Canon EOS Beginners FAQ
Copyright © 2002-2007 NK Guy
Version 0.9.5. 6 January, 2007.
Part I - General Questions
Which is better? Canon or Nikon or Sony or Pentax, etc?
This is a religious question, and most people have strong feelings about it that mainly depend on whichever system theyve bought into already. However, its complicated by the fact that there are definitely strengths and weaknesses of each system.
Note that I say system here - I believe its far more important to consider all the elements of a given camera system (lenses, flash units, etc) than a specific camera model. You often see posts online from people agonizing over whether they should buy the Canon 30D or the Nikon D200 or the Sony Alpha or whatever, but I think theyre missing the point. Unless you really really love a specific camera model for some reason, or just want to buy a single camera and lens, its wiser to consider the features available to you in the whole system.
So I think the question only becomes meaningful when you ask, which manufacturer makes a system which best suits my particular photographic needs?
Now since this is meant to be a beginner FAQ for users of Canon EOS cameras Im not going to get into a long discussion about the merits of drawbacks of each manufacturer. But I will mention a few points to consider.
And of course there are many other things to consider. If youre interested to know some of the reasons that I personally chose the Canon EOS system, have a look at my article on the topic.
Really, though, it comes down to personal choice. Make a list of the type of features you need to suit your photographic requirements and work out a basic budget. Go to a camera store. Check out the various cameras and lenses that fit that budget and decide if they feel right for you. Play with the camera controls - do they make sense to you? Does the camera grip feel comfortable? Does the maker offer the equipment you want at prices you can afford?
What does EOS mean?
Canons line of autofocus-capable SLR cameras is sold under the name EOS. This stands for electro-optical system but is also meant to be a reference to Eos, a Greek goddess of the dawn. Some people pronounce it like the goddess (ee-oss) and others as separate letters (ee-oh-ess).
Note also that the company itself is Canon with one N. In its very early days it was named Kwanon, after the Buddhist goddess of mercy. However the company soon changed to Canon (a general law or principle).
What does EF mean?
Lenses built by Canon for use with their EOS series of cameras are technically known as EF-series lenses. This acronym stands for electrofocus. Older Canon lenses which are not marked EF, such as FD and FL series lenses, are not compatible with EOS cameras.Compatibility is very straightforward - if its an EOS camera then an EF lens will fit. However, there is one complication. In 2004 Canon introduced a new EF lens mount variant for certain digital EOS cameras only. This variant is known as EF-S. An EF-S mount camera can accept both EF and EF-S lenses, but all other EOS cameras take only EF lenses. Newer consumer and midrange EOS digital cameras can use both EF and EF-S lenses.
There are four other minor points of note here. Mainly of interest to completists, but there we go.
What does SLR mean?
All Canon EOS cameras are SLRs, which stands for single lens reflex. Very simply an SLR is a camera in which there is only one lens, which is used for both picture-taking and viewfinding. When you peer through the viewfinder at the back of the camera youre looking directly through the main picture-taking lens, so you can see pretty well exactly whats going to be in the final picture. There isnt a separate viewfinder lens on the front of the camera like on a point and shoot camera.
The word reflex in there refers to a mirror used to reflect light from the lens up into the viewfinder. SLRs also have glass pentaprisms or pentamirrors on the top, which explains the protruding section on top of the camera.
What is the history of EOS cameras?
While today Canon and Nikon are considered the big two Japanese 35mm SLR manufacturers, and thus the world, this was by no means always the case. German camera makers dominated the global camera market for the first half of the previous century, with many local players selling products successfully in generally less prestigious markets. Then, in the 1950s, Nikon became the 35mm frontrunner with a host of smaller firms - Pentax, Minolta, Canon, Olympus, Miranda, Ricoh, etc - following on behind. Canon made some breakthroughs with their F1 and A1 cameras in the 1970s, but by the 1980s they were definitely lagging and Minolta (now sadly gone from the camera market) were making considerable inroads.
Canons first step to pull itself ahead in the SLR market came with 1986s innovative T90, a manual-focus camera designed in collaboration with the noted German industrial designer Luigi Colani. The T90s curved organic shape, heavy reliance upon computer automation and intuitive user interface set the direction for the entire Japanese SLR industry for the next 10-15 years.
