I Stopped Insuring My Cameras

I Stopped Insuring My Cameras

I read articles on here all the time about wedding photographers losing all of their gear while traveling, break-ins at studios, and general destruction of camera gear. In spite of all of this, I decided to cancel my equipment insurance.

Yes, I am still insured to the eyeballs in many other ways, but my gear insurance had got to a monthly payment point that was just eye-watering. My gear is insured old for new; in the UK, this is pretty much standard practice, as it saves the hassle of looking for the used value of kit and arguing over it. You pay more, but it's a good deal should anything bad happen. 

How Much Gear Do I Own?

I own a lot. Not just a bag of lights and a bag of cameras, I am talking flight cases piled upon flight cases of gear. And yes, if I upgraded it all to the latest versions like my insurance does, it would be worth a small fortune. However, having recently had to have everything valued at its actual price, I had a bit of a shock. Replacing all of my gear with actual like-for-like gear really wouldn’t cost all that much. I tend to buy high-quality equipment where I can, and the benefit to this is that it lasts for years and years. Mix that with the lack of camera progression for still life studio photographers since about 2008, and you suddenly find yourself the proud owner of a lot of old gear.

What Can Go Wrong?

Cameras break for a million and one reasons, and they get stolen, as do lenses and lights. However, a massive studio salon stand isn’t really going anywhere. Neither are some of my monstrous light stands. So, not everything is at a high risk of needing to be claimed on. Yes, a fire could bring the studio down, but to be honest, those stands being covered is the least of my worries. A lot of this decision was based around looking at worst case scenarios. Questions like “If I lost everything today, what would it take to be operational by tomorrow?” Most of the answers were not as expensive as I had been led to believe. 

What Was I Insuring?

Over the years, I have been insuring against the highest value of equipment that my kit has ever fetched. There is no devaluation in the type of insurance I have. I am sure it is possible to insure like for like when you only have a bag of cameras, but when you have so many lenses that you often forget you own them (I have rented lenses and then found I already have them in the past) and so many lights that they are stored in flight cases that could fit an adult, the options that you have change, as do the prices. So, for a decade, I have been insuring against items that have a value that I don’t actually need to get my job done. Buying the latest Canon camera won’t make any difference to the work I do.

How Am I Protected Now?

So, the money I was paying to an insurance company is now going into a savings account. The savings account has a sum of money within it that bails me out should everything vanish overnight. I could buy all of the gear I need to get me up and running again straight away. These purchases would be secondhand and not brand new, so like for like, unlike old for new. After six years, this account will have enough money in it to replace everything of importance brand new or to buy everything I own several times over.

This is obviously not a foolproof plan, nor is it a plan that anyone should take on without consideration. However, work out how much you are currently paying on your insurance per year. Work out what the current used value of your kit is, and have a look to see if that money is sat aside somewhere already. If so, it might be something that you want to look into. If you find that you have no savings and a lot of valuable equipment, then sticking with traditional insurance is probably the best plan of action. 

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32 Comments

Simon Patterson's picture

This makes a lot of sense. Being self insured is an excellent idea for those who have the self control to manage it.

THIS times a 1000.

Omg! Finally someone else gets it! The only insurance I have is public liability insurance and that's a legal requirement. Everything else...nope. My "insurance" is taking care of my gear and financial responsibility.
Sure, if everything I had suddenly needed replacing it would be a pain in the arse, but with what I do that would most likely come out of my own carelessness.
Don't pay for what you don't need and save that money as a contingency.
If you live in an area with a likelihood of flood or fire etc. Maybe insurance is the right thing.
If your studio is in a high crime area, maybe insurance is the right thing.
But in most cases they are just making money off your fear of "what if" because you heard that this one guy, maybe even a friend of yours, lost all their gear. The chances of it happening to you if your careful is slim to none. The chances of you hearing about it happening to someone else is almost a certainty.

I need liability insurance so I can get location permits and work of other people's property. I also have insurance for camera and computer gear but most likely out of fear and tradition. When I send the big list of equipment I sort of wish it all would get stolen or burn up so I could get now stuff. Or a boat.

jim hughes's picture

This is smart. Insurance, of any kind is usually not a good deal. You should be insured against catastrophes that could wipe you out, like a major medical event or your house burning.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Also don't sell your older equipment, have duplicates stored at various locations, that way you can manage providing service to clients at any time.

I try to sell my old stuff then realize how little it worth on the used market and that for $300 I might as well keep the Canon 1DMk2 to be used once in a while I probably should take it off my insurance though.

