Six Ways To Enjoy A Year Of Photography For £1 A Month (Or Less)

I love cheap photography.

As I’ve written about previously, a very capable, light and compact 35mm SLR (say a late Canon EOS) plus a quite lovely M42 lens (say a Takumar 55/2) might still give you change from £30 or even less.

But buying and developing film is likely to cost £5 a roll minimum.

So even ignoring the camera and lens outlay, one roll of film a month would still cost £5. For a mere 36 photographs.

Shooting perhaps 200 images, a still fairly minimal amount for most of us, would need six rolls, taking us to £30 a month.

But unless you absolutely cannot bear to not shoot film, this to me is still unnecessarily expensive and restrictive.

You could instead pay maybe £120 for a neat DSLR and excellent AF lens (almost exactly what my Pentax K mount Samsung GX1S and Pentax-DA 35/2.4 lens cost me) and shoot as much as you like.

Compared with film, shooting the same volume of 200 pictures a month, you’d start saving going into month five, and after a year be well ahead, the cost having averaged out at just £10 a month.

But what if this is still far too expensive? What if you wanted to only spend £5, or even just £1 a month on photography?

Is it possible?

In the first three months of this year my One Month, One Camera project has shown me that a digital compact camera of 10MP or less and costing under £20 offers a very pleasing experience, as well as delivering photos I love.

Combine this with the similar experiment I undertook last year, where I tried three quite different 4MP cameras, again each costing around £20 or less, and again each proved they could put a smile on my face and satisfying images in my portfolio.

So, based on these experiments, let’s quickly summarise six ways to enjoy photography for £1 a month or less.

Camera One – Olympus C4040 Zoom

Sensor – 4MP CCD

Cost – £22

Cost per month over one year – £1.83

Sample Photograph –

43304759331_edc444bcd9_b

Camera Two – Sony Cyber-shot DSC-L1

Sensor – 4MP CCD

Cost – £7

Cost per month over one year – £0.58

Sample photograph –

45927098694_9191293960_b

Camera Three – Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ1

Sensor – 4MP CCD

Cost – £6.50

Cost per month over one year – £0.54

Sample photograph –

43590311442_3ffef5a74e_b

Camera Four – Canon Digital IXUS 870 IS

Sensor – 10MP CCD

Cost – £15

Cost per month over one year – £1.25

Sample photograph –

32000329677_be43e3f5c9_b

Camera Five – FujiFilm FinePix F810 

Sensor – 6MP CCD

Cost – £15

Cost per month over one year – £1.25

Sample photograph –

47096278392_a2b38bc34c_b

Camera Six – Panasonic Lumix DSC-TZ2 

Sensor – 6MP CCD

Cost – £10

Cost per month over one year – £0.83

Sample photograph –

46574886704_0793ded4fa_b

Of course using these cameras makes a few assumptions.

First, that you have a device to upload the images, ie a computer or tablet or phone, and some way to save, edit and process them.

I use my 11 year old MacBook Pro, and process with Snapseed, mostly on my phone. I also sometimes use my wife’s 10 year old HP laptop which I resurrected as a Chromebook and has the core requirements for uploading, ie a USB port and a browser to access Google Photos.

Virtually all of us have these devices anyway for general use, and do not need to buy anything new or fancy just to upload and process photos.

The fact that you’re reading this post means you have access to electricity and a means to access the internet with one or more of these devices already.

The second assumption is that you have the required memory card for the camera.

All of the above cameras came with some kind of memory card included in the price, plus most of them use SD cards, which I already had. Even if you did need an SD card, a more than adequate 4MB card is literally three or four pounds.

Remember even the highest MP camera above, the Canon IXUS 870, is only 10MP, so files are not huge (typically 3-4MB with the IXUS), and with the 4 and 6MP cameras they’re even smaller. So a 4GB memory card is enough for hundreds, if not thousands of images, and a humble 1GB card will likely be enough for most of us.

Finally, we’re assuming the camera will last a year.

Given that some of the above cameras are 15 years old and still fully functioning, I don’t think there’s much concern if you bought a camera that was this age or even a mere decade old.

Yes, any electronics can break in an instant, but even if you were unlucky and had to buy two of, say, the Sony Cyber-shots or Canon IXUSes, you’re still only looking at double the costs above, still a fraction over a pound a month at the cheapest.

So there you have it – six ways to enjoy the next year of your photography for between £0.54 and £1.83 a month.

Which was my original, but somewhat less catchy title for this post.

Writing this has helped me realised that my bargain hunting, sub 10/6/4MP sensor shooting mission is pretty much over.

