Are Cameras Becoming Too Expensive?

Camera gear has become remarkably advanced, but on the other hand, it has also become rather expensive. At what point are camera bodies and lenses simply too expensive? This interesting video discussion addresses the topic and if camera gear is simply too pricey nowadays. 

Coming to you from Maarten Heilbron, this great video discusses whether camera gear is becoming too expensive nowadays. No doubt, we have seen an uptick in the prices of a lot of camera bodies and lenses, but in fairness, there has also been an impressive upswing in quality and innovation. As the market continues to shrink due to smartphones, it is not surprising to see it shift toward an emphasis on higher-end gear that separates it from such equipment, but that being said, there are still a lot of high-quality cameras and lenses available at more affordable prices. In particular, the used market is absolutely full of good deals, especially now that mirrorless is taking over the industry, leaving thousands of DSLRs available at affordable prices. No doubt, a lot of new equipment has gotten quite expensive, but that does not mean you can no longer find affordable cameras and lenses out there. Check out the video above for Heilbron's full thoughts. 

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36 Comments

J.d. Davis's picture

That cat is 'outa da bag'!

Stuart C's picture

Depends what you’re wanting I guess… if you fall for the hype around the latest and greatest, or the ‘bigger sensors for pro’ marketing then you are in for an expensive ride… likewise if only the latest F1.2 primes, 8K 5000fps video shooting and gnats penis autofocus tracking are good enough for your exacting needs, again you will pay through the nose.

Indy Thomas's picture

"Most of my viewers are hobbyists"

Exactly. This is a hobby for most and thus the budget comes under the heading of "fun stuff for me".

"They enjoy photography"

Some enjoy photography. Some REALLY enjoy gear.
It is this latter group that complains most loudly about prices.

The fact is that like car magazines, the photo websites focus on the exotic, expensive gear that most of us never will buy because it is too expensive.

Also we actually do not NEED 8k, 30fps, mad resolution and so on. We also do not NEED a 600mm f4 or a 24-70 f2 or any number of f1.2 and faster lenses.

A pro may justify these exotica but a hobbyist is really rationalizing a "want".

These sites publish these articles because they get the clicks needed to justify advertising rates.

A person who truly loves photography can find any number of cameras on the used market that will satisfy their personal taste in operation and IQ and will let them indulge in their hobby.

The gear hound with a thin wallet will always be with us. (To paraphrase Jesus)

Kurt Hummel's picture

Yes you do need a 600mm F4 if you want to shoot wildlife without disturbing them or putting yourself into an unsafe position with them.

Every year you will see videos of some idiot in a national park who gets attacked by a bison or elk because they are trying to take a picture with a cell phone or iPad.

Stuart C's picture

So my 70-300 will ensure I’m attacked by an animal for not being at a safe enough distance?

Me thinks you are exaggerating this issue somewhat.

Indy Thomas's picture

Your "need" for a 600 mm F4 is a "want" for your hobby.

Go have fun. I am all for it. But don't complain that you can't photograph because stuff is too expensive.

Your 600mm F4 is a fun toy, not a kidney.

Brandon Hopkins's picture

He said you need it "if you want to shoot wildlife" so his comment was accurate.

Robert McCaslan's picture

Most of the exotic gear--the 600mm f/4, 28-70 f/2, 11-24 f/4 lenses--are purchased by hobbyist not pros. Well-appointed hobbyist don't need to justify expensive purchases, whereas pros do. For every pro who purchases a 600mm f/4 or a 85mm f/1.2, there are probably five hobbyist buyers of those products. A pro has to make money with their purchases and in many cases will decide that an f/1.4 or even f/1.8 prime lens provides adequate separation for portrait and wedding shooting. The same goes for choosing between a 24-70 f/2.8 versus the 28-70 f/2. It's hard to justify the premium for that one stop of additional light for images that very few--and almost no customer--can distinguish.

Chris Rogers's picture

Jake hicks used old cheap nikkor glass for a while and his photo are incredible. not sure if he's still using that older glass.

John Kelsey's picture

Exactly...

Brian Cover's picture

There are no shortage of wealthy hobbyist photographers world wide who will spend $10K for a Leica body and lens. Leica initially offered their S model, a medium format system before releasing the SL; the body alone sold for $20,000USD, lenses were another $10,000. The SL came out at over $5000 USD for the body, lenses cost another $5000 USD. There are plenty of people who can afford a $6800 body, a $3500 lens, a $12,000 lens, plus another couple more lenses. The only people complaining are the ones who do not have the financial resources. But isn't that always the case? People love the look of a Ferrari, but then complain they can't afford it. Or worse, they criticize the car to justify in their mind and convince others they shouldn't buy it.
Debating whether we "need" certain features is foolish. We don't "need" a digital camera. We don't "need" a cellular phone; much less one with a camera; or internet access......
Just remember, everyone benefits from the advancements, eventually the technology trickles down and the price becomes affordable to the average consumer.

