What's Your Whack?
One of the great limitations of hobbies is that they can get expensive. I've always loved music listening, and one of my first major purchases was a Marantz receiver and Dual turntable I bought when I was 15 with the proceeds of a summer spent caring for neighbors' yards. As a longtime "audiophile," the most expensive purchase I ever made, well over a decade ago, was a pair of used Celestion SL700 speakers that cost $2,400, marked down from $3,200 because the previous auditioner, who had kept them for five weeks before returning them to the dealer, had damaged one of the stands. They were reviewed by John Atkinson in Stereophile magazine as "extremely expensive for a small speaker" or words to that effect.
Nowadays, $3,200 for a pair of speakers is considered by Stereophile to be, if not quite "budget," then at least "good value." The average audiophile who reads Stereophile (according to its own poll published a few years ago) has $11,000 invested in his stereo, which seems like quite a commitment to me. Despite that, the magazine (and its several counterparts) routinely review single components costing more than $11,000—sometimes far more. In fact, never mind speakers themselves—I've seen speaker wires reviewed that cost more than $11,000.
Meanwhile, the audiophile magazines also routinely moan at great length about what a shame it is that young people aren't getting involved in their hobby. This seems to me to be a case of putting two and two together and just not being able to figure out what the answer could possibly be.
Photography has always been expensive. A Leica in 1955 cost two months of a factory worker's wage. But is it getting more so or less so? To equip yourself for professional work you need:
1. Two pro or semi-pro DSLR bodies
2. Minimum two pro-level ƒ/2.8 or better lenses, wide-angle zoom and telephoto zoom
3. Two flash units
4. Laptop or portable hard drive for downloading in the field
5. Four cards and four batteries
6. Photoshop CS2, various plugins, and maybe Lightroom
7. A computer capable of handling large files and memory-intensive applications, plus storage devices
8. (Optional, depending on your clientele) a medium-format (13x19-inch) pigment inkjet printer, and supplies
What about amateurs? I worry sometimes about the financial commitment required of wannabe photo enthusiasts these days. Even with digicams getting very good and DSLRs coming way down in price, single midrange zooms being substitutable for a selection of lenses, and (commerce warning: LightZone plug coming up!) good image-manipulation programs available for bargain prices, it's still not a negligible outlay.
If you consider yourself a serious, ambitious amateur, and you were to consider only the equipment you own that you really need to do your work, can you put a number on what you have invested at the moment? How much of a whack have you taken?
Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON