The Costs of Producing Photography Gear

We all have or will want to buy gear that is out of our price range or that we think doesn't have enough value compared to another competitor's products, and we'll choose what we can afford today over what might be a better piece of equipment bought later. I'm certainly one of those photographers that learned what I value after committing to several manufacturer's products over others that I tried and had to abandon due to their workmanship, cost, or my actual need. Maybe you are going through this internal debate now with a lauded piece of equipment that will be a benefit to you and your work, but the price exceeds its perceived value to you. Do you really need that equipment or is there a cheaper alternative?

Danny Lenihan, CEO of 3 Legged Thing, had a few things to say about the matter of what many perceive as the cost of equipment versus the actual costs of designing, testing, certifying, and getting that product into your hands. In this case it's the new 3 Legged Thing QR11-LC Universal L-bracket.

I know each person reading this will still take a side for or against Lenihan's article, but do you do so out of need, personal values, or necessity? I'm personally a big fan of 3 Legged Thing and the people that they have working in the U.S.A. I've had nothing but positive interactions with their reps at Texas School of Professional Photography, a Professional Photographers of America affiliated week-long educational workshop and conference, the past three years. I've personally purchased four tripods from 3 Legged Thing because I thought they were a great value and the more expensive options were not in my price range. I didn't value those brands for what they offered at the cost they offered.

I would simply be mindful that the brands are as much creators as photographers are, and if you value what they are creating, supporting what they do is in our best interest to keep doing what we love to do.

[via Danny Lenihan]

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35 Comments

JT Blenker's picture

There is a hyperlink in the article to read what Danny wrote, but if you missed it go check it out here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-things-cost-what-danny-lenihan

gabe s's picture

This looks like a decent L plate. Its half the price of the Really Right Stuff plate, and I have not heard any complaints about those.

Mark Spoo's picture

Ok here is my take on this article. The link in the article showing the L bracket took me to B&H which showed it going for $49.00. Now take in research, development, materials, marketing, and manufacturing you may have a 10 to 15 dollar per piece price point. So really 49.00???? For what?
You are only going to take great photos if you shoot and don't have an acute case of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) . I will save my pennies for things I need that work that I need.

Patrick Hall's picture

Are you complaining about $49 when the original is $160?

Jayesunn Krump's picture

You can buy virtually the same thing for under $10. It is a simple universal bracket.

David Mawson's picture

There really is no significant IP in an L bracket. As for the idea of TTLT having higher accountability than an ebay brand... if a TTLT bracket fails all you'll have to show is a smashed camera - so they'll tell you to get lost. And as the user of tow cheap ebay L's - they're damn solid.

They also, just like the TTLT, are Arca compatible... So if we're going to talk IP theft...

Indy Thomas's picture

The materials cost of the average auto is $1555 yet for some reason the price of them ranges from ~$20k-$200k. I am so angry.

David Mawson's picture

Materials are cheap. Most of the cost of a car is in turning the metal into precisely engineered components - that's very different to making L brackets a CNC machine can spit out.

Indy Thomas's picture

I was being facetious but the fact is that far more than the materials cost is considered when pricing a product.

Anyone can find a $20 bracket on Amazon yet RRS and Markins and other sell similar items for more. I do not presume they are thieves or scoundrels.

We are unaware of the particular virtues or failings of this product so making a pronouncement of value is meaningless.
Further, value is different for different people.

An automobile that is being offered at $200K is surprisingly similar to the one sold for $80K. (I actually know this because a client is a high end dealer). So where is the value? Certainly not in the metal and dead cows. Both have about the same amount. Performance? Within 5% of each other and certainly beyond the skills of 95% of all possible drivers to discern.
The value is the intangible pleasure the prospective buyer believes they will gain as a consequence of the purchase.

In addition, the reason that automakers want to sell the higher end cars is because the costs of a small economy car are very close to a large luxury car. The real difference is a few animal skins and massive marketing.

Pricing is not the addition of a few cost centers and a set profit.

Nikos Metaxas's picture

I don't want to be a dud......but man........you are fighting a loosing battle. I am pretty sure i speak on behalf of 90% of the photographers out there saying there is no way in hell in putting out 50 bucks for a bracket. I don't care whats its made out of, or what kind of conditions there are in the factory. I'm not paying 1000% over for a bracket. End of story. In light of Bowens's closing and their bitter rant about "blame the Chinese" it should show entrepreneurs out there that even if you have good arguments, and in your mind, you make sense, you will go down if you don't follow the market.

