I switched to digital, but I probably learned more in the seven years since then than in all the years before. That's how liberating it was. If I include the change in photography income since switching to digital, then I could say that digital was not just cheaper, but actually very profitable.

There are other costs to digital photography, such as the cost of image processing software. This can add up, especially if one uses several different programs and is upgrading with each new release. (If film photographers scan their images for digital editing, then they face the same costs plus the cost of scanning.) And just as digital photographers tend to make far more exposures than film photographers, I would imagine that they make far more large digital prints as well. It's just so easy to crank out one print after another that its sometimes hard to stop oneself from doing it. Thus, the cost of paper and ink must be taken into consideration.

For B&W only, 35mm and 120 film, chemicals, paper, occasional piece of equipment.

Total per this year >$300, this has been typical.

Retired, hobbyist, tinkerer. Certainly not an artist.

Color snapshots of grandchildren, vacation, etc. are handled by 3.5 year old entry level DSLR (my one and only ever digital camera purchase)

One big exception. In 2010, the year before I retired, I treated myself to a retirement gift of a Leica M4-2, and CV 35mm f2.5, 21mm f4, and 90mm f4 LTM Elmar. Total was was $1570. But I sold part of my camera inventory built up over 35 years for $1100 so all in all, not a huge hit.

You discussed film processing costs but not digital. Computers, software, and backup hard drives all require initial purchase and periodic upgrade and if you do your own printing there is the printer and those pesky consumables paper and ink. A simple 4x6 at Wal-Mart cost 10¢ where at home I can't do one for less than 50¢.

I think that the problem is that the start-up costs of digital photography are excessive. Fast, up-to-date computer, high quality camera and printer, current software for image processing at minimum, and then hours of studying manuals (then have all of it fail or become incompatible within four years so I have to start all over). 10 years ago I could buy a good enough film camera for $400 and take photos of acceptable quality. Sure, I had to pay for developing, but that came gradually. You are speaking to a more advanced group, but for casual photographers who want high quality I think it has gotten more expensive. For now I am waiting (and enjoying my talented brother's photos in the meantime).

I think it's very easy to get sucked (suckered?) into spending $1500/year or more on digital camera stuff each year. You make too light of this.

On the other hand, if you already have a cell phone with a camera, and are happy with the quality, then you can take photos for free. But people who are satisifed with cell-phone photos probably don't read this blog.

I ran the numbers - $25 per really great keep forever image. $10 pretty good. $5 Impress others, stock photos... The challenge was 10000 images taken to get to the first, 5000 to the second, 1000 for the last - film rarely gave me the same ... Because of AF, and other challenges - likewise p&s for sports vs. 2 year old DSLR - no comparison. There are no film cameras that for action can come close...

But this digital vs. that ... $$ for quality, I am pretty sold now on the DSLR.

Missing from the analysis is the cost of a shoebox and some negative sleeves vs the cost of digital storage.

Once you focus on the digital handling sequence the costs mount quickly. Adobe upgrades alone run roughly $500 every two years. The cost of ancillary software (Photokit, Nik, etc) easily doubles that.

Then you have storage at $100 per terabyte but this needs to be backed up to another drive or ideally two drives in two different locations. Then you need a chassis for the drives, a PSU and other hardware bits. Say $500 per chassis x 2 plus drives at another $400 to 500.

Then there is the software tax for the operating system and this is not cheap unless you take the time and trouble to learn *nix.

And you cannot avoid these hardware costs as new tech such as USB 3, 6 gbs SATA and Thunderbolt more or less make them mandatory.

Add all these cost factors up and if you shoot with frequency, even on lower cost camera models, you are still incurring costs of $1,000 a year to account for what used to be handled by a used showbox and $50 worth of negative files. At least with analog you got a new pair of shows thrown in!!

I think the other costs of photography (time, attention, printing, lenses, travel, flash gear if you're into that) dwarf the camera and film costs.

Cost per image is the wrong metric. The better measure is cost per keeper. If you spend twice as much with digital, take 10 times as many photos and get 3 times as many keepers you are ahead of the game. (Of course different photographers will have different ratios of costs and benefits.)

My top-of-the-head guess is I spend around $2000 a year on this hobby, sometimes more. I did, however, finally sell a camera for the first time on Ebay yesterday, collecting a reasonable percentage of its original value. Before this sale I tended to accumulate or give away cameras. Alas, I blew it all and more on the OMD that arrived later in the afternoon.

Also factor in the cost of computers, tablets, software upgrades, cards, printers and ink and the total goes higher yet. Of course film guys are using scanners and computers and printers, too.

I am always curious when I see someone comment that they love their new X100 or OM-D but still are considering getting the "new" camera coming out. How much "improvement" is it really? Are we so hindered by last year's latest and greatest? Does any of this matter compared to taking photos? Would the money be better spent on a trip to Paris with last year's camera? Or an alarm clock and sunrise chart for getting out at first light? Or photo workshops?

What is the time cost of all this gear acquisition vs the time that could be used for image acquisition? That my main question.


'Back in the day' I had a nice darkroom and I liked to make my own prints, B & W only. I never graduated to colour printing. Digital lets me make colour prints, so add in the cost of inkjet ink and paper!

There are other considerations not taken into account in your analysis there. What about the computer equipment needed to process the images? You have the computer itself, calibration hardware, the software, and hard drives. If you want to end up with the same (similar) product as a film photographer you also need to make prints.

I certainly don't buy a new camera every year or two - I have managed to eek out 4-5 years out of each digital camera I have owned. I also don't upgrade my computer until they wear out or become obsolete. However I do my own printing at home on an epson 3800 on Ilfort or Harmon paper and each print is done at a not insignificant cost. I am also considering getting a proper IPS monitor to replace the sorry one I'm using now.

I think that it is a difficult argument to make that digital is much cheaper. I think for that to be the case, once all related costs are taken into account, you need to be shooting a lot, printing very little, and deleting all the junk instead of storing it forever (like I do, and most people I know do).

Now that I am long past my Gear Acquisition Syndrome Phase, my costs have flat lined. I have a solid body, three quality lenses covering most of it not all my needs (and rentals can cover the remainder) so I am not laying out major expenditures for equipment. Paper and Ink for prints, frames and mattes are probably the largest recurring expense and those remain manageable by a little planning and forethought. The one unnecessary expense is film and developing chemicals, I do no income generating work on film.

Sometimes I wonder if my love of photography is going to cost me my marriage :) Then I remember to put the camera down every once and a while.

