Monday, June 09, 2008

John Henry Was A Steel-Drivin' Man

All my adult life, I've been a Serious Amateur photographer. I've developed my own 4x5s, I've done hundreds of rolls of my own E-6.

Now - like millions of dads before me - I have other priorities staring me in the face, things - like orthodontia - that I need to spend money on, things that keep me from buying expensive cameras.

But I did started buying professional-grade film cameras - Nikon F3s - soon after the June 2004 Transit of Venus, when I realized

a) I needed (heck, deserved!) more and better gear


b) every pro photographer in the world was dumping their film gear on eBay as they made their transition over to digital photography.

So I picked up some cheap used F3s, and a couple of bags full of fancy Nikkor glass.
Let's say I paid $300 for an F3-with-motor-drive at the end of 2004.

Now, let's assume I'm shooting 80 rolls/yr since then (I don't have a complete count in one place, but this is the ballpark - I've used about 220 mailers ( ~$2 each) in the three seasons since May 2005, plus a couple dozen rolls at Walmart, at my local pro lab, etc.)
Three full seasons (2005, 2006, 2007), and now just starting the high season of 2008.

That's about 250 rolls @ about $4/roll = about $1000 in film costs.

(Stores have been liquidating their film inventories: I bought a pallet of print film at 50ยข/roll, about 80 rolls of Kodachrome at ~$1.75... and, over on eBay, two hundred mailers at about $2 each.

So - an average of $4/roll is certainly in the ballpark.)

In late 2004, the D2 was what? $4500? The early-2005 D200 was $1600?.
(In 2002, the D1 was $5400. In 2006, the D200 was still $1600.)
Today's D3 is $5000. The D300 is $2000.
It's now 2008, and - shooting as fast as I can since 2004 - I'm still ahead on film costs, and thus I'm still saving money on total imaging costs.

(There's also the slight detail that the incremental costs of digital imaging are not QUITE "Zero": the files need to be stored, the files need to be viewed, even if never output to hard copy. Batteries, computer upgrades, storage costs, printing costs.)

On the one hand: My used F3 - now with another 100 rolls on the odometer - is still not-broken-in-yet.
On the other hand: What fraction of owners who bought a high-end DSLR at the end of 2004 are still using it as their front-line camera? 75%? 50%? It's not 100%. I view a camera as a once-per-generation investment; DSLR seem to be modeled more on the computer, a 'upgrade-every-couple-of-years' paradigm.

(A related question: Let's look ahead to the year 2010 or the year 2015, a blink of an eye from now: Which will be more obsolete then? a digital SLR from the year 2004, or an F3?)

But now that my F3 is - by any standard - fully amortized, this solution still obtains: I can continue to shoot film at $5/week while I continue to wait for the inarguable DSLR to come to market.

Even here in 2008, it still appears as though I can continue to do this more-or-less indefinitely.

Coda: I just bought another batch of $2 mailers on eBay, enough for the next two years or so. So say $10/week in imaging costs for the next two years, that brings me into the year 2010. And presumably the $1500 F400 of 2010 will be more camera than the $4500 D2 of 2004 ever was.

Theoretically, I would love to make the jump to digital, but I just can't seem to make the numbers work. $400/year in film costs continues to be less than $1600 for a DSLR.

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At 8:07 PM, Blogger Peter said...

Great to see you sticking to film and first quality equipment. I started the transition to digital in 2000, and at present have a Nikon D70, a Sony W7 and my most recent purchase a Fuji D100fd. The Nikon and Sony have just been serviced, dust and moisture being the chief problems. They have been used in several desert situations this year and spent some time in the tropics during their busy lives, Tens of thousands of photos from my 3 vehicles have not been kind to them.

Changing the subject, I'm amazed at your great fuel economy from the Miata, I can get that on open country roads in less populated states but in our local no way


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