The company realized, however, that the future of photography lay in autofocus. Their early experiments - such as the T80, which shipped with somewhat clumsy autofocus lenses adapted to the FD manual-focus lens mount - werent particularly successful, so Canon took the risky and unusual step of abandoning their FD mount altogether. In 1987 they released the first cameras and lenses of the EOS system.
EOS cameras were utterly incompatible with Canons previous products; a move which obviously alienated legions of Canon FD owners. The risk was calculated, however. EOS cameras with their EF lenses did not rely on any mechanical linkages between body and lens. Unlike all other camera makers Canon chose to house both the autofocus motor and the aperture diaphragm motor in the lens barrel itself.
This gamble paid off when Canon were the first maker to release lenses containing fast and silent focussing ultrasonic autofocus motors. Canons comprehensive line of USM lenses, along with the professional-quality EOS 1 and 1N camera bodies, helped Canon firmly establish themselves as a strong favourite of professionals. Massive sales of their low-end EOS cameras also allowed the company to enter markets in which Nikon, with a traditional emphasis on mid to high-end cameras, could not compete.
The EOS lineup branched out to encompass digital image sensors in the mid 1990s. First Canon teamed up with Kodak to release a number of EOS 1 series pro bodies combined with large digital add-on gear. Then, in October 2000 Canon introduced the D30, its first fully homegrown digital SLR camera. Canon now sell a wide range of digital EOS SLRs, covering the familiar consumer/advanced amateur/pro ranges, and are the largest DSLR maker in the world, with Nikon close behind.
What is 35mm film?
Most Canon EOS film cameras use 35mm film, which is photographic roll film exactly 35mm (about 1.4 inches) in width. The film is punched with sprocket holes on either side, so the useable image area of 35mm film is 24mm by 36mm in size.* The film is wound onto spools and the spools sealed up inside metal (occasionally plastic) lightproof canisters. Typically there are either 24 or 36 fullsize still frames (pictures) on a roll of 35mm film.
35mm film, occasionally referred to as 135 film after the original Kodak product code number, is by far the most popular film format in use today for still photography. Its considered a small format since the negatives are fairly small in size. Other formats used include APS (a consumer film format - see below), 110 (now-obsolete Instamatic film cartridges popular in the 1970s), medium format (6 cm wide film used by portrait and landscape photographers) and large format (big sheets of film in varying sizes, used by some artists).
Canon sell both SLRs and point and shoot cameras - most of which use 35mm film and some which use APS film. They do not support any other film format.
* Technical note - the 24mm x 36mm area assumes three things. First, that the useable width of the film excludes the sprocket hole area. Second, that youre using a 2:3 aspect ratio of height to width. And third, that the width of the film is used for the shorter of the two dimensions. Basically every 35mm film camera sold today uses this image area standard defined by the original Leica cameras of the 1930s, though in the past cameras were made which used smaller film areas by using the width of the film for the longer of the two dimensions. Such halfsize film cameras, including the Olympus Pen and Canon Demi, were around mainly in the 1960s and could pack twice as many photos onto a roll, albeit at lower image quality. And in fact motion picture cameras, which first used the 35mm film standard, actually use what is considered a halfsize frame format by still photo standards. But enough trivia.
Should I get an APS camera?
In a word, no.
APS - Advanced Photo System - will probably be the last film format ever invented. It was released in 1996 by Kodak and a consortium of major manufacturers, including Fuji, Agfa, Konica, Nikon, Canon, Minolta and Pentax. It packed a number of technological advancements, such as the ability to record shooting data to film using a magnetic recording layer on the film surface. More importantly, the cartridges were slightly smaller than 35mm canisters, thus permitting the creation of tiny and cute little cameras. The system was also designed to be as idiot-proof as possible, with simple drop-in film loading. APS cartridges were fully sealed and the film was never removed all the way, so users never handled the negatives.
