Buying what you need online is mostly practical and saves a ton of time. But that’s not always the case, and we hear about daunting experiences here and there.
When it comes to photography gear, there’s the added issue of all the tech lingo, and the high price tag. Luckily, there’s a way to make this an enjoyable experience. And it starts with finding the best place to buy a camera online.
Read-on to find out everything you need to know about it!
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What Are the Differences Between Online Shopping and Buying From Regular Stores?
Consumer behavior responds to social, economic, and environmental factors. Sometimes this response is sharp and lasts for a while, if the event that initiated it was large enough. A pandemic quickly comes to mind, but there are other factors like rough weather, and fears of recession.
This change manifests in many ways, but an interesting shift in consumer behavior can be seen in online shopping.
A recent survey conducted by PWC Global showed that 45% of shoppers use their smartphones to make their purchases, with 44% of millennials having an amazon prime membership.
And here’s another interesting figure: 69% of users are fully committed to wellbeing in general. This means that they’re willing to spend more on what makes them ‘feel good’. And they’ll do their shopping in ways that are more ‘comfortable’.
Online shopping is quickly crossing the 50% mark, and becoming equal to physical shopping. In fact, it has already crossed it in certain categories, like food and entertainment.
Having stated all these facts, let’s get into the actual differences between online and store shopping.
1. Variety of Products on Display
In online shopping, there’s no limit to the amount of products that can go on display. It’s customary to see hundreds or thousands of products in a certain classification. To the point that we often have to use filters or search words to narrow down our search.
Store shopping is limited by the available display area. Some more products are stacked on shelves, or lurk in the rear storage room. But that’s it. There’s also the clear limitation of going through all the available items. A shopkeeper would be so cross if you attempted to do that!
Clearly, this point goes hands down to online shopping!
2. Price and offers
Online shopping is generally known for offering products at competitive prices. After all, it doesn’t have the same overheads that physical stores do. But that’s not always true. Several online outlets offer products at prices very similar to what you’ll find at the shops.
They do have a different kind of business model, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they spend less. The money goes to developing software, maintaining the servers, running the trading platform, and keeping the inventory updated. There are numerous other processes too, that all need a sizable budget.
So would you get a better price if you shop online or at the store?
In tech, this doesn’t have a quick-and-easy answer! The price tags are similar for several products, but there are offers that give online outlets a good rep. This is probably why most people ‘feel’ that they’d get a better price online.
There are also some perks you’d only find online. And it always starts with this lovely sentence: ‘it comes with’. To sweeten the deal, online stores would often give free gifts along with the product. You could easily get a camera plus an expensive lens from many sellers!
A sparkly point for online shopping!
3. Having a Helpful Shop Assistant Around
Shopping online doesn’t have that in the conventional sense. But, several websites put up a digital assistant to answer the customers’ questions, in real time, as they shop. Many shoppers disregard digital Joe, and browse as they often do, while others testify to his helpfulness.
It’s worth noting that many online shoppers are used to avoiding shop employees. They like to keep to themselves, and having a shop assistant feels like pressure rather than help.
Other real store shoppers enjoy the cheery interaction they have with the shop folks. They’re more often than not experienced and helpful. There’s usually a little socialization and a lot of knowledge sharing.
This comes in really handy when you’re shopping for cameras. Advice from a seasoned photographer over there can be invaluable.
Although this might seem like a tie, store shopping wins this round. Human interaction can’t be overlooked, and half an hour spent with the right people, can be memorable for years to come.
4. Getting a Feel of the Product
Online shops try their best to present a realistic image of the product. Some of them embellish, and a few outright lie, but mostly websites try to be honest. That’s because they’d like transactions to run smoothly.
Keeping their customers happy starts with adjusting their expectations. So they add several images, a detailed product description, and a full set of technical specifications. Many sellers even include customer reviews and ratings.
All this, can only paint a picture of a product. And it would never come close to holding it, and trying out its different functions. This is something you can only do in the real store.
