Why You Ought to Spend Large on the Digital camera, Not the Glass


“Splash on the glass” or so goes the time-worn mantra. Has the market flipped, and is that the best recommendation anymore?

There isn’t any getting round the truth that lenses are costly. Truly, that is not strictly true: the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 prices solely $125, whereas the Holga is a mere $20. The latter is lower than going for a espresso and cake along with your associate.

Lens Pricing

Nevertheless, after I say lenses are costly, I am not speaking about plastic lenses or the only of glass designs. No, these are quick glass, usually at longer focal lengths, or zooms. Take, for instance, the 85mm, a preferred focal size for portraits: if you happen to spend money on the price range model, such because the Nikon 85mm f/1.8, it can set you again a average $423. Nevertheless, that may not be quick sufficient to your tastes; at which level, step as much as the Canon 85mm f/1.2 ,which prices a good bit extra at $2,000. Transfer on to medium format, such because the Fuji GF 110mm f/2.0, and the worth jumps to $2,800. The final precept, nevertheless, is that the bigger the mount (the Fuji G is 62 mm in comparison with 50.6 mm for the Canon RF), the larger the lens, so the extra glass you’ll need. Throw in a bit extra know-how, resembling Canon’s RF defocus smoothing version of the 85 mm f/1.2, and it will increase the worth to $three,000!

Transferring up a notch, you could possibly all the time go to the extravagant — and eye-wateringly costly — Nikkor 58 mm f/0.95 Noct, at a wallet-busting $eight,000. However then, manufacturing a top-end lens is dear, as this Leica video exhibits.

The revenue margins on lenses are variable, however could be lower than 10% for the retailer. For the producer, it’s rather more tough to know, though high-ticket objects usually have wholesome returns. This is likely one of the causes that producers have been retreating from the decimated high-volume, low-price sector usurped by the smartphone, focusing as an alternative upon decrease volumes and better high quality. Lenses even have an expectation of longevity, the precept cause for a vibrant secondhand market with strong costs that solely progressively fall away from the brand new value.

The Digital camera Market

Lenses are a giant funding, and it is for that reason that Nikon was wed to its F mount for therefore lengthy: they final a very long time, and if a consumer buys right into a system (with its incumbent mount), then they anticipate to have the ability to proceed utilizing it. In brief, lenses tie customers right into a producer’s system, and over the lifetime of a lens buy, you anticipate a number of digicam purchases. In actual fact, this has in all probability elevated within the digital age of sooner design instances and shorter intervals for iteration to the subsequent digicam physique.

Nevertheless, this truth highlights one of many key traits of the fashionable digicam market and, the truth is, client electronics extra extensively. The tempo of technological innovation is speedy and is the results of various components. The primary of those is the free market with open competitors between companies. The main focus has historically been upon revenue, achieved via a mix of promoting extra merchandise (as a result of they’re cheaper and/or higher), larger revenue margins, or decrease manufacturing prices than your rivals.

In brief, construct a digicam, promote the heck out of it till you lose aggressive benefit, then construct a greater digicam to supersede it. Or as Sony does, continue selling the old model at a lower price. This requires fixed R&D to develop merchandise, together with environment friendly manufacturing programs.

The second issue is globalization, the place capitalism means that you can broaden gross sales to the worldwide market, promoting extensively. The mix of those two components results in complicated enterprise programs, which handle product improvement, provide chains, and manufacturing. That is one thing that Apple mastered, which together with excessive revenue margins, has led to giant money surpluses. It’s also one thing that Toyota is famend for with its Toyota Manufacturing System (TPS), or kanban, the place manufacturing is designed to precisely meet provide, all of the whereas iterating over product enchancment.

Companies due to this fact have an intrinsic inbuilt motivation to extend gross sales. Offering newer, higher merchandise is one methodology, whereas creating obsolescence is one other. The smartphone sector is especially adept at deploying these methods — simply take a look at how quickly telephones turn into unsupported. I typically marvel if the tech sector works on the precept of “purchase at this time, in order that it’s defunct, redundant, or out of date tomorrow.”

What this implies is that merchandise change shortly, and the place there as soon as was an impetus to assist growing old units, this not holds true. In actual fact, producers usually are not averse to killing merchandise and altering methods. Google has an extended observe file of software program it has jettisoned (the Google Graveyard has a full record).


So the place has the actual innovation come from within the digicam sector? Definitely, the merchandise which have been most excessive profile for shoppers have been digicam our bodies with developments that embrace full digital, element miniaturization, the mirrorless type issue, IBIS, WiFi/Bluetooth, touchscreens, in-camera uncooked processing, video output, excessive body charges, focus monitoring, on-sensor focusing, focus by wire, and EVF. That is to not say that there have not been developments in lens design and manufacturing, enabling smaller lenses, lighter designs, and sharper pictures, however they’re far much less apparent to the top consumer.

All of this innovation comes at a value, as digicam our bodies are comparatively high-ticket objects with speedy depreciation. However this is the rub: as a professional, you possibly can leverage innovation for a aggressive benefit, which implies having the newest digicam generally is a priceless commodity, be it the excessive body charges of the Sony a9 II9, outstanding shade depth of the PhaseONE XT, or video capabilities of the Panasonic GH5.

Purchase the physique, take the monetary hit to do what others cannot, however hire the lenses. The marginal price on a shoot is low, however the return on funding is excessive. You could discover there may be one lens you shoot with so usually that it’s price shopping for, however attempt to suppose long-term. This isn’t an funding in a specific system, however merely shopping for a producer’s capabilities at a single cut-off date. By not shopping for glass, you possibly can simply change programs, promoting the physique to maximise any return. In actual fact, go the entire hog and hire the digicam physique as nicely. That manner, you get real flexibility.

After all, that is precisely what producers don’t desire you to do. Having a 70-200 mm f/2.8 sitting within the homes of 10 professionals unused for 250 days a yr is a good way to promote extra lenses. It is because of this that Lens Leases has been so profitable, celebrating their millionth rental in March 2020.

For might professionals engaged on jobs that do not require that further particular spicy sauce of the newest digicam, they merely drop again to a “yesterday system camera” utilizing comparatively low-cost standby lenses. Fstoppers’ Nando Harmsen suggests pondering laborious concerning the features you need in a digicam earlier than shopping for. Transferring past renting, leasing has turn into extra widespread throughout high-price objects resembling vehicles. Will we see the same transfer with cameras?

Will you be renting or shopping for your subsequent digicam?