The Real Cost of Digital

Digital Photography Cheaper?

I’ll admit it,…us photographers may seem a strange lot. But it seems every time I’m out shooting I have the consummate digital photographer constantly approaching me to inform me that shooting digital is “much cheaper”. OK. Finances have absolutely nothing to do with my reason for shooting film. But I started to give some serious thought to this conjecture. Not to mention, it kind of pisses me off why a dedicated digital photographer would even question what I do. Kind of like being approached by a stranger who finds the need to inform you that your choice of SUV is questionable when you clearly could buy a pickup truck. What? Do you really think I’ve never shot a digital camera?


Analog Photographers
Nikon F5 and Rollei 6008


The Digital Client

If you’re a in a genre of photography that requires quick turnaround, (although my turnaround when shooting at Industria in NYC was about an hour), or have an Art Director with a lack of self-confidence who needs to have constant input,…well, then digital certainly makes sense. If you’re a very casual shooter, it also makes perfect sense. Past that? Eh. But let’s just concentrate on the cost.

Do I think there’s a good reason to keep up with cameras, software, printers, inkjet cartridges and other digital photo accessories as we become more technologically advanced? Sure,… whatever makes business sense within your business model. But not everyone needs, (or wants), instant turnaround. Especially as the biggest question that’s asked in the digital community is; “How do I make my image look like film?” I have an answer. Use film.


Analog Photographers
Rollei 6008


Minimal Computer,…Please

Add to that, some people don’t want to sit in front of a computer playing with ‘sharpness and color’ for 80% of their workflow. It doesn’t mean we’re luddites. Some of us actually like the serenity of the darkroom, the beauty of silver gelatin fiber prints and the Zen of large format. Why anyone else would care is beyond me. In fact, most film shooters also shoot digital. Some a lot, some very little. But not so much the other way around.

First, I shot digital, (but mostly film), at my studio in NY. Digital was more expensive. There were all the computers. All the monitors. All the printers. The ink and paper. Spyders for color calibration. Constantly upgrading software, cameras, storage, translating files from defunct file types, converting raw files, and lots more. That list is barely scratching the surface. But, in a professional environment, the most expensive thing is time.

HDR and Other Unnatural Phenomena

Now if you’re just putzing around, all those things don’t really matter. But, let’s forget cameras for a second. How many versions of Photoshop have you bought? Lightroom? Color calibrators? Upgraded computers? Monitors? Dongles and dingles? (does anyone remember ‘Firewire’ ?) It never ends. On the other end of the spectrum, I know analog photographers who have shot the same 4×5 Horseman camera for 30 years. (or whatever) Yes, they buy film. Yes, they use chemicals. But even using 4×5 film, (relatively expensive), the yearly cost is less than the cost of a cheapo DSLR. Not counting all that other stuff. Of course, you don’t take 2000 images every time you shoot.

In contrast, a fellow digital photographer I know has changed his cameras 3 times in 2 years. My cameras,…Nikon F4s, Rollei 6008 and Contax G1, are all 20+ years old and in perfect condition. They will probably last another 20. But the present day digital professional needs to spend money faster and faster just to keep up with the latest developments and client expectations. No more Nikon F3‘s or Leica M3 that lasted 40-50 years. An entire career! Although I will admit “Gear Acquisition Syndrome”, (GAS), is not a new phenomena. See William Eggleston’s 300+ Leicas!


analog photographers
The New Legend,…until the Next Legend


Using the middle priced and most popular digital requirements;

  • Spyder Color Calibration,…$269.95
  • Epson SureColor P400 Inkjet Printer,…$599.99
  • Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan with 1TB Cloud Storage (12 Month Subscription),…$239.88
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6,…$149.00
  • Adobe Photoshop CC (12 Month Subscription),…$239.88
  • Epson Ink Six Cartridge Set,…$129.95
  • Nikon 750 DSLR,…$1,796.95
  • Apple Mac Pro Desktop Computer (Eight-Core, Late 2013),…$4,399.00
  • Eizo EV3237FX-BK 31.5″ 16:9 4K UHD IPS Monitor (standard studio),…$1,687.98
  • SanDisk 128GB Extreme PRO UHS-I SDXC Memory Card,…$59.00

….and on and on and on. It doesn’t end with buying a new camera every other year. And my examples are the “cheaper” stuff used by a professional. A ‘new’ Mac Pro Workstation with 32gb ram is actually $7,994.00. And goes up from there! Now I know most hobbyists would not entertain such an equipment list, or multiples of said equipment. But I’m not showing the most expensive stuff,…just the most “popular”. On top of that, Adobe, and others, want yearly fees! And don’t get me started on “depreciation”.


Analog Photographers
Rollei 6003 & Nikon F4s


We All Make Mistakes

But I have to confess. I actually made a “digital” mistake a couple of months ago. I have an HP laser printer. I change the cartridge about once a year. But I thought it would be nice to have a bit of color for charts and stuff. Hence, I bought a wireless Canon inkjet. Nothing fancy. Within 2 months I had to change out a magenta cartridge. I had forgot what it use to cost me. $35 for one cartridge! You know how many rolls of Tri-X I can get for $35? That printer now sits in storage. Laser is fine. I’m not changing out 6 cartridges at $35 each within 3 months.