You are right, so far as you go, but there are other costs that need consideration. If you are digital, there is the cost of software, and at least part of the cost of the computer that runs it. And how do you distribute costs when you scan film for Photoshop (or other) processing. Of course here is the cost of the scanner and any related software (e.g. digital ICE). If you are a pro, emailing or sending CD/DVDs to a client is much less than sending prints. And the cost of image storage is different too. But despite all these, and other, factors, probably the biggest cost difference is dependent on how much you shoot, and for a pro, what percentage of your frames make you some money.

Interesting topic. I used an EOS 630 and a couple of basic lens (50 and 28) for about 12 years. And I occasionally used a Yashicamat that I bought for $50 during that period. So my total outlay for equipment was well under $1000. Over the last 10 years, I've gone through about 7 different digital cameras and a number of lens. I've sold most before I got the next one, so my total outlay on cameras isn't huge, but it's still probably ~$2000. (I currently have a Panasonic G2 and three lens.) Plus I've had a couple different printers and spent a fair amount on ink and paper. I spent a decent amount on film and processing when I had the Canon, but the truth is that I didn't shoot that much because of the hassle and cost of developing and printing. So I've spent more on my digital photography, but I've also taken far, far more photos using my digital camera than I ever did with my film one.

IOW, I think the issue here is the cost per photo, which is far lower for digital.

I actually did run the numbers a few years back to quiet the Digital only group in my local club. Shooting 35mm full frame, starting from scratch, hybrid film, and home development over a ten year period there is a cross over point at image per year. For BW it was 7,000 images, C-41/E6 about 5,500. Bulk loading pushed the BW up a lot, C-41 a tad, and E6 not at all. Cash only.

Homemade Rodinal and 12-0-0-26 fertilizer make using film fun. And Slide film doesn't require a computer, post production, or scanner unless you want to share online. Even then you can maybe cheat with your iPhone.

The financial cost is perhaps something like C$100,000
ever since the Nikon D100/D70 appeared. Kept trying to tell myself digital was the future and was best for me.
Bought and then sold often at a loss. Thought it was me
with a solution; it was not.
Rather a loss of desire to do any photography of anything would be compensated by purchasing new
It hasn't worked, still much prefer the use of a film based camera in my case a Nikon F100 and a single 28-105 lens. Photography should be for one's
personal satisfaction.
These days there are now no results and for reason enjoy the final product, even if it does not exist in reality.

Camera £320 - very start of 2009
Flash (won't need to be replaced) £120 - 2011
Prints £50 over last 3 years
Memory card £10

So roughly £150 / year. Which is pretty reasonable I think. Especially as I have taken several tens of thousands of photos over that period. That's the difference I think. Even if the costs are similar, they are in different places. With digital, once you've paid up front, money won't discourage you from taking more photos.

Averaging purchases over time, my yearly photo equipment expense is about $900 for "digital" equipment and $700 for lenses.

I confess that I usually buy the "latest and greatest" point and shoot every year. So that is usually $300-400 or so, though the latest Canon S100 was more than usual.

I've had the same DSLR for 3 years and the same lenses for 5 years. I will probably upgrade the DSLR within the next two years so that will be, say, $2,000.

I've had the same lenses for 5 years.

I usually sell "old" equipment on e-bay and get about 1/2 the new price back, give or take.

Probably upgrade memory cards as they get cheaper and buy knockoff extra batteries when they change between models, but that's not more than $200 per year.

Put this way, this is actually quite a frugal hobby - $1,600 a year is $133 a month - about what my cable bill is. So, obviously, I should go ahead and get that Canon 300MM 2.8 IS lens.

Also, I am guessing that I take about 8,000 shots a year and keep about 1,000, and should probably keep only about 100.

My cost for consumables is about $0.11 per frame of 135 black and white film. I scan on a flatbed rather than wet proof, and use a dedicated film scanner for keepers, or wet print.

I don't have a lot of money, but if I did, I suspect a lot of it would be spent on going to places to take photos. Something like a 10:1 ratio in terms of travel costs to gear costs. I have a long list of locations I want to go to, but alas...

I've been shooting 4x5 for about 4 years, and digital for about 5. I most recently bought a box of 20 sheets of Velvia 50 for a little over $90. Developing costs me at least $3 per sheet (not counting shipping to and from the lab). So, my film habit is now costing me up to $8 per exposure. Ouch! God forbid I want to start drum scanning some of those photographs too!

That D600 I'd also love to own seems a lot more reasonable when I equate it with a mere ~260 exposures of 4x5 Velvia 50.

It's easy to underestimate the costs of both film and digital, and hard to justify either of them as a hobbyist. It's a good thing I enjoy it so much!

"You might find it educational to run a cost analysis for your own photography".
I did. Digital won.
I haven't been photographing for that long - I bought my first camera only two years ago, despite not being that young anymore -, but every once in a while an Olympus OM-2 grins at me when I happen to visit a second-hand photography shop. I have been resisting the temptation thus far, mainly because I don't have such a lot of money to spend on photography. If I had a film camera I'd be spending money with film rolls and paying for their development (let alone having a darkroom), whereas I can store thousands of photographs in a memory card.
There is, however, an important issue Ctein mentioned but refrained from taking to its full extent: planned obsolescence. This is far more serious with digital than it was with film cameras. While you can find bodies like the Pentax K1000 or said Olympus OM-2 in mint condition, chances are a digital camera manufactured just five years ago will be unusable. In that respect I understand Ken Wajda's assertion. And, while it is not impossible to find a Canon D30 in perfect working condition, it is obsolete by now. With digital we feel compelled to upgrade regularly, even if we don't really need to. This brings digital photography prices to a high, but you'll be able to handle it as long as you don't get brainwashed by this insistent resolution and sensitivity madness that you're exposed to when you browse most photography websites. (Bar TOP, of course...) If you can ignore the little devil that constantly whispers "Upgrade now!" in your ear, digital photography is much more affordable. Whether it is superior to film is still subject to debate, though.

Then there's the other side of the cost equation, which is VALUE. The end product of all photography must be, after all, a PHOTO. So, just as we can ask, which costs more - a digital photo or a film photo, (that is, as printed and hanging on a wall, with everything else being equal), which is more valuable? Even considering that the film photo was printed with a digital printer, as is being done more and more these days, which is more valuable? I would argue or film having more value, simply because it has a REAL OBJECT - a film negative or slide, in somebody's ownership, that can never be taken by anybody else without the owner's authorization. I can readily "steal" (Rt. Clik - Save) any picture I want and print it on my own home equipment, whether it was originated via film or digital, but in the case of pure Digital origin, there is nothing in existence which is of any higher value than my own ability to save and print a photo from the Internet. Thus, the Digital File original, no matter who "owns" the rights to it is tremendously devalued. Not so with an original negative or slide -to get my hands on the real source work of a film photographer, I'd have to break in and steal from his residence, or whoever has that work in his care. I've not seen this talked about very much, but I do believe it's true.

