Is it possible to have a flourishing photography hobby without spending any money at all?
In my experience, I believe we can get very close indeed to zero budget photography.
When I first got into film photography, one of the greatest charms was that I could pick up an excellent vintage SLR and lens for next to nothing, and it would in theory last me years without spending a further penny on it.
However, there were two flaws in my near zero budget thinking, that I confess took me years to realise.
First, the expense of film photography is not in the gear.
It’s the buying, processing and scanning of the film that is costly. The cheapest I got this down to was using AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film from Poundland, and having it developed and scanned to CD four rolls at a time at my local Asda supermarket lab. Which worked out around £4 a roll all in.
Per roll, this is not expensive by most people’s standards, but shooting 6-12 rolls a month still meant I was forking out £24-48 a month. Not exactly zero budget.
The second flaw was the irresistible allure of the aforementioned cheap vintage gear.
Considering myself a pretty intelligent person, I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit it took me so long to comprehend that it doesn’t matter if a vintage camera costs only £20 compared to say £100 for a decent used digital camera, if you then buy five you’ve spent the same amount in total.
If you buy 55, you’ve spent massively more than that relatively modest £100 on a digital camera.
The most I’ve ever paid for a single camera was a new Nikon Coolpix P300 in 2011. I believe it retailed at £399 and I got a deal for £299. This still, by my personal measure of money, feels a great deal to spend on one camera.
But only about 15 months ago, my tracked monthly photography budget of £25 a month was over £500 in the red, and virtually all of it had gone on small individual spends of £10-20 or less.
This repeated, perhaps even compulsive, spending had sent me hurtling hundreds of pounds away from planet zero budget!
So to be able to make pleasing photographs, with cameras I love using, and on a near zero budget, I came full circle.
I sold off virtually all of the kit I wasn’t using, got my finances back in the black, and returned to compact digital cameras. Which are not drastically unlike the phone cameras I began shooting with intention around 2006.
Recently I explored three 4MP digital cameras to see if they were any use at all in 2018 when the average phone camera seems to be 12MP plus and compacts routinely boast 20-24MP.
The concise conclusion of my experiments is that yes, a 4MP is not only still usable, but capable of very impressive images.
Often they’re far more simple and direct to use, and create photos with more character than far more modern and supposedly “better” cameras do.
The most I spent on one of the three in my tests was about £20.
The only one I’ve kept is the tiny Sony DSC-L1, which disappears in the palm of your hand yet retains great handling, is very easy to use and delivers lovely images. It cost me less than £7.
So whilst I’ve written in the past about how to get started with film photography on a shoestring, in truth, the ongoing material costs make it unsustainable as a near zero budget hobby.
If you really have nothing to spend month to month, try and pick up something like the little Sony L1 for less than a tenner, install Snapseed on your phone or tablet, and you’ll have months, perhaps years of zero budget photography fun ahead of you.
Note – You most likely already have a good enough camera on your phone for zero budget photography, so don’t even need to buy another in the form of a compact digital camera, or anything else.
But for me the extra appeal and pleasure in using a camera that was designed purely as a camera, and not a camera plus 39 other devices in one, is far more rewarding and makes that initial investment of £10 or so tremendous value.
How about you? What’s your monthly budget for photography? Are you as much of a skinflint as me?
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