Staying on the bleeding edge: an economic strategy

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All photographers like gear; there’s no question that to some extent we’re all equipment hoarders and collectors. But it gets expensive quickly, even if we are lucky enough to be able to write off purchases as business expenses. This post will explain my strategy to minimize expense but still keep yourself happily distracted.

In reality, I think there are three options that work, but you must stick to them religiously – otherwise the costs start to spiral when you ‘jump grades’. Here’s the rundown; in each case, the aim is to take as little of a depreciation hit as possible, and of course keep yourself entertained…

Stay on the bleeding edge
Rough system cost: ~10-15% per year

If you’re reading this site, it’s almost certain that this is going to be the strategy for you. I always claim the image should outweight the equipment, but at the same time, it’s necessary to use the right tool for the job to get the optimum results. This often means both chasing diminishing returns and being something of an early adopter. You have to be the first to get in – pre order – and get out while the majority of users are still in the adoption phase; this way, even though you may be paying full retail, you’re also selling before the new prices have started to fall. This is the least possible depreciation hit you can expect to take. Selling direct to a private buyer via a specialist forum or classifieds is the best way to retain value; dealer trade in is almost always a disaster (this applies to all reselling, of course).

The main problem with this strategy is that you may not have a replacement at the latest optimal time of exit; generally discounting on new models doesn’t begin until sales slow or the successor becomes available. You also run the risk of being a beta tester for undiscovered flaws, having an unusable piece of equipment until the manufacturer has a fix, and possibly not having full software or system support if it’s a very new product. Worse still, there may be quite a steep learning curve to figure out how to get the most out of the camera. However, if done right, you can often get in and our with very little (~10-15% or less over a year or 18 months) ownership cost of the equipment – and sometimes even make a bit of money if you’ve bought something with a long waiting list.

I recommend this method of acquisition for people who can either afford to maintain backups (or have to maintain backups anyway) or for whom consistency of output isn’t so critical and can afford to wait between equipment – or for equipment to arrive.

Use it to death
Rough system cost: ~15% per year

Given that digital technology has pretty much matured, I feel this is the best strategy now for most photographers. We’re past the point of sufficiency, which means that the limitation in the imaging process is almost certainly going to be the operator in the vast majority of situations; you’re also far more likely to get bored with the gear than actually break it or wear it down beyond repair. Enthusiast shutters are now rated to 100,000+ cycles – other than my workshop students, I know few enthusiasts people who actually run though that many images. (And it’s also worth remembering that if you shoot that much, you have to look at all of the images, too.) Even with heavy professional usage, it would take me 2-3 years to get through a D810’s shutter.

Even though today’s cameras are built more like consumer electronics than indestructible professional tools, barring abuse or accident, I don’t see why you can’t get at least five years of use out of one before having to replace it due to wear – I see a lot of D700’s that are still serving their owners well. Even at the end of that period – let’s call it six or seven years of useful economic life – there’s still some residual value, or functionality as a second or backup body. I really can’t think of any reason why the technical output quality from that camera would be any worse than it was on release six years ago. Naturally, it goes without saying that if your clients are still happy…why change?

One generation behind
Rough system cost: hard to say

If you’re the kind of person who isn’t content with consistency, but wants to play equipment roulette on even more of a budget, then the final option is to stay one, or even two steps behind the bleeding edge. With model generations being a year or two, and secondary values plummeting ever more percentage-wise on every subsequent release, it’s actually not a bad option. I of course wouldn’t recommend being too far behind if being competitive on image quality is a necessary part of your business, but for the hobbyist – the though of getting some new (to you) equipment at fairly low cost is certainly appealing. And it also means that you have the option of going for top-flight pro equipment of the previous generation instead of the current ‘amateur grade’ model. This is an even better option in countries like Japan that have affluent populations, short consumer attention spans and a liquid used market. Even in Malaysia, you can find a D3/D3s for less than or around the price of a new D610; I know which I’d rather have unless pixel count was critical, or I was on a weight budget. The best part of this is that with a little homework, it’s possible to keep the same total capital rolling: selling a camera for more or equal to what you bought it for within 6-12 months is very doable.

Shoot film
Rough system cost: probably nothing except for consumables

Here’s an option you probably wouldn’t have thought of. I suggest it because the output remains satisfying and enjoyable for most hobbyists, and the value of second hand film equipment seems to be slowly rising. I think it’s partially because it was utterly ridiculously low, but beyond that, most of this gear isn’t being made anymore. The only way to obtain it is used, and with entropy only operating in one direction, scarcity can only increase – especially for examples in good condition.