Depreciation is a huge factor for pro photogs now when it didn't used to be. In the day a Hasselblad system could quite conceivably be used for a 20 year career..But while film&lab costs were killer they were only really a factor WHILE the pro was WORKING. Depreciation (i.e. frequent $$ system upgrades/replacement) is a killer even if a guy's not working much.PARTICULARLY if a guy's not working much. And this has complicated the business for a lot of folks.

Most of my work now is done for my enjoyment and done with pocket digital cams like the Panasonic LX-5..which only last me about a year as "every day carry" But, hey, $500 wouldn't cover much film&processing :-)

I'm still using a 7-1/2 year-old Rebel XT (350D) for my DSLR. It still works fine, and I can't think of a reason to replace it. Over the past year I've bought (prices in $US):
* The Holga "Kitchen Sink" lens set for my DSLR: $99+shipping
* Extra Holga DSLR lens to be modified: $25
* Two camera apps for my mobile phone: almost $5
* Photoshop Elements 10: $49
* CameraBag 2 editing software: $19

So just over $200 for the past year. Most of that was triggered by a new interest in "lo-fi" imagery.

Prior to buying the Holga lenses, I hadn't bought any hardware for my DSLR kit in maybe five years. And even that was just a couple of spare batteries and some additional memory cards to prepare for a 2-week Mediterranean cruise.

Oh, I did spend a few dollars on having some photos printed at Target this year.

Different styles of photography have different cost impacts when moving to digital: compare a landscape photographer with Winogrand. I suspect Winogrand would save a lot with dgital.

I suspect digital is much cheaper than film per shot but it's perhaps easier to make the payments in lump sums rather than every 36 shots.

Interesting analysis, as usual. But it occurs to me that any accounting of the cost of digital photography should include the cost of computers and software (and endless software upgrades, and printers, and paper, and ink, oh Lord the ink!) I'm far too lazy to attempt to come up with a number, but, at least for some of us, that cost may be as significant as that of our cameras.

While I agree generally with the article, I've found that I am able to enjoy black and white film photography with quality finished prints at less than the cost of digital. Just my own experience, you understand. For example, say I shot 10 rolls of 120 roll film costing £25 plus £10 for chemicals and then produce around 50 16x12's in the darkroom using high quality paper @ £100 and chemicals @ £30. With my digital printer I would use about a full ink set at @ £180 plus similar high quality paper at @ £100: lets say then that good quality digital output,for me, is about 60% more expensive at home than darkroom printing.
The digital would also cost more for electricity consumed by around a factor of 4 or more and on average the amount of time would be similar - I can easily spend a couple of hours getting one final print acceptable in either digital or darkroom and the wastage would be similar.
If I was to mention that producing 50 10x8 work prints by the glow of a red light can be done for £40, I really wouldn't want to do that digitally.
Short rant: we are being ripped off for ink, but everyoe knows that.
If anyone mentioned that I could get digital prints made cheaper, that's not the point, since I take photographs and print them.
The relative costs I found a while ago, but it's certainly coincidental to doing what I enjoy the most. Your going to tell me I've missed something out now.

Kind regards, Mark Walker

Leaving the equipment cost aside, I spend a lot more money on digital than I ever have on film, even on a semi-daily basis.

I shoot mostly digital, but I print A LOT. I guess I need the paper to make it feel "real".


I know you said you don't want to consider convenience and time in your calculation, but as a tangent, what about the cost of computer horsepower (and storage)?

Being rather a kumquat to grapefruit comparison in its nature, it's really hard to evaluate the costs of digital vs. film. But I'm not convinced digital is really cheaper than film photography used to be.

After all, between 1968 and the late 1990's, I owned a few pocket 35mm cameras and maybe 4 or 5 35mm camera bodies. Furthermore, the lenses I'd purchased for the OM-1 series didn't have to be replaced when I acquired newer OM-2 and OM-4 bodies.

Sure, film was relatively costly, as was processing. Print papers were an expense along with darkroom equipment and chemicals, but again the enlarger, tanks, trays, etc., were one-time expenses.

Another factor is that shooting film I made exposures much more judiciously, compared to current-day practices, probably ten times as many now as then. In other words, expense of film shooting was restrained and expenses were moderated accordingly.

OTOH, over the last dozen years I've owned at least a dozen digital cameras and costs really accelerated since 2004 when I bought the E-1 and 14-54mm lens for around $2000. Within 2 years, there was an E-3 body. Also in 2004, I purchased a printer: another $2000. On top of that, the untold costs of ink, printing media, etc, were probably even greater than what I paid for the cameras and lenses.

Then came microFT, and here we go again. EP-2, EP-3, EM-5, lenses for these bodies, adapters for legacy and FT lenses.

And next year there will be new and better models. Of course, we're not compelled to upgrade every year, but sooner or later we'll need to do so.

At the current, frenetic pace of developments, even skipping one generation of upgrade is still frightfully expensive. It seems a pipe dream we'll ever reach the stability of 10-year upgrade points.

I'm sure users of other lines of digital cameras have experienced a similar arc. Regardless of brand, there will always be expenses of replacing batteries and SD cards that go bad, a need to expand storage space for digital images, buying digital image processing software/upgrades, and indeed spending what it costs to have ever-increasing computing power needed to process and manage RAW image files, with each iteration becoming larger and more complex.

If you think I've overblown the issue, consider this: how many serious "enthusiasts" or professionals are still using the digital equipment sold 10, or even 5, years ago?


Are lenses an investment or added cost?

I agree - I'm saving a TON over film. Then again I don't suffer from "gadget-itis".

My first digital camera was an Olympus 1.2mp point and shoot (a gift), followed about a year later by a purchased 3mp Canon G1. That camera co-existed with my film SLRs until 2005, when an 8mp 350D became my principle camera (~$800). It wasn't for another six years that I added another DSLR, an 18mp 60D (~$1100), whose appeal was HD video (replacing a camcorder) and a swivel screen with through-the-sensor viewing, which is invaluable for astrophotography and other very long lens shooting. Given that my film and developing costs were on the order of $600-$750 per annum, I'm saving a bunch. I still do film in B&W...

IMHO if you're buying new digital cameras each year, you're probably not "focusing' enough on photography.

It's a rare photographer that doesn't end up upgrading computers and/or software along with the camera upgrades. If the camera upgrade involves switching systems we can add a whole lot more in accessories.

That said, I'm in the middle of a darkroom build in a house we just bought. To get the house with the necessary square footage and then the cost of the remodeling isn't inexpensive. A quick back of the napkin calculation shows me that it would have been less expensive to buy a pair of Leica MM bodies, a 35/1.4 and 90/2.