Is it important? Of course it is! No matter how much you read about a camera, trying how it fits in your hands, and feeling the clicks of each button, ring and mount is essential. This is a lot like buying perfume online, the way the bottle looks isn’t like smelling it.
Another point for real stores.
5. Expectations vs. Reality
This is closely related to the previous point, but it also has to do with a human flow. If our brain sees only half a picture, it has a tendency to complete the rest of it. This is like filling in the blanks, where we volunteer any missing information, to make things seem complete.
Something like that happens when we buy stuff online. We tend to imagine them as perfect and ideal.
Online shops sometimes abuse this mental inclination in buyers. But the professionals know better, and they present realistic information. However, they’re ultimately traders, and they might embellish a bit here and there.
Customer ratings and reviews help a lot in adjusting expectations, so others wouldn’t be unpleasantly surprised when they get their purchases. Cameras have an added benefit of being discussed in many photography forums and social media groups.
Reality is better of course, and knowing what you’re in for is wise. But there might be other ways to make up for it. For example, several photographers rent cameras and photography gear before committing their dollars and buying it.
People also see what their friends are using, or come across gear in a workshop. In all these cases, they’d know exactly what to expect. And buying online becomes an easy procurement, and maybe a good deal at a competitive price.
A tie here, in all fairness.
6. Time Taken to Make a Purchase
In online shopping, it’s a few clicks, in about 5 minutes. That’s of course if you know what you want to buy, and have the cash ready. And let’s not forget that you could do all your online shopping at any odd hour, wearing your pajamas, and watching Netflix.
Going to a store has a whole other set of demands. You’d need to get dressed, look and smell decent, smile, and get a ride to the shop. You might be held up in some traffic, and if you’re driving, then you’ll circle the block a few times to find a parking spot.
Finally, you’d be at the shop. And after much browsing, presentations, and deliberations, the camera you want might be out of stock! I can only imagine how one feels at that moment. But let’s say it was your lucky day, and you found your dream camera, how long did it take to make the purchase?
Again, a big point for online shopping.
7. Time Taken to Get the Product
Now that’s the catch!
While making the purchase online takes minutes, actually holding what you bought in your hands could take days! Also, the shipping service could face some hiccups, and days might easily turn into weeks.
Premium shipping often delivers the products on the same day, and that’s probably the soonest that you can get what you paid for. Then again, this is not like going to a real store, and coming out minutes later, with your product.
Without much ado, a well-deserved point for real stores!
8. Effort Made in Transporting the Product
This might not be a big deal for a few lightweight items. You could go to the store, pick up a camera and a lens, then head back home with no trouble at all.
This comes in sharp contrast to buying groceries for a large household. Or, if you’re building up a photography studio, and come out of the shop with a ton of bulky gear. Here, you’d have to plan how to get all these purchases back home? And how much you’d pay for that?
Online shopping of course takes the hassle out of the buying process. You’d be sitting happily in your living room, then the doorbell rings, and voila! Your stuff is at home.
Do I even need to spell it out?
9. Refund and Return Policies
In online and real stores, the fine print could be a bit tricky. Several online sellers who advertise a clean cut easy-return, actually put impossible conditions to pull that off. Mostly, it’s a doable transaction, especially if you return the products fully wrapped, and pay for the shipping costs.
In real stores, you probably wouldn’t need to return the product at all. Considering that you’ve already tried it, and know what you’re buying. But in case you changed your mind, the return policy is a bit more relaxed. It would also help a lot if the shop is nearby.
A smart point for real stores.
10. Impulsive Shopping
We’ve already demonstrated that buying anything online is as easy as three mouse clicks. No dressing up, driving, and going through 50 shops to find what you want. There’s also no need to wait for the ‘shops to open’, as everything online is eternally at your disposal.
This seems to be a recipe for impulsive shopping. But is this behavior limited to online shopping only? Actually, quite the contrary.
