Sunday, April 21, 2013

How Much Does Each Click Cost?

When I was shooting film, costs felt so much more obvious when I was wasting negatives that I couldn't use, but what about shutter actuations that put wear and tear on the camera?  So, I decided to go and figure out how much each click costs me....

5D MkIII = $3,500 
$3,500.00/150,000= $0.023333 per actuation
That means it's 2¢ for each click of the shutter, whether or not I actually use the image.

When I'm shooting events, my keep rate is somewhere around 20% of what I shoot, which means that it's actually 10¢ to click the shutter 5 times just to get a shot I really like and think is worth keeping.  If I end up with 800 images on a wedding day, that's about $80 of wear and tear on my camera just to show up and click- not even taking into account batteries and flash wear and tear.

Now, since I'm likely to go through 150,000 shutter actuations in one year, let's approach camera costs from a warranty perspective.  Canon provides a limited 1 year warranty on their cameras, but if you purchase a camera plus an add-on Mack Diamond 3 year warranty, you get cleanings, repairs, and replacement if your camera is a lemon.  It seems if you're going to spend a lot on a camera, you want it to last longer than one year, right?

5D MkIII = $3,500
Mack 3 Year Diamond Warranty = $225
$3725/ 3 Years = $1241 per year

So when my equipment is on a diamond 3 year warranty, theoretically I should be able to get 450,000 actuations out of my camera, even if it has to go in for repairs.

I bring this point up because it's often overlooked as an overhead cost that gets factored into pricing.  Whether you do the math from a usage perspective or a warranty perspective, it's good to know how much you need to budget for your equipment each year so that you're able to replace it regularly without being in a pinch.

It's also good to know if it would be more affordable for you just to rent your equipment on an as-needed basis.  I've determined that if you shoot less than 150,000 actuations each year or less than 25 shoots a year, it may actually be more affordable to rent than to buy a new camera each year (assuming you already own a back-up camera).  When you consider it's $133 for a weekend rental of a 5D MkIII, there's only a savings in owning a camera versus renting one if you use it enough to make it worth the cost of replacing it regularly and if your camera outlives its manufacturer's warranty and expected shutter actuations.

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography in 2004 as an independent small business. She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.


  1. It cost me $450 to get the shutter replaced on my D3s, which basically makes it a new camera again for all purposes. So it's even cheaper than you've listed IMO - $450 gets you a reborn camera once you hit 150,000 actuations (or 450,000).

  2. This is fascinating. As a guilty member of OverShooters Anonymous who's about to upgrade to a 5D Mark III, this is definitely worth considering. Given my freelance work for the newspaper and the steady gig at the children's theater, though, renting just isn't practical for me. I'm shooting 6 days a week. That said, my 5D Mark II had 690,000 shutter actuations on it before the good people at Canon were like, "Um, please get this replaced before it dies in the middle of a shoot. You scare us." I easy have another 90,000 actuations since then... Gulp. The next two deposits are buying me the new one...

  3. Interesting article! When you're shooting film you're acutely aware of how much each click costs but digital cameras also have a shelf life!

  4. As a "creative type", I really appreciate this article. I am a mobile DJ, but I love doing photography at my events (more for my social media than for customers). I found this blog to be very useful, as well as other blogs here, so I joined your mailing list. :)

    Anyway, this is very good food for thought. I don't know how to calculate a comparable DJ version of "actuation lifetime", because speakers may be powered up, but not do anything for two hours, then the last two hours of the event, they are pounding. Batteries, fuel, and of course, equipment replacement have to be considered.

    I'm probably not charging enough for my services overall. In my little town, I can't get as much as I can working 50 miles away in Atlanta for the same work. So, I think location where I work does affect the profitability of my work, even if the underlying costs are probably not affected.