PetaPixel

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?


 
  • Ouphotoguy

    I purchased a new “in-box” D-1 a year ago for $225.  Funny that I bought a new “in-box” F5 6 years ago for just over $300 when everyone was getting rid of them.  

  • Anonymous

    A digital camera only rots in the mind of the beholder.

    Since photography has been democratised by digital, we’re constantly marketed too for the next best thing. Newer cameras don’t need to come out each and every year, it only serves the market to generate more profits with incremental updates to make users think they no longer have the cutting edge gear.

  • Daschund

    And it gets even worse if you look at film scanners. A Nikon Coolscan 9000 that used to cost $2,000 new, now sells for almost double that on ebay…

  • Daschund

    And it gets even worse if you look at film scanners. A Nikon Coolscan 9000 that used to cost $2,000 new, now sells for almost double that on ebay…

  • Daschund

    And it gets even worse if you look at film scanners. A Nikon Coolscan 9000 that used to cost $2,000 new, now sells for almost double that on ebay…

  • Daschund

    And it gets even worse if you look at film scanners. A Nikon Coolscan 9000 that used to cost $2,000 new, now sells for almost double that on ebay…

  • guest

    True maybe but as someone who makes their living with a camera I can pay all my bills with my state-of-the-art DSLR. If it’s not worth sh*% in 5-10 years I really don’t care as I’ve gotten my money back out of it hundreds of times over.

  • guest

    True maybe but as someone who makes their living with a camera I can pay all my bills with my state-of-the-art DSLR. If it’s not worth sh*% in 5-10 years I really don’t care as I’ve gotten my money back out of it hundreds of times over.

  • bedstuy

    my rangefinder destroys any dslr.  I still wish more people would shoot film so kodak/fuji would stop discontinuing stocks and labs would have more competitive pricing.

  • bedstuy

    my rangefinder destroys any dslr.  I still wish more people would shoot film so kodak/fuji would stop discontinuing stocks and labs would have more competitive pricing.

  • http://twitter.com/RichardAtUCT Richard Atkinson

    Digital also hasn’t yet reached the limit of its technology. Once there is nothing new that they can add, or the next photography craze replaces digital, then digital cameras will start retaining and maybe even gaining value. The only reason film is becoming more valuable is because it is hard to get hold if.

  • http://twitter.com/RichardAtUCT Richard Atkinson

    Digital also hasn’t yet reached the limit of its technology. Once there is nothing new that they can add, or the next photography craze replaces digital, then digital cameras will start retaining and maybe even gaining value. The only reason film is becoming more valuable is because it is hard to get hold if.

  • http://twitter.com/RichardAtUCT Richard Atkinson

    Digital also hasn’t yet reached the limit of its technology. Once there is nothing new that they can add, or the next photography craze replaces digital, then digital cameras will start retaining and maybe even gaining value. The only reason film is becoming more valuable is because it is hard to get hold if.

  • http://profiles.google.com/slimspidey Spider- Man

    so my Holga’s value will sky rocket soon! 
    :::rubs hands together and laughs maniacally:::

    LOL

  • http://profiles.google.com/slimspidey Spider- Man

    so my Holga’s value will sky rocket soon! 
    :::rubs hands together and laughs maniacally:::

    LOL

  • http://profiles.google.com/slimspidey Spider- Man

    so my Holga’s value will sky rocket soon! 
    :::rubs hands together and laughs maniacally:::

    LOL

  • http://www.jasondunn.com Jason Dunn

    I don’t agree fully with this; yes, your 1 megapixel digital camera from 1997 is basically useless today. But reasonably modern digital camera in the 8 to 10 megapixel range, especially a DSLR? It will continue to take great looking pictures a decade from now. There’s a threshold of “good enough” where the technology matures and hits a threshold of producing results good enough for most people/scenarios. I’d say we reached that threshold for digital cameras as whole back in 2008 (give or take).

    This only holds true until the next quantum leap forward of course: I don’t think 3D is it, but 360 degree 3D capture for use on holographic playback devices might be. :-)

  • http://www.jasondunn.com Jason Dunn

    I don’t agree fully with this; yes, your 1 megapixel digital camera from 1997 is basically useless today. But reasonably modern digital camera in the 8 to 10 megapixel range, especially a DSLR? It will continue to take great looking pictures a decade from now. There’s a threshold of “good enough” where the technology matures and hits a threshold of producing results good enough for most people/scenarios. I’d say we reached that threshold for digital cameras as whole back in 2008 (give or take).