Alec Kinnear's picture

Here's the issue with old gear (post-digital). The circuit boards dry out and fail. The glue fails elsewhere. So for each older body you are storing, you accumulate maintenance costs.

To avoid too much maintenance cost and hassle, a photographer (not a collector) should only own the bodies he uses actively. Lenses are another matter though.

I have not had that experience...I have a 5dmk2 (2008), a 1dmk2 (2004) and I gave a friend a first gen1Ds (2002) , sitting around in storage used 1 or 2 times a year.
Other than a shutter being replaced in the 1dmk there have been no maintenance costs. And that shutter was replaced when it was still on the active use list.
So when tried to sell the 1Ds at $200 on CL and no interest I figured I'd give to a friend for her back up-backup camera.
I seem to run the wheels off my cameras so they end up being worth $200-$300 so I may as well keep em until they need maintenance then go skeet shooting with them LoL

Alec Kinnear's picture

I have a working 5D that mostly sits on the shelf. Recently it did require the mirror to be glued back in (fortunately didn't change any of the focus accuracy with already calibrated lenses): €40. My 5DIII before sale had an issue with the battery compartment/power unit: €250 but that was in use.

My main sports camera right now is a D4 which is still going strong (came to me second hand) and not that old. It needed the lens mount replaced at €160 this year but that wasn't entropy either.

A Sony NEX-5T just died on me (well used). A Powershot S45 (very old) just died on me (sitting on the shelf). A Canon 20D just died on me (no good reason, a bit of a disappointment at the time).

But I don't keep many old cameras. It looks like Canon in particular do a good job with the 5D and up models building electronics which have at least fifteen years of life in them. As these tools do require maintenance or just randomly die (unlike old film cameras), I'd say get rid of them as early as possible – when they are still worth at least €500 or €600.

What sort of maintenance do you do on your digital cameras? The 5D and the 1D were used up until I moved to Sony 4 or so years ago. Not much anymore. If I sell them when they are worth $500-$600 I can't buy much I need with that much money, But they work and might come in handy as each have their uses.
It's like why farmers have a an old obsolete pickup truck in the shed, I can't get much $ for it and I can still use it to haul manure.

Jacques Cornell's picture

First sensible idea I've read here so far.

William Nicholson's picture

I'm going to chime in here. Unlike all of you professionals here, I am am a hobbyist and do have a good amount of gear for what I do and bought the 3 year replacement if any damage happens. If it get stolen or lost that is on me and not a big deal but not worth the amount it would cost for insurance. By trade I am a contractor in construction and have well over $250.000.00 in equipment and tools. At one giving point I did have insurance on equipment but found that it was cheaper to replace a stolen tool or lost tool than paying for the yearly policy. I realize I am comparing camera equipment to 1,000 pound concrete grinder that would be hard to steal but it does happen. Scott makes a good point by comparing the value of your equipment vs the cost of the policy. Camera equipment is no different than construction equipment when it comes to the value once it is used. We all know insurance is not going to pay out top bucks for new equipment, they always have some loop hole in policy not to pay you jack poo.. Yes it is a risk not to have insurance but one should weigh the difference between value and fear. Like Benoit states, just have a few extra used ones in different locations just incase. I have had many tools walk of job sites and the replacement cost of such tools was still cheaper than the monthly insurance payment. The general liability policy I pay for will cover all lost equipment due to fire, theft and natural disaster on the job site only and that is where most of the theft happens, the deductible sucks and still out of pocket a lot when having to replace anything under $1,000.00.

Nick Rains's picture

This is not a 'one size fits all' bit of advice. It's fine to make this decision for yourself, but surely it depends on how much the insurance costs relative to your gear value. I find my insurance is very well worth it, and over the years I think I have had more payouts that premium payments. The flaw in the argument is that you consider the cost over time, and see that it will cost you more that the gear is worth after, say, 10 years. But what if it all gets stolen or destroyed in the first year? From a business perspective, y'know cash flow and all, you might not have the readies even after saving up the premiums. It's not the amount per se, it's more about do you have it handy right now? This could destroy your business if the timing is really bad. Remember O'Toole's Law? He said Murphy was an optimist.

William Nicholson's picture

We all struggle with business decisions, what is right and what is waste. You are correct, if no cash on hand and money making equipment is gone then what. I was just making statement that we as small business owners have tough decisions and sometimes we make the wrong ones. I would never tell anyone that insurance is an option but make the right choice. If you have had so many claims that your policy was well worth it then it was worth it. Sucks to have our tools of our trades stolen and the stress of having to replace it. I know this sounds bad but I factor in at least $1,200 in each job for stolen equipment. Keep in mind I work in construction and many workers on site live check to check and given opportunity they will take tools and pawn, not all tools have a serial number. I pass this cost onto the contractor. Hard to do in your line of work, not many customers will pay you a "If Stolen Fee" Working on million dollar projects one can do such. We all have to be smart about our finances and you are right, this is not one size fits all. Keep it locked up and hope people are honest is all I can say. Thank's for chiming in to this topic.