Tom Reichner's picture

Brian Cover said,

"There are no shortage of wealthy hobbyist photographers world wide who will spend $10K for a Leica body and lens."

In wildlife photography, $10,000 is very very little for a wealthy hobbyist to spend. Three of my friends have over $40,000 in lenses and bodies for their wildlife photo hobby. Two of them are well off, the other is just a very average middle class guy who loves good wildlife photography.

I am a poor guy, I mean an income literally below the official poverty line 4 years out of the last 10, and not far above it the other 6 years, and I have spent over $20,000 in gear for wildlife photography over the past 10 years..

With wildlife, you really can't produce images like the pros produce, just as prolifically as the pros produce them, without at least a 600mm f4 and a pro-grade body and at least one other $2,000+ lens and a $1,000 tripod and a $500 gimbal head.

If you want to take photos just as good as the full time wildlife pros, and you want to take just as many good photos as the full time wildlife pros take, year in and year out, then yes, you do need upwards of $20,000 in gear.

Brian Cover's picture

I partially disagree. There are plenty of great used pieces of equipment that will suffice to get you "that" shot. Most of it is luck, timing, and lighting. Every honest pro wildlife photography will admit that.
It is possible to shoot great pictures on a shoestring budget.

Tom Reichner's picture

Brian Cover said,

"Debating whether we "need" certain features is foolish. We don't "need" a digital camera. We don't "need" a cellular phone; much less one with a camera; or internet access......"

The word "need" must be associated with a specific objective in order to make any sense.

If your objective is to ______, then you need _______.

Without any specific objective, "need" is totally nebulous, and will just result in circular arguments.

I only need food and shelter if my objective is to keep my body alive.

I only need a job if my objective is to earn money.

I only need a camera if my objective is to take photos.

I only need a supertelephoto lens if my objective is to take close up photos of far away subjects.

Without a stated objective, the word "need" is meaningless.

Brian Cover's picture

Look at many images shot before the digital age. The IQ and perceived quality was as good as many images shot today. We don't need all the tech and it's associated costs to create beautiful images.

Naruto Uzumaki's picture

Price gouging is a major issue in the camera industry, and it is surely leading to much of the economic issues they are facing now. Long term consequences catching up to all the moments of greedily seeking short term profits.

With the exception of people who are billionaires, it is unlikely for a beginner or someone with budding interest to make a jump from a smartphone, to a $4500+ ILC camera. Instead, most people go through a progression in gear. Someone has some interest but they are unsure if it will be a true hobby, or will they buy a camera, take photos nonstop for a few weeks, then the camera goes on a shelf and never touched again.

With any market, you lose customers through attrition, thus you must always work to support current customers while also attracting new customers.

Sadly camera makers have put greed and milking a shrinking consumer group rather than maintaining the bridge used to bring in new customers.

For example, they made entry level DSLRs more and more expensive while slowly lowering quality, and arbitrarily removing features. For example, On the D3xxx and D5xxx DSLRs from Nikon, they artificially remove features that are designed to compensate for their poor quality control. The more entry level cameras have a lot more manufacturing variation, thus it is common to get one that backs or front focuses. Warranty service will not cover poor calibration unless the front focus or back focus is bad enough to completely blur the desired subject distance. For older models, some people got lucky to find compatible service center software, allowing them to correct focus issues over USB, and just enter in lens correction values for your lens, or in cases of consistent focusing issues across multiple lenses, calibrate each focus point individually for the body only to create a baseline calibration.

The calibration functions present on their top end models, are also present in the entry level models, but they restrict it for no reason. The end result is new people who are interested in photography and decide to buy their first "real" camera, ends up with a $600 or so camera that back focuses constant,y and they don't know what they are doing wrong. They send it to Nikon and the camera is not out of spec enough for the service center to re-calibrate it, thus it get sent back. The customer remains upset, and switches back to their smartphone and is likely permanently put off from the ILC camera industry.

