More on Legacy

(commentary)

One thing I didn’t write about in my previous article was how many lenses does it take before people feel “locked in”? 

Obviously, if you only have a DSLR and one lens, you’re almost certainly not feeling locked in. You’d just put the camera and lens up for sale (or hand it down to a family member) and move on to whatever you want. Most one-lens owners are using kit lenses, anyway, so they don’t tend to have much skin (implied US$100) in the glass game. (Note I avoided using the word “investment” ;~).

Two lens owners start to show some difference, but it depends a bit on what that second lens is. If we’re just talking the kit telephoto zoom, again, there’s not a lot of money that has been spent, and many makers selling new gear these days have two-lens kit solutions. In those cases, I suspect these folk act just like the one-lens owner. However, if they opted for a much more expensive telephoto zoom (e.g. 70-300mm VR in the Nikon world), they may be starting to get to the point where they think they have spent more on lenses than camera.

And that, I think, is the trigger. If you spend US$600=800 on a kit (the vast majority of the market in interchangeable lens cameras), I’d guess that once you’ve spent more than that on additional lenses, you’re locked in. Why? 

Let’s look at the 70-300mm Nikkor. New, it goes for about US$600. On eBay it’s going for as little as half that. This, by the way, is why camera gear is not an investment, just like your car isn’t an investment. While there is residual value in your used gear, it is rare that you get your money back, let alone a return on your money. You’ll find some other articles on this site where I’ve suggested that you think more about “rental” value. In other words, if you buy something for US$600, use it for three years, then sell it for US$300, it really cost you US$100 a year in implied rent. 

Unfortunately, most people think they’re out US$600, because that’s how much they spent. Spent money is spent money. Things only have the value they actually have, not the amount of money you paid for them. 

But in our “locked in” examination, the person with a kit plus 70-300mm is thinking this: if I were to switch brands, I’d “lose money” on my 70-300mm and I’d have to replace it. Just taking that at face value, let’s do some math. So we switch to Canon from Nikon. We bought the 70-300mm for US$600 and sold it for US$300, and now we have to buy the Canon EF 70-300mm IS to be equivalent, and it costs US$650. That gets perceived as a US$950 “cost” to our beleaguered DSLR user (US$300 loss on previous lens, US$650 cost of new one). Meanwhile, if they applied that amount to their current system (e.g. move from a D3xxx to a D7xxx), they’d get a far better body and still have the same system and lenses. 

Curiously, I’ve never seen Canon or Nikon seriously try to market this way. They don’t even seem to hint at it in their marketing. No doubt the fear is that if you market “switching” from the other maker, some will examine whether they should switch from you. 

But we’re not done, and I haven’t gotten to the real problem for the camera makers. 

Now let’s rush towards the other end. You’ve been at photography for a long time, you’ve gone through a number of bodies to the point where today you have a D7100 or better and a dozen lenses. Are you locked in? 

Ironically, probably not. Don’t believe me? Here’s a sample from just one email I’ve received: "I had twenty Nikon lenses and six cameras, and it’s all gone to the auctionist recently.” 

When you examine why you see these kinds of responses, it gets back to what I’ve written about “leaking.” In many cases we have folk that have been loyal to one of the duopoly for 20, 30, or even 40+ years now. Sure, the cameras have gotten “better” and the lenses more plentiful, but these folk now find themselves too seriously into GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) and not enough into the enjoyment of photography. Canon and Nikon have slowly seduced them into cameras larger and heavier than they want, convenience lenses instead of performance lenses, and then topped that off by not actually updating the cameras (and sometimes lenses) they liked best. 

So what happens with these long-term users is a close self examination. Unlike the the folk with a few lenses, those with the deep gear closet suddenly realize that they have US$5k or significantly more worth of gear, even if they sold it on the used market. For that money they could just dump it all and buy a simpler kit that better appeals to their photographic sensibilities. A Fujifilm X-T1 with the 18-55mm, 55-200mm, 14mm, 23mm, and 56mm lenses would cost them US$4650 and return them back to their earlier days of shooting: good manual controls, some fast sharp primes, and the ability to cover everything from 20-300mm equivalent in a small, light kit.  Or maybe an Olympus E-M1 with the 12-40mm, the Panasonic 35-100mm, and the 12, 45, and 75mm primes: US$5725. 

Curiously, I was going to try putting together the same solution for Nikon FX and ran into a stumbling block: the only Nikon 24mm prime solution realistically is the US$1900 f/1.4G. Nikon really needs a 24mm f/1.8G FX lens. And of course, you can’t really match up the DX cameras, either, because again the wide angle side is missing in the primes and we don’t any recent constant aperture DX zooms, either. 

So we get leakers. More and more each day as Fujifilm, Olympus, and Sony up their games. 

We can make some predictions if this leaking continues:

  • Canon and Nikon will have to respond with crop sensor lenses
  • Canon and Nikon will have to respond with smaller, lighter bodies
  • Used Canon and Nikon gear will go down in price due to additional products flooding the market as the leaking continues
  • It’s futile to try to take on Canon and Nikon with full frame gear, as Sony seems to now be trying to do: Canon and Nikon can respond quicker and easier to competition here than they can with the lower-priced crop sensor gear
  • Olympus has a slight problem now besides the duopoly. Fujifilm is actually pricing lower than Olympus and starts with a bigger sensor. Ditto Sony. Fujifilm has deep enough pockets to just keep funding that operation, while at Olympus we already have shareholders asking for them to drop the camera group. 


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