Why Are Camera Lens So Expensive?

In Camera by Kantai KotikotLeave a Comment


How many of us wonder why lenses sometimes cost more than the camera? Why should they be so pricy? Aren’t they just pieces of glass meshed together to bounce light around? I get asked this question every time I tell someone that my lenses cost more than the camera. Why is that so?

Why are camera lenses so expensive? Lenses are engineering miracles on their own. There’s a whole tone of concepts that go into their manufacturing. But that doesn’t warrant them being so pricy, does it?  The prices of lenses vary depending on their specialty, and the lens family they fall in. Besides that, the quality of materials that go into the actual making of the lenses is expensive as on its own. A single lens takes in high-quality glass materials, lightweight metal, and delicately calibrated elements to create and assemble. The manufacturing process is expensive.

The prices of lenses, though dear vary depending on a variety of factors. Sometimes, it is the zoom ratio of the lens, and the clarity it provides. However, the bottom line on how much the lens will cost rests on whether lenses you have in mind are consumer based or professional in make. Generally, the value of a lens is decided by the components it comes with. The higher the amount of input into the manufacturing and assembly of a lens, the more it will cost.

What factors make lenses expensive?

Assembling quality lenses is a delicate process. It results from in-depth research and delicate manufacturing of the singular components that go into the lens. In retrospect, this starting process makes the lenses expensive.

Essentially, the bottom line on lenses rests on whether they are consumer grade or professional grade. Professional grade lenses, which are the recommended lenses for any serious videographer are way more expensive than the flimsy and generic consumer grade ones.

What makes professional grade lenses pricier?

Given we have already determined the main branch lenses that are expensive, it is imperative to break down the reasons and components that make professional grade lenses dear to photographers and videographers alike.

The cost of production for singular components

Lens manufacturers make consumer grade lenses in bulk. Given that the general consumer level market is not too big on specs and power, these lenses retail at a cheaper price.

On the other hand, the real deal when buying lenses is getting professional grade lenses. While consumer-grade lenses are probably made of acrylic and easily available glass, professional grade lenses are real pieces of work.

The glass used in assembling professional lenses is quality. Besides that, it requires a lot of handiwork to become lenses.  Every single piece of glass going into such lenses goes through careful choosing for high-grade optics, manual hand-pressing into the shape needed. Apart from the handwork, the glass goes through high-quality inspection by different classes of engineers to ensure that only the quality pieces go into the assembly stage.

The heavy involvement of real human hands, instead of machines increases the price of the manufacturing process. On average, one professional lens goes through twenty hands before it comes out into the market. If all these hands have to be paid, it means that the production costs will run high.

Lens size

The physical size of the lens doesn’t matter when looking at the quality of lenses. However, it matters when looking at the aperture size and the power of the lens.

Larger lenses have larger apertures. Professional videographers prefer these large ones because they offer more zoom ratios. Besides the zoom, larger lenses will definitely let in more light into the camera. This means that you are more likely to shoot better in low light if you have large lenses.

Creating larger lenses means that you need more components. While small lenses are more delicate to assemble, large lenses need more work and more keenness. Often, the large lenses will sell at higher prices because they have more power.

Optical design and lens elements

The difference in optical designs doesn’t account for much in physical look or the quality of the final shoot. However, there is a marked difference in prices between different lenses that have different designs. Here’s a case in point. Lenses created on the same basis as the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G design comes at a lower price than those made on the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G design.

The difference in prices comes from the number of components used in the assembly of the two lenses.  The f/1.4G model has 10 different elements in 7 clusters. The later f/1.8G comes with 8 elements in 6 clusters. It sounds a little complicated, doesn’t it? The idea here is that the second set of lenses will cost higher because they have more components.

The lens elements are essentially the building blocks for the optical design. Different designs need different elements. Lenses made from higher quality elements are pricier in the market.

Besides the “inside elements” that create the optical designs, the outside elements determine the price of lenses. Here’s the thing, lenses that have spherical designs, low light dispersion rates, and fluorite components will cost way higher than the rest. In addition to the three, the coating material will also increase the lens price. Professional lenses are coated using Nano-crystal coats or super-integrated coating. This staggers their prices hugely.

The Prime vs Zoom factor

The competition between prime and zoom lenses has always been there. In fact, the popularity of DSLR and Mirrorless cameras has taken the competition to a whole different, and higher, level.

Normally, prime lenses sell at higher prices when contrasted to their zoom counterparts. This is based on the singular notion that prime lenses have more movable parts and are therefore easier to manipulate.

Zoom lenses seem to be losing this competition in recent times. On most occasions, the zoom action on these lenses produces images that are hazy and rounded without the defined sharpness that comes from prime lenses. Besides the fact that zooming is not much encouraged in modern-day videography, the number of movable components plays a huge role in determining what lens to purchase.

Weatherproof construction

Consumer grade lenses are not made for the rough tides. In fact, they are cheaper because they break easily. Professional grade lenses, on the other hand, are assembled with longevity and rough traveling in mind. This is the reason why they are more expensive than consumer grade lenses.

If you ever bump or drop consumer lenses, you might as well start budgeting for another one. The cheaper lenses are not made for any kind of abuse.  They are coated with plastic and other fragile coating elements. However, professional grade lenses are more expensive because they can withstand the bumps, the drops and sometimes the rain. Yes, there are lenses which can shoot pretty well in the rain, the dust or any adverse weather conditions.

Some professional grade lenses are also weather sealed. Typically, this makes them almost foolproof to adverse weather. However, weather sealed lenses are almost the most expensive lenses in the market at any one time.

Besides, the construction of professional grade lenses is also more delicate, and foolproof. Apart from shooting better, the lenses also stay for longer periods.

Research and the required quality thresholds

How much research goes into the production of a new line of professional grade lenses? The answer is ” a lot.” It took years of research to get the high-grade lenses that are in use today.  It takes more years to improve the lenses. In fact, the newest line of lenses from Nikon took a whole six years to develop. Yes, six years of backbreaking research by dozens of scientists.

But it’s not just the research aspect that matters here. The quality threshold of the manufacturing and assembling process also determines the price of these lenses. Given that all these processes need careful, painstakingly slow human determination, the lenses always sell at higher prices compared to mass production lenses.

 Why should you buy high-grade lenses

The rule, when buying lenses is that the price doesn’t matter. The higher the price, the more value the lens will offer you. For quality videos, you need lenses that can accommodate different lighting conditions, one that comes with image stabilizing components. Besides the two factors, you also need lenses that have high contrast qualities and wide apertures. Trust you me, you won’t find these qualities in low-grade consumer lenses.

Sometimes, buying a high-quality second-hand lens is better than purchasing a new consumer grade lens. Beginning producers use these second-hand lenses to kick-start their careers most of the time. While such new lenses might be way above the strength of their pockets, quality second-hand lenses are definitely within their reach.

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