Where do I buy my first DSLR?
March 19, 2007 9:08 AM   Subscribe

I'm buying my first D-SLR and I'd like to get it from a local camera shop where people know what they're talking about. However, I can't seem to find one. What's the second-best way?

I'm in Baton Rouge, LA, and I've found exactly one actual camera shop with sales staff who know more than I do on the subject (again, this is my first dSLR, so that really shouldn't be very difficult), but they don't offer a protection plan beyond the manufacturer's warranty. I wasn't especially thrilled with the place (Kadair's, in case anyone's local), but I've since realized it's pretty much my only option in town, and I'm willing to accept that I caught them on a bad day or something.

Is it worth paying more initially, plus sales tax, plus paying for repairs as they come up, just to have an actual camera shop to go to? Or would I be better off buying from somewhere like ritz.com or Amazon so I can have an extended warranty and probably save a hundred bucks or so? How do people in rural areas or smaller cities handle this sort of thing?

Anyone in the area (even New Orleans or Lafayette) have any specific recommendations? There's got to be a place where all the local photographers get their gear.

I'm leaning toward the Nikon D40, incidentally, in case anyone has anything to say on that subject. Derails welcome.

posted by ultraultraboomerang to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The extended warranties are usually overpriced. For example, at one store near me, it costs about a quarter of the purchase price for a year of protection -- that means that you are betting there's a one in four chance that the item will be a complete write-off during that year. Make sure you do this math on any extended warranty that you're considering.

I would prefer to have the local camera shop to back it up rather than have the extended warranty. (Maybe you could put the amount you'd have paid for the extended warranty into an interest-bearing account to use in case repairs are needed -- you'll probably end up ahead)

If you'll be paying with credit card, call your bank and ask if your credit card includes purchase protection. Many Visas and MasterCards (e.g. most platinum and gold cards) include purchase protection that doubles the manufacturer's warranty to a maximum of one year of additional coverage.
posted by winston at 9:21 AM on March 19, 2007

You can quickly bring yourself up to speed reading Dpreview. I've bought a few cameras over the years without ever being disappointments and without ever seeking out "expert" opinion from staff in a shop. I read Dpreview and other digital camera review sites, check prices on several price comparison sites, collate all the info, then make a decision.
posted by fire&wings at 9:22 AM on March 19, 2007

*disappointment. Sigh.
posted by fire&wings at 9:23 AM on March 19, 2007

Extended warranties generally are a scam. The manufacturer's warranty should be sufficient.

That being said, B&H Photo/Video is a very reputable dealer in NYC with very competitive pricing. I've bought a good amount of stuff from them in the past and been very satisfied.

I have noticed, however, that there are quite a lot of online photo retailers who are only marginally better than crooks. The bait and switch seems to be a particular favorite.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:24 AM on March 19, 2007

What type of service are you worried about? If its just accidental damage, you can get a special rider taken out on your homeowners/renters insurance that will cover it for a ridiculously low amount of money (like, 36.00 a year or something). I have this on all my laptops and our DSLR camera, and it makes me breathe easier.

As for replacement for defects, of course its up to you; while they are overpriced, they're only overpriced as to how much you value your piece of mind. If you think its worth it and makes you feel better, then its worth every penny. Overpriced is a relative term.

I bought the Canon Rebel XTi at the local Best Buy for no more than I was going to pay at a local shop (who had the body, but no kit lenses.) They offer service plans, but YMMV - but if all you're concerned with is the service plan being offered and available, its an option.
posted by plaidrabbit at 9:28 AM on March 19, 2007

I personally just bought a Canon XTi off amazon and that was the best price I could find by far. Flash memory, too, will be cheapest to buy online (mine came with lolipops -- no joke).

I researched models and what to look for in DSLRs myself via wikipedia and AskMeFi and generally distrust salespeople. Having a great camera store would be great for trying out lenses and accessories, etc. but I think they would be very limited in what they can repair among DSLRs since there are very few mechanical components. (electronics are hard!) Almost certainly, you'd be better off dealing with the manufacturer with big repairs.

It may not be your style, but I think a few hours reading online resources and buying online will help you in the long run.
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:32 AM on March 19, 2007

Seconding B&H and insurance.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:33 AM on March 19, 2007

I was just going to recommend dpreview.

Here are a few of my own notes, since I tend to buy a lot of video equipment.

Camera shop sales staff's attitudes tend to range from quite difficult to barely nice. i always get some form of the "im really busy and you dont know enough" approach. I used to take offense to this, but finally i said, fuck it, everybody's got to be territorial about something.

the second thing is regarding scams. as you're looking around for the best price, you might find some disreputable sellers even advertising in major magazines. the best thing to do is to go with a company thats been in business for a while. b&h is a good pick as mentioned above, but im not sure they have the best prices. anyway, a few years ago i picked up a camera here in los angeles at a place called ametron and i was surprised to find some places in new york that sold the camera for about a grand cheaper. it turns out these were knockoffs, and that some people were even shipped just the case of the camera, with no insides.

id go the online route, especially if amazon offers you a good price.
posted by phaedon at 9:33 AM on March 19, 2007

As with DP Review, Imaging Resource, Megapixel, and Steve's Digicams offer detailed reviews and sample images. All four sites weigh in on shutter functions, color-balancing, and power consumption.
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:35 AM on March 19, 2007

xthing the DPReview/B&H/online route.

