Earlier camera gear 1960 – 2000
Once thought of as the preserve of the wealthy or “Professional” photographer quality cameras we generally beyond the means of the average hobbyist.
Enter the Kodak Instamatic in 1963. This revolutionised the ability for people to have a pocket-able camera that was within most folks budget. With simple snap in film cartridges it was easy to load and simple to use, and made recording family and friends and any event one wanted to record with ease.
Image quality may not have been stellar but it was a far better option than the humble “box brownie “that preceded it.
An even more pocket-able Instamatic 110 was produced that would fit in just about any pocket or purse and was widely used throughout the 1970’s and onwards.
Many a time spent at the beach over summer would see us with a range of these small pocket-able cameras. By this time there were other manufacturers competing with similar options, Olympus and Hanimex being two of these.
Meanwhile 35mm SLR’s were coming into the market in ever increasing quantity. Still considerably more expensive than the point and shoot style camera of the day, but for those willing to save or finance an SLR and a couple of lenses, taking photography to the next level wasn’t too difficult or expensive.
For example the circa 1976-1978, Konica TC-RZ SLR at $214.95 was affordable even if it was the bottom of the entry level Konica cameras.
To put this in perspective In 1978 my average take home pay was approx $44.00 nett. Finance for this camera would have cost approx $5.00 per week over 18 months which wasn’t unreasonable. Film was inexpensive at the time and a roll of 36 images would cost printed approx $6.00 at the local camera shop. In those days they were doing thousands of rolls of film a week and it would take a week to get them back. The overnight option was double the amount so we usually waited and re allocated the funds for more film.
An extra lens, say a small telephoto lens 28-90 mm for example would cost between $50 & $100 depending upon whether you bought original glass or third party lenses. The choice was huge. As was the second hand selection.
This trend lasted throughout the 60’s to the late 90’s and early 21st century until the advent of new technology. And this is where the trouble starts.
Enter the point and shoot & consumer cameras.
As the film era was phased out and the digital era came of age new products were extremely expensive, often not well supported and in some cases more limited than their analogue counterparts. Over the best part of the next two decades we have seen huge advances in technology and camera performance to the point where there is something for everyone.
Suddenly we had point and shoot digital cameras in a myriad of styles and prices that were affordable, pocket-able, fashionable, easy to use, and were only limited by the size of the memory card and how long a set of batteries last. One of the best makes of these cameras were Fuji & Canon, both offering a large variety of cameras and at a price everyone could afford. In 1975 my Kodak Instamatic cost approx $15 dollars or so depending upon the retailer. This was equal to one quarter (25%) of a weeks wages ( nett amount ).
Fast forward to 2003 and we see the purchase of a Samsung Digimax 240 point and shoot camera. This was a mid price point camera at $240.00 which was approx 35% of my weekly income at the time.
And now it gets worse.
Fast forward to 2016 and the acquisition of the Fuji XA2 at the sticker price of $1150.00 for the twin lens kit. At the time that was One a Half times my weekly wage ($742.00 nett ).
Fast forward to 2018. By this time the demise of the consumer era of compacts and point and shoot cameras is over. Most manufacturers now only offer one or two models in the sub $400.00 mark which we could say is still affordable.
The new XA5 for example is $1049.00 is the entry price and this only comes with a untested kit lens.
The current XA3 in the twin lens kit ( same as my XA2 ) is currently $1395.00 which equates to twice my weekly income.
I would like to re-enter the Fuji world and my camera of choice is the XE3 with the XF 18-135 lens. At the list price of $2645.00. Thats three and a half times my weekly pay. I could shave $300 dollars off this price and buy the XT-20 and this lens as a kit for 2375.00 but it really doesn’t make much difference. My preference has always been to have a one lens setup for most of my photographic endeavours with perhaps a longer tele as a support lens. This is quickly becoming a prohibitive venture as the price of mirrorless in general no matter the maker seems to be excessive in price. Olympus are almost as bad and I dont like the even smaller form factor nor the smaller sensor, although they are much closer to the APSC output than in earlier times. In the mirrorless world at present Panasonic seem to have the best range at considerably better price points, which begs the question what are you getting thats so much better for the added dollars you spend.
While Canon is now offering a mirrorless range, for me at least the jury is still out as to just how good these cameras are, which leads on to the humble DSLR. Canon, Nikon and Pentax all offer entry level DSLR’s under $1000.00 with twin lens kits Ranging from $885.00 to $1220.00.
The Nikon D3400 is being offered with the Tamron 18-200 VC lens for under a thousand dollars which is a pretty good buy.
So what does all this mean for the average enthusiast? Essentially if you are serious about reducing the size and weight of your kit and going mirrorless you are going to pay a premium.
If however a lower tier DSLR will do the job and the size of the kit you have isn’t too important then the options price wise are better. Just remember that as soon as you wish to explore more technical advances in the camera bodies or start to go for better quality glass then the price tends to rise exponentially.
Even the most modest entry level DSLR with basic kit lens will exceed 75% of my weekly income, and I’m not paid poorly for what I do, far from it. The question then becomes how much do I want to spend on my camera gear and is it okay spend 4 to 6 times my weekly income and is it going to do what I want, for what is essentially a hobby.
Remember what the SLR cost me in the 1970’s with an additional lens. Most accountants would say that the cost/benefit ratio was okay at that but I wonder how they would react to the cost of the equipment now.
The underlying reason for examining this issue was brought about by the increasing dissatisfaction being expressed on a number of forums in regard to current pricing trends which seem to be getting further away from affordability every year.
Essentially the same problem exists with smartphones, which have for all intents and purposes replaced the low & mid tier point and shoot camera. PC News did a best Camera-phone roundup for 2017 Not included in this list was my Samsung S6 which has an outstanding camera in it for day to day snapshots and other nice addons. As a P&S camera I highly recommend an S6.
The pricing of these Phones was in the $699.00 to over $1000.00 range. Now anyway you slice it thats a damn expensive P&S camera. Mid tier cameras arent priced as high but the drop in camera efficiently and quality is fairly rapid in this segment. Essentially if the camera is under 12 Mp its probably not going to do the job all that well. I’ve had a few smart phones in the mid price range and while the cameras could be called adequate, few of them would have equalled the likes of my Fuji HS20.
Here again you have to ask yourself what the true benefit is of spending a substantial sum on a very good but limited camera when compared to the previous equipment mentioned above. Do you really want to pay $1600.00 for the latest Samsung S9 or is there a better alternative?
So back to the original question, ARE CAMERAS TOO EXPENSIVE?
I believe that they are with a few ( very few ) exceptions. To be able to access the type of quality that previous decades were able to obtain, without huge financial outlay, is essentially beyond a good many who in the past could well have been able to afford to pursue this hobby for a reasonable outlay.
When mid priced mirrorless systems now cost in excess of 4x the weekly income ( based on my income which is equal to the national average ) then we need to examine how long we are prepared to maintain ownership. Perhaps instead of changing cameras every 2 years we may need to look to 5 years or longer between models. One also has to consider planned obsolescence, are are we comfortable holding equipment for longer time periods?
Given the almost too rapid advancements in technology are we falling victim to the media hype and buying because there is the belief that the next best thing is going to help us improve no matter the cost.
For me at least this seems extremely wasteful and expensive. How much do you value your hard earned cash?
For those who enjoy a blast from the past check out this site. Some of the posters even have the prices. Vintage Photography Posters
Note All above prices are quoted in New Zealand dollars. Yours will vary depending upon location and market size.