Buy It Once: When More Expensive Is Cheaper

The working professional and the weekend hobbyist are both affected by the recession. Most of the photographers I know are spending more time evaluating their needs and comparison shopping than ever before. It’s important to ensure your money is wisely spent.

But while it may seem smart to buy less expensive equipment when times are tough, I’ve learned the hard way that cheaper products can cost you more in the long run.

Losing Shots Costs Money

What’s more important than price is reliability. One of the worst experiences I’ve ever had was buying a cheap flash and hoping it would do what I needed.

On my first booking after the purchase, I learned my lesson. The flash took a long time to recycle and the ready light lit long before the flash reached full power.

I lost money that day — by not getting the shots I could have acquired had I used a better brand.

Now, I have Nikon and Metz flashes in my kit. But I also keep the more costly “cheaper” one as a reminder.

Buy It Once

Years ago, I was shopping with a friend for a CD player. I was worried about my household budget, so I picked up the least expensive model in the electronics store.

It was on sale for an unbelievably low price.

As I hefted the box toward the counter, I looked at my friend and he looked back at me, tut-tutting and rolling his eyes.

He offered a piece of advice that has stayed with me:

“Buy it once.”

Having not heard the expression before, my brow furrowed in confusion as I made headlong toward the checkout counter.

A Different Kind of Instant Gratification

My friend then went on to explain what he meant:

“Almost every time you buy something, you have a choice between buying a cheap item or a more expensive one,” he said. “Your natural impulse may be to spend less to save money — even though you may know, deep down inside, that the cheap product won’t last as long.

“It’s a form of instant gratification — no different from making an extravagant, unnecessary purchase. Only in this case, you are choosing the gratification of saving a few dollars today over the smarter decision to buy quality.”

I put down the CD player. My friend was right.

When I thought back on many of my past purchases, I realized that the life cycle of my “bargains” often was about half (or less) that of higher-quality products. Double that bargain price, and suddenly it’s not such a great deal after all.

But the price of purchasing lower-quality photographic equipment goes beyond your out-of-pocket costs.

There is the cost of missed shots. There is the cost of disappointed clients. And ultimately, there is the damage that your field failures wreak on your confidence and enthusiasm.

So the next time you are shopping and want to be frugal, think about the long-term costs — and buy it once.

7 Responses to “Buy It Once: When More Expensive Is Cheaper”

  1. Wow, this is a wake up call, I bought a good "starter" camera 2 years ago only to have it start stalling, and coming up with an error after every few shots, now Im looking to replace, but which I still had the $600 to use towards a better one...

  2. I have a similar philosophy but a slightly different way of thinking of it. I'm sure this is a quote from someone but for the life of me I can't think who:

    "I'm not a rich man, I can only afford to buy the best."

    Buy the best you can afford and that way you won't 'outgrow it' or wish you'd bought the more expensive model 3 months down the line thereby costing you more money when you do...

  3. Not only does a higher quality product last longer, it has a better second hand value. With that cash back in mind it can even be considered a bargain to go for the more expensive product:)

  4. Nice post. This is the hardest thing to address at my workshops since most people are hobbyists so it's hard to tell them to spend more for a better product when they will only be using it this much. In the end I tell them that they have to look at how much use will they wring out of the equipment. If you can buy a $1000 lens, use it like crazy and get some great shots for a year and then sell it for $900, they've gotten more out of it than they've spent. It didn't cost them $1000, it only cost them $100.

  5. I learned this with a cheap flash too. Luckily a local camera store was liquidating their stock and I was able to get the "real" flash for a good price. Now when I see a great deal, I do some research and found loads of negative reviews.

  6. Thanks for sharing. This is wise advice that only comes from experience.

  7. Okello Dunkley and Andreas Viklund are right on the money (pardon the pun) with their thoughts on this. Buy, for instance a $1600 telephoto lens vs. a $300 one. In one or two or three years, sell the $1600 lens for $1450 and you've got rent for three months, where you might get $100 out of the $300 lens.

    Also, if you look at it from a cost-per-use standpoint, they get even cheaper. Say you purchase a 24-70 ƒ/2.8 for $1200. You then use it for 100 photo shoots. You're only looking at a cost of $12 per photo shoot. You couldn't rent the lens for that. And then, in 5 years when you sell it (assuming you've kept it in great, or even good condition) you'll likely get 75-80% of what you've paid for it. Then, it becomes a 5-year-investment for, say $300 (you buy it for $1200, sell it for $900 for a total cost of $300). Divide that by the number of photo shoots (we'll say one a week for 5 years, that's 260 photo shoots) and you've gotten a top-dollar lens of the finest quality for just over $2 per shoot and you've made well over that amount.

    It's a win-win all the time. 🙂

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