One question I get asked very often from my readers and friends is, “Where should I buy a camera?” While this might seem like a pretty straightforward answer to many of our readers, I still decided to write a quick article about where to buy cameras and why.
This is not about what DSLR, mirrorless camera, or lenses you should buy. If you are looking for detailed information on what camera equipment you should choose and why, please read our comprehensive “Beginning Photography Equipment” guide. Also, take a look at the following articles if you are looking for a DSLR vs Point and Shoot comparison, or a DSLR vs mirrorless camera comparison.
If you have already made up your mind on what camera and lens to buy, but you are still wondering if you should purchase it online or in a local store, keep reading, since I might be able to save you some money.
1) Where to Buy a Camera- Local Store or Online/Internet?
There are many different sources of where you could buy camera equipment, but I will talk about the three main ones:
- A local camera/electronics store
- An online Internet store
- An online auction site like eBay
Obviously, you could also buy a used camera from a friend or a coworker or perhaps grab one for a really good price in a garage sale. But those cases are rare and you would have to decide for yourself if it is worth it. One thing to note – if you buy a used camera or lens, in most cases, the manufacturer’s warranty will NOT transfer to your name.
So, which one is better, a local store, an online store or online auction? It really depends on a case-by-case basis. Let’s analyze the advantages and disadvantages of these in a little more detail.
1.1) Advantages and disadvantages of a local store
Advantages of a local store:
- Helpful staff – a local camera store such as Wolf Camera or Calumet Photo will have qualified sales staff that can help you answer many of your questions about cameras, lenses, and other accessories (which is not always the case in larger electronics stores such as Best Buy).
- You can try before you buy – you can see, touch and even try some of the equipment before you buy it.
- Immediate purchase – if the item you are looking for is in stock, you can get it on the same day.
- Immediate return/exchange – If anything is wrong with your equipment you can return or exchange it within 14-90 days (depending on store return policy).
- Great deals – occasionally, local stores might have great discounts and specials, especially if they need to clear out their shelves or go out of business.
- Discounted display items – you might be able to buy a display item at a greatly discounted price.
Disadvantages of a local store:
- Commission-based – while having a good salesperson that knows what he/she is talking about might be an advantage, there is also a big possibility that they will try to persuade you to buy an expensive product that you do not necessarily need. They might also try to sell you extra accessories, filters, extended warranty, etc. This is because most sales people, especially in specialized photography stores and large electronics stores, get commissions from sales. So, the more you buy, the more they get.
- Higher prices – local stores rarely have good prices on camera gear, since most of what they sell is “MSRP” (manufacturer’s suggested retail price).
- Sales tax – you pay sales tax, which can be as high as 12 percent of the total amount.
- Buying frenzy – seeing a large selection of gear and accessories, you might become a victim of marketing and spend more money than you intended to before entering the store.
1.2) Advantages and disadvantages of an online store
Advantages of an online store:
- Great prices – there is a lot of tough competition on photography gear on the Internet and companies that play on large margins can provide better prices and incentives. There is also a smaller overhead of operating an online business, since there is no need to hire expensive sales people.
- Product reviews – online product reviews are another huge advantage, because you can find out what other people think about the product before you buy it. Many online retailers provide the ability to leave comments and rate products, and I always read other people’s comments before making the final purchasing decision.
- No sales tax – you don’t pay a sales tax (as long as the store you are buying from is in a different state). While for smaller purchases this might not be a big deal, if you are buying a DSLR or an expensive lens, paying no sales tax will make a huge difference.
- Better return/refund policies – some of the specialized online photography stores will have much better return/refund policies and customer support than a local store.
Disadvantages of an online store:
- Shipping and insurance charges – while many of the online stores have free shipping on select items, you still have to pay shipping/insurance fees on other items. You have to be extra-cautions about shipping charges, because some companies might advertise a product at a lower price and make it up in shipping charges.
- Fraud – unfortunately, the Internet is full of scammers that advertise cameras and lenses at super good prices that will run away with your money and steal your credit card info.
- Not immediate – once you place an order, you have to wait for your order to go through and get processed/shipped. Then you have to wait for your package to arrive.
- Processing and shipping delays – some companies get so busy with processing online purchases that you order might not be processed for a couple of days, especially during the holiday period. In addition, you might also experience shipping delays due to inclement weather.
- Longer return/exchange – if something went wrong with the product you purchased, you would have to RMA it back to the company, then wait for the company to process your RMA and send a replacement unit back, which might take up to two weeks or more.
1.3) Advantages and disadvantages of an auction site
2) My recommendation
I personally buy everything online, because it is much cheaper. I do not have to pay a sales tax and I can find some amazing deals online that a local store will not be able to match. I usually pay no shipping fees and even if I have to, I know that the online seller is not overcharging me. I do not mind waiting for a couple of days and I know that the companies I deal with are 100% reliable and provide excellent customer support.
In terms of fraud, if you see a deal that sounds too good to be true, do NOT buy it. I have seen too many companies online that will advertise cameras and lenses at half price or less. Photography gear is nothing like regular electronics, where one retailer might have a much different price than another. Most of the photo equipment prices are regulated by the manufacturers. If the price you see is much lower than in any of the websites listed below, you are most likely dealing with a scammer.
Here is the list of verified and reliable online stores that I buy my equipment from:
- B&H Photo Video – one of the largest photo/video stores in the world based out of NY. I always use B&H for all of my purchases and use another company only when B&H does not have what I want in stock. Their customer service is superb and I have never had any issues with them.
- Adorama – another large online store with excellent customer service and support based out of NY. This is the second best for me and their prices are usually on par with B&H.
- Amazon – Everybody knows Amazon, because it is a great company with great prices. Be careful about some of their resellers though!
The above companies are all very reliable to work with and I highly recommend them for your photography needs. Please note that most of the above companies also have retail locations in New York and other major cities.
Obviously, an online store might not work out for you if you need something immediately. Another thing you should keep an eye on are specials that happen in local stores every once in a while (Black Friday, holiday specials, etc). I snatched some filters and other camera accessories when a local Wolf Camera store was closing down for good – they were giving up to 75% off. For all other cases you should use an online store or an auction site, if you want to get the best price.
If you have any questions, please post them in the comments section below.