A Hobby for the Very Wealthy

Holy consumerism. Sometimes you wonder how much people of the first world still have to work. In some countries it’s down to a few hours a day while people enjoy lots of spare time for recreational pursuits, such as sports, outdoors, video games, smartphones, travels — and photography. Electricity lets us people of the first world enjoy a life that’s, well, the privilege of the world’s minority:


Those of us who are photo enthusiasts are part of a very small elite group among humankind. We might think that any camera under $1,000 is affordable, but the truth is most of the world’s population cannot even afford a $50 camera.

While the majority of the world's population struggles to make ends meet... | Daniel Kestenholz
While the majority of the world’s population struggles to make ends meet… | Daniel Kestenholz
In fact, I would wager that at least 90% of the human race has never owned, much less even seen a digital camera.

I can say this with confidence because according to CIPA figures roughly one billion digital cameras have been produced since 1999.

But since cameras are also made by companies that don’t belong to CIPA (mostly in China and Korea) the actual number produced is probably a bit higher. Perhaps 1.3 or 1.4 billion cameras.

If we assume that every digital camera ever made is still in working order and being used by someone, and that no one owns more than one camera, this works out to a little more than one camera per seven human beings living on the planet.

Of course, we all know that many cameras more than five years old are broken, and no longer usable. And we also know that many people own more than one camera. I personally own ten digital cameras, only four of which are actually used. The other six just sit idle in drawers.

This means that perhaps only one in twenty human beings actually owns a digital camera. The other nineteen simply cannot afford it. And even if they could, there were never enough cameras made for all of them.

... the minority enjoys many luxuries. | Daniel Kestenholz
… the minority enjoys a life without too many worries. | Daniel Kestenholz
Owning a digital camera requires the use of a computer, some software, and some sort of internet connection. You need some sort of printer to print… or the money to pay for that service.

Half of the world population lives on less than $2.50 a day, so they probably can never afford this luxury. People who don’t have shoes aren’t the ones who tell us “Photoshop is worth $20 a month” and “a $3,000 DSLR is a good value.”

How many people in Africa, South America or South Asia can afford photo workshops, and trips to Iceland to take photos of the natural beauty there? The average annual income for a family in China in 2012 was 13,000 renminbi, or about $2,100. That is less than $6 per day.

This hobby is such an extravagant luxury that there are actually more cars on the road today than there are digital cameras in use. And this is simply because transportation is a necessity, while taking HDR landscapes is not.

Like it or not, we are collectively a bunch of spoiled rich people. At least in relative terms.

I only bring this up to demonstrate how bizarre we must seem to most of the people living on this planet. We will have endless debates over “full-frame vs. crop sensor” or “equivalence theory” while most people just worry about having something to eat or having potable drinking water.

This article first appeared on Martin’s photography blog Decent Exposures.

  • Omer

    I’ve wondered the same thoughts when reading some personal photography blogs. The documented melodramatic hand wringing over the differences between a CCD sensor and a CMOS sensor that at times seem to induce fainting spells in grown men can be truly odd.

  • Ray

    Well said. And I say this while on a 4 month holiday with 2 Fuji bodies, 5 lenses, 2 iPads and a MacBook Air.