Eight Pitfalls of Buying a Digital Camera

Digital cameras are everywhere! You can find them advertised on TV, in newspapers, and online, and you can buy them practically anywhere. While this presents great opportunities for savvy buyers, it also creates danger for shoppers who don't do their homework. Buy from the wrong retailer, and you may regret it.
By , Last updated on: 5/18/2014

If you buy a digital camera from the wrong retailer, either online or off, you could end up spending hundreds of dollars too much, sacrificing your right to return a faulty product, or end up with an item not backed up by a manufacturer's warranty.

Know what you're buying! Avoid these eight common digital camera shopping mistakes and you'll be able to shop and buy with complete confidence.

Mistake #1: Not Checking a Merchant's Store Rating

In an effort to provide you with the lowest price available, Digital Camera HQ's price comparison partner Bizrate may show close to a hundred retailers for a single camera. Some of these retailers have well-known names, but many do not. A quick scan of the prices will reveal large differences, and it can be very tempting to choose the store with the lowest price.

Choosing the lowest price without checking a merchant's store rating can be a mistake, however. The lowest prices are sometimes offered by retailers who, despite having professional-looking websites, receive consistently low marks for customer service and satisfaction. Among the pitfalls that wait for shoppers who buy from only the least-expensive retailers are:

  • Gray Market Merchandise: Some retailers sell cameras that were intended for sale abroad but have been redirected back into the U.S. While these cameras often have an attractive price, they will not have U.S. warranties and may come with inoperative accessories and foreign paperwork. For a full explanation see Mistake #6: Unknowingly Buying Gray Market Merchandise
  • Overpriced Accessories: Less-than-scrupulous online retailers may sell you a camera at an attractive price, only to pressure you into buying grossly-expensive accessories. For a full explanation see Mistake #7: Buying Overpriced Accessories
  • Overpriced Shipping: To make up for lower prices, some retailers will charge a shipping fee many times larger than necessary. For a full explanation see Mistake #8: Paying Too Much for Shipping
  • Difficult or Impossible Return Policies: If you don't do your research, you may find yourself unable to return your camera, even if it is defective. For a full explanation see Mistake #2.

Mistake #2: Not Checking a Retailer's Digital Camera Return Policy

If you choose a retailer without checking its digital camera return policy, you may find yourself stuck with a camera you can't return, regardless of your reason.

Camera and electronics stores often do not accept returns of digital cameras, even if they are unopened. Others charge a large restocking fee (15% or more of the camera's value), making it very expensive to return a camera you don't like. Some retailers won't even accept the return of a defective camera, which they consider to be a warranty issue for the manufacturer to deal with.

Surprised? The Editors at Digital Camera HQ certainly were when we found this out. But don't take our word for it—check with your local camera or electronics store. Chances are you'll find that once you've bought a digital camera, it will be difficult, expensive, or both, to return it.

The lesson: Be absolutely sure you know a retailer's digital camera return policy before you buy a camera.

Mistake #3: Buying From a Camera or Electronics Store

Your local camera store may be a great place to have pictures developed, and the electronics superstore may have a flashy selection of cameras and accessories, but neither is a good place to buy a digital camera.

Why? Because camera and electronics stores, no matter how convenient they are, cannot compete with the prices and return policies offered by reputable online retailers. If you choose to buy at such a store, you will inevitably pay more money than if you buy online.

Perhaps more worrisome, you may find it difficult or impossible to return your purchase to a camera or electronics store. These stores will often not accept returns on digital cameras, or will charge a major restocking fee, potentially leaving you stuck with a camera you don't want.

Mistake #4: Paying Too Much For a Digital Camera

Probably the most common mistake made by digital camera shoppers is paying too much. The easiest way to make this mistake is by shopping at a camera or electronics store that charges high prices in exchange for the supposed "peace of mind" that comes with buying from such a store.

Unfortunately, this peace of mind is nothing more than an illusion. With high prices and poor return policies, camera and electronic stores offer no advantage over reputable online retailers, unless you feel like paying more and getting stuck with a camera you can't return.

In May 2003, the Editors at Digital Camera HQ checked prices on eleven popular Olympus, Nikon, and Canon digital cameras at stores around the country to see how they compared to those offered by our retail partners. After many telephone calls, we were unable to find a single retailer capable of matching our retail partners' lowest price!