I’ve proved to myself (and hopefully to you) six times over the benefits of using one camera for a sustained period, and that it can be done for under £1 a month.

So for my next month in the OMOC project, I need a change of direction, a new challenge.

I still like the idea of one camera for a sustained period, but I don’t feel I need to use yet another bargain sub-10MP classic to prove the same point yet again.

What this new direction manifests itself as is as yet undecided, though I have two or three options up my sleeve.

How about you? How much does your photography cost per month, and are you happy with that budget? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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18 thoughts on “Six Ways To Enjoy A Year Of Photography For £1 A Month (Or Less)”

  1. Yeah, no denying that with digital, near-free photography is at hand for all. Your experiment is repeatable by anyone.

    Film, though. Hmm. To be sure, costs vary from place to place but even at the best film-processing price available anywhere around these parts, I couldn’t get a single roll of 35mm film done for 5 pounds (USD $6.65 this morning).

    Well, *maybe,* if it were to be just the negatives: develop-only, no indifferent automated machine prints or e-scan onto CD), so then I’d need some scanning method of my own (perhaps with a digicam/light source) or to sink funds and time into developing and printing kit. So thus, for many of us, digital conquered the world.

    It’s been the liberator, no question. And as your series shows, it can be done for virtually nothing, using perfectly capable older gear. Modern editing software will get you almost any “look” you wish, even an acceptable emulation of various films.

    If I may, a small quibble, a branch of the topic – older cameras to be had at giveaway prices are also a blessing, but for some – whether you grab a ten or twelve year old shooter off eBay or a yardsale table, or you have made a painful investment in the latest-and-best, we may, depending on our subject matter, face another limitation that can only be solved with money. And lots of it.

    That wall, depending on how and *what* you photograph, is the lens. Your resolving power will be acceptable, even great; most of us don’t need the acuity of a razor blade. But the distortion – particularly barrel distortion – is gonna be horrible and time-sucking to correct, and software-corrected images rarely get entirely what we hoped. Minding the horizontal and vertical planes with a view to later correction of innate distortion is critical.

    This is lamentably true even when you’ve put a thousand dollars into the box. The kit lens it came with is going to give you fits.

    This is probably not a huge concern with your own themes, Dan – the vignette, close cropped in tight little compositions – and usually the natural elements of landscapes lacking strict man-made ups and downs are immune. But in anything wider, more encompassing, arc can infect the angle. Distortion-corrected lenses are difficult to make and ghastly expensive, dear as orthodontia, easily much more than the cameras they mount to,

    Anyway, maybe I make too much of this, that it is of little matter to most people, yet I regularly stumble over it, unhappily cropping-out pieces I wished to retain in the service of getting the simple uprights right so as to not ruin the view with an unholy swoop or lean.

    1. William, thank you, always good to hear your thoughts.

      On the distortion, for me it’s not been a significant issue, for my style of shooting.

      I don’t know much about the technicalities, but I do know that most of the time a 24mm lens is too wide for me, and some of the time a 28mm is too wide. Not because there is too much in the frame, but more because getting up close things become too exaggerated and distorted.

      Even with 35mm sometimes this is the case, but this remain my default focal length generally.

      If I was photographing architecture or needed great accuracy and realism, then I’m sure I would have more of the concerns you do.

  2. Great post Dan, and a very point well made. Photography can be expensive but it really doesn’t have to be. I don’t think I could shoot long term without and SLR though. Just me maybe but I find them much easier to use. That doesn’t mean you have to break the bank though, an old Canon 300D, 350D or such like can be picked up pretty easily, and for less than £100. And if you looked at the older generation of canon zoom rather than those crap kit lenses – say an old EF-35-70, they can be picked up for less than £40. So a cracking little SLR for less than £130-40? That’s still only £11-00 a month.

    I can see why you need a change of direction next month (and I’m looking forward to seeing what it is) as once you’ve used one point and shoot (or SLR) you’ve pretty much used them all. I’d be interested to see what you can do with something with 1MP – really old and clunky.

    1. Thanks Stuart, yes as I said in the post, my Samsung GX-1S plus Pentax-DA 35/2.4 cost about £120 together, so £10 a month over a year, in itself very affordable if you do really need/want a DSLR.

      I’ve only been looking here at the very cheap end. If I extended my budget to, say, that £120, ie £10 a month over a year, the choices out there explode!

