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Do Your Homework Before Buying a Camera

I entered camera-buying ignorance upon purchasing my Hassleblad Stellar camera…

When entering Camera West on Highway 111 in the Palm Springs area, one is impressed with its plush surroundings and high-end photography gear. On the walls are stunning landscapes, in glass cases are state-of-the-art cameras.

Don’t be fooled by the attractiveness of the store nestled in the wealthy enclave of Rancho Mirage. The staff and management are not forthright in their photography knowledge, as they have an agenda, which is subtly cast upon one, existing in reality, but outweighed by the store’s beauty.

My experience there was one of turmoil and frustration. I came in with  professional gear–a Canon 5D Mark II,  a Canon L Series lens, a telephoto/wide angle lens in hopes of trading it in with the best small professional camera that is known to exist. My criteria was to buy a small camera with a large sensor so I could sell my photos to microstock agencies. This is where my transactional all went wrong.

First, I did not do my research, so that, instead of having a model in mind about which I knew the details, I had in mind only the a camera’s specs in mind. The staff–cool and pretentious–first showed me a suitable model in which I had no interest because of its size.

Then I asked them about small professional cameras. A staff member brought me to their Leica Room, an impressive gallery of fine art equipment in a spotless environment. None of the cameras met my specifications.

As I walked around the store with the staff member, I spotted a Hassleblad Stellar camera, which is met my criteria, containing a one-inch sensor, much larger than the tiny one on most point-and-shoot cameras. .

I knew Hassleblad made superior cameras, but did not know It was out of the business of smaller point-and-shoot cameras. I then relinquished my own equipment (several thousand dollars worth) in a trade for the Hassleblad ($1800 price tag). The staff of Camera West not only took all of my gear, but also added a $600 charge for the Stellar, a terribly gone-wrong trade in which my exuberance overruled my common sense.

Two months later, I went out into the desert to photograph. The windy day brought sand into the air, and before I knew it the Stellar’s protective lens doors would not open or close.

I went back to Camera West, and they offered to send it to Hassleblad. They informed me they would call me with an estimate to repair the camera. I had informed the staff at Camera West, that I didn’t think I should pay any more for the camera, so they took the camera and sent it into Hassleblad.

Two months later, the camera was still not returned to me. I phoned several times and the staff said they would call me back shortly with the status of the camera to see what went wrong. I did not hear from them and called several days later, being informed that they didn’t know where the camera was. Finally, they divulged that the camera had to be sent to Sweden to be fixed. Of course I declined and insisted I get the camera back.

Later, after not receiving my camera back after a week, I wrote an email to the owner of Camera West (and the new Leica store in San Francisco). He promptly returned my email, saying he’d check into where my camera was.

Later, he wrote back, saying that the camera couldn’t be repaired in the United States, that it had to be sent to Sweden. I immediately got the camera returned to me, which took a few days.

After a week, I went to the store to get the camera (which still functioned, with the lens cover damaged). The owner of the store said he tried to work with Hassleblad to get the camera repaired, but failed to get a resolution in the United States. He made no effort to offer to take the camera back, as “sand damaged” items cannot be returned.

Today, four months later, I’m in London. I stop at Camera City near the British Museum, asking if they could fix my camera. They said they could and then they did. In two hours I had my camera back–fully functioning and an additional 89 pounds ($120) in the hole.

This sounds like a happy ending, but it is not, as I traded in several thousand dollars worth of gear for a camera that I found out had an identical model made by Sony (RX 100) upon which it was based for one-third the price of the Stellar (about $600).

The staff knew the entire time about the Stellar being the same as the Sony, and after buying the Stellar and researching it, I knew the truth-not only had Camera West obtained all of my gear for a small point-and-shoot with a large sensor, but also left me camerless for several months and $720 poorer.

Matthew Bamberg
Author: “Digital Art Photography for Dummies”
and 10 other books about photography

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