by Frank Phillips
One option is to go to the local mall and purchase your new camera from a camera store. But the prices you see online and in the back of photo magazines can be tempting. They’re often well below the prices you see in your local camera shop. But are these deals too good to be true?
I have heard and read many horror stories about dealing with disreputable camera dealers. Shadowy dealers from New York who give you the runaround, bully you on the phone, don’t deliver when promised, and when your gear finally does arrive, it’s “gray market” equipment without a U.S. warranty. Another scheme is to remove the battery, cables, software, etc, from the packaging and then sell you a “kit” (at an inflated price) that contains all of the accessories that were supposed to come with the camera in the first place. I’ve even heard of dealer sending photocopied user manuals because the cameras they were selling were never meant for the U.S. market and had manuals in other languages! Then there are the shipping charges. There are numerous stories of these shops charging three to five times the actual shipping cost.
If you fall for the bait and switch, kits, and inflated shipping charges you’ll end up paying as more then you would have at a reputable dealer – but end up with equipment that has no U.S. warranty. It’s worth avoiding these kinds of shady dealers at all costs.
But not all mail order and online dealers are crooks. For some guidelines on what to look for check out Mail Order Caveat Emptor (buyer beware) and Camera Confidential, Web Buyer Beware, which ran in PC World Magazine. These articles will educate you on the ins and outs of buying mail order.
You can also check out the Web sites of the larger camera dealers such as Ritz, Jessups (in the U.K.) and Calumet online. Their online prices are often lower than their retail store prices to compete with other online retailers. While they may not have the lowest online pricing you’ll at least have some sense of security that you’re dealing with a reputable company. Even online retailer Amazon has gotten into the act and is now selling camera equipment.
If you’re really determined to get the lowest prices check out www.bizrate.com or www.pricegrabber.com and search for the camera model you’re interested in. These sites will provide you with a list of dealers who have submitted to a “rating” system. Check their ratings closely and don’t deal with anyone with questionable ratings. Check the factors that go into their rating, such as price, on-time delivery, and shipping charges. In the BizRate system you can sort the results of your search by Price, Rating or On-Time Delivery, and it’s often helpful to sort by all three to get the best “balance”.
Once you have found a dealer that appears to be on the level, go to www.resellerratings.com and check their feedback. If you’re satisfied with what you read, then you’re probably safe shopping with them.
Remember my caution about shipping charges with mail order dealers? The same applies to online retailers. Many online dealers will promote very low camera prices, but then sock you with outrageous shipping charges, meaning you pay the same price or more in the end. If you want to get an idea of what the shipping will cost, try the PriceGrabber system referenced above, which allows you to enter your zip code and it will estimate the shipping charges.
Which brings me back full circle to your local camera shop. By all means do your homework. Find out what you can buy your new camera for. But when you factor in shipping and any other costs that may be tacked on take a hard look at what you actual savings are.
Remember if the difference isn’t all that much you can walk out of the store with your new camera the same day. More importantly if there is a problem there is someone you can talk to. You won’t have to ship your ailing camera back to some far off dealer for diagnosis. And there are no tricks. What you see is what you get.
Sometimes you’ll find fantastic deals online. Sometimes the best deal is still right in your own backyard. The only guarantee is that if you’re an educated consumer, you’ll always find the best deal on your new camera.
Introduction to Digital Photography
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