Y'know... you can't hold a compact flash card up to the light, and see what's on it. You need $2500 worth of computer stuff and software to simply SEE what you've shot.

This is the REAL cost of digital photography... all the stuff you need, and need to upgrade along with your new cameras... and this is the real reason for the relentless expansion of the number of pixels (and the concurrent expansion of the size of the files), in the files of newer cameras, and the addition of higher-quality video capture.

They make us buy newer, bigger, faster, non-upgradable software, paid for upfront, instead of film and processing.

Dedicated underwater photographers spend much more on the housings/ports/strobes and getting to the places where the nice pictures are and much less on the camera/lenses themselves. And yet most serious photographers still upgrade every other round of cameras. If I count travel costs to places like Indonesia, then underwater photos cost about $1 each, while if I only dive in California it still is about half that.

I invested in a Canon 1Ds2 in January 2005. It was then the only choice for supplying the major stock outlets. I'm still using it. About the only thing I can't do is shoot above 400 ISO for the image quality I need. And it's on the heavy side compared to some new FF options. When the 5D2 came out I said I'd upgrade to the 5D3, now I'm thinking maybe the 5D4, perhaps 5D5.....

Digital is a mature technology where, as Ctein observes, the majority of photographers shoot, and those who make prints do so, in colour. If I shot and printed any colour I’d be using digital exclusively, or near as makes no difference.
However, I don’t make colour photographs. I use black & white film exclusively and make traditional silver halide enlargements.

Most of the exposures are made with mechanical cameras in different formats that are largely battery independent, unless, like the Hasselblad XPAN, there is no alternative. 5”x4”, 6x7cm, 35mm and the XPAN cameras were all bought second hand, as were their lenses (with one exception).

Enlargers, enlarger lenses and most of the darkroom kit was again bought second hand,except for some processing spirals, Phil Davis’s excellent 5x4 development tubes, and an f-stop enlarger timer. Negative and paper developers are mixed from raw chemicals.

I’ve never had to update my cameras, though occasional cleaning and lubrication, does incur some costs. (For me the most meaningful advance that the forthcoming Leica M has is finally sealing against dust and water.)

Consequently, I’ve never had to go through the early adapters upgrading of digital cameras. I haven’t had to go through the clearly dispiriting process of getting new and faster computers, screens, software, storage mediums and back-up. I have incurred no costs for printers or printer ink.

I have had no negative environmental impact due to the disposal of such items. Neither do I add to the demand for cloud computing with the increasing number of server farms being placed in cold climate locations such as Northern Sweden.

Again, as Ctein observed, I pay for film, paper and chemicals incrementally. And, yes, the price of films and paper are unavoidably ramping up, though 35mm costs can be somewhat ameliorated by bulk loading.

Consequently, for myself, I’m sure that sticking with film has to date been economically beneficial. However, I’m numbered in a very small minority.

It's definitely worth looking at, but the discussion (online) used to be about the cost/keeper ratio rather than the cost/shot ratio -- keeping in mind that people spent more per image shooting 4x5, but might spend the same amount of money to get a certain shot as the individual machine-gunning rolls of 35mm. (Nothing stops you from shooting 35mm slowly and deliberately, but $5 to $10 a shot per sheet of film will cause a certain amount of caution).

In the psychological cost analyses, I wonder if some people are also considering the "mission creep" engendered by digital. When I started out shooting landscapes on 35mm in 1997, 12x18" prints were considered to be pushing the boundaries of 35mm, even with fine-grained slide film like Velvia. Today it's pretty trivial to print something that large, and newer "full-frame" cameras are pushing the boundaries of 16x24", 20x30", or even larger prints from a single frame. Those resolutions, though, demand the latest bodies, big tripods, excellent heads, and very fine lenses -- which require the kind of money that used to be required for medium format or large format. Many (most?) people are getting better technical results than they used to with film.

For me, although I'd always like more money to play with, the limiting factor is time, not money. Time to learn the ins and outs of your subject, time to chase the right conditions, and time for post-processing.

Good think-piece, Ctein. You've made me -so- happy that I don't have to cost-account my photography. I'd be so screwed on a balance sheet.

I find the largest cost outside of the equipment is the printing. A 13x19 print is for me the smallest I do. Larger prints are what I like as it allows the details in the image to show. 24" up to 36" panoramas are the norm but a couple have recently been 48" and 60". I just cannot afford the cost of printing all of my images. Now along these lines, how many digital photographers are bothering to print their images? One of the best labs in Seattle is still telling me the printing by photographers is still falling. My perception of film photography was most of the images on a film strip were printed. I doubt 300 digital photos from a session will be printed. But they might be shown on a website. CHEERS...Mathew

Of the 17 (digital and film) cameras I own, I only bought five new and two of them are cell phones. Of the 29 lenses I own, I only bought one new. Most of my accessories were bought used or received as gifts. Craigslist, KEH, and my social network have been very good to me. I'm constantly scanning Texas (I live in Austin) for deals on Pentax equipment.

Rounding up and being generous, I've spent $4,500 on equipment since 2006. Probably $3,500 of that was on digital-specific gear. Rounding down and being conservative, I've made 90,000 digital pictures in those seven years. That $0.05 a shot isn't too shabby!

On the other hand, I've just about maxed out my poor laptop, my crappy monitor is due for an upgrade, and those new Pentax bodies are very tempting...

Each year I shoot 5-8 rolls of Tri-X 35mm and 3-4 rolls of whatever 3200 ISO black and white is available at my local shop. Getting that stuff developed and scanned represents a decent chunk of change each time, but I enjoy the results too much to let it drag me down.

I will certainly break out of my miserly equipment period in the next 18 months, but I didn't get into photography to count pennies.

Film is a LOT cheaper for me. I spend about 500 dollars a year on film, and maybe $50 a year on chemicals.

I earn my living selling my fine art photographs, which I shoot with a pair of Leica M6 bodies and a Hasselblad that I bought used for a fraction of what they cost new. Heck, they cost less than a good digital SLR.

I bought a Canon 5DmkII in January to use for the small amount of commercial color work I do. It payed for itself because I use it professionally, but it would not have been a good buy if I used it for my fine art work. It cost $3000. That's SIX YEARS of film. Six years!

If I got a digital Leica, which would be great since I love shooting rangefinders, I'd get the monochrome one, since I mainly do black and white. It costs an astounding SIXTEEN YEARS worth of film. Sorry, but that's not cheaper than film, not even the much more affordable Canon 5DmkII. If I were not using the Canon commercially, I would not have spent the money on it...for my fine art business, it would have been a very wasteful expenditure that would not pay for itself.

