The Expense of Digital Photography



Today I feel the need to vent the spleen a little and this time it’s all about a subject that is close to my heart and, more importantly, my wallet. It is a frequently held belief that a digital image has little or no monetary value and they somehow fall out of the back of the camera for free. Time, I think, to remind ourselves that this is certainly not the case.

It’s only ten years or so ago that the majority of photography was done on film and the photographic industry was in the painful throes of moving on to digital capture. Many advantages were put forward for switching over and in retrospect it was always going to happen, but behind it all there was a basic presumption that has proven all the then advocates so utterly wrong that the truth of the matter is rarely, if ever, spoken of today.

That basic presumption was that digital photography is cheaper than film. Well here’s a thing, it isn’t, not by a long shot. I’d better qualify that. Taking photos on various devices and popping them up on Facebook or other sites is not expensive, some may even get printed but these are the exception and there obviously is some expense in doing so. Yet overall there are no film or processing costs so it’s happy days when sharing views of oneself on holiday or the cat looking cute. However, at the other end of the scale, where images of high quality are, or should be, required for either printed or online media it’s a very different story indeed.

Let’s look at the cost cost of cameras alone. Twelve years ago I ventured beyond the standard 35mm film SLR cameras and bought myself an entry level medium format camera. Medium format uses a larger film and so a higher resolution is possible, plus there are one or two technical benefits when using larger lenses, so it was a natural move and most wedding and studio photographers would be using such a system. That original Bronica cost me €550. Bronica are no longer around but the equivalent today would be something like a Mamiya with a 33mp back which retails in the US for €12,300!*  And that’s just the starting point. If you want a Hasselblad H5D with 50mp back then get to the bank to arrange a mortgage for you are looking at around €40k. Oh, and you’ll need a lens as well and they don’t come cheap. You can buy and process a lot of film with that sort of money.

But coming back to the DSLR which I now mainly use, they are €6,000 a pop, plus lenses, and you’ll often see photographers with two or three slung around their neck, so they can easily be carrying €30 – 40,000 worth of kit with them which needs updating and renewing every three years on average. Now, are you still going to ask them to send some snaps through because you think they are free?

Yet there’s more. In the days of film the photographer would simply send the film off for processing and get on with the next job. Nowadays however he is expected to do the whole deal himself, from taking the shot through digital processing (which includes cropping, spotting, colour/light correction and other adjustments to the file in readiness for use) to delivering the image to the client over the web. All this takes time and a well sorted  computer. As a professional they are only as good as their last photo so they dare not release bad or unprepared images into the public domain or their reputation will suffer. So once again it’s hardly fair to expect them to just hand an endless number of images over for free or illegally download them for your own use.

Of course there is still the option for businesses to just go out and do their own thing with their mobiles and Ipads, which is fine, and reasonable pictures can be got that way. But if you really want to impress then they are simply not good enough and you are going to have to step up a gear to get good images to represent your product, company or periodical. At the moment it’s considered trendy to use footage and snaps from mobiles in advertising campaigns as companies  try be cool  and get down with the kidz on the streets, but by doing so they often come across as just opportunistic cheapskates, is that really how you want to be viewed?

*All figures are approximate conversions at today’s rates.