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09-28-2009, 11:16 AM   #1
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lens pricing: economics and engineering

Some of you are really knowledgeable about this stuff, so I thought I'd ask about the factors that go into the pricing of lenses. I find lens pricing almost completely mysterious.

Why are some really good lenses (like the Pentax FA 50 f/1.4 or the 16-45) so affordable?

Why do the Pentax 21, 31 and 73 cost so darned much? The 21 isn't even all that fast (f/3.2)! [CORRECTION: I meant the Pentax 77....]
'
Why are primes almost always more expensive than zooms? It seems to me that primes just have to be simpler to build than zooms and I would expect that simplicity to result in a lower cost.

Are Zeiss lenses worth the boatload of extra money? All of Zeiss's lenses for Pentax seem to be manual-focus only!

NOTE: I'm not looking for in-depth engineering info here. I'm just looking for some general insight - if there is in fact any rhyme or reason to the marketplace.

Thanks in advance,

Will


Last edited by WMBP; 09-28-2009 at 07:53 PM. Reason: Corrected mistake about 73mm lens - meant 77.
09-28-2009, 11:40 AM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by WMBP Quote
NOTE: I'm not looking for in-depth engineering info here. I'm just looking for some general insight - if there is in fact any rhyme or reason to the marketplace.
Thanks in advance,
Will
A) There is no Pentax 73mm lens

and

B) (This is pure specualtion, but) Pentax Limited series prices are not based on what it costs to produce them, but rather on what we are willing to pay for it.

Thanks,
Ilya.
09-28-2009, 02:59 PM   #3
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Are you asking what makes Limited lenses more expensive to produce or what makes people willing to pay more for Limited lenses?

Limited lenses are made of metal rather than plastic, and are built to tighter tolerances. They're also made in relatively low volumes. Thus, higher cost. They're small, which explains why they're slow.

They're nice to handle and are compact. The DA 21 Ltd is half the weight of the DA 16-45, and one-quarter the size. They're optically excellent, better in many regards (although not all) than other lenses. Some people don't want a zoom lens; some people don't want autofocus.

Whether any lens is worth it depends on how the individual values various attributes. Me, I like small lenses, high quality manual operation, and metal construction. Which is why I use Takumars. :-)
09-28-2009, 03:43 PM   #4
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Product pricing decisions are a challenge for manufacturers. Essentially, how to make s certain amount of profit using exisiting manufacturing resources (building a new production line requires use of existing capital, so same decision).

The basics are
  1. Profit is profit, and is priced on capital and labor invested, including R&D
  2. Lower volume usually requires higher profit (margin) per unit - capital is capital
  3. Higher volume usually allows lower profit (margin) per unit - same capital
  4. Lower volume / high margin must be higher quality
    1. Marketing the "Limited" lenses idea, and making them special makes people want them, and willing to pay for them. The fact they are excellent lenses SUPPORTS the marketing, but isn't absolutely necessary.
There is a member here whose signature is: K20D, 37Ltd, 43Ltd, 77Ltd. Anything else? As if, that's all you ned to know about him, and he's better for it. I'm surprised he doesn't own the Capri version of the K20D.

09-28-2009, 04:33 PM   #5
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The basic metric for this is ROI, Return on Investment. It's usually calculated over a two-years period, meaning that for any product to be developped and sold, it should offer a nice ROI ratio after two years. If you sell it longer than that it's just icing on the cake.

For lenses, the cost of manufacturing is the driving factor. Limited lenses are more expensive to make, for instance, because they're hand-made. A prime is expected to be better, so tolerances are tighter and tests probably more torough. The R&D cost is also very high when you want better performances. For instance, a cheap zoom is expected to have CA and distorsion. A superb lens is not. So you take more time to manufacture it well.

Regarding your examples:

16-45 : it's been replaced so stocks are being sold for cheap prices, probably near the COG (cost of good, what it costs to make the lens). The FA50 is an older design, development cost has been covered many times over, so as long as they sell it over the COG, it's easy money and happy customers.
09-28-2009, 05:41 PM   #6
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There have been many good answers to your question ...just one point on the specific examples of low cost ..really good lenses. The FA 50/f1.4 and 16-45/f4 have been around for quite a while and the R&D and initial tooling costs have long been recovered, so they can be sold profitably for less money. Newer lenses, as explained elsewhere, have to recover these costs so are more expensive.
09-28-2009, 05:49 PM   #7
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Traditionally, 50mm primes have been the cheapest lenses. In the old days, most 35mm cameras came with a 50 prime as the kit lens. These are some of the oldest lens designs and any R and D costs have long ago been paid for. They should be relatively cheap, particularly a non-metal design like the FA 50.

As to why primes are more expensive than zooms, I guess it depends on which zooms and primes you are talking about. Consumer zooms like the 16-45, 50-200 and 55-300 tend to be sold in high volumes, meaning R and D costs are divided over a larger number of lenses. In addition, they tend to have fairly cheap construction and so are cheaper over all.