However, since this is a physical object with which you'll likely grow intimate, doing your research online and then hefting the thing/playing with buttons/etc at a local store might make sense.

It sounds like you may have already had this experience, but I'd recommend this approach to anyone buying a first camera.

In any case, congratulations, and enjoy!
posted by asuprenant at 9:55 AM on March 19, 2007

I've not bought an actual camera from them, but I've bought a lens and some other things from Adorama. Been happy each time.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:07 AM on March 19, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, thanks, Hive Mind! It didn't even occur to me to check with my credit card or my homeowner's policy, so you've already been a huge help. And yeah, I'm probably making too much of the extended warranties, which, as you point out, are almost never what they purport to be.

I've been googling obsessively (as is my wont) and there really are some great comprehensive review sites out there, and way more crooks than I would have imagined. Yikes.

Mostly I just feel like I should buy from someone whose job it is to know more about cameras than I do, can answer questions, help recommend lenses & accessories, etc. I want to buy from the kinds of guys who write those reviews, or at least, the places those guys buy their gear. But it's good to hear that that might be kind of a pipe dream! (I got a bit of the "I don't have time for you if you're not buying a $2k lens" vibe myself, but I wasn't sure if either the salesperson or myself was just having a bad day.)

Many thanks. I buy pretty much everything else online, and I'm already reassured that this doesn't have to be any different.
posted by ultraultraboomerang at 10:09 AM on March 19, 2007

ultraultraboomerang - been there with the "no time for you" BS from a local shop in Albuquerque. That kind of stuff just infuriates because these are the exact same businesses that cry about consumers going to places like Amazon or big boxes. They can rarely compete on price, so the only reason I go is for their knowledge. When they won't share that with me I go elsewhere. Don't put up with that.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:31 AM on March 19, 2007

Going back to the problem at hand... The local camera store makes very little profit on hardware. They may not know your camera intimately, but they are a huge resource for all things photographic. They probably offer digital prints, scanning, etc. Most local camera stores are going out of business because people don't print photos anymore (processing is/was the real bread and butter). If you plan to purchase anything other than the camera like a case, flash, tripod, Then you need to bite the bullet and purchase locally in hopes of establishing a relationship.
If you are overly concerned about their lack of knowledge you should talk to the manager/owner about having a vendor rep come in for a day to tutor the staff and potential customers, or those who have made recent purchases.
I own a D40. You'll love it.
posted by Gungho at 10:37 AM on March 19, 2007

I used to take offense to this, but finally i said, fuck it, everybody's got to be territorial about something.

Let me re-iterate this. The good thing about some camera specialty stores is that it attracts employees who, well, have a lot of experience shooting. And they can help gerry-rig certain sets, lend some audio/video expertise, and give you an idea of what other people are buying when it comes to lenses and accessories. But, like i said, they can be a sad lot, so the point is to try and overcome this and build a relationship. This fits in nicely with my male attitude, which is - I will buy all my clothes, all from one store, all at the same time.

Now, you're in La., maybe you got some teenagers working in a small ritz in the local strip mall, well, forget about the hassle and go online.
posted by phaedon at 10:46 AM on March 19, 2007

Please feel free to e-mail me (ztdavis alla gmail alla com) and we can chat about what camera might be best for you. I work five days a week selling cameras for a small shop in Bloomington, Indiana.

I second the advice on DP Review they have great and thorough reviews of SLRS.

Were I you, I would buy whichever camera you choose from B&H Photo and commit yourself to buying any accessories like memory cards, bags, a UV filter, etc. from the local camera store. If I sell a D80 (1,299) at my store I make about $20 on the camera sale and another $15 or so on accessories, depending on how many people buy. So you'll be getting a good deal yourself and have the satisfaction of helping a local business.

It kind of sucks, but it doesn't hurt my feelings when someone comes in to talk about cameras for an hour and then doesn't buy one. Just be aware you're being sold to, come in with particular questions, and don't feel obligated to buy anything. Smaller business know we can't beat the prices of big resellers, so it is just part of the business.