    This only holds true until the next quantum leap forward of course: I don’t think 3D is it, but 360 degree 3D capture for use on holographic playback devices might be. :-)

  • HvdK

    Do not forget that buying film for a conventional camera adds up too. If you take that in mind photography has the same overhead as it has always had.

  • HvdK

    Do not forget that buying film for a conventional camera adds up too. If you take that in mind photography has the same overhead as it has always had.

  • http://www.petapixel.com Michael Zhang

    I guess the question is whether digital cameras are different from computers. Just a short while ago 1GB of RAM seemed like more than enough for anything you’d want to do, but now 2-8GB is pretty standard.

  • http://www.petapixel.com Michael Zhang

    I guess the question is whether digital cameras are different from computers. Just a short while ago 1GB of RAM seemed like more than enough for anything you’d want to do, but now 2-8GB is pretty standard.

  • http://www.jasondunn.com Jason Dunn

    Ah, but there are still many computers out there – mostly netbooks – running 1 GB of RAM and perform fine. The same “good enough” threshold for RAM on Windows computers was reached when 1 GB of RAM became the minimum standard for even entry-level computers. That’s not to say that more RAM isn’t better for power users, but 1 GB of RAM is basically the equivalent of an 8 megapixel camera…good enough for average users on most scenarios. :-)

  • Anonymous

    Depreciation is a part accounting concept and market value concept, that doesn’t mean the camera quits working.  It only means that the market value goes down.  I even have an original Canon Digital Rebel that still works fine.  I’m willing to bet that the lifetime cost of using the digital camera and all the storage media is still lower than the lifetime cost of a film camera + the cost of film used in said camera, then there’s film development.

    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.

  • http://twitter.com/jackenlobb Jack Bracken-Lobb

    i bought a used d1 a couple of months ago for £60 with a sigma 17-35mm lens…

  • Photographer

    Listen to Ken Rockwell and you’ll 1) shoot JPEG and not edit those JPEGs 2) spend 98% of your time writing about how everyone should take photographs like you and 3) spend the remaining 2% of your time taking trite snapshots.  He’s a blowhard.  He may have a few decent points now and again, but a broken clock is right twice a day.

  • Steve Johnson

    The human eye is the limiting factor – not so for computers. Once image quality is over a certain threshold the only issue becomes how big does the output have to be. I don’t see a huge demand for 600dpi billboard sized prints but didn’t someone once say there was no market for home PC’s? 

  • Travis

    I’m sure camera manufacturers like this, in fact, I bet profits have never been higher….

  • Travis

    I’m sure camera manufacturers like this, in fact, I bet profits have never been higher….

  • http://profiles.google.com/slimspidey Spider- Man

    way to to think rationally! Jeeeez ! ;)

  • http://profiles.google.com/slimspidey Spider- Man

    way to to think rationally! Jeeeez ! ;)

  • http://twitter.com/Soiden Sebastián Soto

    The same happens in computers, even worse. After a few months of the newest videocard release, there’re already announcements for the new one. And you don’t need the new $500 videocard, you can survive just fine with a 2-years-old one.

    Yes, DSLR may see depreciation in almost everyone’s eyes, but in mine, my camera is just as shining as first day.

  • Todd Burke

    I’ve had my Canon 10D for eight years (though just picked up a 7D last year but still shoot with the 10D).  I’ve shot 100k images (not professionally) and I’d hate to think what my film and processing would have cost in that time period especially for not being paid to shoot.  All my film negatives I have (never had a good film camera) contain lots of scratches even though I take care of them. My first image out of my 10D looks even better then the day I took it now that Raw technology conversion has gotten better over time.  (I so won that jpeg vs raw argument after 8 years, :-P   ).   So I agree with the eye of the beholder bit too because I think my 10D images (all 6MP) still look fantastic with the right lens.

  • Todd Burke

    I’ve had my Canon 10D for eight years (though just picked up a 7D last year but still shoot with the 10D).  I’ve shot 100k images (not professionally) and I’d hate to think what my film and processing would have cost in that time period especially for not being paid to shoot.  All my film negatives I have (never had a good film camera) contain lots of scratches even though I take care of them. My first image out of my 10D looks even better then the day I took it now that Raw technology conversion has gotten better over time.  (I so won that jpeg vs raw argument after 8 years, :-P   ).   So I agree with the eye of the beholder bit too because I think my 10D images (all 6MP) still look fantastic with the right lens.