Why do I not recommend APS? Well, first of all the size of the negative is smaller than that of 35mm film. Thus the image quality is, all things being equal, lower. If youre making small (4"x6" or so) prints then this difference doesnt much matter. But what if you get that amazing photo that you want to enlarge? If you shot it with APS then itd look rather grainy blown up, which would be really disappointing. Second, it costs more to process and print APS film than 35mm film. So you pay more for lower quality. Doesnt sound like much of a win to me. And third, APS sales are dwindling rapidly to nothing as digital takes over. So what little support there is for the format will soon be gone. As it is there isnt a huge variety of film types sold in the APS format - you cant easily find slide or black and white film, for instance.
Therefore APS cameras are fine only if you value a small camera size and slight convenience over image quality, flexibility and developing costs. I feel youre better off with 35mm if you want to shoot film. Standard 35mm film has been around for decades and has proved to be a good tradeoff between convenience (medium and large format film, while offering high image quality, is cumbersome) and quality (35mm offers decent image quality).
This question is relevant to an EOS FAQ because, in addition to a number of currently available APS point and shoot cameras, Canon also used to sell two EOS cameras which could use APS film - the EOS IX (and the ECF-equipped IX E in Japan) and the less expensive EOS IX 7 (international) / IX Lite (North America) / IX 50 (Japan). By all accounts theyre quite decent APS cameras and theyre fully compatible with all EOS lenses and accessories. Note, however, that you do get a focal length multiplier effect when you use EOS lenses with these APS cameras.
Should I buy a film camera or a digital camera?
When I first wrote this FAQ, film had not yet been dealt the crushing body blow from digital that it has now received. But now, with more and more manufacturers either pulling out of the film market or collapsing altogether, its clear that digital has won. However, that does not mean that film is completely useless. Heres my take on the issue. Remember that youll get a different answer from every person you ask.
First, neither film or digital is absolutely better than the other. Which is better depends entirely on your needs, budget and so on.
Next, its obvious that film is doomed as a consumer technology. Digital is more convenient and is becoming cheaper and more accessible for ordinary consumers every day. It also has what marketers like to call more mindshare - even tech-shy grannies are buying digital cameras these days. More and more camera retailers and makers are dropping out of the film market altogether. In fact, Nikon dropped a huge bombshell lately by discontinuing almost their entire film-related product lineup, and Konica Minolta have disbanded and sold their technology to Sony. That doesnt mean, however, that film is going to disappear utterly. Just as vinyl records are still used for specialized purposes today (namely DJing), film isnt going to vanish off the face of the Earth. However it will become increasingly expensive and uncommon and eventually only some artists and hobbyists will continue to use the antique chemical processes.
Having said that, thats the long term view. And film is still here today, for good reasons. Film is still relatively affordable, convenient and ubiquitous. The quality of film is excellent. Equivalent high-quality digital exists, but still requires an investment in an expensive camera. So at this point in time each medium has its own strengths and weaknesses. Here are some points.
Film has low startup costs (film cameras are fairly cheap) but high consumable costs (developing and printing film is expensive). By contrast digital has high startup costs (digital cameras with interchangeable lenses still cost several times the price of equivalent film cameras, plus you really need to buy a decent personal computer if you havent got one already) and lower consumable costs (if you dont print your pictures you only need to buy storage media, and you can selectively print out only the photos you want).
So. If you plan on taking a large number of pictures, digital may be cost-effective. For more casual or occasional usage film may actually still be cheaper at present.
Film has long been superior to digital, but this is no longer necessarily the case. High quality digital cameras (depending on who you talk to, this usually means 10 megapixels or more, given decent lenses) can produce sharp grainless images fairly comparable to those produced by 35mm film. Purists will sniff and say that digital film has an artificial look that film lacks, just as LP aficionados dislike CDs for the same reason. But for most of us digital has reached the point where we cant tell the difference.
Unfortunately, high-quality digital cameras with interchangeable lenses are still pretty expensive. At some point the cost of digital imaging will be lower than film, but for the time being film is the route to affordable quality. And if you want to blow away most digital cameras in terms of image quality you can still pick up an old medium format film camera.
Digital wins this hands down in most cases. Digital cameras usually have preview screens so you can have a rough idea of whether or not your picture turned out a second after youve taken it. Digital images are available immediately - theres no need to take the film to a lab. Digital images can be emailed around the world or put onto a Web page in seconds, without the need for scanning. Naughty home photos can be taken without the embarrassment of lab technicians looking at your stuff and posting them to the Internet. And so on.
