If you do a quick Google search, it’s pretty easy to find several thousand articles debating the merits of film versus digital photography (waters into which I’ll probably dip my own toe at some point). One thing that hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention – and should – is what the rise of digital photography has done to the local camera shop. If film seems an endangered species, your local camera shop is doubly so.
The advent of digital photography as a viable medium roughly corresponds to the advent of viable, trustworthy online shopping. Just as companies like Fujifilm and Kodak have sometimes struggled to adapt to the changes digital has wrought in the landscape, so too have small independent retailers found themselves on the losing end of a price war sparked by the likes of Amazon and Best Buy. In the past, I’ve purchased from both of these retailers
Let’s look at the pros and cons of buying locally versus buying online:
- Price: This is one arena in which your local camera shop has difficulty competing. However, ask. Some will be flexible on pricing to the extent that they can, others may be willing to bundle an additional item or two if you’re making a big purchase. Besides, the savings you’ll get at your typical online retailer on newer items often won’t be that much. To pick just two examples at this writing*, the Fuji X100 retails at Amazon for $1,199.95, while the Canon Rebel T3i (body only) goes for $799.00. Over at my closest local camera shop, the Fuji is identically priced, and the Canon sells for a whopping 99 cents more. Some savings, huh?
- Selection: Sure, Amazon carries a bit of everything. They can afford to, since they buy in massive quantities, and because the sales of items that move help to offset the stuff that doesn’t. Your local shop doesn’t generally have that luxury, so they’re not going to have every item from every brand. However, if it’s a brand with which they usually deal, ask if they’ll special order for you.
- Knowledge: You tell me which is easier: sorting through a hundred reviews on Amazon (or talking to a salesperson in Wal Mart, who usually works in small appliances, but is filling in for the person in the camera department today, ’cause the girl who normally works cameras is subbing for someone in Automotive), or asking one person at a camera shop who’s either worked with a brand for years, or has at the very least been thoroughly trained on it?
- Support: No matter how hard we try, how knowledgeable we are, or how much research we put in, nobody thinks to ask every question before they buy. Some questions aren’t covered in the manual. And some of them won’t come up ’til you’ve used the camera for a couple of months. Many local shops also offer classes for all levels of photographers that can help take your photography to the next level.
- Try Before You Buy: Quality control is generally pretty tight at most camera manufacturers. However, sample variations do exist. In other words, it’s possible to get a lousy copy of a camera, lens, or just about anything else you use on or around your camera. If you want to try out that “nifty fifty” on your camera before you buy it to make sure it doesn’t have any issues, you’ll have a much easier time doing it at your local dealer than, say, walking into Target with your gear and asking them to try out one or more lenses.
- Used Equipment: Maybe you’ve outgrown the 18-55mm kit lens that came with your camera and want to sell it, or maybe you just don’t feel like paying retail for the macro lens you’ve been waiting to get your sweaty paws on. If inspecting and testing new equipment is a good idea, for used equipment it’s mandatory. It’s easier to do this before purchasing than having to re-pack and return an item that wasn’t quite what the online seller or auctioneer said.
- Rentals: Every so often, a particular project or assignment may call for a specific type of equipment that you may only need one time. If you can’t see the sense in buying something, and don’t have a friend or colleague from whom you can borrow, rental’s always an option. You can’t rent a body, lens, speedlight, or much of anything else from most online retailers. ‘Nuff said.
Camera equipment doesn’t come cheap, so it can be tempting to buy on price alone. When you stop to consider the rest of the picture, however, buying locally has quite a bit to recommend it. Support your local camera shop!
1001 Noisy Cameras’ “Support Your Local Camera Store Initiative”