Along with the general economic pressures of the last four years, there’s been a steep increase in the cost of certain photographic tools, particularly at the high end. Take the Canon EF 500/4L IS telephoto, for example, one of Canon’s most popular “big white lenses”—often the first major telephoto acquisition for a serious bird/small mammal shooter already invested in that brand. Just a few years ago this lens new could be purchased for somewhere in the $5,500-$6,500 range, depending on currency fluctuations. Now the series II version of the lens (admittedly with fairly dramatic improvements in materials, lens coatings, and image stabilization capability) retails for $10,499, and you’ll find few if any discounts. There are plenty of other examples, and it’s not just the Canon brand; Nikon recently announced a new autofocus 800/5.6 telephoto (replacing the previous manual focus model which had been discontinued for some time) that will set you back about $17,900, when and if you can find it!
Are there cogent explanations for this price escalation? Sure, lots of them: relatively small numbers of these specialized models are manufactured for a very niche market, exotic materials are costly, recent natural disasters caused major disruptions, currency exchange rates, and more. But whatever the reason, the blunt reality is that it’s now a lot harder for aspiring photographers to take that next big step to acquiring a particular piece of equipment designed to improve the chances of success with small, sensitive subjects. On the other hand, the combination of improvements in lenses like the new EF 500/4L IS II make them truly remarkable…among the finest long focal length imaging instruments ever available. And if there’s a silver lining, it’s that the sky-high prices of the new models will help preserve the value of carefully-used comparable older models. One has to try to see the bright side.