Is it a great deal? Or is it a rip-off? You are searching online for a good price and you come across a terrific deal. Are you about to get burned? There are ways you can tell.
A good friend found a Canon 7D online for $879 at SkyPointDigital. I didn’t know anything about the company, but at that price, something had to be very wrong. If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.
I had been pricing the 7D myself and back then it was selling for around $1700 from reputable online stores (it’s around $1400 now). I urged my friend not to order it. When he asked why, I told him a price that low (a savings of several hundred dollars) raises all kinds of red flags, and I gave him one of my rules of thumb:
Rule of Thumb Number 1: When buying photographic equipment, check the price at B&H Photo, Adorama Camera, and Amazon.com (all three are linked and recommended at my main photography site). If an item is selling for significantly less than at these three companies, something is downright suspicious. You might find a reputable dealer who can save you $20 or $30 (maybe even more if it is Gray Market camera gear), but no one can beat these dealers by a lot if they are selling new gear with a U.S. warranty.
I went home and Googled SkyPointDigital, and came up with a lot of news, all of it bad. ResellerRatings.com has a collection of really bad reviews. The reviews aren’t any better now. ResellerRatings gives SkyPointDigital an overall rating (as of today) of 0.21 out of 10 (that’s not a misprint, the rating really is less than 1). Compare that to Adorama who has a rating of 9.45, or B&H Photo-Video with a rating of 9.83. There are several complaints about SkyPointDigital at Ripoff Report. Thoughts-of-Dave has a good article with lots of links.
Rule of Thumb Number 2: Do some internet research. Keep in mind that even the best dealers will receive an occasional bad review, but avoid any merchant that has mostly bad reviews.
Check out any kind of store at ResellerRatings.com.
If you are checking up on a camera store, be sure and read reviews by photographer’s at Photo.net. They are in more than one location so start here, then check out this store list and this store list, and finally this long list of posts arranged by merchant.
Rule of Thumb Number 3: Don’t fall for bait and switch, and don’t get sucked in to add-ons you don’t need.
A student in one of my classes found a zoom lens at a savings of $160 compared to Adorama and B&H. When he told me about his bargain, I tried to talk him out of it (rule of thumb number 1), but he succumbed to the lure of a great price. He also ordered a couple of “name brand” filters that were half price. He got them both for, you guessed it, about $160.
When he showed up at class the next week, he was disappointed. His “name brand” filters weren’t by any of the respected filter manufacturers like B+W, Singh-Ray, Heliopan, Hoya, Tiffen, or Cokin. They were a brand he had never heard of (but technically a “name brand”) and the optical quality was so poor and the distortion so bad that he couldn’t focus the lens with either filter in place. The filters were useless. And the lens came without a U.S. manufacturer’s warranty. If anything went wrong with the lens, he was supposed to send it back to the store and they would send it to a repair place of their choosing.
When he called to complain, they refused to take back the lens and filters for a refund. They would exchange the lens for one with a U.S. warranty if he paid them more money, and they would only exchange his filters for a brand of his choosing for a lot more money. He would have been better off going with a reputable dealer in the first place. He said the “Satisfaction Guarantee” must have meant THEIR satisfaction, not the customer’s.
Rule of Thumb Number 4: You won’t go wrong if you stick with the best online dealers. Every dealer messes up once in a while and sends the wrong item, but they will make it right.
And the guarantee isn’t any better than the company behind it. I buy new camera gear from Amazon.com, and I buy new and used camera gear from Adorama, B&H Photo, and KEH Camera. I’ve never been burned buy one of these first rate dealers. Links are here.Â You can also buy camera gear at my photography store which is powered by Amazon.com with Amazon’s great prices, terrific service and excellent guarantee.