Let's think... In terms of spending on digital photography, I last bought a digital camera just on 4 years ago (a Canon 50D). I had to upgrade to PS CS4 at the same time (to get ACR support for my new camera). My only expenses directly for digital photography since then have been consumables (paper, ink, storage). I have bought a new computer since then, which does get used for digital processing. But I would have had to buy that anyway, for non-photographic reasons. I probably bought a more expensive computer than I otherwise would have because of photography but, really, the difference is marginal.

On the film front, over the last four years, I've bought any number (an embarrassingly large number) of film cameras because they've been so cheap. Admittedly I didn't have to buy them to take photos with film (I already had film cameras), but I had to buy them because they were so nice and, well, so cheap. (Boy, does that add up!)

So my budget for buying film cameras has been enormously larger than my budget for buying digital cameras. The price of film being what it is in Australia ($$$$$$$$$), I've spent a lot more per photograph with film than I have on digital (even though I'm mostly developing my own B&W, and mostly ordering film from the US) while my per-shot cost shot of other consumables (ink, paper, storage) is roughly the same as it would be for digital. (If you factor in time for scanning, that would add even more to the per-shot cost of film.)

So my total cost for film photography is way, way, higher than my cost for digital, in both capital and recurrent spending.

...Mike F

In general, I think that people spend as much on photography as they want to. Whether that be $100 per year, or $10,000, the determining factor is not so much film or digital but rather the income and enthusiasm of the person. In the film era, most of this went toward film and processing, with a new camera body every five to ten years and lenses acquired bit by bit. In the digital era, it is a new camera body per year on average (including SLR, mirrorless, point and shoot, etc.), plus software, many more lenses, etc. etc.

When I shot film in the mid-1990s, I shot maybe ten rolls of Kodachrome per year, on a Minolta X700 and 50/1.4 that I found in my Mom's closet. The annual budget was maybe $200. I actually got a lot of good stuff from that era.

There's another benefit of digital's lower cost-per-shot: We're able to take many more photos before doing so becomes cost-prohibitive.

That can result in too much junk and cliche' but, with ruthless editing and exposure bracketing, also allows digital photographers to become more spontaneous and to experiment more frequently while getting at least one good take per image.

Winnowing out digital's additional "noise" then becomes a matter of judgment and discipline.

Thus, digital's essentially fixed entry costs, and thus lower cost per-shot when you're doing a lot of photos per year, can be a boon to serious photography.

I guess you could graph 2 comparable systems with volume (# of photos) on the x axis and $ on they y axis. Digital might have a higher start point (start-up cost) but a very low slope or incremental cost. Film would probably start out lower but climb faster. At the point where film intersects digital, it would become more expensive.

Costing out computer resources as "dedicated" for digital photography is a bit misleading. Most people are buying computers, storage and backups for other things as well. Even some of the more extreme luddites in the world have a computer or two sitting around.

Anyway, if you really want to sink serious cash into an imaging hobby, try astrophotography. It never ends.

Manual said ...
And, while it is not impossible to find a Canon D30 in perfect working condition, it is obsolete by now.

but it will still take superb quality photos. I'm not sure in what sense it is obsolete. For sure there are better cameras, but that doesn't make an earlier model 'bad' or unusable.

I'm delighted that my 'obsolete' original 5D went to an art student who is producing some terrific work with it - not having the funds for a new camera, she thinks it's the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Regarding costs, in my own case I completely disregarded computing overheads as this was pretty much equipment I already used prior to digital. Clearly for people entering into computing as a consequence of digital photgraphy, the figures come out differently. Personally, had I not had a computing background I would certainly have delayed going digital ... possibly indefinitely.



Just one more thing. I am making a lot more photographs now than I was then. I have roughly 10,000 negatives taken during the 15 years I shot film exclusively. I take that many images per year now. Keepers in the old days? 1:36. Really good ones now? 1:100. I think I am taking too many pictures.


Yikes I'd hate to know how much I spend.

film - 35mm, 120, 4x5 in b&w, c41 and e6.

paper - all different types and sizes for all different purposes

chemicals - to process all the types of film mentioned above, plus different chems for paper and alternative processes.

cameras - always on the lookout for new/old film cameras to restore or play with.

darkroom gear and enlargers - can't help myself

scanner to scan said film and a flickr pro account. (all my software is open source)

once you start to add those things up it gets kinda scary.

why do I do it though? It's fun.

Another way to look at it ... take a look around at some of the hobbies that your friends, families, neighbors enjoy. I'm always amused when someone who owns a boat or an ATV or a snowmobile or hunting rifles or a camper or a set of plutonium golf clubs or a half dozen alpacas (you get the picture) expresses disbelief that the fact that I own a $2000 lens. I think it's because those things are "hobbies" while photography is something they do with a $150 point & shoot, so why should anyone but a pro need more ? The point is, as hobbies go, I don't think photography is particularly expensive. (It's not particularly inexpensive, either, but you can enjoy it with most any budget).

Since I stopped using film altogether due to lack of convenient darkroom space, digital is definitely more expensive.

OT. I was digging around into a box of photography "stuff" in the basement to get rid of now unused things, and found an Olympus Pen ee-2 half frame that I don't even remember owning - it has a half-shot roll in it. I'm off the finish the roll and see what happens. I hope it isn't Kodachrome!

My first digital was $800 canon G2, my second was the 10D at $1500, my third was the 5D at $2600. Then out came the 5D MrkII at $3600...I stopped and began to think carefully about the path I was on. Canon prices were moving up and up and I started looking at other brands. I had no fanboy loyalty to any brand, despite my heavy investment in Canon bodies and lenses. So I moved to the Olympus OMD EM5 and sold the Canon lot. I am not going to overspend if I can get the images I wants with what I now have. And I am now pushing people to rethink the path they are on via my email groups and blogs. I appreciate this site and others that look into MFT, NEX, and other great products that give more for less. Maybe the big boys might rethink what they are offering, but I doubt it.

Dear Folks,

Love all the comments! I'm sure most people are enjoying how completely diverse the responses are. Which, of course, is why I said you need to cost it out for yourself.

That said, I want to emphasize some points. I said right at the beginning that this was just about looking at the money. Time is NOT money. You can earn more or less money, but you get exactly 24 hours a day. How you choose to spend it is a quality of life thing. I explicitly exclude it from consideration.

Second, photography is not printing! They are two separate endeavors. You can print analog or digital photos either analoguely or digitally. Some people choose not to have prints at all. You know what you like to do, but don't try to generalize this to other people.

Good advice, in general.

Ken's comment was about the **photography** and that's what I wrote about.

