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Monday, 30 May 2022

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So, first off, that would have been Industrial Camera? Went there once, had an unfortunate experience with a snooty salesguy.

As far as amateurs being priced out of the market, though, I think that's dead wrong. My first camera (that I purchased) in 1979 was expensive for me, but I was a just out of college, unmarried guy working a union construction job and living at my dad's house for that summer. So, all of my income was disposable---those were the days of no student debt. After that, though, it was strictly the very rich used market for me---in some ways the glory days of the used market back in the '80's.

In the beginning of the Holocene of the digital era there were lots of cheap new options. Now there are many fewer, it's true---but now these cameras are far, far better and you can hold on to them until they break---no real need to upgrade as in the '00's. Add to that that now the used market has been renewed with lots of very capable cameras, again unlike the '00's. So, I think amateurs are doing fine, in fact maybe better than ever.

For me, photography as a hobby has changed in a positive way, economically speaking in the last 20 years. I'm of a similar vintage to you, Mike and bought my first serious camera in the late '70s. I also got the "bug" and lusted after the apex models of the time. This resulted in my acquisition of both a Leica M6 (plus a half a dozen pre-M6 models) and a Nikon F3 (and every F that preceded that body. Of course I had to have all the lenses needed to fulfill my passion.

No doubt, that was a lot of money for a hobby. But worse was the continued cost to just use the cameras to actually make pictures. After getting the M6 and 35mm Summicron, I couldn't afford the film to use my dream camera. Film and processing could quickly overtake the initial cost of the gear, even the Leica.

Today, gear still costs, especially if you can't tolerate the "horible" results that a 3 year old camera gives. But after the initial outlay for the hardware, it would be a waste of money to NOT go use it. I shot over a thousand images this weekend for a few cents worth of electricity to charge the batteries. If I was still using the M6 or F3, it would have cost over $700 for this weekends shooting. I've long forgot the cost of most of my gear because I'm using it to make photos.

All in all, photography is a pretty economical hobby if it's about the photos.

[You've framed this as the familiar "film vs. digital" argument, but that wasn't my point here. In film days, I would have spent just as much on film, processing, and paper with either a cheap or an expensive camera. In digital days, same thing. The point I meant to make is simply that if hobbyists who love cameras want to own the best, at least occasionally, or something near the best, and want to be able to at least realistically consider a good percentage of the options, then it's getting harder and harder to do that now. --Mike]

Sorry, Mike, you have just described 'murriKKKa," where middle class people can barely afford health insurance, public schools have been eviscerated in the fantasy of for-profit charter schools and critical race, and children in Mississippi go hungry unless they get their meals at school.

Lots of my photo buddies have dived into the R6 and some into the R5, complete with the new lens suite. ($$$$!) With the exception of the actual working pros who need to stay on top of the technology curve, and in any case, it's their business that buys the gear, they replaced perfectly functional DSLRs. Nice if that's what you want to spend your money on, I guess. But I'm not tempted.
My thinking these days is that my 6DMK2 is more than perfectly adequate for my needs. One could easily argue it and the suite of pro quality EF lenses are a better camera than I am a photographer. I'm starting to watch for clearance sales, so I can buy the last new 6DMK2 on the shelf. It could well be the last camera I buy.
Meanwhile, much like most of my so-called career using and migrating technologically obsolete databases, I'm having fun shooting technologically obsolete cameras. Well, I guess in the film world they aren't obsolete, they were very capable cameras then. Fuija GW690 and a Canon 7. (no wrinkles in the shutter, even!)

I think this is a point of view thing...

Remember that 35mm film was a miniature format. If you wanted a step up in quality you went bigger format, with the bigger cost.

Most of the work(play) that I used to do with a 35mm camera I can do fine with my Phone. My phone will give me good 8x10 prints. A $1000 APS/m43 camera with a $300 lens will produce excellent 12x16(A3) prints (not that anyone prints any more). The reality is that very few people need more than 24 Megapixels. Most new fancy-shmancy cameras are bollocks, and are just GAS-lighting us :)

My first camera was a second hand Pentax spotmatic with the radioactive 50mm lens(1984). It cost me ~$A200. My first *new* camera was a Nikon 801 with the 50/1.8. It cost me $A1000. While both were excellent tools, I would have been ecstatic to get good sharp 12x16 prints from either.