You can certainly buy and sell for little financial impact, and hold the gear for as long as you want; on top of that, only the very best stuff has survived this long, so you’re not going to be playing with plastic fantastic. And it only takes a brief fondle for it to be clear that cameras these days are not built or designed with the same longevity in mind. The catch? Well, film isn’t so readily available for everybody, and there are a dearth of good labs (though this situation actually appears to be changing in some places). And I wouldn’t recommend it for professionals simply because it isn’t economically competitive anymore – not to mention the fact that most clients want digital. But there’s no reason why a pro mightn’t operate a film system or two for their own personal enjoyment.

Looking at the number of camera releases in the last couple of years that have required significant repairs or firmware upgrades to bring up to expected/ advertised functionality, I’m no longer so sure staying on the bleeding edge is an ideal strategy – especially if one is a professional whose income depends on equipment performing as expected under possibly challenging and unrepeatable situations. It may well be a better strategy to stay a generation behind and let somebody else be the beta tester – it’s something which I’d personally do if I didn’t run this site, except I sometimes have access to new equipment loans without any cost penalty.

The exception to this is in lenses: whilst digital bodies have become almost disposable, the lensmaker’s art is reaching new and lofty heights. Take the recent crop of 50mm lenses for instance – the Zeiss 1.4/55 Otus APO-Distagon; Leica’s 50/2 APO; and the amazing bang for the buck Sigma 50/1.4 Art – I am pretty sure the first two will retain their value for the simple reason of scarcity; in the meantime, they’ll give you the potential for some incredible images. Investment in glass, especially the kind that isn’t too dependent on electronics to work, is something that will probably make a bigger difference at this point than the body.

I’d like to leave you with a few questions to consider before buying anything:

  • What is it your current equipment doesn’t do for you? How does the new equipment fix this? Too much gear is bought under the illusion that it’s just generally ‘better’, which will result in ‘better’ images. What is better? Where is the limitation?
  • If you’re just going to use something once, how about renting?
  • Consider sufficiency: you may be able to use all of those megapixels, but does your output require them? Do you want to have to deal with upgrading the back end (storage, computing etc.) also?
  • Does it fit in with your existing system, or are there going to be a lot of hidden costs in accessories (lenses, batteries, computing power, for example), or worse, limitations (software)?
  • Is it cheaper if you buy it elsewhere (but don’t forget any import taxes and warranty limitations)? This is often still the case despite international sales. You might even find it cheaper to go over, buy it in person, take a shooting break and come back with some new gear.
  • Consider specialist equipment very carefully: it’s often neither easy to obtain nor to resell, anything that isn’t relatively mainstream is illiquid enough that the economic decision should be treated as a potential write off.
  • For professionals, don’t buy anything unless you can figure out how you’re going to monetize it – otherwise, it’s very easy to start acquiring things you ‘might need’ and then find yourself with depreciating assets and cashflow problems.
  • Compromises: something that gives you the image quality you want may come with a whole host of other issues; upgrading to medium format or using tilt-shift lenses would be obvious examples of this. Does the output justify the means?
  • Where possible, try before you buy to ensure that it’s what you want. Some limitations are obvious, some may only be obvious after time. For larger purchases, distributors or principals are generally happy to give you an extended test drive if you’re serious and ask nicely. This is also why it’s both important to maintain a relationship with your principal, as well as why one should seek out a manufacturer that actively supports its customers.

Finally, if you do feel like treating yourself, there’s always my recommended gear list or please consider using my B&H and Amazon links – you pay the same price, but a small referral fee goes my way, which helps to cover the back end costs for keeping this site running. Thanks! MT

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Comments

  1. i religiously used the early adopter strategy. there were some online stores that offer even 10% rebate – i even had a 50mm 1.8 as a bonus when i bought a d800 + 10% rebate + left focus point issue (solved)
    nevertheless is so hard fighting GAS. buying cheap locally – lenses and accessories – sell them on ebay and the other way around for camera bodies, helped me till now to maintain losses under control.
    anyway, selling 2-3 months before black friday (in romania black friday last for 1 month) is indicated, because in that period everybody is expecting low prices.
    you were right on the spot, as usual. thanks.

  2. Any more thoughts on “the amazing bang for the buck Sigma 50/1.4 Art”? That’s quite a teaser!

  3. Ming, if the Malaysian labs are so poor why not go into that business?

  4. I think I’ve used all three of the strategies. have bought right at release, have bought a year or two after release, and still have backup bodies that are two generations old (and not worth it to re-sell anymore). what is interesting at least in the north American market is that prices for older generation bodies are often better to buy new than buying on the used market. the price discounts at retail can be very significant for one or two year old technology, and can reach the level of used gear.