In actuality, there are many zooms (all of the DA* zooms) that are pretty expensive. They and the limiteds are sold in smaller numbers and are newer designs, therefore the cost per lens is more. I am sure as well that there is a premium tacked on to the price, due to the fact that they are a notch above the basic consumer zooms.

Finally, sometimes pricing on a prime is to separate it from similar focal length primes. At the same time that the 31mm limited is for sale, there is an FA 35 f2 and DA 35 f2.8. The 31 is definitely the better lens and having it priced 400 or 500 dollars more makes it a more special lens.
09-28-2009, 08:00 PM   #8
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THANKS to everybody for the answers so far. Interesting.

Sorry about that mistake about the Pentax "73" in the original post. I meant 77.

Nobody has responded to my question about whether Zeiss lenses are worth the money. Are they THAT much better than Pentax (or Tamron or Sigma) counterparts?

Will

09-28-2009, 09:10 PM   #9
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Zeiss lenses are an example of the economic law of diminishing returns - as you put more resources into something the return you get is smaller. Are they great lenses? Yes they are. But, even if costing twice as much the ordinary premium lenses, they probably aren't twice as good.

And no, primes aren't more expensive than zooms. The 50-135 costs more than any of those you mentioned. Then again the FA limiteds are full frame lenses and to be fair, let's either compare it to DA primes (you can get 3 DA limiteds fro the price of the 50-135 zoom) or to a full frame zoom. Pentax doesn't make them anymore but the Canon 70-200 L is ~$1900 and almost covers the price of the 3 FA limiteds.

So yes if you can live with having to plan ahead which lens you'll put on the camera you can have a light camera-lens combination with a prime instead of a behemoth zoom. Not to mention i.q. is better too.
09-29-2009, 10:19 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by kristoffon Quote
Zeiss lenses are an example of the economic law of diminishing returns - as you put more resources into something the return you get is smaller. Are they great lenses? Yes they are. But, even if costing twice as much the ordinary premium lenses, they probably aren't twice as good.
Very familiar with the law of diminishing returns - it is, in fact, one of my favorite principles, as it helps me stay happy with the very good equipment that I've got and makes me covet less the very slightly better stuff that I can't afford.


QuoteQuote:
And no, primes aren't more expensive than zooms. The 50-135 costs more than any of those you mentioned. Then again the FA limiteds are full frame lenses and to be fair, let's either compare it to DA primes (you can get 3 DA limiteds fro the price of the 50-135 zoom) or to a full frame zoom. Pentax doesn't make them anymore but the Canon 70-200 L is ~$1900 and almost covers the price of the 3 FA limiteds.
What's the advantage of the full-frame FA limiteds? You're talking about the 21, 43 and 77, right?

Is it that they're faster (all f/1.8 or f/1.9)? Sharper? Sturdier?



Will
09-29-2009, 11:07 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by WMBP Quote
Some of you are really knowledgeable about this stuff, so I thought I'd ask about the factors that go into the pricing of lenses. I find lens pricing almost completely mysterious.
there is no mystery, it's called economics 101 we will look at only the cost side of the equation in the following points, ignoring whatever marketing determines the selling price is something different, but to make money, the starting point is the cost
QuoteQuote:
Why are some really good lenses (like the Pentax FA 50 f/1.4 or the 16-45) so affordable?
part of a cost of a product is the materials, part is the specific production processes and tooling for each lens. popular lenses like the FA 50mm F1.4 or the DA 16-45 F4 are made in such volumes that the tooling and design costs ammount to very little per lens.
QuoteQuote:
Why do the Pentax 21, 31 and 73 cost so darned much? The 21 isn't even all that fast (f/3.2)! [CORRECTION: I meant the Pentax 77....]
many primes cost a lot because they are very specialized lenses. they appeal to a much smaller group of photographers, but someone has to pay for the development and tooling. When lenses (or any product) is developed, someone determines the market, and then the initial price reflects the tooling cost per unit to meet that potential market with the product. Although some lenses might be "slow" infering less glass and less cost, the tooling and development could dominate the price
QuoteQuote:
'
Why are primes almost always more expensive than zooms? It seems to me that primes just have to be simpler to build than zooms and I would expect that simplicity to result in a lower cost.
at the consumer level for zooms this is true, i.e. in expensive, because many zooms are sold as kit lenses or ment for mass market appeal. Start looking at fast zooms, with constant aperture and these now start becoming much more expensive because they are big heavy (lots of materials) made to very high standards, and don't sell as many
QuoteQuote:

Are Zeiss lenses worth the boatload of extra money? All of Zeiss's lenses for Pentax seem to be manual-focus only!
like any product they have carved a niche, I don't know the quantity but production is low. as for quality some people swear by them, just like leica owners swear by their equipment. It just proves that there is someone who will buy anything at a price.
QuoteQuote:

NOTE: I'm not looking for in-depth engineering info here. I'm just looking for some general insight - if there is in fact any rhyme or reason to the marketplace.