Beyond that, the high prices and unwillingness to accept a lower profit margin, has left them with a broken bridge for new customers. Smartphones have long since gotten good enough to replace the need for a basic point and shoot camera (the common 1/2.3 in sensor units). Thus there is a section of the progression path missing where someone would get a point and shoot with some basic manual controls, to their first ILC as their interest grows, and then to higher end gear and lenses when they have established that they love photography, even as a hobby. ILC camera makers have done nothing to restore that bridge. and instead, have made cameras more expensive, more restrictive, and thus more likely to make for a bad first impression, and essentially prevent new customers from entering the market, while existing ones are lost via any number of reasons (age, finances, changing interests, etc.). Instead of learning from their mistakes, they are instead trying to maintain net income by further gouging the customers that choose to remain, which further drives people away; basically forming the common death spiral. One common death spiral that many would have seen, is a failing store where they are losing customers, thus to continue to break even or turn a profit, they up the pricing for their remaining customers, which in turn drives more away, causing them to further increase prices.

Overall, cameras are too expensive, especially at the entry level. They are also artificially restricted to the point where it is turning away otherwise good customers by selling them a bad first experience. For example, with a D5xxx series camera, being 60% of the way from the central region of the DOF (basically 40% more DOF to go before you are fully out of focus) is not enough out out of spec to warrant calibration. While it means that images taken with a kit lens will be noticeably softer than they should be if taking a portrait image of someone, it is still somewhat acceptable, but if you stick on a lens such as one with an f/1.8 aperture, then phase detect is useless and you are stick with contrast detect on live view if you want any usable images. Try presenting that to a first time camera buyer, and see how fast they return the camera to the store and give up on photography.
When so many problems of their own making working against them, it is no wonder why camera makers are losing so much business. They are driving away existing customers, and warding off new customers.

brokenlandphotography's picture

"Are Cameras Becoming Too Expensive?" Yes

David Pavlich's picture

Question: What was the initial price for the 1DX, the 1DXII, and 1DXIII? I believe they were fairly close to the same, somewhere around $6000-$6500. What would the price of the 1DX be in 1DXIII dollars? Just a thought...

David Pavlich's picture

I just checked. The 1Dx original price was $6800 (maybe I should have looked up how much inflation would make the 1Dx cost in today's dollars, but I won't). Right now, the 1DxIII is at $6500. Is this the exception that proves the rule? The 1Dx III is a superior camera in every way, but doesn't cost as much as the 1Dx. Hmmmmm......

Benoit Pigeon's picture

You got the obvious right, but with no detail it has no value. The 1Dx was $6800 new in 2012 when cameras were still selling in very high numbers while they dropped the third generation (yes by $300) in a tiny market where 1/10th of cameras are sold compared to 2010. The thing is, if the announced R3 is as powerful as Canon advertises, sales of the 1dx3 will have no meaning only 16 months after its release. Between pandemic and Canon pushing mirrorless, if you do the math there is no way Canon can have profited from the 1Dx3 to the point that it even makes sense to release it, but I am pretty sure they did make plenty of $ from it. You can add inflation or what ever you want, people have always speculated on the cost of making a new digital camera in a way justifying the cost (I have no clue why people do that). The first 5D back in 2005 showed they know nothing about it considering the incredible price drop for a full frame at the time, and now you just demonstrated that Canon can come out with an expensive camera in a very tough segment sell it cheaper for half the cycle time during what people assume (again) is an expensive shift to mirrorless for manufacturers. Personally I like to think cameras are overpriced and we know literally nothing about real manufacturer's cost. It's pretty simple, we don't need to know because we will never really know.

James Cowman's picture

When was photography gear cheap?

Reginald Walton's picture

In a nutshell - No. It's the photographers (or wanna be photographers) who want a camera with every conceivable bell and whistle on it to go everything for them. So the manufactures are obliging and charging us for it. There are plenty of cameras out there today (including the DSLR's) for great bargains, but people want something new each year that makes them have to do less and less, so they can't brag on social media forums about their 1.1 lens and how it's sooo much better than the 1.2 lens they replaced it with. Or that their new 50 megapixel camera is light years ahead of the 45 mp camera they replaced. Oh and yours truly included. LOL

Kirk Darling's picture

An item is "too expensive" when it can't be sold at the offered price in the quantities made available.

As long as people are standing in line for a camera, and all that are manufactured are quickly sold, it is objectively not "too expensive."

Stuart C's picture

Very true, I think the main issue is, the internet has become a platform for people who complain about things to gather together (namely on gear forums)... and in the case of photography, they want the world but don't expect to pay for it. I use Fujifilm and a quick scroll through pretty much any article on the rumour site you will find people who expect an X-T4, but packaged inside an X-E4 with a price of an X-A series.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Not sure about this. All a sudden Canon added the video feature to the 5D2. I had never heard of anyone expecting turning a dslr into a video camera. Now since they started the trend, may be a few were hoping to get to 8k and Canon jumped on the idea, but I can guaranty you no one asked for an overheating product which Canon had absolutely no issue putting on the market despite absolutely knowing the issue. Early on we had a real need for more pixel count, usable buffers and faster/larger memory, but that's really part of the past way far behind now. Today any tech is manufacturer driven 100%.