Dallas Dahms's picture

Well said. For decades photographers have been getting themselves new rectum perforations from greedy Western manufacturers (a.k.a. fat cats) who invariably have their stuff made in the same Chinese factories that can offer these items for a fraction of the cost.

Jan Naessens's picture

What if I copy your style and concepts and sell them as my own photographs?
Or better, steal your raws and dont bother at all about copyrights.
I guess you will not be happy with that. In my opinion this is the same as buying from those cheap chinese copycats.
But hey, just follow the market or go down.

Simon Patterson's picture

But you can copy the style and concepts of his photos, as you make your own. It's perfectly legal, no matter who likes or dislikes the fact.

Nikos Metaxas's picture

In your example above, no, it is not the same. The people buying FROM you are doing the same. You are taking the place of the Chinese in your scenario above. The "bulying-marketing" of trying to guilt the people into buying your products has been tried before on many occasions. It has a.l.w.a.y.s. failed. Maybe i don'tlike that things are the way i wrote them above. But that does not change the facts. If i were an investor looking to put my money on a business, it would not be 3LT for the plain reason i believe its going bust pretty soon.

Jayson Carey's picture

When it comes to actual engineering of products, I'm all for charging the development cost of a product. This isn't actual engineering. This could have been designed in an hour. It's a 90 degree bracket with one threaded hole, one slot, and few other non-cosmetic features. I realize it's a low-volume piece, but this kind of part in any other industry would be a third of the price (aside from military/government, then you'd add a couple of zeros.)

Motti Bembaron's picture

You will add a couple of zeroes for military grade not because it's necessarily any better but because most government are stupid enough to pay it :-)

Simon Patterson's picture

Although it's not the government being stupid. It's merely a subsidy to artificially boost the economy.

Shawn Chambers's picture

LOL... Please. Love to see you bust one out in an hour. Oh... and try and find someone to machine it for ya for a 3rd of the price.

David Mawson's picture

>> and try and find someone to machine it for ya for a 3rd of the price.

Products like this don't get machined by hand; once a CNC machine is set-up it will pop them out all day.

Shawn Chambers's picture

Is that how they work?

Jayson Carey's picture

I worked as a modeling intern when I was in engineering school and knocked models like this out with very little effort and very little time. Hell, it's been years since I opened any kind of modeling software and I could still build a file like this in less than an hour in free software. This is NOT a difficult piece.

Shawn Chambers's picture

That's true.. modeling up this would be a piece of cake. Modeling up any part is easy. It's coming up with the right part that's a pain in the ass. You look at any part that people actually want to buy... and usually there are a ton of prototypes ahead of it. Rarely does someone sit down and bang out a winner on their first try. But hey... what do I know. My only question is if you can bang these products out like they're nothing and can manufacture them at a third of the cost... why aren't you? You could have one hell of a company on your hands.

Jayson Carey's picture

It's a freaking bracket that doesn't see any real load. The only thing even mildly complicated would be the opening for the ports if this were a spec-to-camera bracket, but it isn't. The mounting point isn't even exact because it's a slot not a hole. Like I said, this is an incredibly easy piece.

Btw, I made the conscious decision to not be an engineer when i realized that I'd have to sit at a desk modeling shit like this all day for 40 years. Just because I can doesn't mean that I want to.

Simon Patterson's picture

Isn't there a word for this - "capitalism"? It's how our system has worked for a long time, so I'm not sure why I'm meant to suddenly start supporting particular businesses as if they were a sheltered workshop for the handicapped or something.

Mihnea Stoian's picture

As someone who's tangentially involved in manufacturing, unless it's something complex (mechanical watch, car), I've learnt that there's no point in trying to manufacture anything for more than the lowest price you can get it made for, given quality requirements, in a factory with good working conditions (yes, it exists). Asian manufacturing varies enormously in quality and working conditions, but not that much in production pricing, it's just a matter of finding the right fit for your product.
Regarding 3 Legged Thing, they should've done the design and manufactured them in Asia, under their oversight for quality control in a decent factory with good working conditions. That way they probably could've gotten the price down enough that copy cats could only undercut them by 10-15%, at which point buyers tend to stick to the brand-name item vs the copy. Anything more than a 20ish% difference in price, and people usually will get the copy, even tho they want the 'original'. Now they're in a position where the copies outsell their own because of price, and those copies are out of their control. A wise man told me 'it's better to have a little of a lot, than a lot of nothing.'
My 2c.