All analog photographers don’t have the same workflow. It is true I buy film. Plus chemicals and paper. However, I do not scan film. If it’s on the internet, I scanned a print on an old Epson 4990. My “real” prints come out of a darkroom, where nothing ever seems to change much. Plus, I have drawers filled with film binders. For me, it’s much easier keeping track of physical things. I never really trusted bits and bytes. Remember, this site is filled with analog photographers and analog cameras. We can’t all be crazy. So, we’re not as ‘rare’ an animal as one might think.


analog photographers
Rollei 6003 & Nikon F5


No Winners, No Losers

That said, I’m aware that very few analog photographers can make a living using just film. Working in digital has become a necessity for most portrait, wedding and commercial photographers. But, it’s actually sad. Especially as it pertains to youth. Are we going too fast? Adding up all this gear, the subscriptions, the multiple storage requirements, the time, etc.,…well, film seems cheap. So, despite my seeming rant, I actually have much empathy for digital photographers. And if I’m doing an event or party where the end product will be a Facebook upload,….well, then even I use digital. I’m not against digital. And I’m not asking any of you to change. Just be respectful of your fellow photographers,…analog or digital. I have a great simpatico for the “majority viewpoint” and the hamster wheel of having to spend more and more and more. Been there, done that. I’m even fine with iPhone selfies. This is not a sporting event, with winners and losers. If you’re in the majority, take solace in knowing you’ve made Apple, Adobe, Nikon and Canon very happy. But cheaper? I think not. Unless you’re taking thousands of images of your cat. In that case,…rock on.


Harley Weir





This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Hi (??? anonymous I get it, but not even a first name??)

    I’m very much on the same page as it relates to the real cost of digital. The thing is a joke really.

    Question: you mentioned that if your image are on display on the web, they’re scans of prints not scans of negs. A very rare, commendable practice I must say.

    Can I ask then whether they are inkjet/pigment prints, Lambda prints, or real wetties like in real wet darkroom prints ?

    Since you add cameras tech details maybe you can add print tech details too? just a suggestion.


  2. Hi Alexis,

    I don’t promote myself as the editor of Anatomy Films. This site is to promote other film photographers and writers. I usually don’t even put my name on pics I’ve done. But I do for everyone else,…including writers. So, no name….then it must be me. 🙂 Those are wet prints. Sometimes simple machine wet prints. (4×6) I don’t even own a photo printer. However, even my best friends say I’m crazy. (guilty) So, I’m not suggesting anyone do what I do,… but follow this train of thought. Just Facebook alone gets 136,000 images uploaded per second! Do we really need to “drum scan” every piece of film in our possession to bridge the digital gap? When I on occasion take “party” pics specifically for Facebook, I use an old Nikon D2Hs. The 4.1 MP images are too large for Facebook albums! Spending hours pulling every detail out of an image that will only be online at 1000px seems counterproductive. To me. But, if that’s what makes you happy, I have no issues with other peoples workflows.

    Federico (also known as ‘Anonymous’) 😉

  3. … and else you can walk rather than use a vehicle or you could use a horse for long distances.

  4. Where does it say you should not use digital? Did you read the article? It’s about digital people insisting digital is “cheaper”. It’s not, in general. But then, there are tintype and glass plate photographers that spend upward of $500 per image. Should I approach them and tell them “medium format film is cheaper”? Should I write Andreas Gursky and tell him he’s living in the dark ages? http://www.anatomyfilms.com/andreas-gursky-big-art-big-money/ And as far as your analogy goes,…can you drive a car to a Mt. Everest base camp? No. You would use pack animals. Could you launch any extended project to take digital images of the back country rivers of China? http://www.anatomyfilms.com/nadav-kander-portrait-landscape/ No. You couldn’t carry enough batteries. I did not say film is better. I said respect your fellow photographer no matter what they use. And don’t offer up your subjective opinion to a photographer that hasn’t asked for one. 90% of all ‘pictures’ are taken with a cell phone. So, why have a camera at all? Succumb to the masses! They know best. I recently seen ‘Kodachrome’, the Netflix movie. http://www.anatomyfilms.com/kodachrome-movie/ When the son asks his father, “Why don’t you shoot digital, like everyone else?”, the father responds, “Have you ever squeezed fake tits?”… Not that there’s anything wrong with fake boobies. But, it’s just not the same. 😉


  5. I have to agree with most of the article. I am old enough to have enough years of photography without digital cameras. Currently I shoot both digital (m4/3, DX FX) and film. Every medium (and sensor size) has its merits and applications. Shoot with whatever you like and do not care what people believe. Just have fun. After all digital has made “analogue” equipment real cheap.

  6. “Shoot with whatever you like…” ABSOLUTELY!! 😉

  7. I shoot with the mobile phone if i want instant shares.
    I shoot on film and present the print as special gifts.

  8. Mobile phones are fine. Unfortunately, I still struggle without a viewfinder. So I use an old, (I bought it new) Nikon D2Hs, 4.1MP. Since I only upload those images for web usage, they are in fact still too big! But I have,…just for kicks,…had Icon in LA make a 3 x 5 foot image from one file. From normal viewing distance, it looks fine. 😳

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