Of course, this all assumes you have a personal computer capable of handling photographic digital images handy. If you dont then suddenly film becomes considerably more convenient.
Freedom and experimentation.
One of the most valuable aspects of digital is the sense of freedom it can give to photography. Shooting in digital is essentially free once youve bought the camera, and large-capacity memory cards capable of storing hundreds of shots are readily available. So you can just go out there and shoot shoot shoot, trying every new thing that strikes your fancy, without worrying about developing costs or having to carry dozens of rolls of film with you. Some may argue that this leads to a certain sloppiness - photographers had to be incredibly careful about what pictures they took when taking a photo meant exposing a huge glass plate or a frame of a roll of 6 exposure film that cost a typical months salary. Which is true, but nobodys arguing that digital is the ideal medium for slow, carefully-composed landscape shots here. The requirements for, say, candid photography are quite different. The other day I shot 90 photos of some swans paddling outside my window; something I never would have done in the days of film. But with digital I could shoot a pile of snapshots knowing Id have maybe one or two keepers out of the lot and not worry about the expense.
There are many other complex issues which may or may not factor into your decision making. For example, most affordable digital cameras today have image chips smaller than the image area of 35mm film. This means that wide-angle lenses behave like less wide lenses, which could be a problem if you do a lot of wide angle photography. Long time exposures are another problem - film is much better for astrophotography and other types of photography for which long exposures are the norm. Most digital cameras have problems with random noise appearing on long (longer than a few seconds) pictures, though Canons latest noise-reduction algorithms are a vast improvement. On longer trips, digital cameras require more support infrastructure than you might initially think. You need power to recharge batteries, you need to carry portable laptop computers or picture wallets, etc, which can be a problem when travelling, especially in more remote regions. A traditional all-mechanical camera can often still be used even without battery power
So. Whether film or digital is your better option depends on the type of photography you do and how much money you have available. Remember that digital SLRs with interchangeable lenses are still fairly costly - lightweight point and shoot digital cameras with non-removable lenses are a much more affordable choice for casual digital photography.
Why arent cameras and lenses from different manufacturers interchangeable?
Each camera maker wants to lock you into their system. They dont want to see sales lost to people buying other makers products. So they design their own lens mount systems which other makers dont or cant use. This also lets the manufacturer unilaterally alter the lens mount design to add new features without the need to consult with a committee or other makers.
This is why a Nikon F lens cannot fit a Canon EOS camera. And why a Pentax K lens cant fit a Sony SLR camera body. Of course, some third party makers build lenses which fit different camera systems, but they do so only by producing different versions of each lens for each camera system.
In the 1960s and 70s many makers used 42mm screwmount lenses of the type popularized by the Asahi Pentax Spotmatic camera. Back then lenses lacked complex computerized autofocus systems and the like, so it was comparatively easy to make them. Thats probably the closest the world has ever come to a universal lens mount system. Interestingly, the dream of a universal lens mount is not completely dead - in 2002 Olympus and Kodak collaborated on the creation of a new standard for interchangeable lens digital cameras, which they call Four Thirds. So far Olympus, Kodak, Fuji, Panasonic, Leica, Sanyo and Sigma have agreed to make and sell products which adhere to this standard. Notably absent from this list are Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony.
Now, naturally things arent quite as cut and dried as all that, since lens adapters do exist. Such adapters are machined metal rings which allow lenses for one camera system to fit onto a body of another camera system. Unfortunately such adapters only permit non-EF lenses to be physically attached to EOS bodies - they dont let autofocus and auto-aperture mechanisms work, for example. For more information on these and other drawbacks of lens adapters please consult my article on the subject.
I have an EOS film camera and accessories. Can I use this stuff with an EOS digital camera?
That depends. Most things will work, some things wont, and some things will work but in a slightly different fashion.
All Canon EF lenses will work with any Canon EOS digital camera. However, if you have an EOS digital camera with a subframe image sensor (ie: its image sensor is smaller than a frame of 35mm film) then pictures you take with that camera and lens will look cropped compared to the pictures you take with the same lens on a film camera body. For details have a look at the section on the cropping factor.