Shoot what you have and be happy.

It seem ironic to me that you chose 1984. At that point used Leica prices were coming down after their rather extreme rise in maybe 1979-80. A used M4 had dropped from $1,000 to something more like $600 or less (still expensive, but it seemed like a huge drop) I never considered an M4/2 or M4/P.

The inflation of the late 1970s was brutal, especially when combined with the stronger German mark. That $500 35mm Summicron? I bought one in 1976-77 for $225, brand new. Yeah, a 6 element V3, but a really nice lens that I kept for 20+ years and sold for $500 when I bought my Asph.

I am somewhat older than you Mike, and like you I enjoy photography and music. Also like you I can remember the high and unaffordable price of equipment in each of these hobbies in the 60's to 80's. However, I think you may be missing an important point. In the early days you actually needed the best equipment to get the best pictures or the best sound. So that was what we lusted after. But now, the engineering problems in these fields are solved. We need nothing more than an iPhone for much great photography. Or if you want more flexibility then get that Sigma trio. I own it and absolutely no one but me, would know when I am using those rather than a Leica lens. Likewise with stereo. Time was when turntables with their quirky set up, and amps that needed matching to the speakers, actually mattered. But now all that is needed is a subscription to Tidal, or Apple Music, or such, with some decent speakers and basic gear, and incredible amounts of music can be enjoyed for very little.

The problem for the journals like Stereophile, and companies like Naim, Linn, Leica, etc, is exactly that all the technical problems have indeed now been solved, in part by those very same companies, or rendered moot by changing habits. (Who buys a turntable nowadays – same people who buy film cameras I expect 😀.) But the original companies have to make a living, so they focus on the myth that tiny effects can actually be heard or seen by the average middle aged male. If you want to enjoy music you don't need $1,000 speaker wires, and you don't need a $10K lens. Be thankful!

I'm retired. I suffer from CAS ( can't afford sh-- ). Still using a Sony A99. Still works just fine. Images print well. Got a couple of A mount lens on the used market that work quite well. I'll never be able to afford the new stuff. Can't seem to win the dang lottery. I have started taking up a new and much cheaper hobby. My 30 year affair with photography is fading away. So sad.

Your recent comment on your liking for George Orwell, reminded my that he was one of the authors I most enjoyed in high school and I have not read him since. (I think Animal Farm was the first book I read in one sitting – it is a short book.) So after reading your post, I bought a copy of his collected essays and have been dipping in ever since. I remember the 'Shooting an Elephant' essay from English class, but when I re-read it, I was impressed all over again. Now with the benefit of many additional years of life, I can see it as a study in evil, and an enormously courageous piece of writing.

After I while (still in high school) I stopped reading his novels as I was finding them unrelentingly depressing. Try 'The Road to Wigan Pier', 'Keep the Aspidistra Flying', and 'Down and Out in Paris and London' in succession and you will see what I mean! But you have made want to re-read 'Down and Out..' so I am at least going to get the Kindle version and have at it.

Thank you Mike.

"Are Hobbyists Being Priced Out of the Hobby?”
Short answer: No. Almost by definition , hobbyists find ways to participate.

But better answers depend on qualification of the term “hobbyist”. If you’re referring to camera enthusiasts, formerly known as “shutterbugs”, who crave the latest and greatest equipment the answer might be “kinda”. The newest top-end photo gear has been, and probably will continue to be, expensive. (Leica is in a separate category so its outrageous prices really shouldn’t even be in the discussion. Their new gear is priced to be just out of reach for most folks.)

But if by “hobbyist” you mean amateur photographers the answer is emphatically NO. If your primary goal is to actually make images there has never been a more affordable time to do so than now. Starting with the camera in your phone, which is far more capable that the earliest digital cameras. Moving up to dedicated camera devices, there is little practical reason for most folks to have anything larger or more elaborate than a Sony RX100 model. But even former top-notch ILCs, such as Fuji’s X-T3 with its terrific “kit” 18-55 can be had used for a relative song on KEH, MPB, or eBay.

And how about printing? Very few amateur photographers ever print anything. But for those who do, top-notch full color printing has also never been more accessible even for folks who don’t want to own and feed a printer.