      Of the cameras I have, my Ricoh GX100 I believe was only about £50 and it’s amazing. My Lumix LX3 is fantastic and around £75. And I have a Pentax Q with 47/1.9 equivalent lens that I think was just under £120. Oh and my Lumix GF1 was about £50, but without a lens, though the M42 adapter was about £12 and I have M42 lenses that cost me under £10.

      As I said the options are almost infinite the more you spend, whilst still keeping within a very reasonable budget.

      Plus of course the longer you have the camera, the cheaper it works out. I’ve had my GX100 a couple of years now I think, so it’s worked out only around £2 a month.

      Thanks for the 1MP camera idea, that is one that’s in the mix. I think with cameras that old it’s more likely the general speed (including AutoFocus) and clunkiness that would be more of a challenge than the quality of images that it was capable of with some care and patience. We’ll see, I’ll keep you posted!

      1. lol – nor have I! 😀

        It does raise an interesting point about using old digital cameras though. How old do they get before we need to think about trying to buy an old PC to run the software? My old G3 came with a photoshop disc – but it won’t run on anything past XP.

  3. I purchased lens cap with pinhole on ebay for 10 €. It arrived yesterday. So this is what I will be doing. Attached it to my EPL3. So digital pinhole 🙂

    1. Now this is an experiment I’m very interested in Pavel! My Pentax Q has the mount shield lens which is almost pinhole like. I hadn’t even considered an M43 option… Keep me updated!

  4. Hi Dan, Interesting post indeed. I just gave away an 8mp camera to a student and honestly I couldn’t find much of anything wrong with, although I certainly didn’t do any pixel peeping. And my Canon D40 is a superb camera which with a new 24mm lens (40mm eq.) cost less than $200, and had just been professionally serviced. I just can’t seem to bring myself to lug it around very much, except for work. I’ve been having conversations with my friend Bill who is an well established artist and photographer and we both have reservations about the digital medium itself. You alluded to it yourself above, when did you last see a floppy disc? Everyone thought that CD’s would last forever, but they seem to be breaking down with age. Bill and I both know people that have lost years worth of work when their hard drives crashed. I still have negs and prints I took 40 years ago that look great. How do we know what will happen to our digital files 10 or 20 years down the road? I wonder.

    1. Well, I know what you mean, but SD cards have been around for some time now (20 years?) and seem to be going strong, with their micro SD siblings.

      As long as we make backups and evolve as file formats evolve, we should be ok.

      Even though the Sony Mavica used 3.5″ floppy disks, I’m sure anyone who used one and wanted the save the images would have them on a hard drive in some format or other.

      If you’re concerned, and say you have prints from 40 years ago, then why not just make quality prints of the digital images you have, so you still have those 40 years from now?

  5. Yep, a very low visible cost is definitely is possible these days, with the caveat that more electricity needs to be invisibly consumed to enjoy this low cost. Once upon a time it was four years out of a pair of S76 button cells…
    What with charging batteries to provide all your camera whizzbangery and then powering laptops, phones and screens to see it all, the real cost is just moved on to the already pressurised planet. Hopefully the continuing growth of renewable energy (despite the lack of official encouragement for it in the UK) may help to assuage the guilt of constantly charging up the batteries in everything so I can enjoy my ‘cheap’ photography.

    1. Bear, this is a good point. I do feel guilty at the amount of devices that are charged every day or few days in our household.

      But what about the chemicals used for film photography, they’re not particularly eco friendly I would guess?

      1. Certainly in my time running a minilab we had to follow a lot of Health and Safety and rules covering the storage and then disposal of the spent chemical, however the treatment taken on by a specialist commercial firm for that purpose was, for most of the chem, diluting it to safe PH levels before passing it through to normal waste water processing. So I think that most of it was, if not entirely green, nowhere near as much quantity as other daily use chemicals, like the discharge, for example, of run off from farmers fields containing the fertiliser and pest control chemicals they used.

  6. I think you are spot-on. Technology moves really fast, and digital camera models are made now more frequently than film cameras were. With the low MP cameras the most important point I have found is to sharpen the images in post processing. I also shoot all JPG images, as the tools in the cameras now processes the images better and better, you only need to tweak then with basic edits or filters. Nice informative post, Dan!

    1. Thanks for reading and for your comments Frank.

      I don’t ever use sharpening in post processing, it’s not an important factor for me, I’m more into the overall look and feel of of the photographs.

      Most of these older cameras don’t have any other option than JPEG so they force you to simplify, which I really like. I used to spend far too long fiddling about in LightRoom with RAW files and presets. Now it’s just JPEGs, Snapseed and a mater of seconds per image. Suits my simple needs!

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