Thanks in advance,

Will
I hope my comments help
09-29-2009, 11:40 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by kristoffon Quote
And no, primes aren't more expensive than zooms. The 50-135 costs more than any of those you mentioned. Then again the FA limiteds are full frame lenses and to be fair, let's either compare it to DA primes (you can get 3 DA limiteds fro the price of the 50-135 zoom) or to a full frame zoom. Pentax doesn't make them anymore but the Canon 70-200 L is ~$1900 and almost covers the price of the 3 FA limiteds.

.
kristoffon, I can't speak to any pricing in Brazil, but at B&H in the US, the 50-135 is at $820 and the DA 70 is at $550. So your statement that you can get 3 limiteds for the price of the 50-135 doesn't seem accurate to me.

at one time, i seriously was thinking of the DA 70, but then i realized that with the 50-135, i would have the effect of a professional lens at a number of limited FL, without all that extra cost. No question that the 50-135 is more cumbersome from size and weight than the limited lens, and in many cases the limiteds are somewhat faster, but i'm getting great image quality out of the 50-135.

I get more keepers, and ones that sell, from the 50-135 FL range than any other FL.
09-29-2009, 02:44 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by philbaum Quote
kristoffon, I can't speak to any pricing in Brazil, but at B&H in the US, the 50-135 is at $820 and the DA 70 is at $550. So your statement that you can get 3 limiteds for the price of the 50-135 doesn't seem accurate to me.
I did the math the same way, philbaum, but I decided that kristoffon was using "3" in a rough sense and it was okay. His point was simply that the 50-135 is a fair bit more expensive than some (most?) of the primes.

But a couple people have taken exception to my comment that primes are more expensive than zooms. I accept correction in a general sense. Over at Amazon.com right now, in US$, the 50-135 is a good bit more expensive than the Pentax 40, or 43, or 70 or even the 77. But the zoom is considerably LESS expensive than the Pentax 21 or the 35 limited. So I'm right some of the time. Except that I'm not because the Pentax DA* 60-250 is more expensive even than the 21 or 35 limited. Maybe it's the weather-sealing.

I accept correction. But I suppose I was thinking of the fact that it's clear that to replace the 50-135 (which I'm thinking of doing) I'm probably going to need to buy at least THREE primes (70|77, 90|100|105 and maybe a 135 or slightly longer). And that's going to end up costing a lot more than the 50-135 did and I paid almost the full price when it first came out.

Bottom line for me is: Pricing is a mystery and I'll end up spending money not because the price makes comparative sense but because it's the only way to get what I want. Theft isn't an option here. NO brick and mortar store in Dallas sells any of these lenses. :-)


QuoteQuote:
at one time, i seriously was thinking of the DA 70, but then i realized that with the 50-135, i would have the effect of a professional lens at a number of limited FL, without all that extra cost. No question that the 50-135 is more cumbersome from size and weight than the limited lens, and in many cases the limiteds are somewhat faster, but i'm getting great image quality out of the 50-135. I get more keepers, and ones that sell, from the 50-135 FL range than any other FL.
Well, that's a powerful argument in favor of the zoom, an argument that I understand and respect. I myself am being led by a different impulse.

Will
09-30-2009, 06:26 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by WMBP Quote
But a couple people have taken exception to my comment that primes are more expensive than zooms. I accept correction in a general sense. Over at Amazon.com right now, in US$, the 50-135 is a good bit more expensive than the Pentax 40, or 43, or 70 or even the 77. But the zoom is considerably LESS expensive than the Pentax 21 or the 35 limited. So I'm right some of the time. Except that I'm not because the Pentax DA* 60-250 is more expensive even than the 21 or 35 limited. Maybe it's the weather-sealing.
Just to clarify, you cannot use Amazon for general price comparisons, because you can fall into the trap of counting the marketplace sellers as the going rate. B&H and Adorama are much better able to reflect the general going rate for a lens (and not just their listed price, but the price once you put the lens into your cart).

Your statement that the 50-135 is LESS expensive than the 21 or 35 limited is erroneous. On B&H, accurately reflecting the general going rate, the 50-135 is around $800, while the 21 and 35 limiteds are around $500 each. Just wanted to get this out of the way.

And as Phil B stated, and others have concurred, while the 50-135 is substantially bigger than the DA 70 and the other primes, the 50-135 really is a whole bunch of primes rolled up into one zoom lens. It offers a lot of value for its premium price--it can just be a lot to lug around for awhile (hence, why I have the DA 70 as well as the 50-135--the DA limited primes are just so portable).
09-30-2009, 07:24 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by jeffrey r Quote
Your statement that the 50-135 is LESS expensive than the 21 or 35 limited is erroneous. On B&H, accurately reflecting the general going rate, the 50-135 is around $800, while the 21 and 35 limiteds are around $500 each. Just wanted to get this out of the way.
Jeffrey,

I usually consult at least two vendors: Amazon (always) and either B&H or, less often, Adorama. If it's a Sigma lens I may also check sigma4less.com (=photo4less.com). In my experience, Amazon almost always has the lowest price. But this seems to be an exception. I'm thrilled to know that the 21 can be had from B&H for not much more than $500. Thanks for the correction.

Will
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