"what if..." In all the businesses, photography or otherwise, how often does this happen. Hardly ever.
Insurance companies are a business that plays on people's fear. Most people are just paying so others can be covered.

Nick Rains's picture

How often? Dunno, but I was burgled about 2 years after moving into my current home, lost ALL my gear and had, sensibly, recently made sure my insurance was paid up and all risks. They coughed up about $30000 without blinking. So, yeah, "what if"- good luck with that approach.

Sorry to hear that. Now I know someone it happened to. What if it happens to me? I better get insurance

VINICIUS YUZO ZUCARELI's picture

I pay about 7.2% a year of my gear current value in insurance.
This covers only theft and accidents. Only theft is 100%, accident it insures up to 85%.

I think it is fair. Even if things didn't devalue and there was no inflation it would take me almost 15 years of insurance to have enough savings to rebuy my gear. I don't even know if I will still be shooting in 15 years.

Mark Harris's picture

The maths is easy - the insurance companies make a living, so on average their clients pay in more than they take out, and if you also factor in dishonest clients, then it's clear that for honest people self-insurance is a better bet, as long as you don't have cash-flow issues.

jim hughes's picture

It's that simple. But most people can't leave a 'dedicated' savings account alone for long.

Dan Marchant's picture

Insure what you can't afford to replace. If you have enough money in the bank to buy the necessary kit to get back on your feet then you don't need to insure it.

Someone just starting out who, maybe doesn't have back up kit and hasn't earned enough to build up a safety net would be far more badly hit by the lost of their kit, so insurance would be very worthwhile.

Jacques Cornell's picture

I assisted a corporate photographer who traveled the world. Only a small set of his cameras and lenses could be carried onto a plane. The rest went as checked luggage in Pelican cases. On arrival at Newark Airport on return from a job, three Pelicans containing $30K worth of gear failed to emerge and were never found.

Yeah, I insure my gear. Working in hotels and other event venues, any one of my bags could walk away any day. I have backup bodies, lenses & flashes worth several thousand dollars that I do not carry on my person when working an event. There is no place for secure storage.
Cost to insure my company's $35K of photo gear, plus liability and $20K or so of office equipment (including several Macs) is about $800/year, and this is a deductible business expense. Homeowner's insurance covers only a fraction of the stuff in our home offices.

On balance, I assess the cost to ameliorate these risks as quite reasonable and prudent. I'm running a business. $800 overhead is negligible and just one of many expenses I incur to protect myself, my business partner, and my clients. A single backup body costs more than this. As a professional, I regard it not merely as being in my own interest but also as fulfilling my responsibility to ensure that I can serve my clients - who book me well in advance and cannot hire an adequate replacement at the last minute - no matter what happens.

Maybe insurance is a lot more expensive in the UK.

FWIW, my partner and I paid upwards of $1000 to incorporate our business, and we pay several hundred dollars a year to meet the additional tax and accounting requirements this incurs. Why? It insures our personal assets against lawsuits. Likelihood of a lawsuit? Probably 0.001%. Consequences of one going badly without this protection? Personal bankruptcy.

I've seen Murphy's Law in action too many times, like when three flashes and two battery packs died spontaneously and without apparent cause on a single job. What are the odds of that? Of course, I had a fourth flash handy, so no harm.

I've never had to submit a claim, and I don't feel the least regret about the money I've paid.

Dave Ingraham's picture

May I ask, who do you use for insurance? I'm paying $800/year for around $10K worth of gear. I'm based in the US, and if I want to insure my gear for international use, I was quoted an extra $500.

Jacques Cornell's picture

The underwriter is The Hartford. Policy was obtained through APA Insurance Services. Good service.
https://www.apainsuranceservices.com

Grant P's picture

You might not expect to hear this from an insurance broker, but if you’re wondering whether you need insurance – maybe you don’t!

Many photographers, and most professional photographers, don’t need to wonder: they know, because they are told they must carry insurance. If you apply for a permit to shoot at a Provincial Park or rent gear from a rental house, they won’t issue your permit or release the gear until you provide proof of insurance. In these instances, insurance is a necessity.

William Nicholson's picture

Grant, you are saying to get a permit that the person needs equipment insurance or general liability?

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