Forget the income inequality thesis, Mike. If it really applied to the photo hobby there’d be very few pictures on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, etc. This is absolutely the golden age for the photography hobby, whether you're of modest means or wealthy.

You're writing about Veblen cameras. But how hard is it to take a photo with as good quality as that Leica? Or I should say, how much does a camera cost that will take as good photo. And for what use? How were hobbyists viewing their photos then and now?

Have photo, car and stereo magazines always been aspirational?

As a kid I read the hot rod mags and later Road and Track. The highest performance car I've ever owned is a 1996 Subaru. We now have a 2008 Prius.

What did the equivalent of a Z7II with an f/2.8 zoom cost in the 70s?

perhaps me getting older but I lost interest in cameras, the latest xyz with a zillion features, a while ago. get a headache from all versions.

trying to keep it simple
mobile phone & snapseed
canon m3 (still works....)
OM-1 and 50mm

to answer your question, yes hobbyists are being priced out, lucky though there is a good second hand market.

I absolutely believe that most people are being priced out of equipment replacement or upgrade, at least pros are.

As a "real pro", not an engineer or business exec playing at photography, I can tell you the last moments of my corporate career before I decided to kill the struggle and decide to retire, I was being paid the exact dollar amount managing an in-house corporate studio I was making 30 years ago at a different one, and back then, it was OK money, and a few years ago, it was NOT good money at all. You would have not been able to save enough to fund going into the freelance business.

In addition, some of the best freelance photographers I knew, with good portfolios and business, spent the last 10 years of their careers making less and less, until they had to drop out and find employment in other industries.

You cannot just extrapolate the cost of something against what it is today, you also have to extrapolate your income. I did the numbers one time and figured that getting a new Fuji 50 megapixel medium format body and a few lenses might be about what I paid for my Hasselblad set up in 1985 when adjusted for inflation, BUT, I was clearing DOUBLE the money in 1985 as I did ten years ago, and that WAS NOT extrapolated. When you worked the numbers, it meant that my income ten years ago had the buying power of a quarter of what it did in 1985!

Lets not forget too, that you could ride a Deardorff into the sunset...ditto for a Hasselblad...cameras today? I know pros that have had to change not only camera companies but formats and megapixels almost every 5-7 years.

Camera companies used to build for pros and bask in the aftermarket sales of the prosumers buying in the "professional aura" of the equipment. Now they build for I don't know who (I still don't have or have seen a pro body built like I want it), and they are practicing the same pricing idea of many other firms. "We don't care if we sell less, as long as we are making more per unit and our profits are up."

Funny this column should come along, on the heels of a big discussion I had recently with a lot of people with way more education in economics than I have, wherein they all openly admitted, that "supply and demand" as we were taught 40 years ago in college, does not exist the same way today.

". . . Z7II . . . Leica SL2 . . . Sony A1 . . . Canon R3 . . . Nikon Z9 . . . Panasonic S1R . . . Fujifilm GFX 100S . . ."

I am a rabid amateur/hobbyist. I've been known to buy three identical camera bodies, and carry all three at once, two around neck and one on belt clip, while tromping about in far away places.

I used to take thousands of photos a year. Lately, with focus bracketing and Oly Pro Mode, over 1,000 frames in a day is common.

I have hundreds of photos on the web, in three active sites. I make photo books.

I don't want ANY of those cameras. Cost has nothing to do with it. If I were gifted with one, I'd resell it immediately. None of those cameras do what I want to do. Where does suitability to purpose come in?

Sure, there's some overlap between what they can do and one side of what I shoot, but it's surprisingly small. For the other side, a menagerie of vintage and current Bad lenses, I do use FF, but a modestly priced used Sony A7RII body is plenty, actually, 42 MP is overkill.

My new OM Systems OM-1 is proving to be even better, read more capable, than I expected, quite a step up from an E-M1 II. It cost me $2,200, much of which will be recouped by sale of E-M1 II and a couple of other bodies.

Final question: What image file, web display file or print would any of the above cameras produce that would be better than the cameras you have would produce?

For many older film photographers these days their cameras and lenses are, or at least could be, sunk costs. And while the costs of film and processing have been increasing they have not been doing so exponentially like those of the hardware.

