Friday, August 30, 2019


Everybody's favorite hyperbolic camera shill, Ken Rockwell, wrote a piece a while back called "Future Trash", about the built-in obsolescence of digital cameras.
"Digital cameras are consumable, disposable and perishable commodities like milk, film or gasoline. Buy them if you have photos to make today and don't expect them to have value in three years. Contrast this to film gear which was a durable good more like investing in gold. Of course times change, and just as the value of gold drops if replaced by a better technology so have 35mm film cameras.

I'm the biggest cheapskate around and have been for over 30 years. I always buy my film cameras used when I can. For instance I just bought a used medium format panoramic camera system in 2005 for $5,000. New it would have been over $12,000. So why do I always buy new digital cameras, even when I know they'll be worthless for resale in three years?
It's a subject with onion-like layers, though.

For starters, no digital camera is as durable an artifact as a true all-mechanical, all metal camera. My Leica IIIb is eighty years old and completely repairable, restorable, & rebuildable, short of something completely destructive like getting run over (in which case the salvageable bits could be used to repair, restore, or rebuild other old mechanical Leica III's.)

Contrast that with late film cameras like the Nikon 8008's that I've binned simply because they had untraceable electronic issues that prevented them from turning on, Nikon no longer supports them, and frankly I'm not going to spend a ton of effort on a plasticky '90s bit of electronica that's worth $20 in perfect working order.

As for Ken's statements about the built-in obsolescence of digital cameras, and how they were advancing in capability so fast that buying an old one to save money made no sense, it was reasonably 2006 or 2008. Digital camera technology was still in its relative infancy and was advancing by leaps and bounds.

Sure, in 2008 you could buy a six-year-old pro body for about the same price as a current consumer DSLR, but sensor technology and other basic camera functions had come so far in that time that there was no point.

This, however, is no longer true.

If you bought a ten-year-old pro digital camera in 2010, you were buying a camera that bordered on experimental. The Nikon 1Dx or Canon EOS 1D use finicky and obsolete battery technology and when they debuted early in the new millenniums, they were breaking new ground in trying to mate up still relatively new digital imaging sensors with well-established SLR camera hardware.

Conversely, if you buy a ten-year-old pro digital camera in 2019, you're buying fairly mature technology. Ten years ago, pro DSLRs were already good enough to film scenes for Hollywood blockbusters. Cameras like the D700 or EOS 5D Mark II differ from their current iterations a lot less than they do from their predecessors.

Now, while a DSLR is not the durable artifact that an all-mechanical camera is, a pro body from Nikon or Canon has a lot of shooting in it. A D700 can have more than a million shutter actuations in it. That's a lot of shooting. And, frankly, I get more joy out of shooting my 5D Mark II than my M6, despite the latter having a more modern sensor and an image processor three generations newer. (Not that the M6 isn't a ton of fun, and more likely to be with me because much smaller.)

So, as long as you stick to about 2008/2009 or newer, there's not as much reason to avoid the used DSLR market as there used to be, at least for the higher-spec bodies.