Why Are Cameras So Expensive? What You Need To Know

It can be hard to break into the photography world when it appears everyone is using cameras that cost ridiculous amounts of money. This can lead you to wonder why these cameras are so expensive anyway. Every smartphone has a camera, so what’s the big deal with these cameras that make them so pricey?

Cameras are expensive because of the high amount of technical research and development that goes into producing their specialized components. Advanced sensors, new mirrorless cameras, lenses, and more call for more expensive parts, which means a higher price point.

In this article, I’ll be discussing various types of cameras, what makes them expensive, how they function, and more. Read on to learn everything you ever needed to know about why cameras are costly.

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What Are Point and Shoot Cameras?

Point and shoot (P & S) cameras are probably what you’re most familiar with, and indeed, what most people are familiar with. They’re the rectangular digital cameras of the past, as well as those cameras’ descendants. 

The cameras with protruding lenses commonly used by journalists also count as P&S cameras.

Regardless of the exact model, these cameras are typically cheap compared to cameras used for professional photography and videography. These are more commonly used by enthusiasts or have a specific device dedicated to taking and storing pictures.

The benefits of a point and shoot camera are that they’re simple to operate, offer much better photo quality than smartphone cameras. They can store many thousands of photos and often video as well. 

These cameras can range from under $100 to thousands of dollars, depending on what features and how high of a quality photo you’re planning to take.

What Are DSLR Cameras?

A digital single-lens reflex camera, aka DSLR, is a very popular type of camera known for its ability to use multiple types of lenses, as the user can switch them at will. 

DSLR cameras are renowned for their high-quality images as well as tripods and their many accessories. While there might be an accessory for every occasion, these are also expensive cameras. 

Generally, you’ll pay $500-$900 for an entry-level DSLR camera, plus more for tripods, lenses, and other accessories. But for that price, you’d be getting a very high-quality camera. 

As a side note, you can put high-end lenses on cheaper DSLR cameras to improve the quality of your photos.

DSLRs can be more complicated because the various parts take up lots of space and attention, such as the complex viewfinders, sensors, and mirrors that make the camera more daunting than it really is. 

However, they’re perfect for displaying an exact optical image of the photo you’re about to take and modifying aperture settings, exposure, and more.

Where Do Smartphone Cameras Fit In?

Everyone has a smartphone with a somewhat decent camera on it. Yet, many of us forget that you had to buy cameras before they came about. If you needed to take pictures before smartphone cameras, you either bought a cheap, point and shoot box, a disposable, or sprung for a more expensive DSLR.

Now anyone can take pictures and edit them to a reasonable degree without buying a dedicated camera. 

The greatest strength of smartphone cameras is that while you may not always have your DSLR with a 200mm lens, you pretty much always have your phone on you, right? This leads to many more spontaneous photos that would have otherwise never been captured.

In addition to the convenience factor, there are editing apps available to finish up pictures before posting them to your platform of choice, plus most of us have cloud backups. Smartphones provide a streamlined, user-friendly photography experience, even if it lacks the DSLR camera’s high-quality and other customization features.

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For more information, check out whether you should purchase a camera or use your smartphone.Opens in a new tab.

Why Are Cameras Expensive?

When looking at the price of things, supply and demand are two of the more important factors to consider. If a small niche of people, like photographers, want a specialized product that costs a lot to make, the price would be correspondingly high, which comes down to the cost of components, technical knowledge, and desired performance specifications. 

Just like luxury cars, state-of-the-art custom parts go into crafting cameras. Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons cameras are so expensive.

Camera Sensors

DSLR cameras, in particular, are expensive because they have large sensors much larger than P&S or smartphone cameras. Regular sensors can capture a few hundred thousand pixels in an average image. Still, DSLR cameras are specialized to such a degree that they can capture millions of pixels in the same image.

Specialized Camera Systems

The shutter, aperture, mirror, and viewfinder systems of higher-end cameras are only produced for use in DSLR cameras. Such a wide variety of specialized parts have to be individually sourced, manufactured, and put together, then sold. Ultimately, the cost of the parts, manufacturing, and technical knowledge to make them are passed down to the consumer.

Mirrorless Cameras

A relatively new invention, mirrorless cameras have special digital sensors that directly receive light without going through a reflex mirror. What this means for you is more control over the image before even shooting it, allowing you to tweak settings like brightness, exposure, and contrast. 

The camera shoots quieter and more quicklyOpens in a new tab. than DSLR cameras, which often have excessive noisy mechanical parts.

How Have Digital Cameras Evolved Over Time?

The first digital camera was invented by Kodak in 1975 but not released to the general public until the 90s, and at a substantial price tag of $13,000. 

Luckily for the public, Fuji created the first disposable camera in the 80s, but it wasn’t digital, though! No, that didn’t come until 2000, when Sharp created the first cellphone with a built-in digital camera.

Fast forward just a few years to the advent of smartphones, and cameras were often included but of low quality. 

Apple was the first company to include a high-quality camera in its phones to spark a race to make the best smartphone cameras. Google, Samsung, and many more companies release phones yearly, boasting increased photo quality over previous years and competitors.

You may have noticed I left out DSLR cameras, but they haven’t died even with the smartphone revolution – just the opposite. Canon, Nikon, and Kodak continue to produce DSLR and mirrorless cameras with bleeding-edge capabilities. 

4K resolutions are also possible on handheld devices. 

So while DSLR cameras aren’t going anywhere for the photographically inclined, entry-level photography is more accessible to the average person than ever before. Someone could become interested in photography because of smartphone cameras and then decide to move on to professional quality DSLR cameras.

Check out my article about whether shooting in 4k is even worth itOpens in a new tab..

What Kind of Camera Is Right for Me?

It can be hard to decide whether a point-and-shoot camera or a DSLR camera is right for you considering all the confusing terminology in the photography field. Fortunately, point-and-shoot cameras are the cheapest and most accessible if your needs aren’t extreme or professional in nature.

DSLR cameras are more expensive than P&S cameras, restricting them to serious photography enthusiasts or professional photographers. However, increasing demand for high-quality cameras has also created a demand for entry-level DSLR cameras that are perfect for beginning photographers.

Final Thoughts

It can be shocking to see how expensive cameras have gotten. Still, it’s to be expected with how prevalent smartphone cameras are. Cameras now distinguish themselves with top-of-the-line components, which aren’t cheap to develop or manufacture. 

Luxury components mean luxury prices get passed to the customer at higher price points.


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I'm Vinnie, and I'm here to support you to create your own studio at home, whether it’s for photography, recording audio, podcasts, or videos!

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