I develop and scan my own film and make my own inkjet prints, watching my pennies at each step of the way. My continuing costs are much lower as a percentage of my income than in past years when I was buying and selling cameras ands lenses, and this despite a significant decrease of my inflation adjusted income.

Hobbyists of "regular" means don't buy Leicas. I bought the Nikon Z7II for a specific purpose and I spent a lot of time agonizing over the purchase price and even longer saving for it. It cost as much as my entire Micro 4/3 kit that includes two bodies and a bunch of lenses. That kit is still very usable. I think any hobbyist these days can find an excellent camera and a set of great lenses in just about any price range, assuming there is some disposable income.

Mike --

I assume that the reason for indulging in this hobby is to capture images and make fine prints of respectable size (say, 8x10 or larger). If you don't agree your comparison would differ, but the numbers are telling from this perspective:

In 1979 i bought a first-gen Nikon FM and two lenses (50/1.8E and 100/2.8E) for about $325, or about $1375 today. That is, i think, entry price for most systems today with a kit zoom. I loved the camera -- still have it! -- and, in the ensuing six years (when replaced with an AF Nikon) i figure i averaged 3 24 exposure rolls/mnth at something like $15 each. So, all up i spent something like $65/mnth then-year $ for a hobby, which i would count as a middle-class affordable hobby back then, though, yes that would be about $275/mnth today. Note that more than two-thirds of that monthly cost was for film&processing. Funny, i didn't think of it that way back in the day.

BUT today there are two huge differences (leaving technical attributes aside): today's camera needs no recurring film cost AND (and a personal preference here) *printing* is much cheaper than back in the day, even measured in nominal (much less inflation-adjusted) terms. I won't go into the computations of printing cost comparisons, but it is even more steeply cheaper than the camera and film. I will just say that in 1982 i was thrilled to find a source that would reliably print color-correct 8x10s for just $5 each!

If the hobby is about the craft of making images, we are in an economic golden age. But i am not entirely rational either; i have a shelf of Nikon F glass that, in my dotage, i cannot bring myself to sell. My FM still works too . . . but the cost of film today!

-- gary ray

Photography has always been an expensive "hobby." Fortunately, there is always the used market- because income inequality is as real as it gets...

Mike: I agree about your broader thesis, but disagree about the specific example. And Leica may be a less interesting choice to make the point. I posit Leica has changed from being a camera company to being a luxury brand. And they probably save the marque by doing so, even if they turned it into a brand with which I won't be associated once my M9 breaks.

I guess Leica read the tea leaves, looked at their production numbers and ran the answer to the following question backwards to get to their costs: "If we can produce X units per year, how much to do we have to charge per unit to keep the company going?" The answer was US$9,000 per camera. That's a bit rich even for lawyers and dentists, so they went for the new plutocrats, 'cause that's who has $9K in the couch cushions, if you know what I mean.

So: yes. Agree. Sign o' the times.

But to the specific point about photography, I don't think there has been a cheaper time to get into it as a hobby. Not only is a camera included for free in a piece of tech you already own (phone), but the transformation of the camera market into a fashion market (new model every year, must upgrade etc., etc.) has meant that there are technically excellent cameras available for pennies in the inflation-adjusted example you gave.

For example, a used Canon EOS 40D 10.1MP Digital SLR Camera w/ EF-S 18-55mm II Lens can be had on eBay today for $150, to choose just one example. Perfectly competent picture taker. One reverse inflation calculator tells me that that's about $54 in 1984 terms. Now I am not saying it is easy for the folks in the bottom 20% to come up with that $150 today. But I am saying that there are millions of folks who can afford that, if they want to get into photography as a hobby.

Just as an exercise, I went to eBay to see what the least amount of money I could spend and come away with an SLR with which I'd be happy to take pictures. The answer was a Canon EOS 20d for $20.62 (or Best Offer) and a Canon 35/2 EF lens for $47.00 This was a 40 second search, without a lot of bargain hunting. So for $67 plus shipping, I can be snapping away to my heart's content. That's basically the price of a tank of gas.

Now there's a lot that's messed up with my example. Gas is super expensive right now. Plus I'm purposely ducking the question of how to produce 2022 "pro quality" images as with the cameras you mentioned above. The bigger problem with the low price for that gear -- to me at least -- is that the prices actually suggest that no one wants this stuff. Let's face it: You can hardly give away at 6 mp Canon and prime lens today. Can you imagine how many $67 transactions a camera store has to do in order to pay its expenses? What that means is that no one is clamoring to get into the hobby, even if the cost of entry is basically free. Now, that's a problem.

