These days, we have a bewildering choice of photographic equipment to choose from. Not only are there cameras and lenses, but also a huge range of different photographic accessories ranging from memory cards to camera bags. What we have as well is a huge selection of places to buy our equipment; a confusing, sometimes scary, minefield of photographic vendors. Today we are going to take a look at some of the best options and practices when making your purchase.
Equipment vendors fall broadly into two camps: Internet-based stores and brick-and-mortar stores. Let’s take a look at the Internet first, as this is where you can find the best prices. Keep in mind that the Internet is also the source of the biggest scams.
eBay is good if you are careful
Buying from the Internet is about common sense. If something looks too good to be true, then it invariably is. Possibly the biggest minefield is eBay; yet it is also one of the very best places to purchase both new and secondhand equipment.
The key to buying on eBay is to check the vendor’s feedback thoroughly. Look for vendors that have sold multiple photographic items with excellent, 98%+ feedback, and check the most recent comments. Sometimes you might come across someone selling, for example, a Nikon D4 for a very low price who has excellent feedback. Take a look at what they have been selling. The scammers often steal accounts or sell multiple cheap items to build a reputation before suddenly switching to the big-ticket items.
Another thing to look for is item location. Some eBay stores sell what are known as “grey-market” goods. These are products that are technically not for sale in your country. and may not be covered by a manufacturer’s warranty. You may also find yourself having to pay an import tax on these items. That said, the very best eBay stores are upfront about this and have very good reputations. You need to weigh the pros and cons and perhaps even the morality of buying this way.
Check reputations and location
Outside of the auction sites, there are some excellent online photographic stores. Many of these are Internet extensions of brick-and-mortar stores. Others started online and now have one or more physical showrooms. Again, the key to a successful purchase is checking your vendor out. Check out reseller rating sites. These are often the best guides to how reliable an online store is. If you find a store that you are not sure about, check their location using WHOIS searches, send them emails asking technical questions and see how quick and accurate the replies are. Also, you can post on popular internet forums such as dpreview.com to get opinions from your peers.
Check the return policy carefully. Is it going to cost you significant money if you have to return a faulty item? This is especially a consideration if the store is overseas. What are the delivery times and costs? Some unscrupulous online stores will sell you a cheap item, and then recoup the savings in postal costs.
Also, make sure that when you are buying a camera, for example, that it includes necessary accessories such as the battery and charger. Check with the manufacturer exactly what comes in the package. Some vendors will try to remove these and sell them as optional extras. With that said, the best stores will not do any of this, and although they might be a touch more expensive, you will have greater peace of mind.
So, let’s have a look at the other main option: the brick-and-mortar, High Street/Main Street camera store. Before the coming-of-age of Internet shopping, even the smallest towns would have a camera store. They were nearly ubiquitous, like drug stores and shoe shops. These days, sadly, good camera stores are few and far between; however, if you do have access to one near you, then use it.
Support your local camera store
The advantages of a brick-and-mortar store are clear. You have on hand an expert to guide you; you can hold, test and check new and secondhand equipment; and if there is a problem it is very easy to return. The disadvantage is the price; you will pay more than online, and that sadly has led to their demise. I say sadly because, for the extra money that you pay in a real store, you will get 100% more personal service, technical advice, and if you become a regular customer, discounts.
One of the biggest factors in their demise is the fact that people come in, use that expertise, test the product, and then buy it online for a few dollars less. As a professional photographer in a city that fortunately has a very good brick-and-mortar store, I would urge you to use your local camera store if you have one available. Once it’s gone it is very unlikely to return.
In conclusion, if you wish to buy online, do your research and check the vendor out carefully. On eBay, check the feedback and sales history. If you have a local camera store, use them; not only will you be boosting the local economy but you will get personal service, expertise and the knowledge that you have a reliable vendor that you can return to for future purchases.