Digital Rot: The Sad Truth about Digital Cameras and Depreciation

You probably know that, like computers, digital cameras depreciate pretty rapidly — especially when a replacement model is announced every 2 or 3 years. A sad truth about digital cameras is that the digital sensor inside DSLRs cause them to be more expensive than comparable film SLRs when purchased new, yet less valuable further down the road when purchased used. Ken Rockwell calls this “digital rot“, and writes,

Digital Rot means that a camera’s digital guts rot-out its value in just a few years because you can’t remove the digital guts. Sadly, Digital Rot is a disease shared by all digital cameras.

Buy a film camera and you can shoot it for a lifetime. Buy an expensive digital camera, and you only get a few years out of it before its value rots away.

A “new in box” Nikon F5 film SLR just sold for $1,350 on eBay yesterday. How much do you think a “new in box” 2.7 megapixel Nikon D1 (a camera that cost $5,000 in 2000) would sell for today?

  • tom rose

    Well camera manufacturers, like all other manufacturers in our absurd industrial economy, have to make us feel dis-satisfied with what we have to encourage us to replace it … usually quite un-necessarily.

    The market value of digital cameras falls rapidly because superior technology is available at the same manufacturing price as the old technology. But if your digicam takes picture good enough for your purposes (and any 6Mp SLR can still produce fully professional results up to full page magazine displays and small posters) you can continue to use your camera until the shutter wears out and is uneconomical to repair – just as with an old film-based camera.

    As for quoting Ken Rockwell … he is an interesting writer, and his web site has a lot of useful information, but when it comes to his opinions he contradicts himself at every turn. In one place he says “Your camera does not matter”. Not literally true, of course, but true in the sense that most of us own a camera that is capable of much better photos than we have the skill to make with it. In another place he says that your new DSLR will be “obsolete” in 2 or 3 years.

    That is just wrong … or a misunderstanding of what the word “obsolete” actually means (no longer in general use). Those older DSLRs and other digicams may be slightly behind whatever current technology is capable of, but they are still fantastic picture taking machines.

    Case in point: My Canon 1D mk ii N is 8 years old, but it is is still one of the toughest cameras around, still has one of the most usable interfaces, still focuses lightning fast, and still delivers wonderful results in its perfectly adequate 8.5 Megapixels. My backup camera, an EOS 10D is even older, but its 6 million high-quality pixels still capture great images, with more than enough resolution for anything other than a fine art gallery print or a giant billboard poster.

  • tom rose

    That is an urban myth. There is no trustworthy record of it and Gates denies that he ever said it.

  • tom rose

    Actually, even when you take the cost of the camera into account, the cost per shot of digital (if you make as many exposures as it is designed and tested for) is enormously less than the cost per shot of film. And not by a small amount – by a couple of orders of magnitude.

  • tom rose

    Absolutely true, but he does contradict himself quite often as well. As for being a blowhard … he may not talk too much but he definitely comes under the other part of the definition as someone “who has strong opinions that (some) other people dislike”. That says nothing about whether or not his opinions are or are not well-founded.

  • tom rose

    But stuffing more sensors onto a fixed size area is not necessarily improvement. If there are already enough sensors it merely shows up lens deficiencies and increase the likelihood of electronic noise in the images. So I do not call it either of those things. I call it “change” and reserve judgement about its value or usefulness until I know more about it.

  • tom rose

    WIth 18 high quality Mp or more you should never need to replace it, and when you take account of the quality of materials and construction and the thoroughness of Leica’s testing and quality control you can expect your M8/9/240 to last for at least the lifetime of any amateur photographer using one today.

  • tom rose

    “I think part of what’s making the value of a film camera steady or go up is the supply of functional film cameras is dwindling, which happens when something largely goes out of production.”

    I think it more likely that more and more photographers that persisted with film in the early years of the digital imaging revolution have decided that Digital has now surpassed film in resolution, and is catching up in dynamic range. So when you also consider the lower cost, instant results, and post-processing ease/versatility/repeatability it makes persisting with film both pointless and expensive.