Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Cost of Photography

Is Digital Cheaper Than Film?

Film or DigitalThe speed of the switch from photography on film to digital surprised most. Few considering a new camera would now buy a film camera, and film has now more or less become a specialist or niche medium.

Digital has led to a surge of interest in taking photographs, with many people taking many more pictures. After all, it doesn’t cost anything on digital, does it?

The assumption that digital photography is cheaper than using film, simply because you don't have to buy film has been a powerful motivator in persuading people to change to digital, but in fact it may not be true. For some users, film remains cheaper.

Working out the CostFew of us ever ask how much it costs us to take a photograph, and when we think about it seldom give an answer that takes all the costs into consideration.

There are costs involved, but what we mean is that the extra cost of taking one more picture is, at least approximately, zero. This extra cost is sometimes called the marginal cost.

Once we’ve bought a camera for example, although it may have cost a considerable amount, we tend to forget about it. It’s money already spent (though we may still be paying for it on our credit card.) Thinking about our budget on a day-to-day or month-to-month basis, we no longer take it into account. But of course it is a very real cost.

There are of course considerable costs involved in buying the equipment for both film and digital photography. Generally, the initial or set-up costs are greater for digital photography than for film, but the running costs are almost zero with digital.

Finding Your Actual CostsIf you are already taking photographs then you can easily work out how much photography is costing you. Professional photographers should already know this from their annual accounts and should ask their accountants if they are not clear. The feature 'Calculate Your Photo Costs' is a simple guide to enable amateurs without an accounting qualification to work out their costs.

This is useful information for anyone, and may even help you to justify the cost of some new equipment - or make you tighten your photographic belt so as to have more to spend on other things.

If you are not already taking photographs, or are thinking of changing from film to digital photography, then a calculation of the costs involved will be particularly useful.
Film and Digital: Two comparisonsThere are two examples which give you an idea of the how the cost calculation works in practice - and which also cast some light on which of film or digital is cheaper.

The first example is of the costs for an amateur photographer who takes relatively few pictures, Film v. Digital: Occasional Amateur Use.

The second example makes a similar comparision for a keen amateur making considerable use of their camera: Film v. Digital: Serious Amateur.

Film and Digital: Costs for the ProIt isn't really possible to cover the very different possibilities for professional practice, but the feature Film and Digital: Costs for the Pro looks at some of the issues and gives some advice on them.

Identifying the Real Costs: Digital is DifferentWhatever level you are at in photography, whether you are just an occasional snapper or a busy pro, if you use film, almost all of the money that you spend on photography is simply for that purpose. Cameras, film, photographic equipment generally has no other use than making pictures (unless you are a camera collector.)
With digital, except for most professionals, the situation is different. The computer that is essential for your photography is also essential for sending and reading your e-mail, visiting web sites, perhaps playing DVDs or listening to Internet radio etc. Digital photography only really became possible for a mass market because almost everyone has a computer now.

However if you are a keen photographer, you may well find yourself buying a better computer with a faster chip, more memory, more expensive display screen and extra hard disk space. The extra cost of these, and some fraction of the cost of the system is then a photographic cost, although one it may be hard to put an exact figure to.

There are some other computer-related costs that are clearer to attribute to our photography. Unless I was a photographer, I wouldn’t have a negative scanner and 3 printers attached to my computer, nor be spending several hundred dollars a year on blank CDs and DVDs and the storage cases for them to archive my pictures. I’m currently considering adding extra network attached storage to hold some of those terabytes of image files.

Software is another area where we may spend money on photography, for example in buying Photoshop and image management software. There are free tools available suitable for the ordinary user, but if you want to work with your images, particularly if you are a pro, some considerable expense is needed

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