Economics of Digital Cameras

I was reading a backissue of Money magazine where Paul Clitheroe made a remarkably insightful analysis of film vs digital cameras (Money, June 2005, pg 20 am I better off With a digital or film camera?).

One thing he noted is that acquiring a digital camera turns you into a shutterbug; I would suggest spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a camera has that effect, but the zero-cost of each individual photo certainly does help. He notes that in bangs-per-buck, film beats digital – and he’s right. Not only are digital cameras more expensive to acquire for the features you get, but (at the time of the article) processing costs were higher too. Couple that with the poorer image resolution you get from digital images (super high-end digital cameras are only now approaching the image resolution of $20 compact cameras) and you would have to be nuts to go digital.

Unless you don’t actually process your images. As a general rule, I don’t. In the last eleven months I’ve taken… let’s see… 10,327 images (I was wondering what would happen to the camera when it rolled over 10K images, because the manual hints that you might have to re-format your media; turns out that’s not the case). Recently Cathy and I took advantage of a Harvey Norman promotion and trebbled the number of images we’d printed, to a total of 200. We might have spent $50 on printing all up. That would have bough 240 frames of analogue film in processing costs, but we only printed out the winners. If the full 10K images had been processed we may have spent $2000 on processing. That’s a bunch of money. I suspect I would have husbanded my shots more if I’d spent the same amount of money on a film camera. In fact, there’s no way on God’s green Earth I would have spent that much money on a film camera. Something about perceived value differences. Anyways, the camera has been fun, and I think given the thrashing it’s been getting, I’ve been getting value for money from it. Which I’m a little surprised by, because it was a lot of money.

For me, the big advantage of digital is that I can learn to be a better photographer at no marginal cost. And Paul says that at National Geographic, photographers average 350 rolls of film (almost 12600 frames) per story, with an average of 10 published. So, if I was a professional grade photographer using professional equipment, one in twenty of the photos I’ve printed would be magazine quality.

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3 thoughts on “Economics of Digital Cameras

  1. daniel

    My digital camera’s several years old, and the equivalent is much cheaper now. But even at the price I paid, I bought it for the convenience, not the cost effectiveness against film.

  2. Anonymous

    Of course they’re cheaper than film. A digital SLR costs $1000, a film SLR costs $500, so that’s $500 to make up in reduced operating costs. Even if every shot on film is a winner and would have been printed if you hadn’t had to print all the photos on the roll, it’s still cheaper to use digital. With a digital camera a photo costs about 30c to print, and with a film camera it costs 55c (including the cost of the film, which must be included).

    After 3,333 photos a digital camera is cheaper. Add on the cost of the memory card and round it up to 4,000 photos. That’s less than a year the way I shoot.

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