Another is that several people have asserted their digital photos are "free." No, they’re not. They are very cheap, but you need to calculate what you spend on saving those photos. It might not be very much per year... but it's probably NOT zero. And, if you're photographing a lot more freely (and saving them all), it may be more money than you expected.

Finally, only real, additional costs count. If you didn't spend any more on your computer because you do digital photography or printing than you would have otherwise, it's not an "expense." In my case, both of the computers in the house would have been bought in exactly the same base configurations if they never saw sight of a photo. So, I get to count the upgrades I've made to RAM and storage to accommodate my habit, but not the original purchase price of the systems.

Your mileage will differ.

Ditto for darkroom expenses. I can't count the square footage in my house as an expense; I didn't actually have to buy a bigger house to accommodate a darkroom (now, books are another matter...). But my enlarging gear, the money I've spent on utilities and maintenance over the years, all that? Yup.

Now that I add that all up for myself, corrected to current dollars, it's more than I would've guessed. I've only done one major "upgrade" over 40 years of darkroom ownership, but each of those investments was huge. So, best guess? $500-$600/year got spent on my darkroom habit. NOT counting printing materials.

Which, weirdly enough is about what I'm spending on digital printers. Again, not counting print materials.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Digital photograph is cheaper? I'm surprised. Nothing did I know that computers/software/cards/drives/sticks are all for free!

In my view it goes
a) camera/lens/film/chemicals/enlarger/paper
b) camera/lens/computer/software/printer/ink/drive

In a) except for film/paper/chemicals no regular 'updates' while in b) all parts need to be updated within a few years.

The one area where digital saves anyone and everyone big bucks is in learning how to shoot strobes. If I had the immediate access digital provides when I had interest in it, I'd actually have a good working knowledge of many an artificial lighting scenario. In one full day with one subject you could learn what it would take weeks to test and discover with film- cheaply and easily...

". . .The worst imaginable reason I can think of for choosing to do a certain kind of photography is because it saves you money. For God's sake, if that's your motivation go find a hobby you like better!"

Ctein, I think I've read enough of your columns to recognize that this came out sounding a bit more harsh and judgemental than was likely your intent.

I can well remember the pleasure of winding my own 35MM rolls from bulk when I was in high school and college-- the cost savings allowed me to shoot a whole lot more than I otherwise could have.

If I were in the same financial situation today, I wouldn't give film a second thought. I'd do some careful shopping on eBay and pick up an older 8 or 10 megapixel DSLR for a couple of hundred bucks and shoot the hell out of it.

Even cheaper and better than my old approach, and a great way to learn.

I was surprised with the litle extra costs of digital that most don't care about. Such as sensor cleaning equipment, cards and card readers etc. Also does anyone take into account the cost of the power consumption of the camera and computer that are used far more than back in the digital days.

I believe that the only way to be cheaper with film is to buy a pro 35mm film slr and not soot so much, instead of buying a modern pro digital slr. But still, I prefare the almost one-off payment of the digital

This is slightly off topic but has relevance to costs and costings in photography. Some Years ago Jonathan Williams (publisher, writer, poet, photographer) told me a story about his friend the late Art Sinsabaugh. Art was worrying about the costs of his photography and he was selling his prints at $30 each. In that year he sold 3 prints. He costed out his year's travel, film, and darkroom costs and they came to $3,000. So he raised his print prices to $1,000 per print. In the following year, at the new prices, he sold 3 prints. To use an Americanism-"Go figure".

There's no debate, for me at least digital is way, way cheaper.

In the film days I had to maintain a permanent darkroom at uber expensive central London prices. That 100 square feet of darkroom space, at current market prices, is worth £70k. Now I've got a computer and a printer that I'd need anyway, but a darkroom isn't so versatile...apart from producing photos it's only good for growing mushrooms!

I think the basic premise of this post is a no-brainer - especially if we are only talking about hard cash, and the products that come out of the camera - ie negatives, or digital files. Turning these into images that can be viewed by others starts to complicate the calculations a little because there are many variations and choices.

However, the most interesting thing I found about this post was the huge response, and the depth of many individual replies. Seems to have touched on something - very odd.

Obviously there is an echo with Mike's comments in a previous post about the volume of images being produced today. So - what does it mean? Are we just in a "price of everything, value of nothing world"?

Speaking of photography as a hobby, I have a good friend who once said any true hobby involving an activity requiring fixed and variable expenditures will cost a dedicated person at least $1000 US per year. Photography, golf, quilting, it doesn't matter. I suspect that is pretty accurate as a baseline - I'm sure bird watchers are tempted by the latest spotting scopes and such. I knew of a fellow who was an avid arrowhead hunter who was convinced his hobby of searching public lands for Indian arrowheads cost him nothing. That was until the price of gasoline increased sharply.

My continuing purchases of camera lenses does make it easier for me to reach that annual minimum!

All I know, shooting 10,000 frames on a D800 is cheaper than on a Mamiya 6x7 and Nikon scanner.

Dear cb,

I never said any of it was free. I said exactly the opposite.

What I also said was that until you actually sit down and cost it out for yourself, instead of making a reflexive assumption, you do not know the answer.

pax / Ctein

"C-41's about a third cheaper, but you need a proof sheet, at a minimum. If you get 4x6-inch prints thrown in with the processing, it's not a lot different from E-6. "

These days, the proof sheet is more likely to be a photo cd of machine scans, and the 4x6 stack of prints skipped because the digital machine prints are just wretched and useless.

Since I have a b&w lab at home, bulk-load 35mm film, and so on, the cost difference between color and b&w for me is substantial; color is costly and b&w is cheap. And while I don't necessarily "need" to upgrade my film cameras, there is the temptation to buy "new" ones anyway, because vintage cameras are now cheap (I couldn't decide whether to buy an Olympus Om-1N or a Konica III rangefinder, so I bought both). But I think your first point is correct: cost isn't the primary factor. I would rather spend time playing with chemicals than with Photoshop.

I once had an 8x10 camera, 2 4x5 cameras, a Pentax 6x7, a Hasselblad, a Nikon SLR and a Leica M3 and they all served a particular need in film photography. I now have a D800 for everything plus a GH2 when size/weight matters. The cost of my camera inventory has gone way down since going digital and selling the film equipment paid for it all so I am well pleased with the new era.

I think something that also needs to be weighed is your time. I haven't seen that brought up much. I converted fully to digital this past May with the purchase of an OM-D E-M5. Previously I was using a couple of OM-1 film cameras with a bevy of lenses, I kept a body and 3 lenses and sold the rest to help the transition costs.

