Cameras are terrible financial investments. In a way they’re like cars: as soon as you own it, the value drops, because it’s now used and not brand-new. And the more it’s used and the older it gets, the more the value drops. That’s not 100% true all of the time–there are exceptions–but it’s pretty true. You don’t buy cars as a financial investment, unless it’s a rare antique car, and you don’t buy camera gear as a financial investment, unless there’s something that makes it collectible. Most of your photography gear, if not all of it, is worth a little less now than when you purchased it.
About a year-and-a-half ago I did something really crazy: I distressed a Fujifilm X-E1 to look old and worn. It was a gutsy thing to do, and I had mixed thoughts as I did it. I mean, who takes sandpaper to their cameras? Once finished, I sold the distressed camera for more than I had paid for it. I turned the camera from an appliance into art, and that increased the value of it, at least a little. That’s an unusual situation. Most of the time, the photography gear that I buy decreases in value, not increases.
Cameras are a lousy investment, but you can make money with them if you want. You can do family portraits or weddings or sell prints. People make money with cameras all of the time. Not necessarily lots of money. In the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the medium salary of a photographer is about $35,000 annually, which is an average wage. You can use your gear as a tool to make money, even if down the road you sell your camera for far less than you paid for it.
The photography business world is extraordinarily crowded. Everyone’s a photographer nowadays. Not only are there a ton more photographers than there used to be, but the number of great photographs being created has skyrocketed. What used to be considered “good” is now “average” and what used to be “great” is now “good”–yet “amazing” photographs are still amazing. It’s easy to get lost in the crowd, and there’s very little being created that’s unique. Starting a photography business has never been easier, but creating a successful photography business is still just as tough as it has always been, if not more difficult because there are fewer photography consumers (from a business standpoint) than there used to be, yet with stiffer competition.
There is a way in which photography gear is a worthwhile investment, and that’s experiences. Because I own a camera, I want to photograph with it, and because of that I go places, see things, meet people, and otherwise live differently than if I didn’t have a camera. The camera opens up a life of experiences that would be completely foreign to me if I wasn’t a photographer. You cannot put a dollar figure on these experiences because they’re priceless. Their value transcends money. I wouldn’t trade these experiences for any amount of money.
Besides, I love creating photographs. There’s something deep inside of me that yearns to be creative, and photography is my preferred artistic outlet. I feel that photography is just as necessary for me as eating, sleeping and breathing. An investment in photography gear is an investment in experiences if I allow it to be. Even though the camera I spent $1,000 on might only be worth $500 next year, it was still money well spent, just as long as I create photographs with it. If gaining wealth isn’t the goal, investing in photography is a great decision because my life is richer for it. In my opinion, it’s better to live a rich life than to live a life devoted to being rich. My photography gear allows me to live a richer life, not because of the gear itself, but because of what I do with it.