Where should I buy photo gear?

As more and more camera stores close with the onslaught of web-based photo distributors, I often hear the question “Where should I buy my photo gear Sean?“.

There are mix of places I’ve used over my career, from local Bay Area stores (Northern California) like South Bay’s Keeble & Shuchat, San Francisco locations like Calumet (based in Chicago with an e-store as well) or Pro Camera, and East Bay stores such as the Looking Glass and Sarber’s, open since 1961- and then Reed’s in Walnut Creek (the closest to my home) that closed in ’07 after 50 years in business.

Then when I’m on the road and need quick gear or rental equipment, I use Samy’s Cameras in Los Angeles CA (a few locations and where the pros go) or Glazer’s Camera Supply in Seattle WA (around since 1935).

Where to go online? Besides B&H Photo and Calumet, I love working with the people at Hunt’s Photo & Video– an east coast-based store (online, as well as physical locations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine).

Hunt’s rocks- not only have they been around since 1889 (that’s right, 120 years), they are personable, don’t try to sell you gear you don’t want or need, and I’ve had direct connection with the owner (Gary) for years.

I also feel if we, as photographers, don’t support companies like Hunt’s, we’ll end up falling into the mix of large companies with horrible customer service reps that know nothing about gear and only want to “make their numbers” in sales. You know these companies – the ones that transfer you six times to different departments, screw up your bill or order, and waste your time for an hour and what could have been a 5 minute call (rhymes with ShmAy-Tee-&-Tee). Where’s the invention that will allow me to grab someone’s neck through phone lines? A fiber-optic vulcan grip of sorts.

I have certain criteria when I use these stores, and if they don’t follow them, I don’t get them my business:

Reps that are awake, alert, happy and helpful

Good competitive prices (but I’ll pay a few bucks more for prompt service and accurate details from knowledgeable reps)

My gear arrives on time, or they follow up with me on my order

Mistakes happen, just admit it (instead of trying to cover it with a bunch of baloney)

Don’t try to sell me something I don’t need (no, that $300 camera strap made of Carbon-fiber isn’t necessary dude)

Help me when I’m in a jam (don’t place a 10 grand hold on my card for rental gear, when 5 grand will do the job and save me some space to use the card on my job)

There ya go- now go out and spend, spend, spend. Just kidding. But if you do, and don’t get the treatment you expect, let ’em you’ll take your business elsewhere, tell ’em I sent you, and go somewhere else if they don’t get it.

Happy shooting….I mean shopping. 🙂