With 3 children under 5, I don't have a lot of free time. My work flow is mostly digital, so I'd have the film developed with next day processing (I have neither the room, nor the time to develop myself). That is about 15 minutes extra twice to both drop off and pickup the film. Just 99 cent development at my local Target photo lab. The film I mostly bought for between $1.5-5 per roll depending on the film type and if it was short dated/expired or not (I bought a lot of Fujifilm 160s short dated in bulk for cheap, like $1.50 per roll cheap and 20+ rolls at a time). So we are up to maybe $4 per 36exp roll on average, plus half an hour of my time.

Next I'd scan the film using a 4470 flat bed. I'd look over the proof page and skip scanning any obvious duds. Still and all, I'd typically scan 25-30 of the 36-37 negatives from a roll. That would take on average about 4 minutes per picture for scanning (including time to swap strips). That adds an extra 100-120 minutes to scan one roll of film. Then I'd need to do basic cropping, clean-up, etc of each image before saving the Tiffs. Per image I'd spend maybe a further 60-90s cropping, cleaning the occasional dust or scratch that ICE during scanning wouldn't remove and saving the image. That is a further maybe 30 minutes for the entire roll.

If you are keeping score, we are now up to rouhgly 3hrs per roll of my time and $4 per roll, call it 12 cents per image.

My OM-D E-M5 purchase was $999. Lets not include the cost of lenses (because, hey, within reason they last the life of the system, not the life of the camera, and you buy those pesky things for film or digital). So far I have shot around 3,500 images since May. That puts a per exposure cost at around .35 cents per image or roughly 1/35th of the cost of film.

For digital, depending on what I was shooting, it takes me roughly 1-5 mintues to copy all of the images from the memory card in to lightroom. Then it typically takes me something on the order of 5 minutes per 20 images to review them, make any tweaks in lightroom I'd generally like to and then be done with them, or export them to do more work in photoshop. Obvious if I really like an image and I am going to do a lot more work in LR on it before exporting, then the time goes up, but the same could be said when I was scanning film and I was going to spend more time on an image there.

I certainly shoot a lot more digital, but when it comes down to it, with film I averaged around 3hrs for 30 pictures, or about 6 minutes per image. Now I am averaging about 4 images per minute, 24x faster! Sure, I shot a heck of a lot more. Before I'd be lucky to shoot 2 rolls of film per month unless it was some special event (vacation, birth of a child, etc). In large part this was because scanning and processing a roll would take up an entire evening of my life after the kids went to bed. Now, I can easily shoot 20-30 pictures and spend 5-10 minutes in front of my computer and I am "done" with the pictures.

So my rate has gone from maybe 3 rolls per month on average (if you include those occasional special events), maybe 90-100 images worth scanning and processing (even if they aren't amazing images) per month to an average of around 700 images a month (not including the ones that I chimp and then delete in camera as they are obviously not worth keeping and processing, but this process generally takes a handful of seconds).

7x the image taking compared to before, but 1/24th the time per image means the time taken on basic intake processing of images has dropped to barely more than 1/3rd of what it was before. Cost has also dropped to 1/35th as much per frame (so far!).

I am also getting better quality, generally, than I did with film and I feel a lot more creative and not constrained by the fact that a wasted pictures is 12 cents (no big deal), but maybe 6-7 minutes of my life to process that image. Take an entire roll of pictures on one subject, just to get maybe 1-2 images that I really, really like, means a 3hr down stream investment to scan all of those images. With digital, burn through 30-40 pictures of one subject and it only means maybe 10 minutes of time investment later. Maybe even a lot less than that if I can pick the real keepers quickly.

I forgot to mention, I didn't include costs of upgrading my computer or software. The software I was buying/using for scanning film anyway, the computer upgrades, well I'd be doing upgrades more because of video transcoding, gaming, general system performance, etc at least as much for those reasons as photo editing if not more for the other reasons.

Storage, well that will be an eventual expense, but I am only going through maybe 5-8GB a month in storage typically, so I am "rapidly" running out of storage, but I still have roughly 1.5TB free on my server and 800GB free on my desktop (stuff is mirrored between the two, so the desktop storage space is going to be the first storage limitation).

That is still about 7 years of photos if I don't increase my capture rate or don't use any of the storage space for anything else (I do use some converting personal movie collection and such forth when I buy new movies). In all likelihood I'll need to do a major storage upgrade next spring/summer/fall that'll probably cost $250-300 to get another 2TB drive, toss the one in my desktop, plus the new one in to the server to build a 4TB RAID5 array, pluck the other drive, a 1TB drive out of the server and drop it in to my desktop to replace the 500GB drive in it and lastly drop a 3TB drive in to my desktop.

That should hold me for storage space expansion for at least 2-3 years if not a lot longer at relatively minimal cost (less than $100 per year for increased storage).

I live in London. The cost of the extra space required to have a small darkroom would pay for a MFDB.

I have lots of computer equipment, no net increase their. LR upgrades cost a few pounds a year.

Digital is much cheaper for me in that I can shoot a LOT more frames per pound spent.

But the main thing is that I set myself a budget for my hobby. So really it makes no difference whether I'm shooting film or digital. My budget is £150 a month for consumables, books, cameras, lenses, etc.

So it makes no difference at all whether I'm shooting film or digital as far as cost is concerned.

Very very rough film-specific figures, but here goes...since September 2009 when I got back into film:

Camera bodies: about $16 at present, though I'm getting ready to rationalize a bit and expect to come out ahead on selling. Much of the gear I use regularly now cost me nothing at all.

More lenses: about $150 total.

Filters for B&W shooting: $100 or so.

Scanner: $100 (reconditioned Epson 4490).

VueScan license: $40

Flash/ambient meter: $60

~60 rolls C41 35mm. Film+dev per roll averaged about $5.50. I do dev only for $3 per roll, scan at home and mostly used 24 exposure consumer grade stuff which I put 25 frames onto. Probably averaged about $2.50/roll to buy the film; the few rolls of "expensive" film I shot are about offset by the 15 rolls of Kodak Ultra Max 400 I picked up for 0.25 each on clearance. - cost ~$330 for ~1500 frames.

~40 rolls of B&W 35mm. Mostly Arista Premium 400 and short-dated Legacy Pro 100 (Tri-X and Acros, respectively), bought, home developed and scanned for maybe $3/roll average. 35 frames per roll for ~1400 frames and ~$120. Home-souped 35mm black and white is CHEAP!

~35 rolls of B&W medium format (6x6). Lots of Fuji Acros 100, the rest a mix of Tri-X and various Ilford. Maybe a $4/roll film+dev average, home developed and scanned. ~420 frames, ~$140 cost.

Storage: about $40 worth of Printfile sleeves, with enough empties for another 20 or so rolls right now.