I have been thinking the same thing for a while now. The pundits tell us (almost joyfully) that the the camera manufacturers are aiming at "high end" gear and the "Canon Rebels" of this world will be gone in a few years eaten by the cell phone.

But I see this as a huge mistake.I believe there should be at least one economic model in a brands inventory, just to get new, preferably young people into the hobby. Not all enthusiasts have the money to buy a Z7 let alone a Z9. Many of those who have the means are literally a dying set of customers.

Coupled to the rising prices of gear and the undoubted impoverishment of the middle classes, I see my local dealer who handles second hand gear doing very well. The guys that handle second hand gear, are the only camera shops that have survived in my city. His "new entry" internet list is often marked "reserved" after a few minuets for some popular items. So some hope for the person on a tight budget remains.

A D610, D810 or any other slightly outdated camera are very good value second hand at the moment, as those with the dosh pass forward to mirrorless.

I share your opinion concerning the world of HiFi. The editorial policy of reviewing extremely expensive if not overpriced gear, just makes the average reader feel inadequate after a while, and most give up reading these magazines and perhaps brainwashed into thinking their gear is just inadequate, lose interest in HiFi and just give up and join the Spotify crew.

Are we going the same way with cameras, but in a very different way? The reviews gloat over ever increasing frame rates and focus modes for trains, birds and such. The keyboard warriors on DPR forums try to convince themselves and everybody else that without all this stuff in the most expensive models, you just cannot take decent pictures. I fell like a pauper reading some of the posts there where thousands of Euros/Dollars are spent to get those "Ducks in Flight" shots down at the local park with the latest gear and bazooka lenses.

Who knows where we are going in our little world of photography.

Going into year two of retirement and I find that my gear acquisition issues appear to be resolved.
I know new kit is not cheap but a quick trip to KEH and I discovered that replicating the camera and three lens kit I use now would only be around $700.
For what it's worth that would be a Nikon D7100 with grip, 18 to 70 nikkor, 70 to 210 f4 af nikkor (the old one) and a gently used Tokina 11 to 16.
Throw in a nikon speedlight an extra battery and some filters and you will still get change back from a grand.
Works for me, your mileage may vary.
Just read the Stereophile review of the new Linn turntable and they say it's a good deal at $30k.
Different world from the one I occupy.

Buy used.

Socialism for the rich. Capitalism for the poor.

Does a "hobbyist" really need the latest "full-frame" wundercamera with top of line lenses, given that no one (to first order approximation) prints anymore? If all you want to do is take pictures and improve at taking them, then there are all kinds of used bargains out there, full-frame or not. Any 12 to 16 mpix D-SLR or even early mirrorless will do the trick and who cares how big the sensor is. Lots of bargain used lenses out there too, don't even need to look hard.

Now the camera/buying/selling hobby is more difficult to navigate, yeah that may be true.

"third-world countries like Egypt that have simply given in to having societies composed of tiny, prosperous oligarchies controlling, and having to be protected from, a mass of ordinary citizens who subsist in grinding poverty and can barely get by."

You just described USA? This could be Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and others.

Your comment about food deserts brought back memories. I moved to the Bay Area back in 1973, and took an apartment in a decidedly down-market area. There was a supermarket chain that had two stores in my vicinity - one very close and another several miles away in a much more affluent neighborhood. I shopped at both from time to time. The upmarket store consistently had higher quality produce than the one in my neighborhood. I don't think it was a coincidence.

Worse, professionals are being priced out of photography. I made my money doing computer software, and for much of my career could afford to be well-equipped photographically. Going back further, there are lots of jokes (unfair ones) about dentists with Hasselblads.

I think there are effectively no barriers today to people making photographs as a hobby. Leaving aside the ubiquitous smartphone, which makes a very credible photograph, there's an ocean of good quality, inexpensive used cameras and lenses out there from which to choose.