Its hit and miss whether your non-Canon (third party) EF lenses will work with your EOS digital camera, however. For example, older Sigma lenses will not work on newer EOS film or digital camera bodies, even though they work fine on older EOS film bodies. This is because their electronics are not compatible. Most Tokina and Tamron lenses should be fine, but theres no guarantee.
All Canon Speedlite flash units of the EX variety (eg: 420EX, 380EX) will work fine with an EOS digital camera. However, if the flash units name ends with EZ or E then it will not work in a useful fashion on an EOS digital camera - it will not meter automatically. Third party flash units are a toss-up. Most are TTL only and thus will not work on an EOS digital camera. However, if your third party flash supports E-TTL flash metering then it should work, but again there are no guarantees.
Filters can be used if they fit the lens in question. If the filter is too big for your lens you can adapt it using a step-up ring to make it fit. But if the filter is too small then obviously it isnt going to be of much use on a larger lens.
Some accessories will work and some wont. For example, lets say you have an RS60-E3 shutter release for your EOS 50 camera. Itll work fine on your EOS 350D camera since they use the same connectors. The Off-Camera Shoe Cord (OCSC) is another compatible accessory and will work fine with a digital camera, letting you attach a flash unit to your camera.
Other accessories wont be compatible. For example, if you have an RS-60T3 switch for your old EOS RT camera it wont work on any modern EOS film or digital camera since the T3 connector is no longer used by Canon. Another accessory that wont work is the TTL Hot Shoe Adapter 3, since it requires TTL flash and EOS digital cameras support only E-TTL flash.
I have a non-EOS digital camera. Can I use its accessories with an EOS digital camera?
As above, that depends. Only it depends more. Some things may be interchangeable; many things may not.
EOS cameras nearly all use CompactFlash (CF) cards. So if your old digital camera uses CF youre all set. Some of the more recent high-end EOS 1 series digital cameras have two memory card slots - one CF card slot and one SD (Secure Digital) card slot, and so are compatible with both standards. All other cards - Memory Stick, SmartMedia, and so on - will not be usable on an EOS camera.
Lenses are probably not interchangeable. At best you may be able to adapt the lens for another camera through the use of an adapter ring, but if you did so you would lose autofocus focus abilities. This sort of lens adapting is possible, for example, with Nikon F lenses, is awkward for Pentax K lenses, and impossible for Four Thirds lenses. So it depends. For more information on adapting lenses to EOS cameras, take a look at my article on the subject.
Same as in the previous section - if theyll fit then theyll work.
Again, it all depends. A simple USB A to mini B cable is going to work with any digital EOS camera that uses USB, but a proprietary data cable (such as the ones Nikon build for their cameras which use Nikon-specific connectors) will not be useful. Some Pentax cameras use the same type of 2.5mm connector for wired remote shutter release cables as low-end EOS cameras. And so on. Generally its best to assume that most accessories wont work. But theres only one way to find out, and thats to try them!
Which is a better investment? A camera or a lens?
Frankly, neither. To me, cameras and lenses and other photographic equipment are tools to accomplish a job: that of taking great photographs. And Canon EOS gear is just commodity equipment - albeit pretty good commodity equipment - to that end. Its not like buying classic Leica camera gear or other stuff sold these days in the collectors marketplace as if they were paintings or stamps.
Having said that, its clear today that lenses are your best bet for useful EOS photographic equipment which holds up its monetary value over time. Film camera bodies have plunged in price now that digital rules the world. A top of the line film camera, worth as much as a good personal computer just a few years ago, is now traded on the used market for the cost of a good point and shoot.
Camera body pricing has had to change economic paradigms. Digital cameras now follow the computer equipment model in depreciating rapidly the moment theyre purchased. But EOS lenses continue to be resold at decent prices. An L class lens isnt going to be worth more today than when it was bought, but neither will it plunge rapidly in value if its in decent condition.
So, given this fact of the new digital economy, if youre concerned about money youre best off buying an expensive lens and attaching it to a cheap camera rather than the other way around.