Stuart C's picture

Go and check out any gear related forum, see what people are demanding. The release of the Fujifilm X-E4 and X-S10 are a prime example of a company releasing cameras at the more budget range, yet potential customers (which is questionable anyway) do nothing but bemoan the fact these cameras are missing all the specs that make the pro line what it is. When you pose the question to them about accepting a price increase to cover these additions, they scoff and demand the price be actually cheaper.

Naruto Uzumaki's picture

The issue is, sometimes greed can get in the way of profits. Suppose you have an ILC camera that cost $300 to make (BOM + Licenses + manufacturing), and you decide to sell it for $1500 (iphone style markups https://electronics360.globalspec.com/article/14583/teardown-apple-iphon...

https://electronics360.globalspec.com/article/13473/teardown-apple-watch...

Now suppose that nets you 10 camera sales per year, that would seem like the right price. Now what if there were 500,000 other people who really wanted the camera, and were willing to buy it at $600, would it then still be right to sell it at $1500 to get an astronomical profit on a small number of sales, or would it be better to sell it for $600 and get exponentially more sales, and in turn exponentially more net income?

The only time an overly high price is right in the eyes of a manufacturer, is when the price maximizes profits within the production capacity of the company, e.g., If the $300 to make camera sold for $1500 and that resulted in 10 sales per year, but a factory staffed entirely be sloths could only produce 10 cameras per year, then that is the right price, as a lower price would only reduce net income since they can't sell any extra anyway.
Manufacturers scale production to demand, thus they will not produce items at a faster rate than can be sold (with the exception of logistics errors), they simply cater to the market size that their pricing gets them. The only other major scenario that they face is when demand overwhelms production, e.g., video cards simply cannot be made fast enough. Nvidia and AMD are at max output, but everything instantly sells.

For any company, no one wants to blame their own actions, as no one likes to feel wrong or that they made the wrong choice, thus it can often be easier to blame other factors rather than greed.

The problem that camera makers are facing, is a shrinking market,they clearly have the capacity to easily handle 10 times the demand, but the demand doesn't exist because they have driven off existing customers while scaring away any new customers who may have been interested.

They could lowered prices, and fixed their entry level line of cameras to not be so artificially crippled while costing so much, so that they bring in more new people into the market. rather than complain about their existing market shrinking for a multitude of reasons, (some out of their control).

Kirk Darling's picture

Your reason for the lack of demand is faulty. Demand hasn't fallen because prices drove away customers. Demand has fallen because many potential customers' camera expectations are being met by the device they already own for other purposes.

Do you really believe a company like Canon or Sony hasn't figured out basic manufacturing and marketing strategy?

Cell phones would reduce camera sales even if the EOS R5 cost only $300.

Naruto Uzumaki's picture

The needs being met by current smartphones are effectively needs that people used to satisfy by getting a point and shoot camera (which pretty much killed the point and shoot market).

Many people who entered the realm of investing photography equipment. Virtually no one makes a jump directly into high end super expensive gear unless they own a few oil companies to fund the slightest spark of interest.

For most people, they start off with a much smaller investment, and invest more as their interest grows. Consider this, how many people would purchase some of the pricier sports cars ($70,000 and up) who are not rich? Now imagine if cheaper cars stopped existing and virtually everyone at best used bikes. Would society look different? How many non-rich people would own those sports cars? Would it be the same number we see today if the average person grew up not driving because there were no affordable cars where they could develop an interest in driving on?

Currently there are no good value options for someone who wants to take more control over the photo capture process. Smartphone cameras are largely focused on full auto use, where the manual controls are extremely limited (effectively exposure comp), and any further manual control often means a loss of the computational photography aspects which is what they rely on to make those tiny sensors more usable. Thus often it will be a worse experience for smartphone users, as they will have to deal with clunky control and only have control over shutter speed and ISO, while giving up the computational aspect of the image pipeline.

If those users decide to make their entry into the dedicated camera market in the form of an entry level DSLR or other ILC camera, then chancess are they may end up with a bad experience due to how artificially crippled those cameras are. For example, disabling lens calibration on a class of camera that is more prone to focusing issues due to looser tolerances and less in-depth QA compared to a high end pro camera. In those cases, the user buys a camera, and ends up returning it to the store as they are often not aware of the issue, and if they call support, often the manufacturer accepted tolerances are so bad that many back or front focus issues are not fixed because they are not bad to a point where the service center finds it to need re-calibration, thus the user ends up with a $500-600 camera where the images have less detail than their smartphone camera because it can't focus right.

