cost or ownership

Objects of desire

One of the great joys of being a photographer is the wonderful array of gear, technology and toys we get to use on a daily basis. It is also one of the curses of being in business. If I went out and bought every new camera, every new lens, every new application and every new computer that I fancied I would have no home, no car and no life.

That doesn’t stop me looking. The CES show in the USA has thrown up lots of new “I want one of those” moments and a quick calculation says that I would make a £20,000 hole in my finances if I went and bought it all. The serious point here is that for many photography is a hobby and buying new gear is a matter of “I want it, I’m going to have it”. For professional photographers there is a simpler test which asks “will that piece of kit pay for itself, pay my bills and work how it’s supposed to work?”

I’ve said many times that a lot of my clearest thinking comes from teaching and I’m currently updating my notes for teaching some business studies to my NCTJ Photojournalism group at Up To Speed Media in Bournemouth. In many ways the formula is simple: A. you need to take the cost of purchasing the item, insuring and servicing it and divide that by B. the number of days you work in an average year. Dividing A by B gives you C. To get the final figure D. You decide how many years the item might remain useful (longer for lenses, less time for camera bodies, computers and software).  Finally, you divide C by D and that figure is the cost of that piece of kit per working day.

An example: Telephoto zoom lens

  • A. price paid is £1,400 and it adds £20 a year to your insurance and a further £30 a year to service. That’s a total of £1,450
  • B . working 3 days a week on average over a 52 week year. That’s a total of 156 days
  • C. that’s 1,450 ÷ 156 = £9.29
  • D. lenses last on average 3 years

The final figure for owning that particular lens is £3.09 per working day IF you shoot for 468 days over three years. The cost goes down if you work more and it goes up if you work less. Of course one lens isn’t much use without the rest of the kit and so you can go through your whole stash of gear and do the same calculation for each. I tend to go for 2 years for camera bodies and computers, 3 years for heavy use lenses, 5 years for light use lenses and only 1 year for software including upgrades.

How depressing was that? Let’s end on a lighter note: objects of desire… well… the Canon G1X looks very, very cool, as does the limited edition all black Fujifilm X100. Of course the Canon EOS1DX has to go on the list and I’d love to give the Nikon D4 (and a kit of lenses) a spin. The list is actually a lot longer but nobody reads this far down… do they?