Total cost of 3 years' film shooting, with pro level "full frame 36x24" and medium format gear whose digital contemporaries I couldn't hope to afford or even justify: about $1100.

The key issue for me is that I've never had that entire $1100 together at once. But I *can* spend a bit here, a bit there, and plug along enjoying my photography right now.

Meanwhile, the cameras and lenses should have held their value too, more or less. They're no more obsolete now than when I picked them up!

I spent less on storage and backup than I might have with digital, simply because the only big files I need to keep are for images I want to show or print. I have a 100GB data drive and 100GB backup; my data drive has a good 20GB free now.

Sadly, I haven't made all that many prints, but those would have been the same cost whether the file came from a sensor or a scanner. The couple of prints I've sold so far would have netted me the same amount either way, too. I did price out what I might spend on optical B&W printing and on the face of it, it's cheaper per print. But I'd have to make test prints and contact sheets, which aren't necessary with my current hybrid approach. Digital printing is probably cheaper overall. Also I avoid the pain and suffering of inkjet photo printer ownership by sending them out to a lab!

My first DSLR, a Fuji S2, completely paid for itself plus made a moderate profit solely by the film and lab costs it avoided.

Plus I earned a few thousand dollars actual cash income with it. So really, a very profitable camera, net.

Then I sold it for nearly 25% of the initial cost, as I remember it.

I'm only on my third DSLR since 2002. This one has already lasted me longer than either of the previous two, and I'll probably use it for another year or two at least.

I've improved my backup procedures, and expanded my disk storage somewhat, because of storing photos; that should be counted as a cost somehow. And it's easy to forget things -- the two original backup drives, the three current backup drives, the drive dock the backup drives connect through. The fire safe? Should that all be attributed solely to photography? Maybe; the other content is trivial by bit count.

I've bought better monitors, and better laptops, for photographic reasons, too. The computers themselves not so much, though. I've run fairly serious computers at home before they had anything to do with photography.

One aspect of the cash flow happening in different size chunks is that very often, the big digital upgrade expense can be scheduled while you keep on taking photos, whereas the film and lab costs cannot be.

I'm not sure I agree with Ctein about not counting space in the house. When we picked this house, and when I picked the house in Massachusetts, having space for a darkroom was a requirement. I didn't exactly buy 300 sq. ft. more, but I did exclude houses that didn't have a place for a darkroom; it was an input, in fact with veto power, in the selection of the house, so I think the cost of the space should count. (Never actually built the darkroom in this house, as it turns out; building a bathroom in that space now.)

Now, when I started out, bulk-loaded B&W film cost about a penny a frame, and processing was much more a time issue than a money issue for me (and this was with a part-time minimum-wage job; though with no other expenses, being in highschool at the time). Seems to me a sheet of paper was about a dime. But my whole life has changed so much, it's hard to compare the impact of the level of expense in any meaningful way.

I think this topic is very interesting, and want to add my own perspective on the cost of shooting digital. I see three distinct perspectives to use / questions to ask:

1. What have I spent on equipment to be a photographer in the digital realm?
I have been shooting digital exclusively, and have been shooting since 2007. I consider myself a serious hobbyist (I do not generate any revenue, I have shown my work once, I oscillate between being active and inactive). I am also somewhat frugal as I am reluctant to spend lots of money on a hobby where I don't expect to ever recoup any cost, aside from in the form of personal satisfaction or enjoyment. I am sure there more frugal photographers out there than me, but I have only upgraded my camera once, and that was due to a growing physical failure in my first camera.

2. What would it cost someone to be a digital photographer with the minimal necessary gear? Think back to Mike's "Leica for a year" suggestion - I see no reason a photographer with a physically good digital camera and a single, prime lens could not generate a fantastic body of work that is artistically and technically excellent. This may exclude some niche photography such as sports closeups, macro, wildlife, but could work for a "street" photographer, portrait photographer, "fine art" photographer. We have generations of photography history now that are surely filled with accomplished photographers who did not swap between 6 different lenses and 3 different bodies.

3. What if #2 shopped used instead of new?

So here's my take on the cost of digital photography (excluding the cost of printmaking, which I believe to be highly variable for both digital and film printers).

Onto my assessment of the cost:

$340 Camera - Canon Rebel T2i (15mp camera)
$84 Lens - 50mm f/1.8
$424 total for photo gear
$500 for a computer that can handle image processing; GIMP and manufacturer's software are available for free.

$499 Camera - Canon Rebel T3i (18mp camera)
$107 Lens - 50mm f/1.8
$507 total for photo gear
$500 for a computer that can handle image processing; GIMP and manufacturer's software are available for free.

$750 Camera 1 - Canon EOS 20D (used)
$720 Camera 2 - Canon EOS 50D (refurbed)
$109 Lens - Canon 50mm f/1.8
$300 Lens - Sigma 105mm f/2.8 macro (used)
$300 Lens - Tamron 17-35mm f/3.5-4 (used)
$250 Lens - Canon 55-250mm f/3.5-5.6
$350 Lens - Sigma 50-500mm f/ (used)
$250 Flash - Promaster 750ex
$25 Flash - "DSLR 3000"
$40 Aluminum parts for DIY ringflash (estimate)
$35 Cactus v2 wireless flash triggering system
$20 Cactus v2 additional receiver
$60 Canon shutter-release cable for 20D
$30 Vivtar wireless shutter release system for 50D
$75 Manfrotto tripod
$65 Giottos ballhead
$0 Canon Digital Photo Professional software (for RAW editing)
$25 Squeeze clamps from hardware store for flash/camera clamping (estimate)
$200 Promaster 2x teleconverter
$50 Filters (used, estimate)
$150 camera bag
$30 camera bag
$75 CF cards (I have purchased 3 total)
$50 backup batteries/charger ($25 for one of each from third party vendor)
Total $3,959 for photo gear
$0 for a computer - I already owned it and would have with/without my interest in photography; you're welcome to add in cost here if you think it's unfair of me to claim it as a pre-existing rresource.

Some of this cost (probably less than $1000) would have been lower had I been a photographer prior to my entrance into the realm of digital, as some of these items represent experimentation and either do not (A) exist in my posession any more or else (B) I would not have purchased at all.

I print very little (which may cause some of you to dismiss me as a less-than-serious hobbyist), so my average cost/year so far is ~$790. I believe my current camera will last as long or longer than my first, and I have no more lenses to purchase for quite some time, so I think it's more realistic to anticipate my cost/year over the next two years will be marginal, making my average possibly closer to ~$570/year.

It's interesting to see these numbers, and I never would have thought about them were it not for this post and discussion. Thanks, Mike!

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007