I teach a course every Fall, and some of the students need to buy a camera. My core advice is, 'First and foremost, you should have a good camera, but it can be an older camera if it was a good camera when it was new.' https://uwaterloo.ca/scholar/rdeloe/what-kind-camera-will-you-need

My photo hobby is film. Recently I've faced repair bills for some of my film cameras. Expensive hobby film photography is, and it will only get worse. Now buying two of each film camera because of parts and camera availability. But, it really is the best time to be in photography. I mean look at all the gear that is available. That is if you have the mula. I am not rich, but I have patience, and I generally get what lens or camera I want.

Hi Mike,

I’m just coming back to photography after a couple of years doing other less fun things, and you’re the only photography writer I’ve kept on reading even when I didn’t feel any urge to take pictures myself, because you are not all and only about the gear (even though you have an obvious and infectious love for the technical excellence a great lens or body manifests). So what I’m writing here is stuff I know you know.

I’m a deeply unserious photographer who nonetheless likes to indulge in some shiny kit every now and again, and yes the world of the top of the line flagship cameras is alien to me. But I don’t think I have too much to complain about - I’ve spent a bit less than £2000 this year on a whole new (to me) m4/3rds system plus a half-dozen excellent Pentax lenses including a da* zoom and 3 da ltds (all used, obviously). A large sum of cash - definitely more than I’ve ever spent on camera gear in a single year before - but not an immense amount in cutting edge newest and greatest camera gear terms. If I was any good as a photographer, are there many genres of the art I’d be excluded from in equipment terms with that sum, or even less? Maybe wildlife photography, though I’ve got an Oly M1ii as my m4/3rds body which isn’t too shabby at fast tracking af and high frame rates, and I could have put the Pentax cash into one of the 100-400s and been well set up. Now that digital cameras are a mature technology, actually doing great artistic photography is as accessible to the talented as it has ever been, surely? As plenty of people have already pointed out, there remain as a many or more routes to doing great photography (or even, like me, just indulging in gear nerdery, so long as we give the state of the art a few years’ head start) as there have ever been.

But I think this is just an example where the absolute step change in cost of (or even just the invention of) electronics like cameras and especially smartphones masks the very real economic bifurcation that has happened in my 40-odd-year lifetime and that you’ve related these inflated costs of camera gear to.

It is very easy to dismiss the real economic struggles of huge numbers of people (the increase in food bank usage here (UK) is more than 20-fold in the last 10 years or so by one measure, and people in the US and elsewhere will be able to show similar changes for the worse in peoples’ economic circumstances) by pointing to the fact the people using these food banks -people who are unable to put food on the table for themselves and their families- will invariably own smartphones. It’s easy to do this and entirely wrong: a smartphone - a handheld computer of unimaginable power and utility 30 years ago - is both cheap and essential for the very tasks those food bank users will need to take themselves out of that need, to look for work, to negotiate benefits claims. A camera is hardly an essential on that scale, though the phone itself is probably a reasonable one in its own right (again, a used iphone 7 is little more than £100 now with many cheaper and you can get as much data as you can eat for £10 or less a month).

In other words, you’ve correctly identified one of the pressing issues of the decade to come and responses like mine and some of the others above in some way exemplify the problem - poverty isn’t as visible as it was, and many things we’ve been used to thinking of as the trappings of wealth and luxury are now as essential for the deeply unluxurious task of pulling yourself out of poverty as a serviceable suit and shiny pair of shoes would have been a century ago for the Leonard Basts of today.

And what about software and computer hardware? I pay Adobe a substantial monthly fee a which is the same whether I process one or a million photos in each billing period, and irrespective of whether the images are for personal use, or international high end publishing. Ditto Capture One, although at least it’s a fixed licence, for now anyway. When I retire, software licensing and upgrade fees will still be a necessary expense for me to work on my archive and to revisit my images. It is a concern and needs to be addressed somehow by software companies.

What's "the hobby"?

Cameras... maybe.

Photography... never been cheaper. Used market is flooded with DSLRs and lenses. The Canon RP is small, light, cheap and very very capable. Massively under-rated camera.

In fact, if you actually want to take pictures, all you need to do is buy any used Canon made in the last five years and a 50mm/1.8 stm lens.

Thanks to an inheritance and careful ebaying, I've sunk $5700 into my Leica kit since 1/2021. That's a camera that is 2 generations old (yet more than good enough), leather case & strap, & 14 lenses (13 LTM, 1 M mount from 7Artisans) & 7 of them are 50's :) Still need a Leica Summitar once I find one at the right price.

