When You’re the Only Camera Store Around…

1982At Service Photo, we’re an authorized dealer for major camera brands like Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji, & others. We buy & sell all kinds of new & used camera gear every day. We rent many types of cameras, lenses, & lighting. We have equipment repaired for our customers by factory authorized technicians. We also sell studio lighting, inkjet printers, traditional photo & darkroom supplies, and important accessories like seamless paper, bags, cases, & many other essential products for photographers. So, yea, I consider us to be the only true specialty camera retail store in the entire region.

Many think that the lack of local competition would be a good thing for us, but nothing could be farther from the truth. You see, photographers everywhere have embraced the internet – buying from large suppliers that are not obligated to collect sales tax when shipping across state lines. These suppliers have grown into industry giants, while localized specialty camera retailers that work closely with each individual photographer, dwindle. The simple fact is that maintaining a specialty camera business – one that provides a higher level of personalized service, guidance, & instruction to photographers – is becoming increasingly more difficult every day, and it is a situation that seems lost on many of our customers. I’d like to relate an incident that occurred today, that brought this fact home to me like never before.

Earlier today, I was working the retail counter because we were short staffed and somewhat busy. A somewhat familiar face came into the store to buy an XQD memory card for the new Nikon D500 that he had with him – still in the bag & fresh from his “big box” store purchase. I asked him why he didn’t buy the camera from Service Photo, and explained that we have the same price along with a trained staff of Nikon specialists. He mumbled a lame excuse, and asked me to explain what types of XQD cards that we had. I showed him the cards, & explained his need for a new XQD reader, too. He commented how happy he was that the D500 would take the same battery as his D7000, so I took the opportunity to explain the Nikon USA EN-EL15 battery exchange to him, & why it was important. I knew that the “big box” had not informed him of this. He thanked me, and then did something that amazed me: he started to unpack his camera from the box (still inside the retail plastic bag) and asked me to explain a few of the new features of his brand new D500. I politely explained that we were busy, and that my time & D500 expertise were only available for those who had actually purchased their camera from Service Photo. He got real pissed, real fast – and told me that he had purchased many items from us in the past, and that I should help him with his new D500. I had to diffuse the situation, and politely explain that I would gladly assist him with any products purchased from Service Photo – but that I really wasn’t interested in instructing him on a product that he purchased elsewhere. He just didn’t seem to understand. This all played out in front of other customers and staff, and while it ended up being cordial, it had the potential to become a much larger situation. So, I now feel the need to say a few things out loud that I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’m not venting, but simply telling it like it is with both confidence & humility:

  • We are the only true specialty brick & mortar camera store in our region, staffed with photographers who are knowledgeable about the equipment & accessories that we provide. We are not perfect, and we may not be able to immediately solve every dilemma that comes our way – but we will persevere & always find a solution for our customers. And, if only by process of elimination, we are the only destination in the region where photographers can receive personalized intelligent instruction, guidance, & assistance for their camera gear purchases while receiving “hands-on” demonstration of all types of equipment & related accessories. I consider Service Photo to be a valuable asset to photographers in our region.
  • Our inventory of camera equipment & accessories is huge, but we only provide high quality items that we know & trust. While some online sellers promote bundles filled with low quality items at an attractive price, we promote quality at a competitive price. Our reputation is at stake with each transaction made, and we try to educate our customers about quality products every day. We think that investment in quality products at competitive prices will serve photographers better in the long haul – and after more than 25 years as Service Photo’s owner, I can assure you that we’re in it for the long haul and that we have our customer’s best interests in mind continuously.
  • Our business model is very different that the giants of our industry – because we want it to be! We want to work closely with each customer & create a relationship, so that we can assist everyone as best possible both today, and in the future. This is time & labor intensive – which means that Service Photo will never become an industry giant. That’s OK – because we’re happy serving photographers in our local region, & offering them what we feel is a higher level of personal service & information.
  • Our prices are the same as legitimate online sellers & big box stores. You don’t have to pay more to receive expert guidance & continued instruction throughout the life of your product! We think that this is a pretty great deal for photographers, and our staff is available to assist those who have purchased products from us, with little or no restriction. However, we may not be able to continue the same level of service for items purchased elsewhere. We’ll always try to help solve any problem quickly, and we are happy to facilitate the repair of camera gear that has been purchased anywhere. But, when it comes to extensive, time consuming troubleshooting & instruction for items that were purchased elsewhere, I foresee the need to change our behavior in the future.   I don’t like to think about it, but since it is my responsibility to keep Service Photo viable for the future, I know that we’ll  have to watch this situation closely as the marketplace changes.
  • Many utilize our staff for information about specific products, and then use that information to make their purchases elsewhere. This has always been part of any retail business, but the internet has made it a constant source of frustration for us. We continue to offer information & guidance to all photographers without prejudice, because that’s what we want to do. We hope that our honesty & expertise will help attract new customers to our business. But as customers become more brazen about their intention to make purchases elsewhere – while still in our store gathering their information – I expect that we’ll be forced to change our behavior in the future. If you don’t buy your products from Service Photo, should we consider you to be our customer? We simply cannot afford the expense of educating photographers, so that they can buy elsewhere. It’s a fine line that we must learn to navigate in the future.

