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Thursday, May 24, 2007


Michael Reichman once used the phrase "the Photoshop tax" in a conversation with me about imaging software. That is, every so often Adobe upgrades PS, and you're suddenly behind, so you have to pay a hundred and a half to upgrade and get yourself back to zero. It's a regular if intermittent expense. You know it's going to come around again, like rainy season. The "Photoshop tax."

It got me to thinking. What else is a "tax"?

The "film tax" might be one. You can protest all you want about how great film is and how great your prints look, but like it or not, when you use film, every time you release the shutter you incur costs. Every time you click, it's like throwing a nickel in a can. Or a fist-wad of dollar bills, if you're shooting 4x5 color neg. The "film tax."

There's the "upgrade tax." I know of a few photographers who have been using the same view cameras since Cher had two names, and I talked to one blissed-out guy online once who'd been using one single screw-mount Leica since 1948. He'd never bought himself a second camera. He was still happy with it—this was in the '90s, as I recall—and felt no need to think about a replacement. For the rest of us, well, it's more than a little ironic that we spend so much time arguing about how long our cameras will last. Who wears out their cameras? Before digicams came along, not very darn many of us. No; we get wandering-eye and buy something new, just because, well, we want something new, darn it. My little bro' has a budget line for things he calls "non-recurring recurrables." You know. Like "the upgrade tax."

There's gotta be a "camera-bag tax." Who has just one camera bag, and who lets the fact that he already has ten stop him from buying one more? It's like we can't help ourselves. Like every untried camera bag we run across is the green grass on the far side of the fence. If I just had that camera bag....

So what else is a "tax"? What else do you just keep spending money on in this silly hobby, with no end in sight? Anybody got another one?


Featured Comment by Chris: "There's the LBA tax, at least for me.

"Over on the Pentax forum at DPReview, LBA is the acronym for 'Lens Buying Addiction.' I seem to have acquired a fairly bad case of it.

"No matter how many lenses I have (in multiple formats) there's still another one on the horizon that I just gotta get. Places like eBay and KEH are not healthy for me...."


Blogger michael said...

The computer tax. The shelf life of a computer is less than six months.

1:09 PM  
Blogger dasmb said...

There's a lot of taxes involved with making digital prints -- ink, obviously, but just as bad as ink is paper. It takes a lot of paper to fine tune a profile.

Printers themselves are a bit of a tax. I don't know about you all, but I buy a new printer every year because one element or another is lacking in the old one and the new one has a wider gamut or better ink or something.

I have just recently started getting into film and can already tell it's going to be a money sink. It's about $12 per roll of 36 once film costs, development costs and scanning costs are averaged together -- and that's without prints. It better be as much fun to shoot film as everybody claims it is, or this camera's going straight back to Estonia!

1:11 PM  
Blogger BlankPhotog said...

You're asking us to list our photography-related expenses, or at least the ones we regret having to pay over and over. Well, I don't regret a single one, except the ones I didn't need to pay - like ill-considered purchases, things I broke by being careless and had to replace, and the like. If you don't like to pay for software, there's freeware out there that does the job. Every use of your equipment depreciates its value (heck, for the latest-greatest digital, time alone will do that). But I'd hesitate to call that anything more than the cost of owning and using property.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Allen George said...

I don't think of these as necessary expenses.

I can choose to use the same camera, software and computer for as long as needs be. Perhaps this is the perspective of one who's not doing this as a job - I don't know.

Anyways, I don't agree with the premise that one has to upgrade.

1:58 PM  
Blogger promenadeur said...

Your article pointed on a everlasting problem: software, hardware, cameras, bags etc. its like to take out a subscription.

Only the manufacturers of our old hi-fi equipment, speaker, amplifiers, had not understood this perfect system, so we can use it until today.

By the way: as I wrote myself today an article about camera-bags I quoted your sentence about the camer-bag-tax. Hope it's OK?

2:54 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

It's okay. Thanks.


2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of the 'taxes' you mention don't apply to me. I don't use Photoshop (and the IMP that I do use won't be updated unless 'I' want it), I don't buy the latest cameras (my most recent purchase and the most up-to-date camera I own is a Bessa T), I don't use camera bags (shock, horror) if it doesn't hang around my neck, sling over my shoulder or fit in a bum bag - that's a fanny bag to you - it doesn't come with me.