And not entirely coincidentally, this approach will also result in better photographs. Good optics are still good optics, but digital cameras are improving rapidly year by year. Witness all the people adapting classic German lenses from the 1950s or Japanese lenses from the 1960s and using them with the latest digital bodies - the glass is as good as it always was, and often competes with the best glass made today. It may just be less convenient, since newer lenses sport technological features such as autofocus and image stabilization.
Where can I get a manual for my camera?
If you bought a used camera sans manual or if you simply lost yours you have a number of choices.
Canon will happily sell you another manual for a modest fee. Just phone the Canon office for your country and someone should be able to help you. Note that they may only be able to offer you a photocopy of the manual for older discontinued products. Calling Canon is definitely your best bet for finding manuals in languages other than English.
Look on Canons Web sites.
Canon have started posting electronic (PDF) versions of their new camera manuals online, which is great news. All their digital cameras, for example, have online manuals available. Unfortunately they havent posted manuals for their older products.
Check out the unofficial manuals.
At least two Web sites offer original unofficial manuals for certain EOS camera models for free download. One, PhotoNotes.org, is the site youre looking at now. The other is EOSdoc.com.
Contact a used camera shop.
Many camera shops which specialize in used equipment also sell whatever camera manuals that wind up in their inventory. Two such shops with online presences include Craig Camera (which actually specializes in rare and obscure camera manuals) and KEH.
Buy a third-party book.
You can buy supplemental user manuals from camera shops published by third parties. (ie: not Canon) The names these books are sold under include Hove and Magic Lantern. These third party books are intended to be good companions to the original manual. Unfortunately they are of varying quality - some offer useful detailed information and others, even from the same publisher, are filled with generic fluff. You might want to see if your local camera shop carries the book youre interested in before buying it.
Look on eBay and other auction sites.
There seems to be a small cottage industry in scanning camera manuals and selling CD-ROMs to users. Technically this is, of course, a blatant violation of Canons copyrights, but Canon apparently dont care and havent taken legal action against these folks, so its pretty easy to find such manuals on auction sites. Sometimes people will auction off genuine Canon manuals as well.
The tough way to go. Who needs a manual anyway? Most of Canons equipment is reasonably easy to figure out, so just play with your camera until it seems to make sense.
What is a third party product?
A manufacturer of lenses, add-on devices such as flash units and so on that sells products designed for another camera system. For example, Tamron, Tokina and Sigma all manufacture third-party lenses designed to work with cameras made by Nikon, Canon, Sony and Pentax. According to this model the manufacturer of the camera system is the first party, the consumer (end user, or you) is the second party, and the manufacturer of the add-on accessories is the third party.
What is a grey market product?
Any merchandise which was not imported into a country by the manufacturers authorized agent. Some camera retailers, for example, go to Japan and buy camera gear there and import it into the country themselves. This activity is legal but not usually sanctioned by the manufacturer. Since grey market sounds rather sinister some shops prefer calling the practice direct import.
There are three issues with this. First, some manufacturers dont respect warranties on products bought grey market. In the case of Canon it depends if you have a film camera or a digital camera. In the case of film, Canon seem to honour international warranties, though usually only at service depots. Sadly with the advent of digital Canon have reversed this policy and restrict warranty service to the region of purchase. (eg: a camera bought in NYC can be serviced in Toronto, but not in Berlin) This is really frustrating for travellers and other professionals who may find themselves for some time outside their home region. Grey market products made by other makers may only be serviced by the importer/retailer itself, and the quality and convenience of this service will of course vary. Second, some people may be concerned that a grey market product may be of lower quality than an officially imported one. This fear is normally unfounded. Grey market product may have different names and may have slightly different feature sets, but in the case of photographic gear theyre usually all off the same assembly line, though sometimes different labels are slapped on at the end. Third, the product may not include manuals or software in a language you can understand - check to see first.
For more information on grey market products please check out my PhotoNotes Dictionary definition of the term.
should I buy my camera?
Camera shopping can be a pretty treacherous endeavour. Cameras are high-priced commodity items, so there can be a lot of sketchiness about the whole camera retail market. Here are your basic shopping options, though.
