When it is time for a new camera there are a couple of points that may be helpful whether you are purchasing a inexpensive point & shoot camera or the latest expensive DSLR.

Before you start shopping, it is useful to determine what camera makes the most sense for you. The major choices are between a Point & Shoot camera & a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR). A previous article “Point and Shoot or DSLR” may help make the choice.

After deciding which type of camera to purchase, some other considerations:

  1. Where to purchase your camera.  There are three basic choices – an on-line purchase, a “big box store” or a local camera store.  My first choice for a number of reasons is my local camera store.  It is far more likely that a real camera store will have long time, knowledgeable employees that can help you with your choice. No big box store that I know of will let you take a camera outside to see how it reacts to daylight lighting conditions, let you use your own memory card to take a bunch of samples to review at home on your PC, etc.
    It is important to keep them alive & in business because they will often carry accessories that the big box stores don’t.  Although you may be able to find the accessories on-line, you won’t have the ability to actually try them on your camera, see if your stuff fits the camera bag, etc.
    Although the posted price may be higher than the big box store or on-line suppliers, many local camera stores will match the prices offered by others.  I always give them a chance to match prices, and am willing to pay a bit more for the added benefits locals offer. The staff can be a valuable resource that can’t be matched by the sales persons at your typical mall store.
  2. No matter who you buy from, be sure you understand their return policies.  They can range from none (you must send it back to the manufacturer) to a complete refund. Returns often have time limits, require the complete packing materials including unfilled guarantee cards, etc.  The less time you have spent with your hands on the model of camera you plan to purchase, the more important the return policy becomes.
  3. Understand what “Gray Market” means.  Some dealers, particularly on-line sources offer gray market cameras.  Although there is nothing wrong with a gray market camera, there are good reasons for avoiding them. A gray market camera, lens or accessory does not go through the normal distribution system for your country.  In most cases guarantees are covered by your local distributor – although gray market cameras are likely to be less expensive, it something goes wrong, it may be impossible to have them repaired by the manufacturer.  In the worst case a gray market camera may have menus in a foreign language!  Some major on-line dealers such as B&H or Adorama offer both official & gray market products, providing their own guarantee for the gray market items.  If you want the resources of the manufacturer behind your product, pay the additional 10% – 20% for the official item.
  4. When shopping on-line, be very careful of unrealistic low priced items. There are many on-line dealers that quote low prices & ship gray market products without identifying them as such.
    Even worse are the dealers that, after you have placed your order, send you an email requiring you call them.  Once on the phone, they inform you that the camera comes without items that are normally part of the package such as a battery, lens, memory card, or that the menus are in Russian, etc.  They will add the missing items to your order and fix the problems, and guess what? The final price will be over list price.  If you try to buy just the camera, it will be “out of stock.” In some cases these bait & switch dealers can end up selling you accessories you don’t need or want just to get rid of them.  If you try to cancel your order you end up on hold for hours, told there is a restocking fee or cancellation fee, or otherwise be kept hanging.
    If you buy on-line from a dealer you don’t know, ALWAYS check with Reseller Ratings or other store reviewer before purchasing, ALWAYS use a credit card rather than a debit card, and if you do manage to cancel your order, check to be sure your account is refunded.  Be sure to read as many customer reviews as possible – although the reviewing sites do their best to prevent it, some sellers “stuff” the reviews.

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  2. Gray Market cameras are usually the same as normal ones except they have not been imported by the manufacturer’s official organization. For example, the camera may have been built for Europe, and a US dealer bought them & imported them into the US rather than going through the official channels. Since the camera manufacturer usually has a US importer that advertises the product, handles warranty work, maintains technical support, etc., they are not too happy about being circumvented.

    Picking a manufacturer I am familiar with – Nikon builds their cameras & lenses in plants around the world. Nikon USA imports them to the US & provides the guarantee & technical support. If a retailer imports the cameras on their own, neither Nikon or Nikon USA will honor any guarantee work. The importing retailer may provide warranties, but they will not be through Nikon and may not cover the same time period or quality of work.
    Some manufacturers will not even repair a gray market camera or lens for their normal fees once they are out of the warranty period. They usually identify gray market products through their serial numbers.
    Again, using Nikon as an example, they provide a 5 year warranty on their lenses. Although I could have saved 10% – 15% by purchasing a gray market lens, I have had two 4 year old lenses rebuilt for free – wouldn’t have happened unless they were official lenses.

  3. P Winkelmann

    Hi, I have not heard of “grey market” cameras, please explain. Guess I am niave but have not encountered that term before. Thanks