No-one is going to mistake me for rich. Still, I could afford to buy into the ultimate Veblen good camera system by spending what I do have carefully. I like the way it feels in my hand and I love being able to still use the old classic lenses from Canon, Leica, Minolta & Nikon as well as newer glass from Voigtlander and 7Artisans.

We make our choices on what is important to us. I have a very nice Nikon D7100 system I rarely touch anymore. Nice camera, great glass but it's not the same. In the end, this barely above broke hobbyist took a windfall and grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

Re. the question posed by the title, I agree with Ken T.: you (we) are not.

What the heck do you (we) need a Z9, A1 or GFX 100S for?

Only recently, mainly because of cost, I decided to get off of the purchasing merry-go-round.

12 to 24Mp is quite enough for me and I am lucky enough to own 3xAPS-C cameras and 3xFull Frame cameras that meet that requirement.

For me, they give outstanding results and I will be using them until I or the cameras, drop !.

Kenneth Tanaka basically gave my response, but to give three more examples,

(1) I have two Nikon D-700 that I purchased for $400 each, and

(2) 12 years ago I purchased a reconditioned all in one epson (Clara inks) for $70 [stopped printing well, about a year ago]. And except for size limitation (8.5"x144" as I recall) it gave prints equal to my university top of the line Epsons.

(3) The ability to find equipment via the internet, makes the pool of stuff immense

I began serious photography in the mid 1960's and I never had the choices and relatively low cost as now, and to do digital color printing for next to nothing at my desk. Wow!

If I was a professional doing sports the picture could be different; although actually I am semi-professional doing my college theater productions, hence two D-700's, which makes a huge change from the old days w/ Ektachrome T-320, and again for no film/processing cost.

Your complaints are reflected in virtually every hobby that equipment freaks have come to dominate -- hi-fi, photography, music, horse competitions, computer gaming, sporty cars. But at the extremes, except perhaps for a very, very tiny professional minority, it's all Veblen. You could argue forever whether Jimi Hendrix was a better guitarist than Jimmy Page, but Jimi played Strats and Jimmy played Les Pauls, and you can buy good examples of either for well less than $2,000 today. I went to the Fort Lauderdale boat show a few years back, and a friend and I were laughing as we watched three fruit-colored Lamborginis trundle by, nose to tail, at about two miles an hour in the nightmare traffic. I mean, why would you even drive one down there? Veblen knew. I think it's always been the case that many hobbies have an equipment wing, where megapixels count for more than photographs. You can get an exceptionally good camera and lens set (non-Veblen) today for about what an exceptionally good (non-Veblen) camera and lens set cost in 1984..or even less. Except today's cameras are far better, and most will do video as well as still photos...

And let me take you to task on one other thing, your famous 1%. To get into the 1% today, you have to earn a bit more than $500,000 as a family. In other words, two moderately successful professionals married to each other (doctors in the US make an average of a bit more than $300,000 these days.) But when people say 1% -- and this is the idea you're hustling here -- they think of Gates and Bezos and their yachts and mistresses so on, and what greedheads they must be while the rest of us eat catfood. But that's simply not the case. Few of us are eating catfood, and most of the 1% work hard for the money they get. It's the top one one-hundredth of one percent that makes its money through corporate, tax and political manipulations of one kind or another, and even that's not always true.

Just sayin'.

The upside is that the used market is better than ever, with plenty of excellent options. Digital goods devalue like crazy. The rest is "savage capitalism" and lack of empathy.

Maybe the "best" today is generally more expensive than the "best" in 1984 (I wasn't born then, so this is just my secondhand understanding). So if the hobby is about being able to buy and use the "best" cameras currently available—Leica or digital MF, for example—perhaps the hobby is indeed getting too expensive for most of us. But if the hobby is about making pictures... as other commenters have said, I think we are spoilt for choice.

Your post made me think, thus I spent a bit of time through my archive and Internet to figure out my spending rate on cameras.

While I fully agree on the huge impact of increasing income inequalities, which is going to be one of our societies worst problem, I think that it is not so difficult to ignore it from the point of view of a photo hobbist.

