Over the past few months, I've received several HelpLine e-mails regarding recommendations on where to purchase equipment. Some people ask whether it's okay to buy online or by phone versus from a local retailer or camera store. Others want to know which site or store to use.
You can have successful purchases from a variety of vendors. When friends ask me about what camera to buy, however, I suggest they go to a store where they can put a unit into their hands so they can see how it feels and they can get used to where buttons are. Cameras are getting smaller and smaller and are loaded up with more and more features and buttons. If you plan to take a lot of pictures, it helps to have a comfortable camera that's easy to use. You wouldn't buy a car without a test drive, would you?
I'm not a fan of going to a camera store, having a salesperson go through the whole camera demo and then leaving and buying the camera online. If everyone did that, the store wouldn't be around and then it might be difficult to actually touch a camera before buying it. But that's just me.
One type of transaction I've cautioned people about, however, is the offer that seems too good to be true. If you compare prices and notice a seller who's significantly lower than any other place, be careful. They may try to sell you additional "accessories" at an inflated price, or they may try to sell you gray-market merchandise.
Gray-market products are items manufactured for a different marketplace. They may be cheaper because, in another country, regulations are less stringent or tariffs and import duties are less. The non-gray-market (some would say "legal") products may be more expensive because some of the marketing and support costs (like firmware upgrades) are built into the cost of the product.
Regardless of why something is cheaper or more expensive, the critical thing to watch out for with gray-market products is a lack of warranty coverage or repair service. Many manufacturers avoid servicing gray-market merchandise.