    • That’s interesting – we don’t have the same offers on refurbs or old stock here; I think the dealers generally hold less stock to begin with, so once a model reaches end of life that’s it.

  5. Interesting models, though I’m surprised at the bleeding edge model: in my mind a second hand camera needs to be 25% cheaper than sticker price for a new, minimum, to make it sensible to buy. Now I’m no expert in the various forums where camera trades are conducted, but in the ones I frequent getting 2nd hand gear sold for 10% lower than sticker price doesn’t really happen. The other aspect is that it’s very hard to know when a new model comes out when the price will drop and by how much. Also, popularity will affect sales and the Nikon D600 with its dust problem is a perfect example of the risks (no way I would even consider it without a steep discount).

    Another topic entirely that has come to my mind after the D800 came out is that staying with the latest gear was much more desirable in the days of the Nikon D70 than it is now. The tangible improvements from each new generation were pretty big at that time, but now the returns are much smaller in terms of image quality and operational comfort. Take something like the move from a D800 to a D810; a small enlargement won’t do to show the differences and forget about any differences for online content.

    Surprised to see film mentioned; for most hobbyists, the logistics are simply too much hassle even if the costs are bearable.

    • It depends how much you pay for the new model, too…and yes, there will be some cameras that just aren’t ‘hot’ enough to have much of any resale value, regardless of newness.

      You’d only bother with the D800>810 upgrade if you specifically know what the new camera solves/adds for you.

  6. Thanks Ming for giving people a system way of thinking. More important than the details for most. And this disappearing thinking will benefit all more than the specifics. Kinda like “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.

    As for me, money is no object. Can have what I want, whenever I want. Do shot professionally, when can. I actually still get people demanding I do. High fashion, portraits, weddings, executive portraiture and celebrity. Run a prominent firm which takes most of my time and makes me money unfathomable from any photo endeavor, but finances it.

    As said here before, use film a lot and still get better results from it than from any digital medium. It is ultimately something that jumps out and sells the subject better too.

    Have every Nikon Digital from the D70s to the D4 and the D810. Similar from Canon, and just recently, the latest and greatest Leica digital. For film, every Nikon made from the FM forward, except strangely enough the F6. I tend to favor a Nikon D90 for digital, liking the output better than latter Nikons. I live for film on my FM2s, and when need motor or weight, my F3s.

    Modern lenses irritate me. No denying that the color finesse has got better and is superb. But the saturation, depth, brilliance and accuracy has gotten much worse. Modern lenses also are uniformly high in resolution ( if not great-though some are ) whilst older ones could be soft. But modern lenses have complex anamorphic distortion that really pisses me, and worse, my client off. So use a mix.

    Now to the crux, like you, thought systematically about all this and the one thing I have come up with, after years of combat photography, weddings and amateur use is that you need to have backups for the backups! Every modern lens ( AF-S ) from Nikon I have had has broken not to long after purchase. My 105mm Nikkor from 1977, beat to hell, of course has not and still works like new.

    So my systemic approach, given the poor and continuously declining manufacturing quality is to have at least 3 bodies on hand, per shooter, for a long day shoot. Lenses, AF-S’s with a few miles on them need to be duplicated. AF-Ds unless very old are probably ok, but always take a backup to what focal length will be prime for a shoot. AIS lenses-nada backup in sight.

    For Canon & Leica digital, backups for everything. Nikon & Leica M film, one backup body. For my custom designed 6×7 Camera ( Nikkor T & Rodenstock lenses on a machined Sinar on rails with a 6×7 back, 1 backup.

    All the best,

    • I think lens overlaps might be a better way to go – a 24-120/4 can be covered by the 28/50/85 1.8 G primes, for instance, as well as expanding the shooting envelope a bit. Zeiss glass doesn’t need backups though, those MF things are indestructible.

      But yes, these things are computers rather than mechanical devices. And if your client is paying…the you have no excuses.