Shopping sprees were a thing long before the internet, or even computers, were known to humanity. Just take a look at a classic movie, and you’d see the happy actresses carrying tons of shopping bags. Even in the black and white scenes, you could feel their absolute joy.
Impulsive shopping is easy on the keyboard. And it’s just as easy when you’re standing in a shop, surrounded by dazzling cameras, lenses, tripods, and lights. You go in to buy a memory card, and come out with studio gear. Happens to the best of us.
Wouldn’t you say this is a tie?
11. Private Shopping
Many of my friends feel that people are breathing on their necks when they shop at mega stores. Employees and customers alike would take a peek at your shopping cart. And as you unpack your stuff at the cashier’s conveyor belt, you feel that your purchases are in full spotlight.
This doesn’t happen when you shop online.
Some people value their privacy a lot, and the introvert inside them revels in the calmer online shopping experience. This might not be quite as important to these folks who chat up everyone. And when you look from where they’re standing, shopping is much more fun with other people around.
Some items are also of a rather special nature. They might not be a suitable topic for small talk on a sunday morning. In that case, almost everyone would appreciate the added privacy of online transactions. Not the case for cameras and photography gear though.
A tie here too.
12. Gift Shopping
Imagine going to a mall on Christmas Eve, and expecting to buy a gift for your parents. I highly doubt that even the mightiest extroverts would appreciate the crowds. The long lines alone are such a put off.
This doesn’t happen with online shopping. We’ll return briefly to the part where you’re in your pyjamas, way past midnight, watching TV. You can also buy the nicest gift for loved ones. You could also leave gift vouchers to friends and family, and let them pick whatever their hearts desire.
Camera gear is among the best gifts you could give someone. Especially if you know that they’ve been dreaming about a certain model for a while.
A sentimental point for online shopping.
13. The Social Experience
This is a debatable benefit. “One man’s meat is another man’s poison” said Lucretius three thousand years ago, and it’s valid to this day.
The social experience of exchanging pleasantries and useful facts about photography is invaluable. The same applies to any other product you might be interested in. and it doesn’t start and end with shop assistants.
People often talk to other shoppers as well. Quite often they’d share little tips about what worked best for them.
I was at a music shop a while ago to change guitar strings. There were a couple of other musicians there. In no time at all, we were jamming together and trying new guitars. This is an experience I wouldn’t forget anytime soon.
Shopping is also much more enjoyable when you take a few friends along. There would be the usual bickering and endless debates about which camera is the best. And there would be the celebratory moment when you find the exact gear you were looking for. Plus the delicious coffee, cakes, and laughter at the end of the day.
This is priceless, and the point definitely goes to brick and mortar store shopping.
14. Credit Card and Identity Theft
A 2020 consumer report showed that 44% of the shoppers were apprehensive about using their credit cards online. This is a huge concern for all of us, considering all the horror stories circulating around.
This is also a valid concern in real shopping, but it’s much less frequent, and tracing fraudulent activities is possible. For online theft, things get a little bit more messy. Especially in websites that don’t follow the proper procedures to protect customers’ data.
Sticking to encrypted sites decreases the likelihood that this could happen significantly. And some sellers offer the option of ‘cash on delivery’, which eliminates the risks of credit card theft entirely.
Should You Buy a Used Camera or a Brand New Camera?
Cameras, and photography gear in general, are expensive items. And quite often, fall outside the budgets of semi-pros. Does that mean that they should settle for lower quality products that come with an affordable bill?
That is certainly a viable option. And many photographers make do with what they can afford, then upgrade later on. Is that the only way? Not at all.
Used photography gear is becoming hugely popular nowadays, and several sellers focus their business fully in that area. There are many reasons why this is the case, the following are the main causes.
- The price of new cameras is too high for many photographers.
- There’s a wide variety of used cameras and photography gear.
- The condition of used gear can be quite good.
- Used gear go through rigorous quality control before being resold
- Buyers can find reliable service and repairs for their used cameras.
