If you know me, you’re probably very much aware that I spent a good chunk of my late teens and early twenties working in retail photography.
During my grand foray into the world of cash registers and clearance stickers, I learned two important things: first, there is a “right way” to shop for big ticket items (cameras being a great example), and, cleaning the photo machines in your favorite black cardigan is always a bad, bad idea.
With Christmas coming up (in 85 days, believe it or not), I figured that it might be fun to share my favorite camera buying tips with you guys. If you have any of your own that you’d like to add, as always, leave them in the comments!
1. Buy your lens filter on day one. Like, before you leave the store.
This one is always my #1, do not forget, not even kidding, ever. Yes, it is an extra $20 to $80 for a piece of what looks like glorified glass, but it will save you big if your camera (or lens) takes a tumble or bump.
Basically, a lens filter is a rounded piece of clear glass that is threaded, and screws onto the front of your lens. The clear filters do not affect your photos in any way, and are served as a safety mechanism more than anything else.
Yes, you can get fancy-dancy lens filters that do anything from UV protection to color correction and diffusion, all of which are neat when used correctly. But for this, a plain, clear coated lens filter is all you need – you don’t even need to splurge for the name brand one.
Price wise, they generally start around $19.99, and go up depending on lens size.
2. Purchase your camera bag wisely.
Bags have the highest mark-up on any piece of equipment in the store – second only to frames and prints, if that’s something offered. Never buy a bag at full price. Look for one as part of a bundle deal, buy it second-hand (you can find still tagged bags on Craigslist, usually), or wait until they’re on sale or clearance.
In the meantime, either keep your camera in its box, or wrap it in a cotton t-shirt. As long as the camera is swaddled and can’t bump around, you can hold off on the bag temporarily.
FYI, good prices for a bag are around $20 for a one-lens, one-body type of bag, and up to $50 to $60 for the fancier, multi-lens knapsacks. Generally, the ticketed retail price for these fancy ones will go all the way up to $120. Gross, right?
3. Make a smart memory card choice
Buying the appropriate memory card for your camera is often the most confusing and overwhelming part of the camera buying process. Don’t let your sales person talk you into the most expensive Sandisk that is inevitably on the very very top row of the peg wall. Instead, consider your actual camera usage, and memory card needs.
Those super expensive, super fast, super crazy looking PRO cards? They’re only going to benefit you if you’re taking a ton of frames per second, or if you frequently use your SLR as a video camera. Always look for the letters “SDHC” on any potential memory card. This means that the card is Secure Digital High Capacity, and that is enough to suit the average photographer’s needs.
Most people (myself included!) can also get away with just using a 8GB memory card. I recommend the smaller size for two reasons:
a. You should always be backing up your photos – and, in turn, formatting your card – before you ever hit 8GB. You should get about 1500-2000 photos on an 8GB card if you’re using a 12 megapixel camera, however if you take more photos than that in an average day, the 16GB will (obviously) double that.
b. When going on vacation, I still recommend using a smaller size memory card. Why? Sometimes your memory card will corrupt itself, sometimes it may get lost – who knows what may happen to it if you’re constantly moving? Use a few smaller sized memory cards, and rotate them out on a daily basis. That way if something does happen, you may lose a chunk of your photos, but you won’t lose them all!
4. The lens makes the camera.
If I had to choose between spending more on the lens, or the body, I would go for the lens every single time! Get familiar with, and visit used equipment sites like Craigslist and Used.com to find lenses compatible with your camera. Lots of times local used camera shops will have some great deals and awesome lenses, as well!
You can also try off-brand lenses (try Googling “generic dslr lens” for more information) to save big when expanding your lens collection. While I haven’t used generic lenses myself, I’ve had customers and friends do it with awesome results!
5. Pass on the in-store warranty.
I know, I know, my ex-regional manager is probably frothing at the mouth right now, but unless the store you’re buying from offers something above and beyond (say, coverage beyond the manufacturer warranty, or some kind of lemon policy), it’s usually plenty safe to pass on the in-store warranty.
Many times the in-store warranty will not cover anything that the manufacturer warrant doesn’t, and, in most cases anyway, in-store warranties will only extend your manufacturer warranty by one year.
To put this in perspective, Nikon offers two year coverage right out of the box on their cameras, and five years on their lenses. Canon also offers one year on both their cameras, and their lenses. Both warranties are offered at no additional cost.
Something important to know about product warranties, regardless of whether they are in-store or provided via the manufacturer: they will not cover your camera if it is lost or stolen, if damage is incurred by a leaking battery, liquid, or malfunction due to accessory.
So, how about it? Have you, or are you considering purchasing a new camera in the next few months, or as a gift for Christmas? Do you have an awesome tip you’d like to share? Leave me a comment below! I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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