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Photography is a costly hobby, and starting a studio can get expensive. When you are buying your camera or lenses, you need to make sure that you buy from a place is which is an authorized seller of the manufacturer, is reputable and reliable, have some kind of return policy, does not fleece you with ‘upgrades’, and can be trusted with your credit card.

If you are walking into your nearby photography shop for your purchase, there is nothing much to say about it. Brick and mortar stores have serviced photographers over decades, and there is probably not a better option than buying from your regular store. The only negative aspect of these local stores tend to sell at the manufacturer’s suggested price. You have to specifically ask them for discounts, and even then, often the prices are higher than you would get online. But for easy and safe buying, the local stores are hard to beat.

It is a very different world when it comes to online buying. Not only you have to be vigilant where you order, but also about the reliability of the product you are getting. There are five or six very reliable online stores that I usually patronage. All of them have physical stores and also sell online. Some of the photography / studio chains are also reliable.

Do some research before ordering online, unless you know a few and have been doing business with them.

  • Do they have a physical store? Is the address listed on the site?
  • Are phone numbers listed on the site? Call the numbers to gauge the response quality.
  • Do they provide in house service?
  • What is their return policy?
  • Check BBB (Better Business Bureau) for the ratings and complaints. All businesses will have some unhappy customers.
  • Search online for the store / seller. If they are popular, you will get lots of information (both positive and negative) about them.

You can see a list of the stores in Resources section.

What I am wary about are those online sites and sellers that do not have any physical presence. Though some are reliable sellers, a few of them a fly by night operators who will sell you a camera or lens at a relatively low price and refuse to deal with you after that for any complaints. Their customer service numbers are always engaged, or put you on hold for hours. Why would you want to deal with such aggravation?

If the price is very low compared to other stores, and you think it is too good to be true, it probably is. After you paid your money, often these operators would phone you up to make you buy warranties, accessories and other junk that you do not need. Or sometimes, they would say that your ordered product is out of stock and won’t be available for the next five weeks, but they can substitute for another similar product. If you don’t budge, your money is stuck with the operator for a couple of months.

As you browse through the various online stores for your item, you will see that the prices are almost similar. Unless there is a manufacture’s discount, you are stuck with almost the same price. Avoid buying from third party sellers – Amazon sometimes lists other sellers for the same item. These third party sellers sometimes have high shipping charges, and you may have to deal directly with the seller for returns and exchanges rather than Amazon. Avoid complications when possible, even it means sacrificing a few bucks.

If you shopping for cameras and lenses and other high priced items, calling the sales phone number can get you discounts and rebates that are generally not displayed online. Try calling a few of the reliable online photo stores and you may be surprised with what you can negotiate.   You may get a lump sum discount, free overnight shipping, or a store credit. If you do not call, you will never know. You can always order online if it doesn’t work out.

Just be aware that sometimes these customer service operators try to redirect you to other similar products that make have bigger margins for them. Stick to your equipment list – do not budge. You may end up with a cheap third party lens instead of the Canon you wanted, and regret the decision every time you use it.