Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Is camera gear now disposable?

Looking at the current rash of new cameras, computers, tablets, phones and other electronic gizmos, at first the sheer quantity available to the consumer is seemingly overwhelming. Hundreds of manufacturers all competing to relieve the consumer of the contents of their wallets.

Computers used to be one of the main grounds for competition until people discovered that as internet consumers rather than creators, they didn't need phenomenal processing power or incredible storage. They just want to play online games, read websites and possibly post opinions that have zero ultimate effect on news websites. For that, tablets will do. Of course, computers were made to be disposable. Every other year people had to upgrade to the next computer because their old computer would be no match for all the updates Microsoft came out with (commonly called bloat). So, computers were disposable. Now though since computers have largely caught up, Microsoft is making the operating system disposable by coming out with a new one every two years, knowing full well most people don't want to be bothered installing a new operating system and are well used to having to change computers.

Tablets and phones follow the same path as computers starting out with inefficient and underspecified devices with almost reasonable devices being highly priced. Look in any store and there will be a plethora of $40 - $50 tablets with 8GB of memory. With luck in the $50 - $75 range you'll find tablets with 16GB. They tend to be usable as opposed to the 8GB tablets. There is one caveat... How well built the device is. As an example, I used to use a Nexus 7 that I got secondhand for $100 from Walmart. That was fine until it died (which took a year). Basically the reason it died was planned obsalescence. It was designed to fail. My latest tablet (a $50 RCA Voyager Pro) has just died - after 4 months. That's 8 months short of the warranty. Needless to say, the company say they'll fix it if I post it to them (at my expense) and wait 3 - 4 weeks without a tablet (that I use daily). That's just being treated with contempt by RCA. It ensures only one thing - that I will never buy another RCA product as long as I live!
Cameras are very much disposable. Every 18 months, camera companies come out with new cameras. When that happens, the used price of cameras drops dramatically. Back in the days of film cameras, film cameras largely maintained their values. With the disposability of electronics, they don't. As an example, I paid $1,100 for a Canon 30D back in 2006. It was and still is a pretty good camera. In terms of value it has plummeted to next to nothing. That camera is listed in as new condition in secondhand camera stores at $115. Sold to a camera store or via eBay, it would raise only a fraction of that.

Going further, lenses are also disposable. Every couple of years insignificantly modified models of lenses are released. The resale value of the older edition plummets. The same goes for flashes. A hugely expensive flash plumments in resale value due to new variants.

Taking the whole lot as camera gear in its broadest sense, phones, computers, tablets, cameras and lenses, manufacturers seem to treat them with the same contempt as their customers. Devices are just made to be thrown away. It doesn't matter how much they cost - how many hundreds or thousands. The fact consumers cannot afford to buy items that plummet in value to zero (like my 30D) does not seem to have been recognised by manufacturers.

The above has led to a very interesting situation. Phones now have built-in cameras which are of high quality. People are ceasing to buy cameras because they don't see much point in spending hundreds or thousands on equipment they won't get anything for if they try to sell it a couple of years down the line. Currently this is really hurting camera manufacturers. They're experiencing a 35% a year contraction in the market. Long term this means bankruptcy. They have only themselves to blame by making camera gear disposable.

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