For those of us of a certain age, buying camera equipment used to be so simple. You would see a review in a photography magazine, phone a few stores and visit the one with the best price/service. There, the shop’s experts would let you play with the camera and lens to get a feel for it, give you lots of advice, then hopefully sell it to you.
Move forward 20 years and not only do we have many many different ways of purchasing our equipment, we also have much more equipment to choose from. If you feel like it’s a bit of a minefield out there when it comes to buying gear, then you are probably right.
Today, we will attempt to condense down the process of deciding how and where to buy your new photographic equipment, highlighting some of the pros and cons of each.
Narrow Down Your Choices.
Before you go too far, you really need to fine hone your choice of equipment. Here, the marvels of the Internet can be both your friend and your foe. The go-to choices for helping you decide are both forums and reviews.
There are some things to remember, however, when looking at both reviews and forums. Review sites, especially the biggest ones, tend to rely on advertising revenue. A significant percentage of that revenue may come from photographic manufacturers. If they are heavily favouring several particular brands in advertising, there is the chance they will be doing more favourable reviews for said brands.
When it comes to forums, we are all aware of the term fanboys. Asking advice on a Nikon forum about buying a Nikon camera is unlikely to yield too many negative comments. Ask the same advice on a Canon forum and you will be reliably informed that you are buying the worst camera in the world. Ironically one of the better places to find good advice is on more general, well moderated photographic groups on Facebook.
Don’t ignore reviews from lesser known photographers, often these guys and girls have bought the equipment themselves and can be less biased towards a particular brand. YouTube can often be a useful place to watch such reviews as legally, YouTubers are supposed to declare any paid or sponsored content.
With your decision made or at least narrowed down, where do you buy the product?
Bricks And Mortar Stores
The beginning of the digital age and maturing of the Internet created the perfect storm for bricks and mortar retailers. In a few short years, we went from virtually every decent sized town having a proper camera store to a point where some major cities did not even have one.
The sheer growth of digital photography has halted, perhaps even reversed that trend to a certain extent. Those bricks and mortar stores that survived, did so because they recognised the advantages of the Internet and perhaps also realised the size of the future second-hand market.
Today, most many large cities will have at least one decent photographic store, perhaps more. These are more likely to be part of a chain than real independents, but to have survived they must be competitive and have good customer service.
There are some very significant advantages to buying your equipment in a real store. The first is as simple as the fact that you can pick it up and try it. The advantages of this cannot be overstated, especially when buying a camera body or lens. You may well be using that camera for years ahead, it has to feel right in your hands.
The other main advantage is being able to talk with an expert. A good camera retailer will not only have a great knowledge of the products available but will be able to determine what’s right for you. That’s an invaluable thing to have.
The downside of the bricks and mortar stores is, of course, the price. However, these days that premium price is not often as big a gap as you might expect. Stores that have expanded to the Internet now have a much larger market and that in turn gives them better buying power.
Assuming you have no local store, or you prefer to buy online, what are your options?
The real minefield when buying photographic equipment is the Internet. So what are your main choices when shopping for gear online?
- Online Retailers Based On Bricks And Mortar Stores.
- Dedicated Online Photographic Retailers.
- General Online Retailer Such As Amazon
- Auction Sites
- Local and National Listings Sites.
The online retailers from real stores will still probably be your safest bet. The price might be slightly higher but they will often ship very quickly and have an excellent returns policy. They are also probably the easiest to research in terms of customer satisfaction.
Dedicated online photographic retailers can be a good place to get a better deal. However, you need to research the retailer carefully. There are some very professional looking stores that merely switch and bait or even worse. The best retailers will have been around for a few years and have a good reputation.
There is no denying that you can get some amazing deals on Amazon. Most photographic items will be sold through third-party retailers on the site so again due diligence is important. Check the seller’s rating and the number of sales, also check that it ships from your own country and that delivery is free.
Although eBay still has some great camera deals, Amazon seems to have stolen much of its thunder when it comes to buying new products. However, eBay remains king for secondhand and refurbished equipment. Many of the independents that sell through Amazon also sell through eBay so it worth checking which site is giving the best deal.
Buying new through listings sites is not recommended. However, there are plenty of great deals to be had on secondhand products. Always use caution when buying from listings sites. If meeting in person, do so in a public place and check the product over carefully.
Buyer Beware When Buying Online
There is a couple of things that you should look at very closely when purchasing online. Firstly, what is the returns policy? If the online retailer is going to charge you a 30% restock fee for a return then you need to be 100% sure you are buying the right thing. Also, take care to look at their returns policy on faulty goods.
Secondly, if the price is very competitive, there is a good possibility that the product is a grey import. Depending on the manufacturer, your warranty may not be valid for the country you purchased it in, meaning costly courier serviced overseas for any repairs, or worse, no free repairs at all.
Buying Equipment In Summary
So lets quickly go over the pros and cons of online and bricks and mortar stores.
Buying At A Real Store
- Expert guidance from in-store specialists.
- Ability to handle and test products before purchase.
- Can be more expensive than online
- Not every city has a good camera store.
- Often can be significantly cheaper
- More choices available than bricks and mortar stores.
- The convenience of ordering online
- More chances to get ripped off
- Risk of Grey Imports
Personally, if I have the opportunity to buy from a real bricks and mortar store, I do. The price premium is often well worth the advice and help that you will receive. The added bonus is that you can try the product before buying.
If your preference is for online retailers, then do your research, do not be swayed by highly competitive prices, rather looks for the best deals amongst the well know and trusted online retailers.
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