  7. As you mention, beta cameras have become all too common. I haven’t bought anything in a while, but my D800 needs a tune up and grips, I want to replace my 70-300 VR with something better, perhaps a 70-200 f/4 and a few other things here and there…

    • Lenses tend not to suffer from the ‘beta problem’ – even the final engineering samples I’ve used have been usually identical to the production ones. I suppose it’s because they don’t have any software…

  8. John Weeks says:

    Hi Ming,
    I shot a F3 forever, and then went Nikon D70, D2X ($5000 at the time), all 2.8 lenses etc. Now I use a Oly Em-10 for travel but mainly because of the Live Bulb feature as I enjoy long exposures and like watching the photo develop like back in the Kodak days. My other, a Sony RX100M3 I love and goes with me everywhere. I guess you would call me a current generation user, BUT there is another category that does not have to do with cost evaluation. That is the category of buying a Ming Video, in my case Compact Masterclass and realizing when you kicked my butt with a $150 camera there is no need to go further. I plan on working on my Indian skill, not my arrow quiver. I read threads all the time on forums and they don’t get it…how eye opening watching a true pro can be. My photos I did not feel were that bad, but I have been put in my place…in a eye-opening way. So far to journey…and shooting with spot metering an exposure control on the front ring have done wonders…”let the rest far where it may”. Anyway, equipment and tech advances are cool, but better images is cooler. So, I probably will turn into the one generation behind shooter and just buy more teaching videos. And hopefully that saves me some money but at the same time keeps me learning and evolving.

    • John, a funny story to go along with your comments on watching someone who knows what they’re doing: at the San Francisco Masterclass, I was trying to make something of a tree at a park (near the DeYoung museum). Ming was there, and after a few attempts on my part, he took my camera, and aimed the camera to reframe the shot by less than a foot, and took a picture. That picture was better balanced and composed than any frame I had taken of that tree. I have it squirreled away in my Lightroom library as my secret Ming Thein original, as an object lesson in composition, and as a humbling reminder of where I am in my skills if I ever get too sure about myself. 🙂

      • John Weeks says:

        Andre….lol
        Yes, you can surely relate to what I am saying then. I have watched the masterclass video at least 3 times. Best 6 or so hours I have spent and much more valuable to me than going out and buying gear. when is aw the pics form that cheepy compact he bought I just had to laugh at myself. Now I know I have a great piece of gear, don’t ever plan to waste time with the threads on this camera or that, yada, yada and chuckle when I read the responses from others who THINK they know best. If more would open their minds…they like i would realize…”you’ve been served!”

      • Hahaha!

  9. My approach is to wait until the price drops by at least 30%. This usually takes 12-18 months. If I see a deal earlier, I grab it. If I then use it for no more than one year, I can sell it for what I’ve paid for it… At this point in the digital revolution, being 12-18’months behind the leading edge is good enough for is amateur! (Then exception was the EM1 which I bought as soon as available)

  10. I feel like your RGL is getting a little long in the tooth. The Sony A7S most assuredly deserves a top spot in the mirrorless category for it’s ability to do most everything exceptionally well -except billboards of course 🙂

  11. When you think about it the Leica M range are the perfect cameras, not to quick to upgrade their new M cameras about 2 years I think, older M cameras hold some value, cult following in the sense you can feel just as good using the M3 as the M240 and their glass can be for a lifetime. I enjoy seeing images just as much from M8 or M6 to the M240 it’s just such a enjoyable camera range to use and follow.

    • Vonmanstein says:

      Agreed. I’m very tempted to pick up either an M4, MP, or M6. Can’t decide which one!!

      • Steve Jones says:

        Any of those. M6 for ease of use. M4 or MP if you happen to like either for some reason. Choosing the lens is more important.

      • I’ve been seeing a friend’s frames from an M6 and an M-Rokkor 40/2 and Acros. That’s the combo I’d use. The separation of subjects and 3Dness is remarkable.

  12. Film for an enthusiast makes some sense, in that if prints are wanted, and volume is low, the costs can be quite reasonable. I think the quality is quite good with medium format, and definitely there with large format. The potential for problems is there with any gear, and film usage means more steps with possible error, though in my experience major errors have been extremely rare. Obviously, some projects are about minimizing all risks, though high end digital is not without failure. Bottom line, always have back-ups, both in gear and image choices.

    Deadlines is a separate issue. Use to be that pro labs could finish E-6 processing in 3 hours or less. Scanning obviously took longer, though many photographers set-up their own scanning systems. This is a separate cost for digital files from film, at least for the few professionals who have chosen that route. Scanning is also a skill to be learned, in order to give consistent quality in output. Yes, all arguably more difficult than just shooting digital directly.

    I’ve seen that photographers can justify just about anything, and I’m certainly not immune from that affliction. As a professional, to me it is more about monetizing the assets, than it is about selling the capabilities of certain bits of technology. While there are photographers who advertize the fact of using very specific gear, quite a few professionals leave their gear choices anonymous. Obviously, there are still clients who want to see a big camera on location, but I hope (and my injured shoulder hopes) that will change more in the future.

