Buying a Camera Online

While searching for the best camera prices online, we often come across a price that seems too good to be true.  This is a tip-off - beware of things too good to be true, as they often are not what they appear.  In this section we will look at two archetypical online dealers; Broadway Photo ( and B&H Photo Video Pro Audio (  I have dealt personally with these vendors in the past and hope that sharing my personal experience will save some undue heartache.

Buying a camera can be a significant purchase.  The prospect of possibly spending thousands of dollars prompts buyers to search for the best price.  After finding the seemingly impossible price, buyers are often anxious to get their product and have not fully thought about what else may be needed to fully realize the capabilities of the camera.  Accessories and add-ons tend to be secondary purchases made after buyers discover they cannot just take the camera out of the box and start snapping away.

A few online dealers will capitalize on this and make huge profits from unsuspecting customers.  These places are not concerned about repeat business, as a new sucker is born every day.

Say we are out to buy a Nikon D70 (substitute your favorite model here).  Since this is our first venture into the SLR world, we have no photographic equipment of any kind.  As such, we are looking to buy the "Kit" which includes an 18-70mm DX lense.  We shop around on the 'net and find two common price ranges.

Here we see screen captures from each of these sites.  First looking at the right panel, B&H Photo Video Pro Audio, the price of $1,299.95 seems pretty standard, and we find the same price at other large online dealers.  It is pretty much the recommended minimum price set by Nikon USA.  Roll the mouse cursor over the image to see an enlargement and click to see a capture of the website.

Looking at the left panel, we see that Broadway Photo, located in New York, has a awesome price of $1,095.00!  That's a savings of over $200!  How can this be?  We check and, yes, it includes the lense.  Additionally, the site is professional looking, even more so than B&H.  Nicely laid out and fancy effects too boot.  Certified hacker safe and a 5 star rating on seem to validate this vendor.

So lets look into this further:

  1. We verify that both sites list a physical address, phone number and hours in a clear, easy-to-find location.  This is good.  Never buy from a vendor that hides, disguises or does not list contact information.  Since we cannot walk down to New York from California, we will have to check out the address a different way.
  2. We verify both sites list the camera as in stock.  This is good because we want it now!

Okay, so it all seems legit, we make the purchase through

The next morning we receive a "courtesy call" from to verify our billing information "to prevent fraud."  We go through and verify everything we entered into the order screens originally and it seems really redundant, as the information they ask is nothing other than what we typed in the order entry screen the night before.  Hmmmm...

Then they say, "Were you looking for the US model?"

"Say what?  Why would there be anything else?"  We respond.  They go on to tell us that this is a gray market item.


Manufactures produce items for specific markets and price their products according to the demand in that particular market.  Products for a given market also meet specific local requirements.

The voltage in Japan for example is 110v, where in the US, it is 120v.  A seemingly small difference, yet it can cause havoc for sensitive electronic equipment.  Some markets need additional certifications such as UL listing and such, while others do not.  Furthermore, manuals, documents, software, and firmware (camera menus) are packaged according to the target market.

A gray market item is imported from a country where the product is sold cheaper.  It is then sold domestically.  Since it is easier and more cost effective to simply produce one product for every market, and simply modify the retail package, these cameras often work identically to a domestic version.  However, manufactures know what market a specific serial number is packaged for.  Buy a gray market item, and the manufacturer will not honor any warrantees.  Additionally, they may decline to make any non-warranted repairs as well (i.e., they won't touch the product).


So it doesn't seem all that bad.  Okay, we decide to risk it and get the camera anyways.  "Well, you are aware that gray market cameras don't come with any accessories, right?"  They respond.


"Gray market cameras don't include batteries, charger, software, instruction manuals."  They clarify.  "If you want these you need to purchase them separately."

We respond, "Well, I guess I need at least the battery.  How much is that?"

They respond "$179."

Most people aren't navigating the web and confirming their purchases from last night at the same time, and we're thinking, well, we are still saving $200, so guess paying for a battery is fair.  Let's look at battery prices at the same two sites, just for fun:

Wow!  B&H sells the "same" battery for $44.00!  That's a huge savings.  Furthermore, closer examination reveals the B&H is a Nikon OEM battery.'s $179 battery does not have any markings on it - assume 3rd party generic unless specifically stated as Nikon OEM.  That's a savings of $150 at B&H for the battery alone (B&H sells generics for $10 less than Nikon OEMs).

So we decide we'll get the battery later and tell them "I'll get the battery later and I'll just get the camera today."

They respond "Well, do you have CF cards?  Tripod, etc?  You'll need these as well, and we have a 'special' on 'starter packages' today"

We do a quick search which reveals their 'special' price is actually higher than most regular prices, so we decide to decline this as well.  They respond "okay, let me go verify stock..."  Then they stick you on hold and go outside for a smoke break.

They come back and say "I'm sorry, but we just ran out of stock on that camera."

Our response is "What?  The site said you had them in stock when I ordered it."

They explain that the stock quote is for that moment, and that since the verification hadn't been completed yet, stock ran out as you were on the phone.  "Argh, okay, I guess I'll wait for it to come in stock."

"Since this is a gray market item and has to be imported, it may take 3 months to half-a-year before we get anymore in stock.  We do have the US version in stock though, I just checked."

Remember that we want it now? "Well, how much for the US version?" we ask.

"$1,299.00" they respond.

Hey!  That's the exact same price as B&H.  Well we've already placed my order and now gone though the hassle of verifying all this information, we guess we should just get it.  BUT WAIT!  our subconscious catches up with us and tells us to hold off and wait for them to get back in stock.  So we tell them "I guess I'll just wait for it to get back in stock."

"Okay," they respond, "we'll give you a call when it comes in."  They then proceed to delete our order and hang up.

6 months later and repeated phone calls and emails that go unanswered and we're getting pretty fed up!  Was it really worth that $200 potential savings?  Without doing our research we could have potentially spent significantly more than if we had simply bought everything at B&H.  Had we actually approved the purchase, we would have received everything we had ordered.  This keeps them in business and the law off their back.


To avoid these unpleasant experiences, we should check the site out prior to placing an order: is a good way to do this:

Here we see on the left and on the right.  Notice has a rating of 0.38 recently and a lifetime rating of 1.6  The bars graphically show how dismal this rating is.  There have been 166 reviews, and this gives this rating some credibility.

B&H on the other hand has a six month rating of 8.57 and a lifetime rating of 8.8 with 459 total ratings.  This site is a defacto photography website used for checking current market prices on anything photographic.  They are one of the largest photographic dealers with a large brick and mortar store (literally) to boot.


Brooklyn Store Fronts

What does store front look like?  Don Wiss has gone out and photographed many of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Store fronts for the world to see (Brooklyn and Manhattan stores are notorious for this type of scamming).

On the left is his shot of:  2922 Avenue L,  Brooklyn NY, 11210,  USA (

On the right is his shot of:  420 Ninth Avenue, New York, NY 10001, USA (