Our research revealed that the lowest available store price was, on average, $54.30 higher than Digital Camera HQ's retail partners' lowest price. Shop at the most expensive stores, and you can expect to pay up to a whopping $131 more than you would through our site.

As the table below shows, the cheapest store price we could find on the popular Canon PowerShot G3 was $89 more than the lowest price found on our site, even after including the shipping cost. If the compact 5-megapixel Olympus C-50 is more your style, you can expect to pay at least $80 more at a camera store than you would on our site, including the shipping charge.

While the prices listed below have changed since this chart was created, they are indicative of the money you will save when you shop through Digital Camera HQ.

Camera DCHQ Lowest Base Price + Shipping Lowest Store Price DCHQ Savings
Canon S200 $253.83 $279.00 $25.17
Canon S230 $356.00 $370.00 $14.00
Canon S400 $449.75 $489.00 $39.25
Canon G3 $599.83 $689.00 $89.17
Canon S45 $449.00 $499.00 $50.00
Canon S50 $520.00 $599.00 $79.00
Nikon 3100 $318.60 $400.00 $81.40
Nikon 4300 $390.15 $430.00 $39.85
Olympus Stylus 300 $350.00 $380.00 $30.00
Olympus C-50 $470.00 $550.00 $80.00
Olympus C-4000 $380.00 $449.00 $69.00
The bottom line: buying at a camera or electronics store will cost you more money.

Mistake #5: Not Buying Additional Memory or Rechargeable Batteries

Almost every digital camera sold today comes with insufficient memory. In an effort to keep their prices lower, manufacturers package cameras with memory cards that may hold as few as 8 images at the camera's highest JPEG resolution. Most shoppers buy just the standard package and immediately find that that need more memory.

Similarly, digital cameras that use AA batteries generally ship with a set of disposable alkalines or a non-rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery. Standard alkaline batteries (like the ones used in most small electronic devices) are not made for high-draw devices like digital cameras, and will drain incredibly quickly - often in a matter of minutes. Rechargeable batteries are a must for these cameras.

To help you buy a camera that's ready for regular use, Digital Camera HQ has created HQ Packages for every camera on our site. Our HQ Package recommendations indicate the number of images the standard memory card can hold, as well as the capacity of the additional memory card that we recommend. If the camera ships with disposable batteries, we also recommend a set of rechargeable batteries and a recharger.

Mistake #6: Unknowingly Purchasing Gray Market Merchandise

Some online retailers will attempt to sell you so-called "gray market" cameras. Originally intended for sale outside the U.S., gray market cameras are rerouted to stores in this country and offered for sale, sometimes under the guise of being "international models" and sometime with no warning at all.

Though these cameras usually have very attractive prices, camera manufacturers will not honor warranties on gray-market goods, which often come with manuals in foreign languages, adapters that do not work in this country, and various other bugs. If a deal looks too good to be true, you should be wary of being sold gray-market products.

To avoid purchasing gray market merchandise, look carefully at any online offer. If the price is remarkably low, or if there is mention of any other warranty than the official U.S. manufacturer's warranty (i.e. international warranty or store warranty) the camera is probably gray market.

Mistake #7: Buying Overpriced Accessories

Some online retailers will sell you a camera at an attractive price, and then pressure you into to buying grossly-expensive accessories. These retailers will often call to discuss your order and then talk you into buying the accessories, sometimes even threatening to alter your order if you refuse. If you haven't done enough research, it is very easy to be talked into buying unnecessary accessories at inflated prices.

The best way to avoid unscrupulous retailers is to check the store ratings. Any store with unusually low ratings has clearly been the subject of frequent customer complaints and deserves closer scrutiny.

Mistake #8: Paying Too Much for Shipping

To make up for their low prices, some retailers will charge a shipping fee many times larger than necessary. They'll get you hooked by offering the camera at a low price, only to erase any savings you may have gained when they slap you with a huge shipping charge at checkout.

Reputable online retailers charge reasonable shipping fees, and in some cases don't charge any fee at all. These fees are easily found on their websites, so you can be sure you'll never be given a surprise charge at checkout.

The Solution: Learn How to Buy Online

Now that you know the most common mistakes by digital camera shoppers, let Digital Camera HQ teach you how to buy a digital camera with complete confidence in our guide to Buying a Digital Camera Online.

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