    • My biggest fear with film is that the lab messes it up (seen it happen recently) and when that happens, it’s just too late. There are no excuses when you’re on the job; it’s digital all the way for me now.

      • Vonmanstein says:

        You have very poor quality labs in Malaysia it seems. Very poor quality.

        • Yes we do. And I’ve said that many times too.

        • Murphy’s Law. Lab mistakes happened rarely, but just enough as a pro that it made you paranoid. It always seemed that the bigger the job, the bigger the nightmare. So you’d test a film and stockpile big batches (100’s or thousands, all color balanced), and send out rush clip tests (30 min.) via assistant/messenger to make sure that the film, mostly chrome, was spot on, before making the final exposure. And this was in NYC, with a plethora of great, professional high end labs. Now that most labs have no idea what a clip test is, shooting film on paid work is too risky (no backups) and expensive (much more difficult to bill for film, processing, messengers–you know, the good old days!)

          • There are few pro labs left anywhere. Even when there were more of them, many photographers would split batches, to get rolls processed separately.

            Quite honestly, I’ve heard similar (and rare) horror stories of corrupted memory cards, and lost images with digital. Many pro bodies have dual cards, and some photographers have images write to both cards simultaneously. Even then, an error on a body or sensor (again, rare) could still result in lost images.

            About the closest we’ve ever seen to 100% guaranteed images has been with Polaroids, though the quality was never that great. Early medium format digital backs (often rented, not owned) were often backed-up by shooting film through the same body. While professional film photographers are rare today, there are some still out there, and oddly enough some of them have a digital back-up.

            The message I often hear implied, is to control as much of every step in the process as you can. Even then, the potential for error is still there.

            • I’ve had card corruption experiences before – the Leica M8 and M9-P were notorious for that – but aside from that, no issues. And as you say, dual slots, different card types etc. provide ample backup. However, you might get a lab that messes up all of your film – if you have a card error or body error you know after a shot or two and can switch so the impact is minimal, or possibly nothing.

              • Vonmanstein says:

                You might find a lab that blows up your film. And you also might get hit by a bus. This site is starting to feel like a place that spreads FUD. Malaysia might be some antiquated place where pro labs are laughably bad, but in many (most) parts of the world, you CAN find quality labs to process film.

                • It’s a shame we seem to have to choose between no pro film labs and rude racist people…oh wait, it isn’t.

                  And one last thing, Vonmanstein: personal insults are bad enough, but blanket racism will not be tolerated.

                • Peter Boender says:

                  “This site is starting to feel like a place that spreads FUD.”
                  May I ask why you are here then? Nobody is forcing you. You are free to leave.

                • Getting hit by a bus might be a better choice if your lab screws up. Back in the 1980’s when I was an assistant and pro in NYC’s Photo District, everyone had a pro lab that they “trusted”. And it was trust and not much more when you handed over 50 or 100 rolls of film with various instructions (push this, pull than, rush this, etc., etc.) to the counterperson at your lab. But labs would screw up an order, the trust would be broken, and then it was time find a new “trusted” lab. Yes it sounds like FUD, but every pro that shot film when film was the only medium has at least one film screw-up story. Maybe you’re exceedingly lucky, and your lab hasn’t screwed up, the machine hasn’t chewed up your film, and you haven’t had to explain to the very irate client (or more likely art director) why it wasn’t YOUR fault.

                  BTW, I vaguely remember that Robert Capa’s famous D-Day photo of the GI at Omaha Beach was almost destroyed by…a lab screw-up. Just sayin’….

                  Sure there are reasons to shoot film, and sure there are still some clients still willing to pay and wait for film, but film’s heyday is long gone, especially in commercial, bread and butter type work.

                  • Capa’s images were put into a film dryer, which was set hotter than usual in an attempt to dry the film faster. Ironically, that error created some of the most memorable images of the chaos of war, in an era long before Photoshop.