I also wouldn't get an extended warranty from the smaller store. We charge 30% of the cost of the camera for ours at my store and they are very, very rarely worth it. If you're prone to breaking things, maybe, but otherwise I wouldn't. If you have home owners insurance you can usually add it on for $5 a month, a much better deal.
posted by ztdavis at 11:10 AM on March 19, 2007

--Sony's A100 is probably the best for the money, but lacks a good support system. Look for a sale on it, it routinely comes down to $799 with the 18-70 kit lens).
--Nikon's D40 doesn't support autofocus on their older lenses, but is otherwise great.
--I personally dislike the way the Canon XTi feels / works, but that's me.
--I just bought a Nikon D80 that I love to death, but I don't know if you're looking to spend $1299.
--The Nikon D50 supports all of Nikon's lenses, so if you can live with the small screen on it I would suggest it.
--A used Nikon D70 would be something to look into.
--Avoid Olympus and Pentax, as their market share now is so small that it is getting harder to find accessories for them and you'd have a slim chance of finding compatible used equipment. It's sad but true.)
posted by ztdavis at 11:16 AM on March 19, 2007

I bought my first DSLR, a Nikon D40 a month ago and noticed a dark blotch in the photos it was shooting and returned it to the store for a replacement.

The second D40 had a problem with the shutter release button.

I eventually gave up and got a refund - perhaps the batch was faulty but i dont think im going to buy another D40.
posted by rey at 11:20 AM on March 19, 2007

buying out of state saves you tax. buy your camera from a solid place like B&H or adorama. never go for places that do not list their brick and mortar address or seem too good to be true. in fact, don't buy anywhere but these two and perhaps amazon and dell.

consult the photo.net forums and the flickr canon dslr user group for advise on specific dealers.
posted by krautland at 11:21 AM on March 19, 2007

Response by poster: phaedon, that's pretty much my situation. I'd love to build a relationship with a dealer, I just haven't had much luck finding one. When I lived in Shreveport (North Louisiana/East Texas), there was a wonderful camera shop with exactly the right kinds of people. I assumed a bigger city with a huge university would have something comparable but I guess I just got spoiled.

And ztdavis, many thanks for the insider view. I was tempted by the anti-shake from Pentax and the sensor cleaner from Olympus, but I decided that holding a camera steady and cleaning its innards are probably things I should learn to do anyway. And since I'm starting from scratch, the AF thing with the new small Nikons isn't that big of a deal (and again, I should probably learn how to focus manually anyway, huh?). The D40x doesn't seem worth the extra money - I really can't imagine needing all those megapixels at this stage - and I'm a little scared of buying anything used since it would either be eBay or some scary pawn shop. The body plus kit lens are $549 on Amazon, which would leave me with some extra money to spend on a good macro lens and a nice tripod from a local shop. Everybody wins!

Thanks again.
posted by ultraultraboomerang at 11:45 AM on March 19, 2007

I'm also going to chime in for B&H and Adorama being reputable online sellers. Whenever looking for camera stuffs I check B&H first, as I've purchased about $4k of gear from them and not had a single problem. Their prices tend to be some of the best you'll find from reputable shops too.

For reading, I'd say familiarize yourself wholly with a particular manufacturer's line, read a lot at the DPReview forums, and then don't go overboard with what you first purchase.

The biggest problem you'll have is that many people online speak as if only the top-of-the-line gear will do, especially when it comes to lenses. (Again, with Canon, some many people on said forums insist that Canon's >$1k L-series lenses are the only ones to buy.)
posted by c0nsumer at 12:00 PM on March 19, 2007

You might find the best of both worlds by buying the camera online from Amazon/B&H/Adorama and then taking a photography class locally. You'll learn lots about how to take good photos using the equipment you bought and get the gear at a great price.
posted by rbs at 12:13 PM on March 19, 2007

I recently got a D40 and its my first non point and shoot camera. It is amazing, and very easy to use. I highly reccomend it.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 1:47 PM on March 19, 2007

B&H and Adorama for new stuff. Check out KEH for used stuff. A good way to stretch your budget with Nikon, Canon, or Pentax stuff.
posted by Mitheral at 4:54 PM on March 19, 2007

We buy online from B&H almost exclusively. Great service and prices on just about everything from iPods to honkin' big lenses for my wife's Rebel XTi (which we bought from them).

I guess not a lot of cities have them, but in Seattle we have a fantastic camera store called Glazer's. We've never bought from them, but we have rented from them in the past...they have a huge variety of equipment for rent at reasonable rates.
posted by lhauser at 4:56 PM on March 19, 2007

nth B&H and DPReview. I bought a new D80, a used 18-55mm kit lens, and a 1gb SD card for about $1200 back in January.

Be aware that the D70/D70s uses CF cards; I've read complaints about pins on the CF socket bending. No idea how prevalent it is, but something to consider.
posted by Alterscape at 5:25 PM on March 19, 2007

Joining the chorus: I bought my D40 in person from Adorama--I'm lucky, that IS my local camera store--and I'm fantastically happy with both product and service.

Definitely go into a camera store and handle anything you are thinking about buying. The size difference between the D40 and D80 (and even the intermediate D50 and D70 models) is significant, and one will just jump into your hand in a way the others don't.

I really love my little D40. It's small enough that I actually carry it around on a regular basis, and it's indescribably wonderful to feel my photographer eye coming back. It's been away for a long time, a long absence fueled by crappy low-res point-and-shoot digital cameras and a growing resentment of film and processing costs.
posted by bink at 5:44 PM on March 19, 2007

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