Can you actually save money by spending more on photography equipment?

Is it possible that equipment that costs you more will end up costing you less? Let’s explore.

I’ve been writing a lot about the new Nikon Z 9 lately. Partly that’s because I just bought one and spent an inappropriate but entirely appropriate amount of my time over the past few years. months obsessing him. But mostly, I wrote about it because, to my surprise, I found the camera solved so many workflow issues I’ve encountered in the past. All those little issues, such as overheating, video codecs that were a pain to edit, my grumpy old allergy to most electronic viewfinders were all small drawbacks compared to the benefits my other cameras offered. But these were issues big enough for me that my camera bag ended up looking like a United Nations of Technology. Instead of one reliable camera to do it all, each trip on set would involve multiple camera bags with multiple cameras. Each camera would do one thing well. But each would also inevitably have at least one built-in flaw that would make it impossible (or at least difficult) to use it for any specific tasks I needed to perform. So, I ended up having a collection of cameras to team up to become the perfect camera.

Now, I’m not saying my Z 9 is a perfect camera. Although to be fair, I haven’t yet found a reason to suggest that this isn’t the perfect camera either. But the simple fact is, since buying it, I’ve found little reason to tour with anything else. I feel perfectly comfortable heading out for just about any job with the Z 9 and only the Z 9, knowing there’s nothing a client can throw at me but the camera can’t handle. Of course, there are times when a real film camera is the best choice. And there are times when medium format is required. But other than that, I can be sure that if there’s anything I’m having trouble doing on set, it’s because of me and not because of some quirk with my camera. choice. But, aside from marveling at this specific camera, it raised a much more practical question in my mind.

In all my years as a professional photographer, I had never owned a “flagship” camera. I have owned a very wide assortment of “professional” equipment as I am a photographer by profession. We won’t rehash a debate about what’s “pro” and what’s not here. Needless to say, my cameras are all “pro” enough to help me earn a living. But, I had never owned one of the larger built-in, tank-sturdy grips, workhorses that the companies themselves referred to as their high-end flagships like the Nikon D6 or the Canon EOS 1D X. Mark III. For the most part, it was a practical choice. I am an advertising photographer as opposed to a documentary photographer. For the type of things I shoot, resolution tends to trump frame rate. The company’s flagships could still shoot the most frames per second while offering world-class build quality and weather sealing that let you shoot those frames in a torrential rainstorm or in the middle of a battlefield. Traditionally, this speed has come at the expense of megapixels. I, on the other hand, rarely need to crank out more than five or six frames per second and will most likely do so in the comfort of a studio, or at the very least on a controlled set, I getting my gear wet is not a requirement. So the camera just below the flagship, in my case something like the Nikon D850, has always been more than enough.

But, of course, there was another practical reason why I never owned a flagship. Simply put, they’re still the most expensive camera in a brand’s lineup. You expect that, of course. This is why they are called “top of the range”. Being the best, also being the most expensive, is kind of their thing. But since I didn’t need the extra speed and, despite what I might have dreamed of last night, I’m not made of money, so I always settled for the next cam in line.

Then came the Z 9. I promise I won’t get into another soliloquy about how much I love the camera. But I will say that no matter how much I like it, my bank account likes it even more. “But how is that possible”, you might say. There are less expensive models in the Nikon range. There are other models in the ranges of other brands that have similar options. Even I own several non-Nikon cameras. The Canon EOS R5, for example, is a terrific camera that meets the majority of my needs with aplomb. Before buying the Z 9, I could have even said that the R5 was the best mirrorless camera available for what I needed to do. At $3,899, it’s also significantly cheaper than the Nikon Z 9’s $5,496.95 price tag. Still, while the math is apparently not on my side, I found that the R5 cost me more money than the Z 9. How could that be?

