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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Win Some, Lose Some

MJ, Baby Sarah, 2006

Some very interesting responses to the "What's Your Whack?" thread—thanks.

It looks like there are a number of people around the $3500 mark (that would include me) and several more around the $8k figure. "Anonymous" whose wife would kill him if she found out (I presume that's why he's anonymous!) breaks the mold with $21k invested, far out ahead of the rest of our little sample.

As Frank Petronio points out, I do think it's cheaper to be a studio pro with digital than with film. In the old days a studio pro had to be ready to shoot in all three formats and lighting had to be powerful enough for large format. The little puffs of light it takes to satisfy an APS-C sensor at E.I. 400 or 800 must be a great relief compared to the old days.

When I was starting in photography it was assumed that $40k was required for a beginning studio pro and most of the established ones had more like $60-$100k invested. Considering film and its logistics, and it's got to be cheaper now. Pace Ken Hagler's "Nikon FM-3a and 50mm ƒ/1.8 AI-S lens," however, it seems to me that any decent amateur film setup is almost sure to be less involved—and less expensive—than its DSLR/digital equivalent.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

My setup consists of a tripod, flash, Contax Aria and three lenses (28, 50 and 135), bought used, which is about a $1500 investment. As an amateur, I cannot justify an expenditure that would buy me the same gear in digital, so I've stopped worrying about equipment long time ago. With my 60 BW films a year and the occasional print by a friend, who is a master printer (I develop them myself, though), all I need to do is shoot, twiddle the tank, hand over the developed film and enjoy the results [or despair over them :)] It's simple and satisfying.

8:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, what's "pro" is relative. Some of the most beautiful and haunting photographs I have seen have come from non-SLR type setups. For instance, the Salgado exhibition I went to a couple of Christmases ago was amazing and he only shot with a Leica Rolleiflex. You can see some of the images on the entry I made here:

8:43 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"For instance, the Salgado exhibition"

Studio pro. Salgado's not by any stretch a studio pro.


10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm the anonymous who appears to have $21K "invested" in this hobby.

One point of clarification, however obvious, that I'd like to make is, the cost involved in "supporting peripherals" such as computer, calibration device, printer & supplies, etc. are probably the same for all DSLR shooters (and many film shooters who scan their work). Lenses are supposed to last a virtual "lifetime" (i.e. over 10 years) if well cared for. What it all boils down to is the cost of camera. Yes, the DSLRs are more expensive up front, but I haven't spent a dime developing my files (other than my own spare time; and yes I've heard the saying time is money and blah blah blah). I still think digital is way cheaper in the long run compared to film, and when it comes to self-learning and instant feedback, there is no other option.

12:57 AM  
Blogger Scott Kirkpatrick said...

If you are right that amateurs are paying more and pros are paying less for enough gear to "get the job done," that is probably good news for the camera companies, since amateurs will always outnumber pros.

I think you can hit your stride more readily in digital, with less wasted effort. When I started in film, as a wannabe pro (some stock and portfolio sales) with other options, I quickly accumulated three Nikons with 5 lenses, a Rolleicord, an M-2 with four lenses, 1,2,4,8 roll film developing tanks, Omega D-2 enlarger (the tall one with a condenser head), stabilization processor, lots of tanks and bottles, furniture for the darkroom, and my Henry Wilhelm archival film washer (remember those?). Nothing purchased new, all paid for with pre-Reagan dollars, so that when I gave away all but the Leica to charity, the tax break in current dollars probably made me whole.

Life is simpler now, with computers paid for by my day job. If I were serious about printing, it might get less so.

1:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Mike-

Great to read your blog!

I must say that there is a total misconception about this professional vs amateur equiptment investment discussion. For the professional the equipment is only a portion of the expenses needed to be in business, and in many cases a very small portion of the expenses. Consider anyone trying to have a studio in a major metropolitan area where real estate prices are through the roof. Here in NYC a 600sq foot 1 bedroom apt is over 600K, and the commercial sector is even worse. Rents for a 1500sq ft studio can be in the $4000/month range, not including electric, telephones, internet or any of the fixtures and furniture needed to open the place for business. Add to that insurance, marketing, workmans comp, accountant, lawyer, automobile and you see that the photo equip. is just a fraction of the expenses needed to be in business. In a smaller market the numbers may change but the cost of doing business calcualtions have to include all the above expenses.

Steve Rosenblum makes some great points about the nature of digital investment in his post above, my Toyo G that I bought in 1984 is still state of the art, my Mac Classic II that I bought in 1992 has less memory than my wife's IPOD...I'm guessing 4yrs max for my G5 tower until I will need to re-invest.

Take care,


10:14 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Note: Bruce Katz, and old friend, is a professional photographer in New York City. Hey Bruce!


11:58 AM  
Blogger bjorke said...

I made myself a wee spreadsheet based on shooting HP5 and Neopan. If I'm prudent I can get the costs down to around 8 cents per frame.

I already have EOS film gear and digital gear.

My Canon Rebel has gone through a replacement shutter and after almost three years is clicking away at frame number 56,000 something.

At that rate, comparing the costs of shooting digital against film (with digital printing and storage for both having equal costs), then the costs of JUST shooting B&W film should be enough to pay for a 5D body in around two years.

Shooting color, that figure drops to less than one year.

I was surprised to realize that I now shoot something like 52 clicks per day -- on average. Digitally, you really do shoot more. I used to think a "six-roll day" was quite a lot, but I've recently had days of well over 1000 digital exposures and not thought anything of it.

2:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you include the laptop, CS2, RSP, 30D, 17-85mm IS, 70-300mm IS, 50mm 1.8, 420ex, tripod, Backpack, and assorted stuff, I have about $4500. and still, many would turn their noses up at my choice of lenses.

This does not include a couple of grand inversed in Pole Aerial Photography with my Canon G6 (a great learner camera).

I am not a wealthy guy and this probably represents a larger percentage of my income than many others. I figured out long ago that in America, you can do just about anything you want to do. You just can't do everything you want to do. If you narrow your focus enough, almost any working person in America could own an airplane. You might not be able to eat out three nights a week, but......

Mike Spivey

1:16 PM  

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