                    The reality today is that few professional photographers will use film on projects. In photojournalism, images contests indicate under 4% of entries on film. I suspect the wedding shooters may follow a similar pattern. Advertising and corporate, depends upon the project and deadlines, but the vast majority of projects are digital captures. Card errors, hard-drive crashes, body failures, means digital back-ups in every step of the process are a way of life for professionals. Digital is not error free, but for most professionals it inspired more confidence in the process, and I don’t mean chimping. 😉

                    The problem of trying to discuss this is that many professional will treat film using professionals as if they were diseased or insane. I rarely get into discussions of film usage, because too many people are polarized on attitudes. In the US, the attitudes are a bit more relaxed than just a few years ago, about using film at all. However, most of us have stereotypes and expectations to live up to, which means a big Nikon or Canon and bags of gear dragged to every location. 😉

                    • I can’t imagine that error went down well with the client 🙂

                      Weddings may actually use more film because people like the grain or lower ‘aggressiveness’ compared to digital (or it’s just trendy in some areas).

                      I’m not sure it’s the other pros who regard film users with suspicion – most of the time, it’s the clients…I’m quite happy to use the Hassy for limited stuff so long as the client understands the risks and additional time required for DIY processing and scanning, but not for an enormous job with hundreds of rolls.

          • There’s one bigger problem – clients won’t stand the wait for test clips anymore, or pony up for the cost of film. It’s economically unviable as a pro unless you’re doing some very special applications that require movements or formats only film can provide.

            • Vonmanstein says:

              This is just crazy. Do you really think there are no photographers who are professional with paying clients do not use film? I have a lab manager where I send my film who makes a LIVING off of these photographers. They process thousands of dollars worth of pro film per WEEK. Further, this isnt the biggest lab at all by any stretch.

              Clearly there are many photographers who can and do shoot film for paying customers. You are making blanket statements that simply cannot be supported by facts, or if they can be, only in Malaysia where poor quality seems to be the norm.

      • No images means no pay, and likely no more client too. So with film you developed a belt-and-suspenders attitude (no pun intended). Film was always fraught with risk, as the latent image was not immediately viewable; as pros we always tried to cover our bases by overshooting, bracketing, etc. Maybe it is fear, but to me it was just business common sense. Much in the same manner as I’d bring at least 1 backup of everything to a shoot. Did I ever mention a time-constrained commercial shoot where not one, but all three (!) medium format cameras failed?!! Very very stressful.

        • Bingo. Backups are the way to go, and minimising risk reduces one’s headaches. I’ve had two cameras fail on a shoot, but not three – that’s supremely bad luck!

        • Yes, as the saying goes, feces happens. 😉

          Three camera failures sounds crazy. I know some professionals that will not use a body for long, before they replace it. Same goes for batteries, memory cards, computers, and hard-drives. While not everyone goes through cameras, lenses, and computers at the same pace, there is a recurring cost to maintaining gear and back-ups. Film bodies use to last far longer in usage, and simply go in for maintenance and testing every once in a while.

          Probably the worst luck I had was renting strobes. After too many failing, or simply not firing more than a few shots, I got my own set-up. Lights are probably the toughest things to transport, and probably why Speedlight lighting has become more popular.

          • Actually digital is a bit more binary: it either works, or it doesn’t, and you unless you shoot two bodies simultaneously, you don’t really need to have identical backups: i.e. they can be much cheaper. This is going to sound heretical, but you probably wouldn’t give up that much between a D810 and a D3300 in a studio under ideal conditions (and chances are, your client won’t notice).

            Agree on lights. Flashes do die, though. I’ve blown quite a few myself; fortunately second hand speedlights, lightly used by amateurs, are quite cheap – enough to be considered a consumable when you average them out over the duration they typically last 🙂

  13. I still have (and use) my Nikon FTN I bought in 1968 with its 43-86 zoom. Over the years I bought a D70 and a D200 (which I recently gave to my youngest daughter along with all my DX lenses). Today I have two D700s, a D800 and a Leica and a lot of very expensive lenses. My camera of choice is the D700 and I’m giving my “way too many pixels” D800 to my other daughter (a fine arts grad student in New York). I’m out with my cameras almost everyday and they produce excellent pictures. I can easily print 18×24 with very good fidelity. So I am firmly in the use-it-until-it-falls-apart class.

  14. I love my Nikon D300. Thought to replace it because of high-Iso problems. Now I tried a used flash and getting more into flash photography, for which the D300 is perfect. No need to move to a newer camera.
    Thanks for your article!
    Oliver 2.0

