What’s My Used Camera Worth?

What's My Used Camera Worth?

by George Schaub

As film cameras go down in sales and digital camera sales soar, many photographers wonder just what their film, and indeed older digital cameras are worth. We get emails almost every day with such queries, and while we do not or cannot set the market price for any goods, we certainly appreciate the concern about past money invested in gear and how one or another camera, lens, etc. has fared in the used marketplace. While there are numerous resources for finding this information, you first have to figure out the spread between use value and market value of any photographic gear. When you dig deeper you find that there can be quite a bit of difference between the two.

All this leaves behind any discussion of collectible cameras, which are another market altogether. For a sense of what collectible might mean you can check any number of Shutterbug advertisers, or articles we run on classic cameras. We have quite a host of past articles on the Classics, available by typing Classic Cameras into our Search Box on the home page or simply clicking on this link: http://www.shutterbug.com/equipmentreviews/classic_historical.

You can also check into our occasional reports on classic and collectible camera shows, the most recent of which is available by clicking on this link: http://shutterbug.com/equipmentreviews/classic_historical/1007classic.

There are many ways to research prices on cameras, including advertisers in Shutterbug. Keep in mind, however, that dealers are selling at retail and buying at wholesale, sort of the difference between what a dealer will give you on a used car trade and what the Blue Book retail value might indicate. They have to do that to stay in business, of course, and they do offer a way to clean out the closet without going through the hassle of posting an ad and dealing with the sale yourself.

But what if the camera or lens you want to sell isn't in the collectible category and you consider it a great piece of gear that you simply don't use anymore? What if you spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars on it originally and you're shocked and dismayed at what you might get for it in the used marketplace? Well, welcome to the club, especially if your camera still has, in your mind, great use value and the market value has slipped way below what you imagine it should be worth.

You might have a 35mm SLR that was once the height of engineering, design and performance that now might only sell at ten to twenty cents on the dollar, or even a medium format camera that's value is a fraction of what you once paid for it. In fact, these cameras still retain their strong use value, in that they can deliver great results when shooting film. Or, let's say you have a good digital camera in the 4-megapixel range. You still can use that camera to create images for prints and web. Both types of cameras, in essence, are still useful and operable and retain their value for those whose use them. And there's the rub--the demand for those cameras has declined considerably from years past. That's when you confront market value, or what another person is willing to pay. The spread between the two can be shocking or at the least disappointing. To you, the use value is still high; to the general market their use value has declined, and their price along with it. It's often an abrupt wake-up call on how things have changed.

If you are a film shooter you are definitely in the cat bird seat, as prices have never been lower on great cameras. You can get a mint Hasselblad 500CW for under $1000 and lenses for same at up to half their original price. And if you're willing to chance it, Bronica medium format cameras are a steal. Three year old digital cameras are going for less than a third of the original price, and if you want an advanced DSLR from only a few years back, especially "pro" models, you can often bargain down the seller to a ridiculously low sum.

When it comes to gear, photographers should be all about use value and not worry too much about market value. The point of owning a camera is to make images, not as an item that can be calculated with a return of investment. If a camera becomes useless to you and it's time to move along, then so be it. Maybe we should all start thinking about use value, and how some items, though seemingly obsolete, can still deliver the goods. The market will, as markets do, go its own way.