A brief retrospective on camera and lens pricing – today’s cameras and lenses are ridiculously cheap compared with 1982 prices

Written by Gary on August 6th, 2012

I was prompted to search out an old photography magazine I bought in 1982 in an attempt to solve a reader’s information request.

The photography magazine contained RRP pricings of nearly every lens available at the time, plus my own notes of pricings for some Olympus OM gear I was considering purchasing to expand upon my little system.

So I thought I would share my findings to create some perspective on relative camera and lens pricings from then and until now in $AUS (although in 1982 as is the case now, $A = $US approximately)

Here are a few prices regarding Olympus OM gear in $A (1982):

  • Olympus OM-10 chrome body = $236
  • Olympus OM-1N black body = $398
  • Olympus OM-2N black body = $575
  • Olympus OM-4 black body = $848
  • Zuiko 8mm f/2.8 fisheye lens = $1,120
  • Zuiko 16mm f/3.5 fisheye = $618
  • Zuiko 18mm f/3.5 lens = $618
  • Zuiko 21mm f/3.5 lens = $369
  • Zuiko 21mm f/2.0 lens = $575
  • Zuiko 24mm f/2.8 lens = $250
  • Zuiko 24mm f/2.0 lens = $560
  • Zuiko 28mm f/3.5 lens = $158
  • Zuiko 28mm f/2.8 lens = $170
  • Zuiko 35mm f/2.0 lens = $315
  • Zuiko 35mm f/2.8 lens = $181
  • Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 lens = $90
  • Zuiko 50mm f/1.4 lens = $145
  • Zuiko 50mm f/1.2 lens = $467
  • Zuiko 50mm f/3.5 macro = $250
  • Zuiko 55mm f/1.2 lens = $286
  • Zuiko 35mm shift lens = $697
  • Zuiko 85mm f/2.0 lens = $386
  • Zuiko 100mm f/2.8 lens = $217
  • Zuiko 135mm f/2.8 lens = $250
  • Zuiko 180mm f/2.8 lens = $770
  • Zuiko 200mm f/4 lens = $250
  • Zuiko 300mm f/4.5 lens = $493
  • Zuiko 350mm f/2.8 lens = $5,500
  • Zuiko 400mm f/6.3 lens = $1,120
  • Zuiko 500mm f/8 mirror lens = $620
  • Zuiko 600mm f/6.5 lens = $1,334
  • Zuiko 1000mm f/11 lens = $1,652
  • Zuiko 35-70mm f/4 AF lens = $841

If you wanted Bronica SQ medium format lenses in 1982:

  • NB. only the professionals or the rich could afford Hasselblad cameras and lenses and the magazine did not publish their prices (“price on request”)
  • Zenzanon-S 40mm f/4 lens = $$1,175
  • Zenzanon-S 50mm f/3.5 lens = $875
  • Zenzanon-S 80mm f/2.8 standard lens = $500
  • Zenzanon-S 150mm f/3.5 lens = $895
  • Zenzanon-S 200mm f/4 lens = $875
  • Zenzanon-S 250mm f/5.6 lens = $999
  • Zenzanon-S 500mm f/8 lens = $1,850
  • note that Bronica gradually replaced the S versions from 1983 onwards with their PS versions and in the late 1990’s before they were discontinued by their new owners, Tamron, their retail pricings were generally in the $2000-$4500 range excepting the 80mm standard lens which was $1660 – see my Bronica wiki page.

But how does this compare with today’s pricings?

While 35mm film cameras are generally worth almost nothing now (most can be bought 2nd hand under $100 for a body) with notable exceptions of sought after models such as the Olympus OM-3Ti, Leica’s, etc, most of the OM lenses can be bought on Ebay in good condition at 50-75% of their original retail value in 1982, but in current dollars. In other words you can buy a OM 24mm f/2.8 lens for about $100 now.

The Bronica picture is quite different, the S lenses on Ebay usually sell for under $200 now – very cheap indeed, as it has been difficult to mate the Bronica SQ cameras with digital backs and thus demand for them is minimal.

The Bronica system does make a very cheap entry point into high quality medium format film though – hence I bought up a system in case I had the urge to do some 120 film work.

But how does the dollar in 1982 compare with the dollar in 2012, some 30 years later?

My best way of illustrating this is that a block of land in Melbourne, Australia in 1982 selling for $15,000 would now fetch $250,000 (~17x growth) after the real estate market went through 2 major boom periods (1983-1989, and 1996-2007) with 2 recessionary periods of flat /zero growth in the interim periods. In another suburb, a block of land sold for $31,000 in 1982 and now would be valued at over $700,000 that is a 23-fold increase!

I am not sure how much average salaries have gone up in that period, but I would think it would be at least 10 to 15 fold.

Now photography generally is not a great way to invest your cash, and purchasing $15,000 of camera gear in 1982 is never going to give you $250,000 30 years later, in fact, you would be lucky to get $7,000 for it if it was in excellent condition.

Let’s look at today’s camera and lens pricings:

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 black body sells for ~$1250 in 2012 – only 50% more than an OM-4 body in 1982 and it packs a LOT more functionality (although it may not last as long).

The expensive new micro Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 lens sells for $999 – only double the price of the Zuiko 85mm f/2.0 but the 75mm lens is a far better lens optically and it has the world’s fastest auto-focus where the old Zuiko was only manual focus.

The biggest downside of current technology is that it devalues current cameras so fast that cameras become almost worthless in a financial perspective (but not photographic unless it dies) within 5 years of purchase, while a similar fate also may hit the financial value of our lenses as new technologies are introduced such as new AF mechanisms.

Hopefully with Micro Four Thirds, their will be little need to update AF mechanisms for a while as the new ones are so fast already (EXCEPT for fast moving subjects – that may introduce new technologic fixes requiring new cameras and new lenses).

Canon and Nikon dSLR users may end up with a double hit in devaluation of their lenses – first new versions needed to be made over the last few years to improve optical quality to match the new sensors, and now, the issue of fast CD-AF will hang over them, and most likely require new lenses again – although Canon’s 1st attempt, their STM AF lenses do not seem to have resolved the AF speed issue as everyone had hoped.

We are so very lucky that we have all this wonderful technology available to the masses, not just the professionals, at much, much cheaper prices than what was available in 1982 when you take into account the value of the dollar changing.

Now when is the 75mm f/1.8 lens hitting the shelves in Australia???

Final moral of the story:


BUY the cheapest camera that will do what YOU need it to do, and then save the spare cash for an upgrade in 5 years time or get a better lens which will make a difference to your photography.



Comments are closed.