- The logistics of selling, buying, shipping, and after sales support are dependable.
- Technology changes quickly and it’s too expensive to keep up with buying new gear.
- The big websites that specialize in used camera gear make the transactions safe and easy.
- There are often ratings and reviews for the items on sale.
There’s no shame in buying second-hand equipment. It’s actually a clever demonstration of smart shopping. And as long as you know where to shop, and how to pick the right gear, you’d probably end up with valuable equipment, at incredible prices.
However, if the prospect of working with used gear doesn’t appeal to you, then by all means head to the stores, and buy brand new. You’d also be getting the advantage of acquiring leading-edge tech. As these take a bit of time to reach the used gear markets.
How to Choose the Right Camera From an Online Shop?
It Should Match Your Usage
The best camera you can get is the one that matches your usage to the nines. Don’t settle and don’t be dazzled by glamorous cameras. Buy what you need. A good pro tip is to list all the photography projects you’ve already done, plus the ones you hope to take on.
This should give you a clear idea on which camera you should set your sights on. And by the way, aim high. You never know what will happen tomorrow, right? At the same time, stay within what you’re skilled at and what you like doing.
It Should Be Within Your Budget
When it comes to money matters it’s wise to listen to Dave Ramsey! “You can’t be in debt and win. It doesn’t work.” he says. If buying new gear would set you back too much, then get creative with finding alternatives. One of these options is exploring the used camera gear market.
If you have a budget set for your new camera, then try to look for the brand, model, and specifications that maximise your benefits.
The purchase often comes with both perks and hidden costs. You should look into that too. Sometimes cameras are offered with a lens and cover, for example. This is a huge perk, and you should grab it as soon as you find it! Another nice gesture is the warranty. If they mention three years, click on ‘buy now’.
The hidden costs are mainly in the extra gear you have to buy for your camera to function well. This includes lighting, memory cards, a tripod, extra battery packs, and of course, lenses. It’s a big bill, so include all these expenses in your budget.
Accessories, Service, and Repairs Should Be Available
This applies more for classical and vintage cameras. And most reputable sellers would give you a bundle of accessories when you buy a ‘special’ camera. Otherwise, you’d look far and wide for these parts, and they’d often be sold at exorbitant prices.
Service and repairs is also much more available nowadays. Back in the day, finding a skilled technician to fix your camera was a rare event. Still, you need to make sure that the seller you’re buying your camera from would back you, if such a need arises.
Camera Type and Brand Should Add Value
The camera you buy should make your life easier, and support your creative projects. Some cameras are more durable or user friendly than others. Canon, for example, is among the best cameras for beginners. Nikon is more of a professional nature photographer kind of gear.
Buying cameras online requires plenty of reassurance and quality checks. That’s how choosing a well-known brand decreases the guesswork a bit. There are also plenty of reviews for certain models on Youtube. You can watch as many of these as you like to get a precise idea on what each camera can do.
What Is the Optimal Image Quality for Your Work?
The required image quality is one of the most important questions you should ask, as it can mean the difference of a few hundred dollars.
Not all cameras are required to give a gazillion pixels of resolution, have a super-huge sensor, and take impeccable shots under all lighting situations. Sometimes, you just need a ‘decent’ image quality.
If on the other hand, you do need these high standards for your image, then reach for the moon. Also, the assignment requirements should be considered, for example some clients never accept anything less than RAW 4K footage.
There’s something incredibly exciting about buying top performing gear, so enjoy the ride!
Is Image Stabilization a Necessity?
This is another game changer, that could get you shifting to mirrorless cameras, or even opting for a GoPro.
The mirrorless tech employs a mechanical method to stabilize the sensor within the camera body. The In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) technology is among the best ways to get clean cut lines for fast moving objects.
Coming next in line to that, is the Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS). Which is mostly a clever trick of compensation for, rather than elimination of, the inevitable vibrations.