  15. I’m most definitely both a non-pro, and a “one generation behind er ” and “bargain buyer” 😄
    Sometimes it gives me the chance to try out equipment, and then sell at little or no loss. I bought an X-series Fuji, bought a prime lens during the brief half-price sale in the US, didn’t really enjoy the X experience and was able to sell the camera and lens here in Malaysia at no financial loss, due to the huge saving on the imported lens.
    Recently I bought myself an RX100, which due to the subsequent releases has now come down to a very affordable price, and it definitely meets the object of sufficiency for what I like to photograph. (I think it truly is the best pocket, all-round camera available, and likely I will keep it until it dies).
    Or, I bargain shop, last gen equipment with big savings, and usually bundled extras such as batteries etc.since as a hobby photographer, anything recent exceeds my needs, often by an order of magnitude. Certainly helped me to get out of the ruthless upgrade cycle, but it did take quite a few years of cycling gear until I got the GAS out of my system 😉😊 Only recently do I think I’ve succeeded, except for a slight lingering lust for something “special” that gives that unquantifiable feeling that my old Leica CM gave me, and which was only abandoned because of the poor support for film in Malaysia 😔.
    I’m probably a prime candidate for a Leica X 😉😊

  16. Well written, although I would say that staying a generation or two behind becomes increasingly relevant, even for professional use. I’ve been buying mostly second hand gear since I changed (mainly) to digital, and as you point out: a D700 is still a D700 today, and a fantastic camera. I currently use three aging Nikon bodies (D2Xs, D300 and D700) and two Panasonic bodies (GH2 and GH3), and the only body upgrade that is planned for the near future is a GM5 for travel/backup. Interestingly, my most expensive (current value) Nikon body at the moment is not digital but film: the amazing F6.

    Lenses, on the other hand, is a totally different story 😀

    • Lenses will make more of a difference, but then again the body is still important – perhaps not so important once we pass sufficiency.

      • For daylight sports photography, Nikon hasn’t really come up with anything better than the D300/D2Xs (Canon users have the new 7D II obviously). Later DX bodies lack the necessary buffer capacity and the FX bodies require 50% longer telephoto lenses. For high ISO, the D700 is still very competitive. I shot an evening drifting competition a couple of months ago, and the D700 was perfect for that. Interestingly, the GH3 with the Zuiko 75mm wide open did very well when shooting video in the dark, including AF-C. For stills, not so good.

  17. very interesting thoughts…well done as always!
    the only thing i’d add is this: film cameras are certainly cheaper than ever, practically free compared to a new d810 or higher end (MF etc)….however the reason i backed off on this option is that the cost of getting high quality drum scans (to truly get the most out of the emulsion for best prints) is astronomical. so the camera itself is insanely cheap….but if you factor in the cost of high end scans….it adds up very quickly indeed.

    • Bingo. And there’s the degree of unpredictability which makes it impractical for non-repeatable critical work, plus a lack of control unless you do everything yourself (and even then there’s not much you can do tonally or color-wise with slide film, for instance).

      • Vonmanstein says:

        A skilled photographer can get results using film, even in critical non repeatable situations. Happened all the time before digital. Of course, it may be possible that today’s photographers no longer possess these skills.

        • Or it might be that there are factors outside your control and which have nothing to do with photographic skill. Your lab can mess up the developing, the film can get damaged by the TSA, or your client can change their mind after and want color. No matter how skilled you are, you’re not going to be able to solve those problems.

          • Vonmanstein says:

            25 years shooting, I’ve had a lab mess up exactly ONE time. Film can get damaged just like SD cards can or hard disks or laptops. Nothing is perfect. Ever. . I shoot scenes in both color and monochrome so clients can pick what they want.

            • You can’t shoot the same thing in color and monochrome in a documentary situation. And where I live, the labs mess up all the time – two out of ten rolls from my last batch of slide. I stopped after that.

              • Digital is a must for pro shooting. No question. I’m not professional and photography for me is a hobby and escape.

                I don’t need or want to rush and have a DX Nikon that I use for any ‘fast’ needs. The luxury of time allows me to use a ‘blad kit for “photography.” I develop my own B&W, mostly, but love positive film, too. Never had much trouble with processors or traveling with film in 40 years – about same loss rate as digital.

                Film cost is about $500-700 a year/30-50 rolls in the HBs a year (all up, processed cost). An accountant would say that would be >4.2 years to cover a good digital body, which is probably around the rate I’d ‘refresh’ the digital body. You can figure ‘salvage’ after that time (~1/2 original cost) and cost of a range of equivalent system quality glass, etc, easily.

                But, I am attached to and prefer the quality and simple operation of the HB kit (SWC, 500cm, 60mm, 150mm, 250mm) and tangible ‘handcraft’ of film. Some of it is ‘generational’, and certainly personal. If I didn’t grow up with film, I’m certain that I would have no attachment to it at all and only a passing technical curiosity.