Please take note I'm an italian from Genoa (Columbus city), and we are known to be, let say, careful on spending... However, I started as a kid with a then 25 year-old Voigtlander Vito B (left by my mother, who bought it new in the late fifties); 15 years later I bought a 25-year old used Canon FTb, then moved closer to cutting edge technology with a 15-year old Canon T70. Digital forced me to new or near new gear: thus, a 6-month old Panasonic Lx1, followed by a bunch of Olympus (new E-PL1, new E-PM1, 1-year old E-PM2).
Taking photos, for me, is just a way to appreciate how beautiful, sad, funny, mind blogging may be the world around us: thus, I look for a small, light package that I can bring with me most of the time, be it in mountain climbing, on the way from home to office, or in academic meetings around the world.
Adjusting for inflation and currency changes, it come out that for all of them I (or my mom) spent between 264 and 540 current euros, the most expensive being the oldest VitoB and the now middle-aged E-PL-1.
Nonetheless, the image quality , reliability, creativity freedom, easiness of use, post processing opportunities, and what's most important for me, the range of light/movement/focusing conditions where I can get succesfull images improved at a wholly unexpected speed.
It might be quite different fo a professional user, but from my point of view gear quality at constant price evolved faster than my photographic skills, and thus I never felt limited by my usual budget.

I agree with the guy who asked whether the hobby was 'buying cameras' or 'taking photographs'.

My current camera gear will probably see me out - I'm the same age as you.

I think what I was trying to suggest in my comment on the previous post was that there was always an economical way in to a company’s current line of equipment, to get you started.

I was never really a Nikon user, but a couple of times I happened to visit Gray’s of Westminster in London and once chatted briefly with Gary Levitt himself. He would have happily sold me a budget body - F65, perhaps, at that time, or even something s/hand - but he would have strongly recommended (insisted on, even) a good lens; perhaps whatever the then-current 35mm f2 or thereabouts was. He would have known that from that humble start I would have a clear path towards better equipment that could (if used properly) produce better results. I think its that path that’s vanished, at least for Canon and Nikon; the entry level has got so high.

(Finally, of course my earlier comment was not in any way intended as a criticism of Dave Levingston. He sounds like a good chap, and it would be good to meet him.)

Regarding income and wealth inequalities, a huge amount of that comes down to housing restrictions: https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/mac.20170388.

Piketty's results apply only to housing capital: https://ideas.repec.org/p/spo/wpecon/infohdl2441-30nstiku669glbr66l6n7mc2oq.html. We restrict the housing supply, and, as a result, we're seeing existing owners enriched, and future owners or renter impoverished. We can and should do something about this, but doing so requires that we first correctly understand the problem.

Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes. Says cyberpunk author William Gibson.

Man is an emotional animal, occasionally rational; and through his feelings he can be deceived to his heart's content.
Said Pulitzer Prize Will Durant.

To paraphrase Billy "The Kid" Emerson, My Samsung Phone is red hot, your ILC ain't doodly-squat. 8-0

The thing about this hobby is that it is a big tent. There is a price range for everyone. (Almost.) A subset of this big tent are ‘camera hackers/builders’. We have an absolutely ridiculous amount of fun with a bare minimum of outlay.

I think Mike importantly distinguishes between the camera-owning-hobby part of the photography hobby, and just the creation of photographs as a hobby.

There is a camera-owning hobby within the photography hobby, and it is fun and aspirational. (People who specifically enjoy the camera-owning hobby get a lot of flak on photography forums. In fact, they even get shamed.)

But it doesn't have to be aspirational to the point of unrequited lust. Even low budgets can bring a nice camera into the home. My wife's D5600 since 2017 still makes me jealous that it is so simple, intuitive, light, compact, comfortable and yet only a few hundred dollars used. Yet its images (and flexibility to make images) can only be beaten in edge-case scenarios.

I live in the UK, and I feel a mix incandescent rage and unspeakable frustration at clearly growing income disparities in my country. I think it impacts everything, so no doubt cameras and photography are affected.

However, the internet is awesome, so I could readily buy an “elderly” Nikon D300 and a pair of simple lenses for £300. That’s enough. I think in these days of predatory capitalism, a certain environmentally/financially sustainable sense of stoicism and “enough” is the right approach.

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