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Digital Camera Shopping for your California Vacation


It doesn't cost much these day to buy a decent little digital camera for your California vacation. I recently took a friend shopping for camera equipment to take on his two month vacation and what we saw was mind-boggling. First off, if you're on this web site reading this story, you hopefully know that you should check the Internet for prices on digital equipment.  Please look at the star ratings and read buyer reviews before forking over money to a company you've never heard of.  Some red flags appear for businesses that deliver merchandise that isn't what was promised, takes too long to be shipped and cannot be returned easily. Use your common sense in reading buyer reviews. One bad review along with 100 good reviews is normal, but a string of bad reviews that outweigh the positives clearly shows a problem with a company.


I used to be a loyal online shopper to East Coast businesses such as Adorama and B&H, both with retail outlets. By purchasing outside your state on the Internet, you'll normally not pay sales tax and many online stores also offer free shipping. Both stores became so popular at one time that they couldn't meet customer demand. Their phone ordering service developed problems and they began shipping the wrong items.  When I had to spend half a day on the phone trying to line up the return, re-package the items and send them back, it began costing too much labor time to order from them. Many do not pay return shipping on products they've sent that you did not order. This can add another $20 to your price of item when they don't get it right, and they refuse to pay the return shipping expense. On special pro-equipment lenses and products, I still order from the large outlets however, because they are now the only places you can purchase certain pro items.


The best method for camera shoppers who like to combine product testing with great pricing is to get your preferred camera product at a store nearby that meets the Internet price, offers service and easy return policies. When Joe and I went shopping, he had access to Internet throughout our journey as we traveled from store to store over a 15 mile radius.  Constantly comparing an in store price with the Internet's reputable store offerings, he was able to hone in on a product and price, finally purchasing both a camera and video camera at Best Buy for the take home total of around $800, very close to what he would have paid on the Internet.


While prices on a $250 - 500 camera can range to $100 higher both in store and on the Internet, some stores such as Target don't keep as large an inventory and offer slightly older models, a good thing for those with an attachment to the features of a product they've come to understand for simpler use. For instance, the Canon Sure Shots are one our favorites for lightweight, pocket carrying. Their optics are OK and processing speeds continue to improve.  Target carried my 6-month old model, offering 7.1 Megapixels, sufficient for anyone enlarging a photo, Internet posting and video for posting to Internet. I would buy it again because it has gone down $50 in six months, but the newer version Joe finally bought at Best Buy offers faster processing speeds and a slightly larger file format for increased enlargement sizes. So don't rule out the Targets and Walmarts. Just do your research to figure out what you want and why.


Back to the beginning....We began our camera shopping journey at a popular Southern California pro-based camera store, Samyy's Camera. I shop there frequently and find the quality and knowledge base of staff selling pro products fairly good overall. On the day I took in my friend, we left with a bitter taste.  The sales person was less interested in helping my friend when he said he was going to think about the price ($50 more in store than their Internet price for the same product). The sales person instantly turned away from Joe in a manner that he and I both agreed seemed rude. It was a bit disappointing that I've spent thousands upon thousands of dollars at this business to come across this treatment for a referral I brought to Samy's Camera. Joe said he'd probably not go back again.


We tried Costco, a national and international discount chain thatt's membership based ($50 membership fee annually). Costco offered quite a limited selection. It did not have enough variety and models to even be in the running for serious comparison shopping.


CompUSA was going out of business and their prices werenn't good at all. It's no wonder they're going out of business, sorry to say.


Finally, who would think Best Buy would come in with the winning sale? I sure didn't. It was not on my list of camera shopping options but Joe had been there a week before and was back. He found a Canon digital camera with the features he sought at a price that was the same as the Internet.  He likewise found a video camera for higher-end, better editing digital work, and bought them both. To the credit of this store, they had one department techie who knew the products and their applications. He could offer suggestions for fixes to common problems, knew about products and was able to offer insights especially useful for Joe's specific needs. We were both pleased to find someone who understood the product line and had a friendly demeanor to explain it to the customer's satisfaction.


There's no moral to this story.  But what's available today as this story is written is a decent, lightweight digital camera that includes video, audio, a variety of software functions you may never use, Megapixels in the 5 to 12 Mg. range and prices from around $150 to $500. Most these cameras are so easy to carry that you can put them in your pocket or purse and the weight will hardly bother you at all. You can buy such a camera either online or in a physical store, taking into account return policies and cost of return for shipping, etc.


For the professional camera shopper seeking digital camera bodies with interchangeable lenses, plus pounds of equipment to lug around during your vacation, we recommend you buy the backup "toy" digital camera that I just discussed in previous paragraphs. Since the toys are so lightweight, they don't add much to your carry on, offer great back-up for the pro equipment, provide video that my Nikon digital SLR cameras don't have, are easy to take out on strenuous adventures, and are not so expensive to replace should they get damaged or wet.  Many times on a long hike, a kayak trip or sports adventure, the big stuff stays behind locked up some place safe while the toy fits in the pocket and goes on the adventure. The toy is really a decent camera. It primarily lacks the lens options with much higher optics, shooting speed and ease of use at manual settings that were transferred from the film cameras to the pro digital cameras. Using manual settings on a toy can be done, but the learning curve for program features is time consuming to the point of distraction.


Have fun shopping and remember that if you're spending even $250 on airfare, plus another $300 on hotels for a small trip, the camera is your best investment to capture the journey and bring back the memory.