I have no idea if many will read this, or if anyone will care.   But as a small business owner, I work constantly and I’m pretty passionate about what I do.   I can’t be afraid to talk about our challenges, and I’m always looking for constructive ideas to improve as the camera & imaging marketplace changes. So let me end by saying this:

We greatly appreciate the opportunity to serve photographers, and provide them with products that enhance their creativity & enjoyment of photography. Our industry has changed a lot over the last 25 years, and we’ve survived by changing with it. As our industry continues to change, we will adapt – and do whatever it takes to serve our customers to the best of our ability.  Thanks.

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The Joint Photographic Experts Group developed the JPEG compression method long ago.  I’ve attached a video link, to a detailed explanation of how that compression method works.  It’s a little long, and somewhat dry, but very informative.  If you shoot in jpeg, its good to know how it actually works!  http://tinyurl.com/n7ev98z

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Re-Connect with Specialty Camera Stores

1982As most photographers know, specialty camera stores and businesses that cater specifically to them have been disappearing for many years. For me, this fact is particularly troubling because I am in my 25th year of ownership at Service Photo. We are now MD’s last true, full service independent camera dealer that works with all kinds of photographers, and provides most major brands of camera gear & accessories. And, I am here to tell you that being “the only game in town” is not what many imagine. Fact is, like most retailers, we thrive on competition – but unfortunately, most of our regional competition is gone. Businesses lost in our industry, like Penn Camera, Calumet, even the original Ritz Camera & many others, are not being replaced. Instead, most of the business simply moves to the already huge camera sellers who operate the majority of their business online and have a very different business model.

Many may think that specialty photo dealers are outdated & unnecessary in today’s marketplace. And while I do agree than online camera suppliers are useful, I am also confident that local suppliers bring something more to the table for working photographers & serious enthusiasts. You can research & shop online for hours on end, but it is simply not the same as checking out the items & comparing them to other items in-person. And, you should know that the prices of most specialty camera stores, including Service Photo, are most often identical to those found online. In fact, we are also able to offer special deals that are favorable to those offered online that we promote in-store, and via our private email list – which can be subscribed to easily, by visiting http://www.servicephoto.com.

Here are a few of the things that we do every day for photographers:

  • Demonstrate, compare, & provide guidance on Digital Cameras, Lenses, & Accessories. Our advice alone, saves our customers serious $.
  • Buy & Sell used gear of all types, & facilitate trade-ins that are convenient & competitive
  • Provide rentals for many types of camera gear
  • Facilitate repairs with factory authorized providers, handle all communication, and test all items prior to final delivery
  • Plus, much more

I’m not a fan of buying local – just for the sake of buying local. To the contrary, I think that local independent businesses actually offer their customer s superior combination of products & personalized services that are a much better value than what can be found online. Sure, shopping online is fine. But in my personal life, I prefer to make purchases from those who will help me choose the best products, get me a competitive price, and support me throughout the life of those purchases. Professionally, I prefer to work with like-minded photographers – and my business is fortunate enough to have retained many long-term customers who also understand the value that we bring to them. We also meet new customers every day, and we work very hard to bring added value to each & every transaction.

So my request to all photographers is simple: When making your next camera item purchase, please search out the specialty suppliers in your region – whether it be Service Photo in Baltimore, or some place else. If you’ve already tried to do this in the past unsuccessfully, I ask that you please try again – I think that you’ll find regional photo dealers who are hungry for your business, and who will go out of their way to make photographers happy.

We look forward to serving photographers for a long, long, time.

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The loss of yet ANOTHER Camera Dealer.

agesHere we go again.  Photographers in the D.C. area have now lost another great resource – this time, as national specialty dealer Calumet Photo filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy & immediately closed all 15 of their USA stores.- including the 3 former Penn Camera locations that they took over just 25 months ago.

