Everyone, please welcome Allen from AREPATphotography – he is one of my dearest friends and an amazing photographer.  Allen is here today to share some tips on where to shop for cameras, how to find best deals, etc.

Monochrome #6 by AREPATphotography

Please stop by the AREPAT Photography website and say hello!

As the picture taker that everyone knows, I get asked all the time:

  • “Where do you buy camera equipment?”
  • “Where can I get the best deal?”
  • “What camera do you recommend for how I want to use one?”

To help out the readers of ShopHappens, I’ll be addressing those questions today.

When you think about what type of camera you want to buy you need base it on a few key criteria:

  • Are you shooting for fun or as a serious hobby/work?
  • Do you care about great image quality?
  • Is small size and convenience important?
  • How often will you use your camera?
  • What will you be taking pictures of most often?
  • What skill level are you as a camera operator?

If you are novice to moderate in camera skill, are shooting primarily for fun and will mostly be taking pictures of great moments with friends and the occasional online sale, then a ‘point and shoot’ digicam is all you need. If you don’t need a convenient camera that will fit in your pocket, image quality is a high priority for you and you’re looking to become (or already are) a skilled photographer, you’ll want a Digital SLR. If you find yourself in the middle of the two previous descriptions, having solid skill, like good image quality but don’t want to lug a large camera around, then a higher end non-DSLR will fit the bill.

‘Point and shoot’ digital cameras (digicams) are exactly what you think they are; 35mm equivalent small cameras that fit in your pocket, or purse, have large touch screens and are great for on-the-go photography (e.g. Canon Elph, Nikon Coolpix). Small digicams are convenient and affordable ($200 – $500). If you want interchangeable lenses to fine tune the type of image, and distance from which you can shoot, then a DSLR is your camera of choice (e.g. Canon Rebel t2i, Nikon D5000). DSLR’s vary greatly in price and can help anyone spring board into shooting more professional quality images, but at greater cost ($500-$6000). Advanced non-DSLR cameras (e.g. Canon G-12) have the manual camera functions (ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed) of DSLRs, but come in smaller packages and in most cases cost less ($400 – $600).

AREPATphotography media event: Simona de Silvestro promo for the Baltimore Grand Prix

AREPATphotography: Simona de Silvestro promo for the Baltimore Grand Prix (Feb 2011)

While my examples of cameras above were well known brands, there are plenty of options in these three camera genres. Not every camera that one person loves will make you happy, so it’s imperative that you research the camera you’re interested in prior to purchase. If you’re able, go to a local camera shop (or if all else fails, a place like Best Buy) so you can get the cameras you’re considering in your hands and check out how they feel. While this sounds moot, ergonomics can be a deal-breaker depending on your hand-size and finger length. Let’s put it this way; if you drop your camera every time you pick it up, or end up pushing the wrong buttons constantly, you won’t be taking pictures with it.

Additionally, you also want to comb the internet for reviews to compare it to other cameras that you could be buying with the same or similar money. There are plenty of electronics review sites around the web, but I encourage you to seek out camera-only review sites. Personally, I’ve been using a combination of dpreview.com and steves-digicams.com for almost 8 years. That said, you want to use a site that goes into comprehensive detail for not only all of the functions and specs, but provide you with sample images/video and a features breakdown. Online reviews are the best way to understand what daily life with said camera will be, so that when you see it in person you know what you’re looking at. I also like going on youtube to see video reviews of new products, so you can get an even better idea of what the product is like. I recommend Digital Revolution‘s youtube channel, but take note that their actual website is great too.

Now that you know what you want and have done some research on the cameras you like (read both good and bad customer reviews please), you need to find a place to get a good deal. For 80% of you all, I’d say use Amazon.com and be done with it. For those of you who fancy yourselves a bit more savvy, use the web search engines to the fullest to find a great deal. Keep in mind when buying your camera and/or accessories, especially when you use the Google/Bing shopping method, make a point to watch out for suspicious businesses. It’s relatively easy to locate them, but you need to know what to look for.

The first thing to watch out for is camera X being sold in a ‘kit’, ‘without packaging’ or ‘no instruction manual’ for a price ridiculously lower than MSRP. This is typically a sign of a web-only storefront looking to profit off of store-returned goods that can no longer be sold otherwise, knockoffs (Asian aftermarket replica) and the like. Legally, these places have to tell you if you’re buying something that isn’t exactly what they say it is so if you search around on a website like this make sure to use keywords like ‘US’ or ‘US Kit’. Using these keywords will let you know whether the product you’re looking for is the official product the manufacturer intended for US retail sale. If this search method works and you see a ‘US spec/kit’ designated camera X with a price closer to MSRP, close the browser window and move on with your online shopping elsewhere. Typically, online storefronts like these have plenty of salesmen, but not much customer service.

AREPATphotography: enjoying nature in San Diego

There are plenty of reputable places to buy goods at a discount over MSRP, and when you find great service and quality in a store you should repeat business when it’s financially smart to do so. I love B&H Photo, but if I find a lens or accessory that I want somewhere else at a substantially better price I’ll put my wallet first; just make sure if you do this it’s within reason. 5%-10% less isn’t worth risking an adventure with a poor seller. It’s important that whatever you do, that you buy from a storefront that you trust and will allow appropriate recourse if the product arrives damaged or things are missing. After some successful transactions with different sellers you can grow a nice handful of companies that you can go to when new purchases come to mind.

Good luck and happy shopping!

Camera reviews:
DPreview.com
Steves-Digicams.com
DigitalRev.com
Youtube.com

Camera sales:
B&HPhoto (great place to speak to specialists about the equipment you want to buy)
Amazon.com (if you know what you want and don’t need to discuss it)
Google.com (choose from reputable sellers only)
Manufacturer’s home website (if you don’t mind paying MSRP)

Thank you so much Allen!  This is incredibly useful for photog newbies like myself!

(Side note: All photos in this post were taken by Allen for AREPATphotography – click any image to see more!)

What do you think about Al’s camera shopping tips? Do you have any to add?

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