Why We Buy Cameras

There are many reasons why we buy cameras. These reasons lead us to various camera formats, brands and models. The reasons why we buy cameras can also have a direct impact on how often we update our camera gear.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. Photographs have been added to serve as visual breaks.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/8, 1/25, ISO-160

Money making tool

Some photographers own cameras because they are money making tools. Their livelihoods depend on their camera investments so purchase decisions tend to be viewed pragmatically. When buying money making tools, photographers consider the type of work that they do and the specifications that best meet their needs. Dependability is often a key factor, as are comfort and ergonomics. Being out in the field for long periods of time working on client projects can be exhausting.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 20.3 mm, efov 54.8 mm, f/8, 1/10, ISO-160

Photographers who buy cameras as money making tools also consider the cash flow of their business and how a camera purchase fits into their depreciation schedule. For example, in Canada 10% of the purchase cost of camera gear can be written off in its first calendar year of use. In subsequent years the depreciation is based on 20% of the declining balance.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 11.1 mm, efov 30 mm, f/8, +1/3 EV, 1/3, ISO-160

Getting a good return on investment (ROI) is also an important consideration when photographers buy cameras as money making tools. It’s been my observation that professional photographers tend to keep their camera gear for longer periods of time before replacing it.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 35.3, efov 95.3 mm, f/8, 2 sec, ISO-160

For example, the professional wedding photographer that my daughter hired for her wedding used three different camera bodies. Two of them were full frame Canon cameras. One of them was a couple of years old. The other one was about five years old. She also used a Nikon D300 which was probably at least seven years old at the time.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 13 mm, efov 35 mm, f/8, 0.8 sec, ISO-160

It is standard practice for professional photographers to bring at least two camera bodies to a client assignment. Many pros will have their camera gear serviced on a regular basis to help stretch out its usable life, and help ensure trouble free operation while on assignment.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 60 mm, efov 162 mm, f/8, 1/13, ISO-160

Status symbol

Viewing cameras as a status symbol is another reason why we buy cameras. It is quite common to see photographers grouped together (pre-COVID) and showing off their gear to each other. Often they spend far more time showing off their gear than actually using it. This phenomenon can regularly be observed at birding sites, air shows, and other venues where ‘big gun’ lenses are commonly used.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 60 mm, efov 162 mm, f/8, 1/80, ISO-1600

Larger format cameras, often with high density sensors, are sometimes viewed as status symbols by many photographers. Status symbol buyers will change their camera equipment when the strength of its relative bragging rights have eroded over time.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H mode

Intrigued with technology

Some photographers are enthralled with technology. A large amount of their photographic enjoyment is directly linked to the technology that their camera utilizes. Often they will spend quite a bit of time researching their camera’s technological advancements as they love technology for technology’s sake. They love to read camera reviews that discuss technology and they feel a high level of pride of ownership when their camera gear incorporates the latest technology. This group tends to replace their camera gear more frequently than others.

Olympus TG-5 @ 18 mm, efov 100 mm, f/6.3, 1/500, ISO-100

Lifestyle extension

Why we buy cameras can be strongly associated with our lifestyle. For example, photographers who enjoy exploring remote locations will choose gear that is known for its durable build quality and weatherproofing. Other photographers may have a very strong affinity for particular events or subject matter and will buy camera gear that is particularly well suited to those interests. Action cameras would fall into the lifestyle extension category.

Olympus TG-5 @ 11 mm, efov 61.1 mm, f/3.6, 1/250, ISO-400, microscopic mode

 Visual expression tool

People who are skewed to various forms of visual expression may buy cameras with specific attributes that help them bring creative expression to life. Examples could be macro photography, Live Composite, use of drones, or time lapse photography.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 plus M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 104 mm, efov 208 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H mode, subject distance 3.6 metres

Personal challenge

Some photographers are motivated by personal challenge. Creating a hard to capture, unique or unusual image generates a strong feeling of accomplishment in them. As a result they will favour camera gear that requires some expertise and knowledge in order to use it successfully.

Olympus TG-5 @ 18 mm, efov 100 mm, f/6.3, 1/60, ISO-1600, microscopic mode

They are skewed to cameras that have leading edge technology… but they are not intrigued with technology for its own sake. They want the technology as a way to increase their personal challenges. At their core, they want to push themselves and grow through meeting photographic challenges they set for themselves.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro with STF-8 Twin Macro Flash, f/11, 1/250 ISO-200, subject distance 270 mm

They are likely far more interested in how they can push themselves, rather than have any interest in what other people create with their cameras. Learning to understand and master the complexities of using dedicated camera equipment appeals to their challenge-based nature.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/3.2, 1/125, ISO-5000, subject distance 630 mm

Documenting significant life events

Another reason why we buy cameras is to document and preserve significant life events. For some people creating images with a camera, rather than with a smartphone, makes the documentation of the life event more important and significant. For them, using a camera is a signal that the event is special and noteworthy. There are some grandparents out there who specifically purchase dedicated camera gear so they can photograph their grandchildren. To them, using a smart phone to photograph their grandchildren, especially if they don’t see them on a regular basis, is akin to an insult.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 90 mm, efov 243 mm, f/8, 1/125, ISO-160

Skill recognition and self-image

Using a dedicated camera can often send an implied message that the user is more skilled than someone using a smartphone to photograph the identical subject. The camera gear itself isn’t a status symbol, but being able to use it very competently is a visible sign of skill demonstration/recognition, and can enhance a person’s self-image.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 12-100 mm f/4 IS PRO @ 12 mm, f/8, 1/10, ISO-200, image processed to taste from RAW file

Relaxation

Many people find photography to be a wonderful form of relaxation. It allows them to disengage from the various stresses and concerns they may have. Picking up a camera and creating with it can become a form of escape from the day-to-day grind. Allowing ourselves to be consumed by the act of creating photographs can both focus our mind… and quiet it from stresses and pressures.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-200, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3966 pixels on the width, distance to subject 14.9 metres

Interest in Specific Photographic Genres

There are some photographic genres such as nature and birding where existing smart phone technology is not a practical solution.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-40mm f/2.8 @ 40, efov 80mm, f/4.5, 1 second handheld, ISO-200

Enhanced Image Quality

Many photographers want to achieve the enhanced image quality that is created when using cameras with better sensors and the superior optical performance of interchangable lenses, when compared to smart phones.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/250, ISO-3200, Handheld Hi Resolution, cropped to 7742 pixels, subject distance 255 mm

Old Habits

For some folks the continued use of dedicated camera systems may simply come down to the fact that old habits die hard. When I do presentations to camera clubs there are precious few younger people in the audience. One can only speculate where the future of the camera industry is headed if camera companies are unable to attract new, younger buyers.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/1250, ISO-400, subject distance 860 mm

Summary

This is only a sampling of the many reasons why we buy cameras. Many of us have more than one reason… and we may have reasons that are not included in this article. Understanding why we buy cameras can give us important insights about our motivations in life, and how we interact with those around us.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-360

Technical Note

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. This is the 1,029th article published on this website since its original inception.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-1000

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4 thoughts on “Why We Buy Cameras”

  1. Hi Tom,
    Interesting article. I’m probably a bunch of the above as well as a collector! But I shoot thousands of images too. My cameras 70+ range from DSLRs to a Kodak DX6440 and SLRs to various range finders.
    I think what makes me “tick” is pushing the cameras, especially the smaller sensor/mp models to see exactly what can be got out of them.
    I shoot film for much the same reason. I get a buzz when a shot on film turns out to be as I envisioned and can stand head and shoulders beside its digital couterparts.

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