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on Jan 10, 2018 in Random Thoughts

The Price of Gear

Nikkor 19mm T/S Lens
photo courtesy Nikon

The announcement of the new Nikkor 180-400VR and its price tag has brought up the basic comment, “The price of gear is going crazy!” Having started this photo gear thing when Nikon USA was EPOI decades ago and then through all years with official price increases, change of the value of the dollar and the change in technology, I’ve seen the price simply go in one direction, up. And even with all of that history, I have to admit that when I saw the price of the new lens, I too gulped! And that comes from someone who bought the 800mm BEFORE its price dropped! There is nothing I can do about the price, but I can relate how I look at this whole thing when it comes to buying new gear with some thoughts that might help. I’m going to use the 19mm T/S that came out a year ago as part of my example. I break the acquisition of new gear into three categories:

A Need
A Want
A Status

A Need: Is it a tool that WILL solve a problem in my photography which translates often too, make money?
A Want: It is simply a tool that might solve a problem but has no foreseeable ability to make any money, even recoup its price.
A Status: It’s a tool that will simply enhance my status while making me poorer at the same time.

While these might seem obvious, you’d be surprised how rationalization in spending money on camera gear doesn’t reach this stage for many. Taking the 19mm as the example, I rented one a year ago to give it a thorough run in the field. I went that far in looking at the 19T/S because I could see “some” uses for it. It is a great lens but after shooting with it, I found we didn’t need it fulltime in the locker. So, no Need. Now I went down to the Want category, ya I wanted it. A sexy lens that delivers amazing quality. Then to the last, Status. This lens has NO status, it’s so esoteric that having it would mean nothing but to my accountant who would give me a dirty scowl when I answered his Need question.

I didn’t buy the 19mm T/S but I have rented it a couple of times. The reason is two-fold, the first is that for every dollar you spend in business you have to earn five (basic business asset acquirement formula). With that knowledge, renting is a price I can pass along so none of my capital is consumed. Now if I were to add the 800mm as an example, you might wonder how that price x 5 could be rationalized at the time of purchase? That comes under the Need, and that has to do with knowing your business, present, and future. And that’s where a number of photographers have issues because, well, they aren’t in business. Then move on to Want and Status, it was a slam dunk. If you’re wondering, yes the purchase of the 800mm has not only earned its original price but has blown past that basic business asset acquirement formula.

Bringing this back to the new 180-400VR, here’s how I’m thinking and how I got there. I first contacted a dear friend, a very successful photographer who I thought would naturally upgrade. After hearing his thoughts and talking it over, I went into my Gallery Files (photographs that go out to clients) in Bridge, filtered them by the number of photographs there taken with the 200-400VRII (a lens I own) and took that number and divided it into the total number of photographs to see how much I actually used the 200-400VRII to produce my image inventory. The bottom line, I used the 200-400 A LOT the first four years of owning it and not so much in the last three. Going through my three criteria, at this point, I don’t Need the 180-400. Will I test it out? Oh heck ya, I can’t help myself. But when the rubber hits the road, this is how I think through the price of gear.