How long does gear last?

When I teach new photographers the business studies element of what it is to be a working photographer I go through a whole exercise which adds up the cost of the gear and then divides that cost by the number of working days that it might be expected to last before you need to replace it. My formula was mentioned in a previous post and I try to be realistic about the life span of the principle kit that we need. Camera bodies, for example, last somewhere between two and three years on average whereas lenses last four, five or even six years. It’s a simple idea and when you add it all up you come out with a figure that represents the amount of money it costs to be a photographer based on working a fixed number of days per year. For most photographers that’s around the £45 – £60 mark.

©Neil Turner. March 2014. My Elinca branded lighting stand that is at least 21 years old

©Neil Turner. March 2014. My Elinca branded lighting stand that is at least 21 years old

Some gear, such as tripods and equipment bags last a lot longer and there’s good evidence to say that a Pelican case is for life as long as it doesn’t get stolen. I was looking at some kit this morning and making sure that I had everything that I needed for a two-day job over the weekend when one of my lighting stands came apart. That got me thinking about how much this stand had cost me on a ‘per day’ basis since I bought it somewhere between 1990 and 1993. I won’t go into how I can narrow the dates down but let us say that it is at least 21 years old. At today’s prices this stand would probably cost about £70.00 (but probably cost me a lot less) and by dividing that by 21 you can see that it has cost me £3.33 a year. That’s a meagre £0.26 a month or, if I work 150 days a year that’s £0.02 per working day.

I have used lighting stands every single working day since then and, whilst it hasn’t always been this one, my preference for a specific brand seems to be justified by the way that they take a battering. That brand is Manfrotto – even though this one is labelled “Elinca SA” it is clearly a version of an older Manfrotto 052 model (not the same as the current 052 or 1052) because it is almost identical to another stand that I have which is labelled “Manfrotto 052”. I also have a pair of identical lighter-weight stands where one is branded Manfrotto and the other is branded Lastolite and a pair of tiny stands where one is Manfrotto and the other is Bogen. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that one manufacturer was/is making them and that they were/are being sold under many labels.

Going back to the stand itself, when I say “fell apart” what I mean is that this stand came apart at one of the connections. When I had a good look it was obvious that it had lost a bolt and nut that tightened around the metal tubing keeping it in place. Three minutes later, I’d found a suitable replacement amongst the bits and pieces in my garage and the stand was fixed and ready for a lot of action over the next weekend. So that’s a lighting stand of extreme professional quality that costs me two pennies a day – what a bargain! Of course I have forgotten to add the maintenance costs – £0.12 for the bolt that I fitted today plus my labour at a maximum of ten minutes.

For the record, I have three Manfrotto tripods (all with Manfrotto heads), three Manfrotto monopods and a case full of their accessories (Super-clamps, suction clamp, low-level stand, quick release adapters, a boom and so on). I reckon that I have about £1,000.00 worth of Manfrotto gear in total – most of which is over ten years old and some of which is over twenty years old.

Manfrotto haven’t paid me for this blog post, nor have I spoken to anyone from the company or any of their distributors or retailers. I just think that their kit is pretty good value for money. Of course, if they want to offer me a retrospective bribe…

6 comments

  1. Mr Neil it is very interesting what you have write. In Egypt our equipment not so good the quality so we must make it last long time. Many equipment nearly not working in the university but it is real I think that best equipment is not best the photographs you taking. We look in class at your pictures always very clear and with interesting composition, do you think the picture with your head first before you take? Really I think you are very great.
    Regards, Fahtim

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    1. I often imagine exactly what the picture will look like and then make it happen. If it looks like I wanted it to then I am happy. If it doesn’t, then I’ll make adjustments and make something as good as I can.

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  2. I think Mr Neil this is how all the photographers is great must make their photo. In class we look always at the British photographer who have we see the best eyes in their heads. Always to look at you and Mr Drew Gardner and Mr Jezblog and other great photo on blog is to be very inspiral to class.

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  3. My studios and production company work to a rule of thumb of 50 days hire of our equipment pays for it. Beyond that you are in profit bar occasional maintenance. This also helps me to decide what to buy in and what to hire in. This can be applied to cameras, stands, grip and especially lighting.

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