David Mawson's picture

A lot of the whining is about "Danny" wanting people to pay costs associated with his business model and the retail chain he wants them to use - even when they prefer to use ebay, buy direct, and short circuit all those costs. And that's fine: he can whine all he wants to. But no sensible person is going to give him any more money because of that whining. I don't want "lifestyle of images" of a camera bracket, so I'm not going to pay for them. I just want a couple of pictures on ebay so I know what the thing looks like - phone snaps will be fine.

And if he fritzed around for weeks deciding exactly where rubber pads should go - honestly, that was wasted effort.

David Mawson's picture

>> Innovation comes next - what other value can we add to this product? We add a number of extra functions to all of our products

Does anyone have any idea what "extra functions" this things has? Can you use it as a beer opener???

Dallas Dahms's picture

Maybe you can clobber Liverpool supporters with it?

David Mawson's picture

Well, if it's attached to a D800 then it will have sufficient weight - but aren't there are most cost effective tools for the job?

Motti Bembaron's picture

In recent years it is becoming a trend and a tiresome one; A company comes up with a decent idea and wants to charge a fortune for it. What to do?

Create a awesome looking site with a short and cheerful video.

Make sure the video has absolutely no substance. Fill it with light and bright three seconds scenes that follow each other so fast, you have no bloody chance to get any value information whatsoever. Make sure it's filled with bearded guys and cute girls, sound bite is light and cheerful and give it a feel of a "life style" experience.

Now go ahead and ask ten times the product's true value....

Neu Porabno's picture

You just described basically any product on the kickstarter 😁

User Colin's picture

The IP argument is a dud. I know at least one high quality Chinese manufacturer of tripod heads, plates, etc, that produces novel gear unlike anything on the market. We have all seen Chinese and Korean brands produce lenses and flash equipment at a fraction of the price of the big-boys and putting them to shame wrt innovation. I have bought Chinese gear that is packaged like a luxury good and with excellent instruction manuals. Along with UK supplier who provided excellent advise and support.

The problem with the article is that it is presented as a "take me at my word -- I have seen things you don't know or wouldn't believe" but quite a number of the points are obviously bogus. So we are left with FUD about the points we don't know are bogus or not. Simply using "Chinese" as an adjective replacement for IP theft, for bad labour practice, for poor quality control.... well there are plenty British and American firms, big names, who appear in the papers for their shocking treatment of workers, for abusive "gig economy" employment practices, for not paying taxes, etc, etc.

If an argument is to be made about buy this produce from this company vs that product from that company, then it needs to be more strongly evidence based than "trust me I know what I'm talking about" and criticism based on little more than "it is Chinese and cheaper".

Richard Neal's picture

Not convinced by his argument on the R&D side. Maybe one of the things he wants to focus on is cheaper R&D himself, as a manufacturer of things that fits cameras why is he spending weeks going to shops and measuring cameras, why haven't they got 3D models of all the cameras, they could have their own 3D scanner and hire every single camera body out there then they have that data for this and every future project. In fact I bet if they looked around, there are probably a lot of design houses already have this data.
Designing that including all the FEA analysis is relatively small, a decent designer could have a working prototype in a few weeks

Small production runs? Dont know about the USA but I have plenty of local machine shops who could knock me up a couple of these for a few hundred quid if I gave them the CAD

I can see where his costs come from and I can even understand the $100k total but he needs to look at reducing his R&D costs in the future instead of moaning at the chinese as he could have done this far cheaper I expect

steve E's picture

Hahahahah, People complaining about product cost versus materials but fail to factor is the million invested in the machinery required to manufacture the items and ship them to your door...ironic considering what photographers can charge for photos, I mean it costs cents to give a customer a CD full of photo's and only a few dollars for paper for a 20X24" portrait right?

Shawn Chambers's picture

Nice read. Totally agree with everything he said. There will always be copycats and you can always buy a knockoff that will probably work just fine for $10. But knowing what it costs to manufacture something like that in the US... $50 is a fair price. Nobody seems to mind paying $8 for a latte from Starbucks (which is just flavored water and milk)... but if you ask for a little more for something that'll last years... Holy Hell...The balls on you.