With the holiday gift-buying season upon us, those ostensibly irresistible online deals on cameras might appear even more, well, irresistible. Yet there are many reasons why a photography purchase benefits from the tactile hands-on interaction and tailored expert advice offered by brick-and-mortar camera stores. After all, you're looking for the perfect feel and performance for yourself or the recipient.
"The big difference is going to be the handling of the product," said David K. Hauver, a product buyer and tester at Samy's Camera, which has five full-service stores in Southern California. "Cameras ... come in various shapes, sizes and weights -- those things you cannot really get a feel for ."
The opportunity to actually hold and compare models, and to have them explained and demonstrated by knowledgeable sales staff, is just the beginning of an in-person camera purchase. Dedicated photography stores are also able to personalize the experience to ensure that a customer walks away with equipment appropriate to his or her level of experience and photographic ambitions.
"Samy's salespeople generally are photographers themselves, so you'll get a lot of tips and tricks that you might not otherwise find on, say, the web or even in a big-box store," Hauver explained. "You generally will click with the salesperson that has the same passion for a certain type of photography. ... There's a wealth of knowledge in these stores that you don't get elsewhere."
Whether your specialty is family portraits, nature photography, landscapes or sports shots, a well-established photography store like Samy's, which has been in business for over 35 years, will have someone who can offer genre-specific advice. And there's no price premium for all of this, according to Hauver.
"Samy's Camera will match all legitimate pricing," he said. "When I say 'legitimate,' there's a lot of 'off-market'-type purchases that can be made which [are] fairly sketchy."
Hauver was referring to "gray market" retailers that import photography equipment from regions where prices are cheaper, often because of tax disparities. But such cameras can have different features from seemingly identical models manufactured for the American market and will often not be covered by a manufacturer's U.S. warranty. Consumers even report inadvertently buying fake name-brand cameras from some online outlets.
"We always let people know that we do not sell gray market," Hauver said. "We try to steer people away from that because it's a potential hazard down the line."
Post-purchase support is another major plus point of buying a camera in person. First, a specialist photography store will steer customers toward equipment that's just right for their purposes and thoroughly explain its operation, thus reducing the need for follow-up support. But should the camera develop a problem, or if a buyer is simply struggling to get the best from it, stores like Samy's are there to help.
"[Customers] are always welcome to come back -- and usually they tend to come back to the same person that they bought the camera from," Hauver said. "It's not uncommon to find people showing the salesperson photos that they took and actually getting a bit of a critique on them.
"It makes it fun and it makes it more than just a consumer purchase. It's more of a learning experience and [there's] kind of little micro-classes happening all the time."
And if you're thinking of that bottom line, fear not: All sorts of manufacturers' rebates are available on photography equipment during the holidays everywhere, as well as Black Friday specials that are well worth budding shutterbugs getting up early for.
-Paul Rogers for Samy's Camera