Running a website that’s predominantly about camera gear, the question of where to buy cameras often crops up in the Shotkit community.
It appears that no matter where you live in the world, no one really seems to be able to agree on the best place to buy cameras.
I’m sent a lot of camera gear to review each month on Shotkit, but that doesn’t mean that I get everything for free! Whether it’s mirrorless cameras, the latest Nikon lens or other random photography accessories, if there’s something I need for my own photography business, I have to open my wallet ;-)
Where to Buy Cameras
Most cities will have their own independent camera stores, and I’m all for supporting your local shops. However, it’s an unfortunate truth that in 2017, independent stores have a hard time competing with the chain stores and online shops, especially in the photography industry.
While I was living in the UK before I turned pro, the best place to buy cameras for me was a well-established department store called John Lewis. They offered price matching, free extended warranties, and the best customer service of any UK camera retailer.
However, their range of camera gear wasn’t great, and mostly focused on amateur gear. In addition, their price match guarantee didn’t extend to most online retailers… and it was these online camera shops who seemed to be offering the best prices on camera gear.
So the question of where to buy cameras led me to search for online retailers, and soon I came across what’s known as ‘grey-market‘ retailers.
Grey-market camera shops usually offer camera gear at much cheaper prices than other stores. It’s usually a bit unclear why their products are so much cheaper, but I’d recommend that you exercise caution when researching.
Usually grey-market camera shops are based out of Hong Kong, and the camera gear you will receive will have foreign documentation; sometimes even foreign plugs.
I’ve bought numerous items from grey market online camera stores in the past, lured in by their bargain prices, but I’ve stopped doing so ever since I bought a faulty camera. Being located in Hong Kong made the return of the item a huge hassle, and made me wish I’d bought from another reputable retailer.
So back to the question of where to buy cameras – for me, there’s really only 1 option… and it’s called Amazon.
Why is Amazon the Best Place to Buy Cameras in 2017?
After interviewing a handful of photographer friends who live in Europe and the US, I can completely understand why they feel that Amazon is the best place to buy cameras.
Remember that not all these points will relate to us unfortunate ones who live in countries not yet supported by Amazon, but most of them are still relevant for you to consider before your next big camera purchase.
All the Amazon links in this review will take you direct to the camera/photography related page on the site.
1. Return Policy
This is a strange point to start on when discussing where to buy cameras, but the store’s return policy is very important in my opinion, especially when you’re buying camera gear online.
As of August 2017, Amazon’s terms of service states:
“You may return new, unopened items sold and fulfilled by Amazon.com within 30 days of delivery for a full refund. Items should be returned in their original product packaging. We’ll also pay the return shipping costs if the return is a result of our error. Just visit our online Returns Center, and we will guide you through the process and even supply you with a return mailing label you can print out.”
In practice, Amazon seems to be totally happy with customers returning items, as long as they are in perfect condition.
Obviously I’m not advocating buy items with the intent of returning them, but it certainly takes the worry out of buying expensive products online. Being able to try any product out for free for 30 days is really incredible, and no other high street store can offer such a service.
2. Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime is a paid service that gives Amazon customers certain advantages, including savings on certain products, unlimited movie/music streaming, expedited postage and much more (click here to see all the benefits).
It’s the express postage that’s most relevant here, making Amazon by far the best place to buy cameras if you want your new gear as fast as possible!
Amazon Prime gives you free 2-day shipping to eligible addresses, and even the occasional free same-day delivery service.
Imagine seeing a camera, lens or even a photography backpack you like in the morning, then having it on your doorstep by the afternoon! There’s no need for us to leave our houses to shop anymore…!
In researching where to buy cameras, it’s important to consider huge retailers like Amazon who have amassed thousands of user reviews.
It’s so easy for online store owners to write ‘fake reviews’ for product purchases, but with Amazon, reviews can only be written by people who’ve actually purchased the respective product. It’s the closest to an honest feedback loop that you’ll ever see for an online retailer.
Being able to check reviews before making any camera purchase is incredibly useful. Even though you can find lots of reviews of camera gear online, being able to read the reviews of actual owners of a product is invaluable.
Unless a product has numerous 5 star reviews, I’ll rarely consider purchasing it. I always read the negative reviews too, just to get a well-rounded opinion of the item, and encourage you to do the same thing.
For most of us, our search for where to buy cameras usually revolves around the best price. Aside from the aforementioned grey-market online retailers, Amazon often offers some of the best prices on camera gear.
Most of their products are discounted in some way, and with free Prime shipping, or low-cost standard shipping, Amazon really is hard to beat.
As I mentioned before, ordering to Australia from the US or UK Amazon is usually even cheaper for me to buy locally here in Australia, even from online stores.
5. Refurbished Products
Not many people know that Amazon stocks what’s known as ‘refurbished products’, and it’s here where some massive cost savings can be made.
Refurbished goods are also called ‘Amazon Renewed‘:
“Products on Amazon Renewed are tested and certified by qualified suppliers to work and look like new and come with a minimum 90-day supplier warranty.”
I imagine that most of the refurbished products consist of items returned by customers that may not be brand new, but are as good as new. You can definitely find a good bargain on photography gear if you have time to browse, so I recommend bookmarking this photography gear page of Amazon Renewed, and having a look each week to see what new is on special offer.
6. Customer Service
I’ve heard stories from friends who exceeded the 30-day return period, only to have their items still refunded by a helpful Amazon customer service agent.
I wouldn’t recommend you test this, but regardless of the case, it seems that Amazon’s customer service really is second to none. For an online retailer, it’s also very easy to get replies from their email service, and it certainly doesn’t feel like you’re dealing with a ginormous retailer.
The Best Place to Buy a Camera | Final Words
It’s no secret that Shotkit is a big fan of shopping at Amazon. I use Amazon links throughout the site, and don’t attempt to hide this fact.
In truth, I’m a huge fan of Amazon and use them to do 99% of my online shopping… 100% of my online photography gear shopping, in fact.
Before you tell me that your country doesn’t have its own Amazon store, I feel your pain! I live in Australia and as of August 2017, we don’t have an Amazon store yet either.
However, I stand by my statement that Amazon is definitely the best place to buy cameras, where ever you live in the world. I either order my camera gear to one of the many US postal forwarding services and pay a minimal shipping charge, or just pay for the shipping from the US from Amazon – it’s still usually much cheaper than buying locally.
I’d love to recommend a local camera store as the best place to buy a camera, but unfortunately in this digital age, it really is impossible for bricks and mortar stores to be able to compete with online stores… unless you live in New York and can get to the incredible B&H Photo store!
If you have any recommendations on other good places to buy camera gear, please leave them in the comments.
Mark Condon is a British wedding photographer based in Australia and the founder of Shotkit.