Photography Gear: Where And How To Shop

Preamble

My very first job was in camera retail with my very first day at work being only a few days after my seventeenth birthday. My immediate boss was Ernest C. Cameron a retired wedding/portrait photographer who still photographed weddings on the side. I began assisting Ern (almost everyone else called him Mr. Cameron) within a few months of starting work and, within a year, I was being booked as the primary photographer for many, albeit, budget weddings. Two years after I started work my boss and mentor died and, whether I liked it or not, I became a very busy wedding photographer. I stayed in the retail game for another three years before, at age twenty-two, opening my own wedding/portrait studio. 

After running the studio for several years I changed career and became the head photographer at my local  newspaper, the Hamilton Spectator. In those days it was an extreme busy job. As well as provided editorial, sports and advertising images for the Spectator, which was published three times per week, we also printed images for two smaller sister papers. 

After leaving my hometown, Hamilton, to undertake what became nine years of tertiary based study in photography I supported myself with all manner of jobs, often up to three at the same time. During my first five years in Melbourne I supported my way through college my working again in photo retail.  

So, after ten years in photo retail, I believe I am qualified to discuss the changing marketplace for consumers. Partly because of my own experience working in retail, but also because, at heart, I remain a small town country boy.

I maintained for years that it was desirable to shop locally but, as Australia represents only a tiny portion of the worldwide photography market, there were times when I was simply unable to source products locally. As far back as 1990 I began shopping at B&H Photo Video. In those days, prior to online shopping, I placed orders and made enquiries via fax.

In addition to the supply of certain speciality products there are two other reasons why, these days, I usually shop online.  

Price

Local outlets simply can't compete. Back in the days of film-based photography I'd order 100 rolls of Fuji Velvia 100F film at a time. Now if I was buying it locally it would cost, from memory, around AUS $23 a roll. But from B&H I could purchase it at $7 per roll, including freight and duty. That's a saving of $1,600 per order. Given that the film was manufactured in the same Japanese factory it was impossible to justify buying the product locally. The same discrepancy in pricing, though to varying degrees, often exists when buying camera bodies, lenses and accessories. 

Now I do draw the line, as I think we all should, when it comes to finding the absolute cheapest price. While I do price around online, I'm happy to pay a bit more for the online store with a great reputation, particularly if it's one with which I have a solid and stress free purchase history.  

Service

I've never considered myself a sales person, whether it the early days working in camera stores or as the proprietor of my own wedding/portrait photography studio. There was simply no need to sell anything. Folks came to me with a need which I did my very best to satisfy. I didn't demonstrate the camera by waffling on about features and benefits. I showed them how to use the thing. Imagine walking away from a store with a new camera and actually knowing how to use it. Unbelievable!

There are retailers in Melbourne, where I currently reside, who flat out refuse to bring the camera out from behind the showcase unless you agree to purchase it. I understand a lot of people come in, ask a few questions and head off looking for a cheaper price. But not to enter the game at all is, to my mind, shameful. They might as well put up the white flag then and there.

Retailers go on and on about customer service. But what service do they actually provide? Are they simply talking about steering your purchasing decision through the old features/benefits diatribe? Back in the day I used to regularly coach folks in the art of making better pictures by giving feedback on the photos they'd just got back from Kodak. That's how you provide service and build customer loyalty. You don't sell, you solve problems and allow folks to walk away from the interaction in the knowledge that they're now more in control of their own photography.

I'm always happy to purchase locally and I do, though usually when the item/s in question are at a relatively low price point. Given the cost of freight and the need to be around when the courier arrives there's probably little, if any, value shopping online under these circumstances. 

Who Or What Is B&H

B&H Photo Video has long been a landmark in the photography market in New York, perhaps one of the world's most competitive market places. I've literally shopped there for decades without any problems and, therefore, have no reservations in recommending them for medium to large value purchases. Just be sure to check the associated freight costs prior to finalizing your order.

Who Is Amazon

Amazon.com is world renown as a safe, convenient and competitive outlet for all manner of goods. If you've already shopped with Amazon.com feel free to use the links throughout this site to purchase through them. 

By doing so you'll be supporting this site, as I get a small commission on any sale resulting on you making a purchase after clicking on an Amazon link on my site. However, please understand, that the price you pay will not be affected, compared to you opening up another browser window and going to the Amazon.com website yourself. The price you pay is unchanged, the only difference for you is that, by clicking on the Amazon link on my site, you're taken directly to the appropriate page on the Amazon.com site.

A convenient option for you, based upon a recommendation/review I've prepared for you, and a small gratitude for me. I'm sure you'll agree that's a fair exchange though, at the end of the day, you should purchase what, where and how you deem fit. You're in control, and I wouldn't want it any other way.