Yes, it was just a little over 2 years ago that Penn Camera abruptly filed for bankruptcy protection, and closed 5 of their 8 locations immediately.  Calumet purchased the assets, & took control of Penn’s three most popular locations soon thereafter.  Back in 2012, all of this came as a huge surprise to me.  I was surprised & saddened to learn about the Penn bankruptcy, and I was surprised when Calumet decided to jump into the D.C. camera retail market.  Unfortunately, this time around, I wasn’t surprised at all – and I don’t think that I’m alone.

For many months, photographers and industry insiders have been hinting to me that the inventory levels at the D.C. & Philly Calumet locations were not anywhere near where they should be.  As a photo retailer, I know how hard it is to turn a profit even with a large inventory of the most wanted items. (it ain’t easy)   With a less than sufficient inventory,  along with an insufficient cash flow, it is only on a matter of time until any retailer will fail – and the process will be much faster for a photo retailer, where profit margins are extremely thin.   Many former Penn & Ritz employees of Calumet have been through this process before, and I  can’t help but think that they saw the handwriting on the wall, fairly well in advance.  As a retail employee, it must be a helpless & demoralizing to see it all taking place on a daily basis.  First & foremost, my thoughts are & best wishes are with them.

I have not met anyone in management at Calumet Photo, other than previous Penn Camera staff.   They are good people,  and the businesses that they have helped grow over many years have been a major force in our industry – both regionally & nationally.  Like Penn camera, Calumet had been a valued supplier to many photographers, businesses, & government agencies, and they will be sorely missed.

Contrary to what some may believe, I am not happy to lose a competitor like Calumet.  They promoted photography in many ways, and their presence was good for the photo industry.  When a specialty photo dealer leaves the marketplace, it is bad for the industry and bad for the local photography community.  This time, the effect will be felt throughout the USA in many regions, where Calumet had a physical presence.

Calumet’s bankruptcy will not have a huge impact on my business, because of their distance.  D.C. & Baltimore are somewhat separate retail markets.  Sure, I expect to pick up a handful of customers for Nikon, Canon, & other high-end items, – because some will always see the value in buying from a specialty camera dealer.  However, the vast majority of D.C area photographers that used Calumet, and Penn Camera previously, will now find themselves making both major & minor purchases online.

Who would have thought that D.C. area photographers would need to travel a so far to get a “hands on” demonstration before they purchase cameras, lenses, lighting, studio, & printing equipment?  Unfortunately, most will simply choose to go online  to make their purchases from sources that offer little or no support, instruction, & guidance to their customers.  This constantly growing shift in consumer buying is troublesome, because camera & photography gear is not usually simple & self-explanatory.  And, it is particularly distressing to anyone operating a retail business that is based on a high level of personalized customer service, guidance, & instruction. (i.e., Service Photo)

The model for making large (and expensive) camera gear purchases used to be simple:  Find a reputable dealer, get a “hands on” demonstration, learn about various products, work out a competitively price deal, and make your purchase – knowing that you have established a relationship, and that the dealer will work closely with you throughout the life of the products.  Now, the process is often a little more like this:  Read the reviews online & buy online.  And, if the product isn’t exactly what is needed (or if the review was incorrect) – return it & begin the process again, and again, and again if necessary.  Fewer photo dealers mean product demonstrations, fewer relationships, more incorrect purchases, and more product returns.  This cannot be good for the manufacturers, or  photographers – and it has already caused the demise of many photo dealers.

In the long run, those who value their time and who know that they need guidance & instruction will seek out a specialty photo dealer.  Photo specialty dealers  are better equipped to help with any special situations that occur throughout the life of any photo product – even if it is an order that was shipped a distance.  We value the long term relationship that we have with our customers, and we want to help.  The photo dealers that are doing business today are also very price competitive.  Add in the service, guidance, & instructions, and I think that we offer a much better deal for most photographers.

To get the most out of their equipment, photographers need to buy the right products for their needs – which is often a decision that cannot be made without assistance. And, they need to know how to use the items properly.  These services can only be provided by a local specialty dealer that provides one-on-one “hands on” consultation with its customers.   Calumet was a full service dealer that helped many photographers, for many years, and the loss of their services is a loss to the entire photographic community.  Here are a few places that I know about, that will offer photographers great service, in a handful of markets previously served by Calumet:

