Though camera systems by design lock consumers into particular lens mounts, there are the intrepid few who will switch whole systems... more so if their professional earnings depends on it. However, buying a new camera every two years is one sort of expense, but changing over a collection of lenses is another issue... or is it?
Camera Bodies Compared
Canon and Nikon shadow each other closely when it comes to new product offerings. Rarely will they compete directly, but they slot models slightly above or below what the other company is doing. What this means is that the two systems tend to have similar resale values on the used markets. The following is taken from Craigslist sweeps of the U.S. used camera market in May and September of 2013.
Here are the Nikon prices (all in USD)
... and here are the Canon prices. (Apologies that the row/columns are reversed):
Notice anything? If you switched between similar model levels, the difference in used prices is not signifitant; both brands show similar rates of depreciation over time. For example, the average used price of a Nikon D7000 was $711, whereas a Canon EOS 7D would have been $886. This is a fair difference considering that the Canon is of a more professional build, but is an older camera. Similarly, the difference between the Nikon D800 ($2,569) and the Canon 5DmIII ($2,911) shows roughly the same rate of depreciation relative to new retail prices.
The situation becomes even more level when you compare equivalent lenses. Here are two popular and comparable enthusiast zooms:
- Nikon AF-S 70-300 VR f/4.5-5.6: $386
- Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 IS US: $402
... and here are two widely owned first-generation stabailized professional zooms:
- Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 ED VRI: $1,397
- EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM: $1,375
The situation is also the same for the well-regarded 24-70 f/2.8 normal zooms, however there are practical differences. Nikon, having less retail market share, also tends to see less copies on the used market. It's easier to find used Canon copies of the 24-70mm in the various iterations that Canon has produced it.
The direct cost of jumping to another system, when swapping equivalent used gear for equivalent used gear boils down to the differences in spec levels for the camera bodies; the differences narrow down quite a bit when you swap equivalent used lenses. However, this isn't what most people mean when they they want to swap one for the other; usually it's a matter of buying new equipment and selling their current system on the used market. In this case, the true cost of swapping a system is that you are absorbing the depreciation of your current system and starting from scratch all over again.
The point of all of this is to not advocate doing a complete used-for-used swap of camera systems, as that would be incredibly time consuming (buying, selling, due diligence etc.) However it does show three important distinctions:
- Despite the rivalry between the two brands, the rate of depreciation on the used market indicates that consumers generally rate both the same in desirability. If you choose one over the other, your camera will likely not lose resale value any faster than it's counterpart on the other side of the fence, quality issues notwithstanding.
- Like cars, changing slightly used equipment for slightly used equipment is financially more rewarding then buying new if you must change on a semi-frequent basis. However, this assumes that you are willing to forgo never having new equipment to play with.
- Changing systems imposes a real economic loss of the part of the owner, as it is unlikely that the time will be taken to go hunting on the used market for equivalently used equipment. Professionals can do this because of the tax advantages of writing off equipment, but enthusiasts who frequently switch brands are giving up a lot of financial equity in order to chase down their ideal system.