Alan's Blog




Top of the Range?

Whilst it is true to say that I've spent many thousands of pounds on photography over the last 60 years, it is also true to say that I've never owned a 'top-of-the-range' camera. I suppose, on reflection, I could say the same about a car, or almost anything else, but as photography has been my main passion for all these years, I feel maybe a little sad at having to say this fact.

As always, there are two main factors involved: one being that I've never been able to afford it and the other being that even if I had had that sort of money laying around it would have been difficult to justify the expenditure when I'm not earning a living out of my photography.

Of course, over the years, I have received payment in very small amounts for my photography but nothing that would even cover the cost of a half-decent camera body and lens, let alone anything near to the top-of-the-range.

Even before digital cameras were invented, the cost of buying what is really a simple engineering project, such as a camera, was very considerable, and good quality lenses added to that cost just as they do now. After all, we are only talking about a box with a hole in the front and a holder for the film at the back. Control of all the settings can be carried out by using a lens with a built-in shutter and diaphragm control settings. Why should that be so difficult – or expensive, to make? Even so, the best equipment back in the early 1970s, say, would still cost at least a couple of thousand pounds or so when in 1972/73 my gross salary was £1250 per YEAR. Just to give you some idea of what things cost at that time, a brand-new Ferrari Daytona 365GTB was about £10 000 – the same as I paid for my first house early in 1976. In about 1973/74, I was offered a second-hand 4.2 litre Jaguar E Type for £500, would you believe. Those were the days. Maybe I should have bought the Jag after all!

The cost of manufacturing digital cameras is much, much higher, as they are stuffed with the latest in electronic and computing components and this is also reflected in the price.

Or is it?

The plus side of digital photography is that the major cost I had to factor into my photography has now disappeared – the cost of film and processing. The camera was relatively inexpensive compared to the continuous cost of the film and processing. These costs have now been reversed, inasmuch as the cost of the camera is now very high, comparatively, but all we need in the way of 'film and processing' is an electronic way of storing our precious photographs – and that is a subject all on its own.

In real terms, the cost of photography has dropped to an incredibly low figure, relative to our income, compared to when I started taking photographs. In those days, ordinary working-class people such as myself couldn't easily afford to take photography seriously. Very few people had anything much more than a 'box-brownie' type of camera. Nowadays, almost everyone has a camera that would wipe the floor with those back in the day – even if it is built into their telephone – something else that few people had back in those days when even landline telephones were fairly rare and mobile 'phones non-existent – the red 'phone box was the norm for most people to use if they needed to make a call, not that there were all that many people to call as 'phones were still quite a novelty.

Whilst basic digital cameras are relatively inexpensive, top-of-the-range photographic equipment is still nowhere near cheap, even though it is more affordable. We've now reached a point where, for me, even though I may be able to afford to buy one of the top-of-the-range cameras and some lenses, doing so is really impossible to justify. In fact, I now buy second-hand equipment that is nowhere near top-of-the-range stuff for almost pocket-money figures compared to the sacrifices I made to buy cameras and lenses, and film and processing, in my early days of photography. How things have changed.

So, what sort of numbers are we looking at for equipment that might be considered to be at or near to the top-of-the-range? Well, let's just say that it would be easy to spend in excess of £100 000 for a medium format camera and a few lenses. I'm not going into detail regarding technical cameras as these are a different genre altogether. For photographs taken on this sort of high-resolution camera, image storage can also become a serious problem. You're going to need a large number of high capacity hard drives to hold them all – and to store back-ups.

Seriously good video equipment will cost a whole lot more when you consider that one of the Canon zoom lenses costs about £70 000 – without the camera! If you go for fixed focal length lenses, a set of 9 Cooke mini-lenses is likely to set you back about £52 000 – and they don't cover the full range of focal lengths of the Canon zoom. The current 8K RED camera is also about £52 000 and I believe there is a new camera coming out at a cost of around £80 000, plus the cost of your lenses. Cameras made by Arri are in the same sort of budget range or higher. There is also a range of add-on accessories you're going to need too – as well as things like sound recording and post-production equipment – and don't forget a hefty tripod with a fluid head as a minimum.

Like many other things, cameras and lenses are products that are subject to the law of diminishing returns. Buy whatever you like and take the photographs you want to take and remember; you'll get a lot more for your hard-earned cash if you buy second-hand equipment.

Also remember that the best camera and lenses in the world won't enable you to take better photographs – that's up to you, the photographer. Did Michelangelo have perfect brushes and paint like we have now when he painted the Sistine Chapel Ceiling? I somehow doubt it – but could you do what he did with top-of-the-range brushes and paint? Talent is more important than equipment and, for most people, the fun of recording people and places is the most important factor of all. Enjoy your photography and don't worry about your equipment just as long as it does what you want it to and produces the quality of photographs that you require.


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