  • Service Photo, Inc – Baltimore, MD –  800-344-3776  – http://www.servicephoto.com   (Baltimore / D.C. Area)
  • Ace Photo – Ashburn, VA (D.C. Area)
  • Photocraft  –  Burke, VA  (D.C. Area)
  • Webbcam  –  Philadelphia, PA
  • Allens’s Camera  –  Levittown, PA (Philly Area)
  • The Camera Shop – Bryn Mawr, PA (Philly Area)
  • Cameras Etc… in Wilmington, DE (Philly Area)
  • W.B. Hunt  –  Boston Area – multiple locations
  • E.P. Levine  –  Boston Area
  • Paul’s Photo –  Torrance, CA
  • Tuttle Cameras – Long Beach, CA
  • Samy’s Camera – L.A.
  • Bel Air Camera –  L.A.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy means liquidation.   And although there is a glimmer of hope that Calumet will reemerge in some form, I have heard that it is unlikely.   A specialty camera dealer needs to be “lean & mean”, so that it can compete in a photo industry that is dominated by giants, while still offering a high level of customer service.  It’s not easy, but it is possible.  Hopefully, specialty camera dealers that are currently servicing their markets will continue to operate & thrive for many years to come.

And hopefully, other dealers will keep in mind that friendly competitors like Service Photo will always be happy to work together with them or offer assistance if it is needed.  Specialty camera dealers are all a little different, with unique personalities and mixes of products & services.  When we all work together in these difficult times, both photographers and dealers will benefit – which will create deeper bonds & better relationships that I hope will keep this industry healthy for a long time.

Service Photo welcomes all Calumet Photo customers in the D.C. & Philly areas, and throughout the USA  – and we hope to work with them in the future.  We also hope that photographers who used Calumet will consider finding other regional suppliers like the ones listed above – to ensure that they receive the best mix of quality products, prices, instruction, guidance, & total customer service.  A healthy specialty camera dealer network in this & every region gives photographers a choice – and that’s what we all need to stay healthy.

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The case against 100gb+ Memory Cards

agesService Photo has sold memory cards for well over 15 years now, and we have seen the constant evolution of size & speed throughout that time.   It’s funny to think that a 32Mb card once cost several hundred $ – and I still remember advising many professional photographers to purchase 2 – 512Mb cards instead of the new 1Gb cards, because it might not be idea to put “all of your eggs in one basket”.  Yep, times have changed.  Cards have gotten larger, faster, and certainly less expensive.   However, one thing  has not not changed  – and that is the simple fact that cards will occasionally fail.

Let’s face it, memory cards do not fail often.  But when they do, it is often a situation that sends the photographer into a panic.  Memory cards can fail at anytime, but it usually happens after shooting an important job or event – and almost always something that cannot be duplicated.

We rescue images & videos from memory cards, using specialized software, regularly.  I often see panicked photographers who have mistakenly formatted their cards and those who have had their cards fail for no reason at all.  Most times, we are able recover the images without issue, and transfer them to a USB drive easily.  However, I was recently brought a 128Gb for recovery – my largest recovery request to date –  and it made me realize just how large memory cards had become.

It took more than 9 hours to scan the 128Gb SD card, write the recovered images to a hard drive,  securely “wipe’ the card, and then transfer the images back to the repaired SD card.  Needless to say, our fee was more than usual.  And, it’s something to ponder for photographers & videographers.    Is putting 128Gb of important information onto a memory card too risky?  For my money, I’ll take a handful of 32Gb cards instead.

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More Nikon Df Reactions & Insight

df-row-1Something funny happens whenever a new Nikon SLR camera is officially announced: specs are disseminated, analyzed, & scrutinized with more emotion than any other brand or product in the entire camera industry.  It happens every time, and it can be an amusing and/or frustrating thing to watch, as the opinions & observations unfold both before & after initial deliveries of the new cameras are made. 

When the new Nikon Df teaser videos hit the web a few weeks back, excitement & speculation were at a high point – what would the new camera be?  Nikon did a masterful job of marketing, and created a huge hype for the new Df SLR camera with the teaser videos.  As cameras go, the Nikon Df was a pretty well kept secret.  But once the camera was officially announced and all specs were published, the opinions started to flow. 

This time around, it seems that most negative opinions about the Nikon Df are centered around 2 main themes – the price, & the feature comparisons to current Nikon cameras.  And while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I do think many people just don’t understand that the Df is a very different type of camera that is being made for a different type of photographer.  And, I think that those photographers are psyched about the Df!

The new Df camera is a departure from previous new Nikon SLR introductions.  It is not an improvement on previous models (i.e., D2x, D3, D3s, D4).  Instead, it is an entirely new concept for a Nikon digital SLR, and it is a niche product that is not intended to be everything, to everyone.  The Nikon Df will be manufactured in Sendai, Japan – just like the D4 & D800 – which ensures that it will be made to the highest Nikon standards.  It will be a strong, magnesium body with many manual dials & features. All of this stuff costs money, and to me, this alone justifies the price. If you want the good stuff, you have to pay for the good stuff – and $2746.95 for a camera that is made well, includes the D4 FX sensor, and will perform as expected in low light situation & at high ISO’s, will be well worth the price.  

