Monday, December 17, 2012

The Price of Photography in 1955

Occasionally I like to look at old photo equipment directories. They are a great source for the state of photography at given times. This one is from 1955.

Last night I was looking at the directory in the photo and I got to wondering how the price of photography would compare to what we experience today.  According to the Dollar Times calculator one dollar from 1955 would be equal to $8.45 today.

One of the most basic needs for every photographer in 1955 would be for film.

Tri-X 20 exp$2.50$21.54
Kodachrome* 20 exp$9.75$82.38
Ektachrome 20 exp$5.65$47.74
Anscocolor* 20 exp$1.98$16.73
*Includes processing.

I am wondering if there isn't something wrong with my cost comparison here, however this is the result of running some of the prices for mail order film through the inflation calculator.  Like today you could save some money by buying bulk film. I saw one ad for a 100 feet of Tri-X for $3.98.  That would come out to $33.63 in today's dollars.  That's a deal I would jump at since Tri-X usually is more than $50 for a hundred feet these days. My best guess about film prices is that color film was probably much more expensive than color film is today. I can remember reading in a few places that one of the reasons the half-frame cameras became popular in the 1960's was that color film for 35mm had improved enough that a half-frame could produce a decent enlargement.  Combine that with high prices for color film and a camera that could double your images had major appeal.  As color film prices fell in the late 1960's so did the appeal of the half-frame camera.

So it would look like the photographer of the 1950's paid a lot more if he wanted color images than we do today.  I imagine that is why I don't see many color pictures from that time. 

The Argus C3 was still a popular economy camera in 1955.  It's suggested price was $66.75.  That would convert into $564 today. That's around what it would take to buy an entry level DSLR these days. Today it is easy to find a C3 for less than $20.

The Leica M-3 was about as top-of-the-line as you could get in 1955.  It sold for $447 which translates into $3777 in 2012 dollars. That certainly is in the range that a top of the line camera would cost today. On Ebay I saw that a couple of camera and lens combinations like the one here sold for $1400 and $1475.

I think I will stop here with just a look at cameras and film from 1955.  Its an interesting period to me since it is a couple of decades before I got seriously into photography.  Probably it is the height of the all-mechanical camera manufactured in the West.  By the time I came along most camera production had moved to Asia and electronics and plastic was starting to take hold.