Telephoto lenses are notorious for making your hands shake while taking that one-in-a-million photo! They’re often heavy and bulky, and as you wait for that coveted shot, your hand is bound to get weak.
But what if you only photograph portraits in a studio? Or use a tripod for most of your work? Then save your hard-earned cash, and go for a less sophisticated camera.
Lens Compatibility Is Always a Necessity
Easy going cameras that accept generic lenses are certainly much better than picky ones. The first means less spending on lenses and adapters too, which is always good. Camera gear is already so expensive as it is, no need to add to that.
What Are the Required Audio and Video Capabilities?
Cameras can be used for a multitude of media projects. That’s how audio and video performance became a thing.
One of the important points to look out for is the connectivity ports in the camera. Many cameras have good audio profiles, but do not accept an external mic. Others do accept the mic, but wouldn’t let you connect headphones to monitor the recorded signals. Canon is notorious for that!
Video quality is directly related to memory and focus capabilities. The tricky point here is when the autofocus is slow or noisy. The latter issue is especially problematic as the zooming in and out comes out in the final recording, and it does sound bad. This is a Nikon thing.
These matters are hard to detect just from reading the specs. And it’s among the weak points of buying cameras online. But, it’s avoidable with some due diligence.
The moral of the story is: read the reviews.
Consider the Ergonomics and Aesthetics
Ergonomics are all about how the camera ‘feels’ in your hands. Is it too heavy or too light? Is the texture of its covering comfortable, slippery, or annoying? These Goldilocks choices are in fact important. And they’re deciding factors in whether or not you’d like that camera.
This is extremely hard to experience when you’re buying a camera online. So you’ll have to either try the camera elsewhere, or imagine how it would fit from the listed dimensions.
Rugged, Multifunctional, or Sleek?
If you’re constantly out and about, then you’d need a weatherproof, dustproof, and shockproof camera. This extra strength usually nudges the prices a zero or two. If the wild outdoors is not your specialty, then you can spend your buck on other features that matter to you.
Multifunctional cameras are versatile devices that’ll serve you well in most of your projects. But they’ll not shine in any particular category. If you don’t plan on becoming a portrait, food, or sports photographer, then these cameras should be great.
Sleek cameras often have special forms, and they’re not distributed massively. They’re collector’s pieces that gain value as time goes by. Nikon is famous for releasing these models every once in a while, where the silver retro bodies dazzle the eyes of many connoisseurs.
The above presentation of toughness, practicality, and luxury aims to point out the differences in cameras aside from the usual technicalities. Several photographers own one of each, in addition to a specialized camera, that they purchase for a demanding project.
The Best Places to Buy a Camera Online
Now that you’ve decided that you want to buy your camera online, and know the essential specs, let’s move on to the question of: where to get it from?
Here are a couple of online stores that fit the bill when it comes to variety, dependability, and customer support. Let’s see what else they have to offer.
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B&H Photo is one of the major sellers for photography gear. In addition to a wide range of video and audio devices. It runs worldwide business operations through online shopping, and keeps a single brick-and-mortar store in New York.
The History Behind B&H
The history of B&H is quite revealing of why they conduct their business the way they do.
In 1973, Blimie and Herman Schreiber decided to open up a film shop in Tribeca. A few years later, they moved to an ‘artsy’ location in the photo district, and diversified their products a bit more.
Every year their inventory, number of employees, and store square-footage increased. Today they’ve become among the giants of that field. But, they still retain the same energy and drive as they did on the day they started.
What’s on Display?
B&H sells a huge variety of devices. As they describe it themselves, their inventory contains about half a million items. They say it can fill up 11 football fields. So there you go, take your pick!
- The main categories include:
- Pro video
- Pro audio
- TVs and Entertainment
The brands are numerous, and as of 2015 apple recognised them as a seller, and 2016 Vaio followed suit.
It’s hard to imagine that you’d want to buy anything tech online, and not find it here. This explains why so many photographers bookmark this site, and visit it routinely.