I’ve also seen the comparison charts that show the Df specs, compared to both the D610 & D800 – but the comments that that these charts produce seem to miss the point.  I guess that’s because, for me, the Df is not a camera that should be compared to these cameras.  Instead, it seems to me that if the Df should be compared to any camera at all, it should be the Nikon D4. But then again, perhaps the Df shouldn’t be compared to any current Nikon DSLR at all.   That’s because the Nikon Df camera is truly about much more than performance alone.

All indications are that the Df will meet or exceed photographer expectations – for those who understand what the Df is all about.   And what is that?  In my opinion, the Df will be a camera for those photographers would want a lighter weight camera, with a fantastic FX sensor that will perform well in extreme situations, like the D4.  But, it will also be a lot more than just that alone.  The Df promises to be a photographer’s trustworthy companion – like their FM, FE, F2, & F3 series cameras of yesteryear.  Back then, photographers were literally attached to their cameras – both physically & emotionally. It seems like Nikon is trying to capture that feeling once again, with the new Df camera. I’ve also got a feeling that this new Df camera will be the first of many in a series of  Df SLR’s, which will eventually become Nikon classics.

And yes, I am accepting pre-orders for the new Nikon Df  – just tell us which one you want at http://servicephoto.com/pre-orders.html

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Nikon’s New Classic – The Df Camera

Df_SL_50_1.8_SE_frontWhen a new, major Nikon camera product is announced, there is no shortage of opinions expressed via website blogs & other media. This is certainly true of the new Nikon Df SLR – and while some are busy criticizing the price, the design, or the features, I feel that this new DSLR is an exciting event for many involved with photography. Here’s why:

2012 saw the arrival of several new & groundbreaking full frame SLR cameras from Nikon & Canon. The camera industry was busy fulfilling orders for these new products, and photographers were happy playing with their new tools (or toys). There seemed to be something new for every photographer – up to 36MP resolution, higher ISO shooting with greatly reduced noise, seriously fast burst rates, vast improvements in autofocus, and other features that were significant improvements over previous models. The new D800, D4, & EOS 5D Mk III cameras were embraced by many photographers – and their previously owned D3, D3s, D700, & previous 5D models were traded-in & made available to other lucky photographers, with slightly different needs or budgets. In short, it seemed that 2012 was the long anticipated year of the SLR – a welcomed event, after delays brought about by earlier natural disasters in Asia.

But so far, 2013 has been a very different year for the camera industry. There had been no major full frame SLR introductions this year, and it seemed as though the major manufacturers (Nikon & Canon) had covered most of the needs of most serious SLR photographers with the 2012 models. For the camera industry, 2013 has been a year to regroup, reassess the needs of photographers, and to “tighten up” businesses by getting a handle on costs. I don’t know about you, but I sure didn’t know what to expect next. But I did know this: a camera brand that had once seemed insignificant was now capturing the interest of many photographers, with fantastic optics, a retro feel & design, and a revolutionary sensor. The Fuji X-Series cameras has been one of the biggest surprises of the last 2 years, and 2013 saw the Fuji X-Series grow in popularity with new camera models & lenses. Did Nikon take notice of the Fuji X popularity, and try to catch a little of that lightning with their new Df retro design? I don’t know, but I do think that this new SLR is exactly what many photographers have been waiting for.

The new Nikon Df has blended the simplistic control & styling of classic Nikon film cameras (like the F3 & FM series) with the advanced technology of Nikon’s flagship digital SLR camera. The Df design is classic, modern, personal, & inspirational – and oh, by the way, it produces fantastic still images – and still images only.

The Df does not have a lot of bells & whistles, and the Df photographer will be able to concentrate on pure & classic SLR photography while enjoying the benefits of serious technology like the 16.2 MP sensor (same as the D4), 39 point AF, and a high ISO expandable up to 204,800. Photographers who remember the classic Nikon film cameras should find comfort & familiarity with the new Df. For them, it will be a faithful companion with current advantages. And hopefully, the younger breed of photographers will embrace the Df’s classic styling and utilize some older Nikon glass.

The Df price has been a topic of debate, and I think that Nikon got it right. Unlike the Fuji X-Series camera buyers, most Nikon photographers won’t need new glass with their Df purchases. So, the cost is comparable, and the features are attractive. The great thing about photography is that there really is no “right” or “wrong”. Instead, photographers can find the equipment & process that works for their individual creative style – and go with it. The Nikon Df should be a nice fit for many.  And, lets not forget that there is a pre-order link on our homepage –  http://servicephoto.com/pre-orders.html


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