  • Todd Burke

    I’ve had my Canon 10D for eight years (though just picked up a 7D last year but still shoot with the 10D).  I’ve shot 100k images (not professionally) and I’d hate to think what my film and processing would have cost in that time period especially for not being paid to shoot.  All my film negatives I have (never had a good film camera) contain lots of scratches even though I take care of them. My first image out of my 10D looks even better then the day I took it now that Raw technology conversion has gotten better over time.  (I so won that jpeg vs raw argument after 8 years, :-P   ).   So I agree with the eye of the beholder bit too because I think my 10D images (all 6MP) still look fantastic with the right lens.

  • Stephen Godfrey

    while what you are makes sense it would have been nice if you had some actual data then an example, the graph looks bogus.  Over time there will be a collectors market for in the box for a D1. And the price of film cameras will drop if film production dies away, unless it is an in the box and has never been used, i.e. collectable. 

  • Stephen Godfrey

    while what you are makes sense it would have been nice if you had some actual data then an example, the graph looks bogus.  Over time there will be a collectors market for in the box for a D1. And the price of film cameras will drop if film production dies away, unless it is an in the box and has never been used, i.e. collectable. 

  • http://twitter.com/Myrddon Henning Nilsen

     “640K of memory should be enough for anybody.”
    – Bill Gates, 1981

  • http://profiles.google.com/mugget mugget man

    You can’t argue against digital rot – that’s a fact, a digital camera will continue to depreciate significantly. 

    But the value is different to it’s usefulness. I know plenty of people that still use older DSLR gear, if it still does the job you want then good for you.

  • http://profiles.google.com/mugget mugget man

    Good point – I think the accessibility and immediacy of digital is a major advantage that will always see digital as more popular than film. 

    The right lens… ain’t that the truth. I have an M8 and 50mm Summilux, if for any reason I was not satisfied with the with the M8 body, or it broke and I couldn’t afford a digital replacement I think I would actually buy an older M3 or M6 film body just so I could keep using that lens. 60 years old and wonderful… at least we can be thankful there’s no such thing as ‘lens rot’. Haha.

  • Kelvin

    That is why I don’t get why Leica Digital body is so expensive. Being digital means there are bunch of electronic component,which age more easily than the mechanical component in old fashion SLR. Which means it is more likely to break than a film camera. Another reason is the moore’s law, while the key component, the CCD/CMOS, is going to be outdated in 2 or 3 years, it cannot be replaced like you change to another roll of films. Just like the modern lens with high-tech plastic, it is still plastic. I don’t think it can last longer than a Leica or CZ lens.So if it can not last, it does not have a value as collectible and it is surely going to depreciate

  • Janez

    I agree!

  • fd

    if Leica had any competition the price would be different, but as they make the only digital rangefinder… And yes there even the Leica name that sells

  • Anonymous

    There’s a difference between computers and cameras though:
    The computer will require a faster processor to keep up with future software.
    The camera will not require a higher resolution sensor in the future. If it can print @ 300 dpi today, it’ll be able to in the future. The only exception to this would be if somehow people start making ridiculously large prints or ridiculously high-dpi prints in future. Somehow doesn’t seem likely.

  • Steve

    No it’s not. There’s a huge surplus of film cameras – over 100 years worth of cameras that use film.

  • Steve

    You’re kidding right?
    People already pay through the nose for them

  • Jason Hassler

    That’s a funny joke. A rangefinder destroying any kind of good quality DSLR has got to be some kind of attempt at humor.

  • geek

    The amount of pixels on a sensor grows exponential, it doubles on average every 4 years, per constant dollar. Thats 50% deflation every 4 years. Computers have a deflation rate of 50% every 10 months. You can call it “digital rot” or you can call it progress.

  • Bill

    Ken is not a blowhard, hater, he has a lot of excellent observations and insights on purchasing and owning camera gear!

  • James

    I think DRTV really sold me over, when they pointed out that with processing, and film costs alone a 5DmkIII would be cheaper than trying to shoot two rolls of 35mm film a week for a year.