Another point to be aware of is that a disturbing number of camera shops in general are manipulative and dishonest operations. Its not just big energy, telecom and investment companies which hold the monopoly on corruption. The most common tactic is the old standby, bait and switch. Typical scenarios might go like this:
Hello. Im interested in the EOS 5D mark II you have advertised in the paper.
Sorry, sir. We just sold our last one. But I dont recommend it anyway as its made in China. For a few dollars more, however, well be happy to sell you the higher-quality made in Japan version of the EOS 5D mark II!
Hi. Do you have the used Rebel T1i you have advertised?
We do, maam, but you dont want it anyway as its got a plastic lens mount that breaks. You should buy a brand new EOS 50D instead - its got a solid steel lens mount!
Luckily you know that all EOS 5D mark II bodies are made in Japan, that Digital Rebels never had plastic lens mounts and that plastic lens mounts arent easily broken anyway, so you wouldnt fall prey to such scams. But this sort of thing is amazingly common, as is the trick of saying, if you buy X well give you Y for free! when accessory Y is always included with item X anyway. These scams can be pretty outrageous, like shops advertising a lens for a certain price then, when a customer asks to buy one, saying that the advertised price is for the plastic version of the lens rather than the glass version, which costs more. Or bizarre barefaced lies, such as claiming that the camera they sell wont work without an additional processor at extra cost.
Even if theyre not this outrageously dishonest, salespeople can be aggressive and pushy, especially if theyre trying to get you to buy something that earns them higher commission points (kickbacks) from the manufacturer regardless of whether or not its actually the most appropriate product to meet your needs. Or they may insist on selling you a pile of overpriced accessories as a condition of selling you a camera or whatever at a reasonably low price. Or they may charge you unbelievably high shipping costs or put all kinds of unreasonable conditions for returning merchandise. PC World magazine have an interesting article detailing some of these horror stories, pointing out the huge number of scam retailers based in New York City, in case youd like to learn more.
Having said all this, an honest and reliable salesperson can be a real pleasure to deal with. There was a local store I often frequented for just that reason. Their prices were higher than discount mail-order shops, but the sensible advice and patience of one of their salespeople made it worth it. I often saw people waiting around the counter just to deal with him rather than anyone else in the shop - I wonder if the store manager had any clue what a valuable asset he was.
Here are some other suggestions for buying camera gear.
In terms of North American mail order, US outlets B&H and Adorama in New York (about the only NYC-based firms without an evil reputation) and KEH in Atlanta have all established good reputations for fair pricing and honesty. I dont endorse them as such, but I cant complain about the service Ive received from them - your proverbial mileage may, of course, vary.
B&H generally have the best prices for new gear but dont have the biggest inventory of used EOS gear. Note that both B&H and Adorama are Jewish-owned businesses and thus observe Jewish religious events and not most Christian ones. So theyre closed on Saturdays but open on Sundays. And when they say were closed for the holidays they mean Passover, Yom Kippur, Succos and so on. Check their Web sites for specific dates if you need to order something time-critical and you arent familiar with the Jewish calendar.
KEH are the place to buy used EOS equipment on the Internet - their prices arent the lowest, but they accurately describe the condition of their gear in my experience. They also have a pretty good inventory of EOS gear and have a decent returns policy. I bought a lens off them recently that was defective, and they paid for the return shipping, which was more than reasonable. So, although their prices are higher than a typical auction win, I think of any additional cost as something of an insurance policy. KEHs new equipment prices, on the other hand, are a bit high.
What should I look out for when shopping for second-hand equipment?
So. What about previously owned gear? Well, the attraction is obvious - you should pay a lower price than for brand new. Like a car, camera equipment depreciates in value the minute it leaves the shop, so why not get somebody else to take that financial hit? Or maybe you want to buy a useful product that the manufacturer has discontinued.
Of course, buying second-hand is also riskier. You have to be more aware and more prudent if you want to avoid ending up with a useless broken piece of junk.
Ive bought a lot of second-hand equipment over the years, and here are some suggestions.
What does (some photography term) mean?
The field of photography is indeed filled with strange and arcane buzzwords. For that reason Ive written a huge online dictionary which lists the vast majority of photographic terms you may encounter.
Part II - Cameras.
- NK Guy, PhotoNotes.org.
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