For others, they simply will be unable to justify such a large investment as their first step, thus they will make due with their smartphone. This is especially the case when outside of the photography community where we are all already deeply interested and use or see results from a wide range of equipment. The average user whose only camera experience has been with smartphone, and their non-smartphone experiences are seeing images captured by a skilled photographer using a $5000+ camera body and a $2000+ lens.

To them, in most cases the entry level is a mystery, pair that with poor quality control and artificial crippling to prevent the users from working around the QC issues, and you drive away new people. Simply put, there are more push factors than pull factors.

Consider this, how many people here have a NAS for backing up their photos and other important files. How many started off with lower cost 2-4 bay NAS setup, because of some interest in backing up their data?

Now how many have a storage setup like the one in the attached photo in their house?
How many photographers here would have attempted entering the target market for a NAS if the entry level had you going with a setup like this in your house.

In photography, many people eventually reach a steady state where they have done most of their major investments, and their spending will be an occasional camera body purchase, or some smaller accessory every couple years. Such a setup cannot sustain a market of releasing new cameras and equipment every year.
They need to attract new people, the problem is they lost sight of bringing in new consumers.

Kirk Darling's picture

Going back in history:

Most people don't take pictures for the sake of taking pictures; most people only want to record the other things they're doing. Advanced cameras were used mainly by people who valued photography for the sake of photography...the photography itself was their activity.

Prior to the late 80s, the market for advanced cameras was extremely small. The vast majority of people had simple non-adjustable cameras that provided good results perhaps 75% of the time, once they learned to use them in the best circumstances.

But until a person really learned the fundamentals and practice of exposure and focus and changing lenses, getting good results with advanced cameras was close to zero. The vast majority of people weren't willing to do that just to record their other activities.

That changed abruptly in the late 80s with computer-controlled exposure. I'd point to the Canon AE-1 for starting the trend. Computer-controlled exposure and then automatic focusing made good pictures more likely from advanced cameras than from simple cameras even in the hands of indifferent camera owners. That resulted in a huge SLR market bubble of people buying advanced cameras.

That market bubble lasted until cell phone cameras--which people already wanted for their other social purposes--became equally capable of providing good pictures with minimal knowledge and effort.

The bubble lasted so long that the industry forgot it was a bubble. Right now, the advanced camera market is just about where it was before cameras got computer control. People who never really wanted more than a way to record their other activities have found a more convenient and cheaper way. Advanced cameras are once again valued mainly by people for whom the photography itself is their activity.

Lee Christiansen's picture

Having the latest and best is expensive. Having good gear is not.

Owning an R5 is expensive right now, but in 5 years when the Mk2 comes out, the R5 will be cheaper. It won't be any less of a camera, so the quality / cost becomes much more favourable.

Most of the time when people moan about the cost of stuff, it's because they want the latest and they want it now.

For the record, I'm a working pro and still shooting on my 5D Mk3 cameras. It may be a year until I maybe upgrade to an R5 - when they've (hopefully) dropped in price).

Steve Powell's picture

I own Nikon cameras, but tend to use third party lenses if for no other reason, cost.

Francesco Fusina's picture

Canon is getting more expensive: in Italy the R5 price is 1K more than the 5DmkIV at the time it came out. And 1K more than competition too.

Matt Edwards's picture

Camera gear has always been expensive. They are complex machines that are difficult to manufacture and have tight tolerances. I would argue that now you can get more camera with less money than ever before.

Chris Rogers's picture

I look at the reason for cost of modern cameras like the same reason cars cost more these days too ( minus the unpredictable economic variables). More and more features (some government required additions) are being crammed into cars like backup cameras, computers to manage fuel efficiency, TPMS sensors, More computers,GPS, Bluetooth, and I think I forgot to say computers. It greatly increases the cost of the product when you add that much stuff. Cameras too. They are more and more becoming video cameras with great still capabilities. It just jacks up the cost because the one camera can do more than one thing. They can shoot 4k video at high frame rates for slow mo jazz, gps, microphone input, audio level management software, touch screens that flip out and twist every which way, built in levels for leveling the camera, and a whole host of other neat nice to have features. Do cars and cameras NEED those feature to do their core job well? No they don't but consumers want it so companies give it (whether it be half assed or whole assed) to consumers and consumers pay for it.

Adil Alsuhaim's picture

I don't know if you're living under a rock, but we now have medium format digial cameras under $10,000 and full-frame cameras under $1,000.