With Colorado’s recent decision to approve online sales tax collection (HB 1193, don’t get me started on how bad I think this is) I thought it would be a good time to talk about where I buy gear from.
“Where do you buy your cameras at?” This is a question I get asked a lot. I don’t really have a simple answer so I will try to explain where and from whom I buy most of my equipment from.
Let’s be honest. Photographers are a bunch of cheapskates (and you wonder why the value of good photography is going down?). We are always looking for the “deal” when it comes to buying equipment. Professional photographers spend a lot of money on equipment so we like to know that we are getting the best value for our dollar. So we shop around.
The first place many people go is the internet. The internet can be a great place to find a deal if you look in the right place. The problem is there are a lot of wrong places you have to sift through to find the right one. When I buy equipment from an online seller there are only 2, that’s right 2 places, that I will order from: B & H Photo and Video or Adorama Camera. I will explain why.
B & H has been around for decades. They have had a storefront in New York for more than 30 years. Believe it or not that can be a really important part of online shopping. There are a lot of online only camera stores with no retail store front, no trained sales staff that have actually worked with some one face to face and no credibility when it comes to prices. They are only there to make a quick buck at your expense. I have been to the store in New York City and can say without a doubt that the staff is knowledgeable, courteous and willing to answer questions or demo a product for you at no cost. All of these features spill onto their online store with phone numbers you can actually find with actual people on the other end who are willing to answer questions or take care of any problems you might have. They publish videos about new products. They write articles about buying advice for specific categories. And the best part is the selection. If you can’t find it there it probably doesn’t exist. This is part of the reason that I have probably spent more than $10,000.00 with them.
Adorama Camera is very similar to B & H. They too have been operating for more than 30 years including a retail store front in New York City. Adorama stocks many of the same products but also offers more services such as rentals, classes, printing and presentations from well known photographers. They often have slightly better prices than B & H and/or offer package deals on cameras and memory cards throughout the year. Adorama shares many of the same strengths with customer service that B & H does. Again they have easily accessible phone numbers with actual people (photographers even!) on the other end. Sometimes you just need to pick up the phone and call to solve a problem and they will answer every time. Again this is part of the reason I have spent a lot of money there.
Both stores offer great prices on new equipment and no sales tax (unless you live in New York or buy directly from their retail stores). This can be a huge savings. If you are buying a $1699.99 camera and paying sales tax locally, say about 7%, you will end up paying more than $1800.00 for it. So you can save about $100.00 if you buy from them.
“But those are all good things you say, what about the bad things?” Well like all camera stores there are a few bad things to mention. One thing that I don’t particularly like about B & H and Adorama is that they will stock “grey market” or “import” lenses along with regular lenses. Grey market lenses are almost identical to regular market lenses except for the warranty. Depending on the brand, if you purchase an “import” or “grey market” lens the warranty will not be honored in the U.S. If you have a problem with a grey market lens you may have to ship it to Japan or Korea or pay an additional fee to service it in the U.S. This makes them cheaper up front but it is not made clear to buyers about the problems associated with the “grey market” or “imported lenses.” Helen Oster of Adorama explains in greater detail in the comments below. (Thanks for the clarification)
The other thing that is a problem are the stores hours including online. Both B & H and Adorama observe all Jewish religious holidays – all of them. I totally respect them for putting their faith and families ahead of capitalism but it makes buying during the busiest holidays difficult. So my advice to buying from either of these sellers is to plan ahead or pay for it in high shipping costs.
Denver Pro Photo has been around for many years. They cater to higher end photographers with lighting equipment, presentation materials, extensive film developing and lab services. This doesn’t mean that they won’t answer your questions but it does mean you will have an easier time finding a 1600 Watt second strobe there, than a point and shoot camera. The sales staff is extremely knowledgeable and will work with you to try and solve your problem. I know that when I started lighting gyms for high school sports they had some great ideas for attaching a strobe to oddly shaped bleachers. They have a ton of lighting and grip equipment and stock the fantastic but really overpriced Lightware products. If you need a Pocket Wizard or a C stand they are the go to guys. They also stock just about everything Bogen, Induro and Paramount Cables make.
From time to time, DPP brings in guest speakers and industry representatives. Most of these events are cheap or free and often times allow you to purchase products at near dealer prices. There is also a ton of great information and the opportunity to do a bit of networking with fellow photographers.
Englewood Camera is a great locally owned and operated store. They specialize in Canon, Leica, Olympus and used cameras. They have a great selection of used equipment and what they have on hand frequently changes. I have spent so much money there, that they have sent me a Christmas card for several years in a row. I almost always make the top 25 highest sales list. Last time I was in they had an unusually large amount of high end used Nikon glass. If you are looking for a good deal on used gear this is the place to go. All of their prices on used gear are based on current values and quality from KEH.com. This is great because you can find online prices locally. They also will order just about any piece of Canon, Leica or Olympus gear that they don’t have in stock and reserve it for you, most times at no additional cost. However, don’t go in and ask to order an EOS 1D Mark IV (a $5000 camera) without putting something down to know that you are serious about your purchase. That is just common sense. Even I wouldn’t order one for you without seeing the money first.
Since some of the other camera stores, such as Ritz and Wolf, can’t stock Canon gear anymore Englewood Camera is your only local option. Oh yeah, not sure if you heard but Ritz and Wolf owe Canon a crap ton of money. Canon has cut them off from receiving new gear. Don’t believe me? Pick up an ad for one of those stores and look for anything that says Canon. You won’t find it. Because EC is a Canon authorized reseller, they do get new stuff earlier than other stores can. They had 5D Mark IIs, 7Ds, Powershot G11s and Powershot S90s within a couple of weeks of their announcements.
EC also offers a ton of extras outside its retail store. They have a full service lab for both digital and film processing. I have had a couple of large format digital prints made and couldn’t be happier with the quality. On top of the print services, they offer “how to” classes for people who purchase digital cameras, both point and shoot and DSLRs. This is an added bonus you won’t get from a big box retailer or online stores. Every one who works there is a photographer. There is no such thing as a stupid question, just stupid people who ask questions.
Once again you ask “What about the bad things?” Well there are a few bad things for each store. Denver Pro Photo carries a lot of high end equipment. They rely on a very specialized group of people to purchase the products and services they sell. This is not a store for beginners. They don’t actually stock many cameras either. If you are looking for a wider variety of low to mid range gear go to Englewood Camera. With that said, because EC is a smaller store they often have problems keeping stock of certain items, especially around the holidays. This is good for them, bad for the consumer. There are also a couple of “know it all” sales people that work there. They have the attitude that makes you want to punch them in the neck. Just ask for Bryce, Erin or James in the retail store and ask for Brandy in the photo finishing store to avoid the headache.
That pretty much covers it. Anyone buy gear locally or online that I didn’t mention I should check out?