I sorta agree with the film tax. If you shoot film, no matter how crappy the picture, it's gonna cost you. But I treat this as a CDB (cost of doing business). Not every picture is going to give you a return, but you have to take them to get the ones that do.

If you want one to add to your list, how about camera insurance? Doesn't apply to me either as I just take the risk, but it's the nearest thing I can think of.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Don't forget the plethora of books on the market that will show you how to use your gear. For example I've got Bruce Fraser's Camera Raw book, Katrin Eismann's Compositing book, two editions of Martin Evening's Photoshop books, MJ's The Empirical Photographer (plug plug), Ansel Adams' The Camera and The Negative, a color management book, two books on studio lighting, and 100+ PDF back issues of Photograph America.

It's funny how each hobby has its own money pit. Even something innocuous as, say, knitting has its expensive space-age polymer knitting needles and hand-dyed yarn shorn from Wagyu-caliber sheep.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Thiago Silva said...

It makes you wonder...if you manage to get good photographs with your current camera/computer/software, why the need to upgrade? Will they, all of a sudden, stop happening unless you "pay the tax"?

That said, I would upgrade my computer every 6 months if I could. Forgive me Father, for I am human.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Robin P said...

Over on this side of the Atlantic the "Photoshop tax" costs nearly twice as much - no wonder so few people actually pay for it in the first place. Just like music and film piracy most software piracy would fade to insignificant levels if the product were sold at a "reasonable" price.
Oops, sorry Mike, for a moment there I forgot you're a Mac user and immune to paying over the odds for computer stuff...

OK rant over, back to photography.
Thanks to eBay I bought my first three DSLRs at "affordable" prices and sold them at a profit after 12 months use but prices are now dropping so fast that I'm about to sell my 4th DSLR at a loss. Why am I selling? - not for an upgrade but because after considering recent columns here I decided to keep my digital P&S (I expect it to have limitations) and have now convinced myself that all DSLRs are sh*t!
Will be using a mechanical late 70's SLR until the next bout of gear acquisition fever.

Cheers, Robin

4:39 PM  
Blogger David Wong said...

Mike, if you can crank out an article every hour, that will certainly keep me from buying new things, :)

just to let you know - my last camera bag purchase was around 2 years ago, I was looking over the greener pasture, but after reading another article about adding up my total camera gear purchases, I talked myself out of it.

whisper mode - I am using Picasa2, just don't have time to learn PS.

heh heh heh...

4:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The main differnce with the camera/computer/software/film/etc. tax is that it is a voluntary tax. One can jump off this tax merry go round at any point. Even more important is that it is a tax that most of us gladly pay.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Simon Griffee said...

You can add Lightzone to the software tax list. I bought a full version six months ago, and just noticed they've released a '3.0' paid upgrade.

Quite a jump in version numbering from version 2.4, but not much that I can see that is new in the software itself to merit a paid upgrade.

No need to upgrade of course, as long as the previous version keeps working!

2:50 AM  
Blogger Derek S. said...

I pay a battery tax for my digital cameras every two years.

4:04 AM  
Blogger John Roberts said...

I guess I'm part of the tax revolt. CS3 would be nice, but I'm getting along just fine with PS7. No, I don't "have to" upgrade every time Adobe adds a few features.

4:06 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I don't agree that software upgrading is necessarily voluntary. I was very happy with Photoshop CS and had little intension of upgrading to CS2 until I got a new camera which of course wasn't supported by ACR in CS and I had to upgrade. Got a new Intel Mac? Then you'll need CS3. Wait long enough and Adobe will force your hand. They're certainly not the only ones but they are the best.

4:29 AM  
Blogger Katie said...

I don't see some of these things as a "tax" where you have no choice but to pay up.

To change the metaphor: film is like food. If you want to keep eating, you keep buying the food. You can prepare that food with the knife you've had for years, or you can keep buying the latest, greatest shiniest techno knife in the world, and a kitchen full of other gadgets. For most people, it won't improve the cooking. Though if you're running a restaurant, it's another game entirely.

5:18 AM  
Blogger bpr said...

I think Mick Ryan's being hard on Adobe, since you can use a standalone converter and stay with CS.

Try AutoCAD, 3 years and you're out on a limb as they "retire" an old file format with each upgrade. Imagine if Adobe tried that with TIFF or JPEG!!!

11:14 AM  

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