        • there is no doubt even the best of the best shooters in the film days were never 100% sure exactly what they were getting. there was always an element of mystery/chance to it. which many embrace….but it was rarely 100% sure. there are certainly cool flattering effects that result from analog anomalies….but that’s a separate discussion imo.

          • We can be pretty sure, but not 100% certain until negs or slides are in the client’s hands. It’s impossible to have multiple identical copies or color/ mono variants. I’d just rather not have the risk, especially now that we can get the same or better results from digital.

      • don’t get me wrong….some of the most beautiful images of all time have been captured on analog (including the new batch of wet plate guys who love the chemical “character” and lovely flattering shallow DOF 8″X10″ film and 24″ polaroid portrait stuff)….however on balance digital is just a much better work flow for me. i can experiment and check my work as i go and achieve a much more precise and intentional result. all errors are free…..any shots i don’t like i erase on site (or at home on the computer) whereas on film you either have to have your own darkroom,chemicals, etc or give up control to external labs, hope for the best, and wait until way after the shoot to see if you got what you were after and STILL have to drum scan the negatives for the best print results, sometimes for hundreds of dollars PER shot. it just doesn’t make sense for me.
        the only remaining frustration is that for moving subjects, portraits, etc where stitching is not an option i can’t swing an IQ back to get the very best out of digital. however even the new Nikon D800 line bodies (comparatively “affordable” for the resolution you get) are frankly astounding image creation machines far superior to film 35mm cameras imo….and if it doesn’t look good it’s just user error imo.

        • Steve Jones says:

          If Apple are going to keep updating OS X ( like they surely will ) so that your valuable photos won’t open in their new iPhoto in Yosemite ( like they just did ) without patchwork fixes to make the files usable then Digital just got scary and dangerous. At least with film my images don’t float away on a cloud!
          I’m giving considerable thought to this at the moment.

          • i have not used iphoto in years so i can’t speak to that….but imo the chances of real problems using digital cameras and lightroom/photoshop are extremely low. it would be professional suicide for adobe to make such an error considering the customer base. compared to the increasing scarcity of film stock and labs (and all the other issues of scanning etc) i think my RAW files will probably be ok. if there IS a massive paradigm shift at some point and nikon RAW formats are going to become unreadable there will be a transitional period where we can mass convert to whatever the new file type will be (some type of raw format is here to stay). as another fail safe i always render 100% quality jpegs or TIFFs of every “keeper” image as i go backed up to external drive (and off site)….and those formats should be usable/easily convert-able/printable for a very long time.
            as always IMO….ha!

          • Don’t use iPhoto or anything else that’s library based with a proprietary format. This includes LR. If you keep jpegs and raws in a normal OS folder type organization scheme, you’ll be fine.

            • My DAM is pretty simple, with physical file organization by date shot. yyyy>yyyymmdd>img-1234. Lr is used to keyword and have virtual file strategies, linked to the actual physical file location. I have yet to see the need for mass CR2 to DNG file conversion or X3F to TIFF file conversion simply to preserve the ability to work with the files.
              Like many amateurs, I update when there is a fairly major jump in capacity. I am planning on updating to the Canon 7D2 from Canon 60D, specifically for the marked increase in AF and burst still rate/ buffer capacity to shoot wildlife, especially birds in flight. I am still using a 21 year old lens design EF 400mm f/5.6L with or without an older Canon 1.4x TCII – maximum operational improvement for minimal money (compared to other options such as full frame and 600mm f/4 lens). I updated to the bare-bones full frame Canon 6D for landscape, night, and non-focal-length-limited shooting. I am using a mix of spanking new (Sigma Art 35mm f/1.4, Samyang 14 f/2.8), used older modern (Zeiss 21mm f/2.8), and (via adapter) film-era legacy (AIS Nikkor 50 f/1.2, 105 f/2.5) lenses inherited from family. Use it to death is my strategy.
              Is Singapore devoid of hipster amateurs and antiquarian fine art photographers, to not have a high quality thriving film lab? Or do the fine arts and hipster types shoot B&W and develop / print themselves? Do you have a favorite Strange Comment made by someone watching you shoot 4 x 5, and if so, is it something along the line of “can’t afford digital, eh?”?

              • Wouldn’t know about Singapore, I live in Malaysia. They’re different countries…

                Oddly, I don’t tend to use the 4×5 in urban settings, which means almost nobody sees me use it. It’s a slow, contemplative camera for slow, contemplative photography – i.e. not the city.

    • Vonmanstein says:

      My Fujifilm GF670W certainly wasnt free. I dropped $2200 to buy that camera.

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