Communicating With B&H
If you live near Manhattan, you’d probably paid the store a visit, and chatted up the shop attendants. If not, there are various ways to recreate the real shopping experience.
You can talk to the B&H people through chat channels, phone calls, e-mails, and customer support lines.
They have well-trained teams that’ll assist you in finding the device you need exactly. And if there are any hiccups, you wouldn’t be left for hours listening to the hold-tone. They’re certainly there for their customers.
Business and Corporate Partnerships
B&H also works on the B2B model, which does two things: adds to their credibility and gives you more benefits if you represent a company.
So whether you’re a small business, creative studio, non-profit, or big corporation, you get to use some extra perks. These include talking to specialists, receiving instant quotes with competitive prices, and negotiating rock-bottom terms. There’s also a tax-exempt status consideration.
All of which are means to make your business thrive when you buy from them. It’s a total win-win.
This is among the strongest points that work in favor of B&H. Wherever you look in tech and photography forums, you’ll find rave reviews and high ratings for this seller. Mostly it’s about the premium shipping service that delivers far and wide.
Furthermore, there are many customers who also praise the smooth transactions and friendly customer support. The huge variety of gear on display is also a point that comes up frequently. Plus, how easy it is to find what you want.
Accolades and Prizes
B&H are recognized in the tech field by their accomplishments, innovative business model, and social responsibility programs.
In 2019, B&H appeared in Newsweek as one of America’s best companies, specifically for their outstanding customer service. A year earlier, Forbes had listed them as one of the best mid-sized employers. And in the same year, Consumer Reports described B&H as “the leading online consumer electronics retailer”.
That’s just for the past two years, but there’s a long list of achievements that extends from the 70s till today.
Adorama has the solid reputation of being more than a photography gear shop. From the day it started. This mega online seller also has four large brands working in related fields, and sponsors several interesting partners in diverse businesses.
The History of Adorama
Like B&H, Adorama’s history goes back to the colorful 70s. In 1974, Adorama’s founder Mendel Mendlowits had the primary goal of helping artists.
Their work was always around creative people, whether they’re budding hobbyists or seasoned professionals. Their business was reliable enough to attract professionals from the news industry, as well as modelling agencies, and the print business at large.
They have always been known to care for the people, and this is still valid up to this day.
What’s on Display?
The categories offered on the Adorama website are a little less varied than the ones offered on the B&H platform. This doesn’t mean that it’s any less impressive. In fact, they might be more thorough and extensive in certain product types.
The items on display include:
- Home electronics
- Musical instruments
- Drones & sport
Adorama is often applauded for offering the best prices and the nicest customer support. The unique products on display are another point that’s mentioned frequently. In fact, you don’t need to read the reviews to notice this, just browse through the products!
It’s quite refreshing to see businesses who aren’t just ‘in it for the money’, and still, they’re thriving and making huge profits. These programs stem from the core values of Adorama to help people in becoming the best versions of themselves.
These programs include:
- Corporate partnerships
- Students educational programs
- Supporting small businesses
- The ‘Adorama Edge Credit card’ initiative
- Rewards to encourage excellence
- Various governmental programs
In addition to the ambitious programs listed above, they also offer various services to customers. For example, their gear rental, gift cards, events, and affiliate programs.
On top of all that, there’s the buying and selling of used camera gear. This alone is a much sought-after service that many photographers appreciate and use. The market for used equipment has boomed lately for many reasons, most importantly, the good-quality items on display. Also, having a trust-worthy seller to offer them.
A Few More Things
So why didn’t we mention amazon as the best place to buy a camera online? It’s actually quite good, but it’s not the best.
Among the many reasons why I chose B&H and Adorama, is the fact that they both see photography as much more than just a business. To them, it’s an art. And creative people find all the support they need when they take their business to either of these sellers.
Enjoy a wonderful online shopping experience with these guys, and good luck with finding an awesome camera!