Well, it comes down to total cost of ownership. The R5 is an amazing camera capable of doing 95% of my required tasks. But, as has been well documented, the camera overheats. It doesn’t do it all the time. This piece is overdone. But, it happens. Because of this, it means that I can never feel 100% comfortable with using it as the A camera on longer video projects. Despite all the great specs, my fear of it overheating at the wrong time means I have to take precautions. I might just buy two so I always have a cool one to swap in case the first one overheats. But that means an initial cost of $7,798. Another choice would be to record to an external monitor. The Atomos Ninja V+ can record ProRes Raw in 8K from R5 and costs $999. There are some practical issues with this solution for my workflow due to things like my editing workflow going through DaVinci Resolve Studio and not supporting ProRes Raw as well as that means for shooting long 8K , I now absolutely have to connect an external monitor rather than being able to capture internally. But, despite these failures, the configuration works. Again, this also brings the R5’s costs to $4,898. If we add the required SSD drive for the Atomos, such as the Angelbird AtomX SSDmini 2TB for $549.99, we’re now down to $5,447.99. Add a small extra battery pack for the Atomos, which chews up batteries like a bucket of chum, or accessories for a V-mount solution and you’ve already eclipsed the Z 9’s costs by a comfortable margin. Meanwhile, the Z 9 can record seemingly endless 8K internally without the need for an external monitor, without overheating, run for most of the day on a single battery, and does it all straight away without the need for an external monitor. buy just one additional tool.

It is not to choose on the R5. I really like this camera too and it currently serves as a backup to my Z 9. On some hybrid work where I need to run two separately mounted cameras simultaneously, I will use both. But numbers-wise, realizing all the quantifiable financial benefits the Z 9 gave me, just by nature of not having to spend money on additional accessories to get the most out of it, underscored for me that sometimes spending less up front doesn’t always mean you save money.

I used the R5 as an example simply because I own both cameras and it’s an easy real-world comparison. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this financial benefit extended in many other ways. As I mentioned, before the Z 9, I brought several cameras to adjust. I had my D850 for the most part still, as I still preferred the optical viewfinder (the Z 9’s dual-stream electronic viewfinder solved much of that problem for me). I had the R5 for hybrid work that required video, but I knew I had to equip it to get the most out of it. I had cinema cameras and medium format cameras, which aren’t superseded by the Z 9 so much. But, in the case of the cinema camera, the Z 9’s ability to shoot without the recording limit 30 minutes and doing it for hours a single battery, in ProRes HQ 4:2:2 nonetheless, means it can take on more tasks in that department and allow cinema cameras to stay at home indoors. opportunity. But, even if you don’t focus on props, the fact that I’ve had so many different cameras doing so many different things also allows for a bit of quick math. It’s not like these cameras are free. So needing to buy multiple cameras to account for each of their shortcomings quickly amounts to more than just spending more upfront on the flagship, to begin with.

And, of course, while I’ve talked a lot about the Z 9 in this article, that logic isn’t just about the cameras. I’ve written before about my affinity for Profoto lighting kits. These kits are by no means the cheapest option available. But, as I was loading gear into my van the other day for a shoot and was looking for a Profoto light that will soon be approaching its 17th birthday and still in perfect working order, I realized that you often have some for your money.

Currently, I’m in the process of having to replace the MacBook Pro that I use for in-place tethering. My current system was purchased almost on a whim and was the cheapest model on the market at the time. But the system lasted me nine years and became an essential part of my workflow. Now, knowing how important the laptop can be to my workflow, I’m considering spending more this time around on a much more powerful system. Getting the cheapest option is attractive. But, given the longevity of its predecessor and my ever-changing processing needs, I’m of the opinion that spending a little more this time around could very well be worth it.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you always have to buy the most expensive car in the lot. You must respect your budget and your needs. As I said earlier, the price was just one of the reasons why I had never owned a “flagship” before the Z 9. It was also a practical choice because the cheapest model offered a feature, high resolution, that I needed more. My hardware closet is also full of tools, like this old laptop, which was definitely on the discount rack when I bought them, but far exceeded their price in terms of actual value. So I’m in no way suggesting that you buy the most expensive item every time you whip out your credit card.

What I suggest, however, is that before making any purchase, big or small, you calculate the total costs of ownership. You may soon find that the money you thought you were saving may cost you more in the long run. And spending a little more upfront could get you both a better tool and a better investment.

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