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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Proposed Internet Sales Tax Law – Insight and Perspective

1982First things first – I’m no fan of taxes.  It kills me to lose a huge percentage of hard earned income to anyone, including the government.  And as a small business owner, I happen to pay a lot of different taxes & fees – income taxes, payroll taxes, property taxes, personal property taxes, trader’s license fee, etc…  But 20 years ago, I was told something simple by my accountant that I’ve always remembered – “taxes are a function of doing business”.   So, I have learned to accept that I will always be taxed more than I feel is deserved.   And, I sometimes feel fortunate just to be  paying the taxes that coincide with our continued business.   We’re glad to be here – and taxes are just a part of our business expenses.  But, paying our taxes is still a little painful.  Now, as a change in the internet sales tax looms, I am conflicted – and I feel compelled to explain a few things from a retailer’s point of view.

Consumers have been trying to avoid paying their state’s sales tax forever.  The internet has simply made it easier.  As a retailer in Maryland, I am obligated to collect sales tax for all sales within the state of MD, where I have a physical presence.  However, I am not obligated to collect sales tax on shipments that I make to destinations outside of MD.  Likewise, retailers from other states are not obligated to charge tax for shipments made to MD, unless they have a physical presence here.  It’s been a great loophole for consumers who feel that low price is their #1 priority.  But with the increasing reality of internet shopping, this loophole has been taking billions of dollars away from state coffers each year.   And what most consumers don’t seem to know or care about , is that they are actually supposed to report their out-of-state purchases, and pay a comparable use tax to their State.  Every state that has a sales tax, also has a use tax.  See MD’s form here:  http://forms.marylandtaxes.com/03_forms/usetax.pdf  My guess is that 99.9% of use taxes are never filed or collected.  In my opinion, a major contributing factor to the rise in state sales taxes has been the incredible growth of internet shopping.  States are losing so many sales tax dollars from unclaimed internet purchases, that they have been forced to raise their sales taxes and find other ways to get paid – because, rest assured, they will always find a way to get “theirs”.

If you’d like to read a short & very informative article on the fairness of sales tax, check this out:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/02/opinion/fairness-on-sales-taxes.html?smid=fb-share

As a seller of cameras & related accessories, my products sometimes have a high $ value, while being relatively easy to ship.  This makes it easy to buy & sell cameras online.  I can have the most competitive price anywhere, but my price to MD customers will always be 6% more than my out of state, comparably priced competitor.   I am asked by consumers, literally every day, to match an online retailer’s delivered priced.  In essence, I am being asked to lower my price 6%, and pay the sales tax.  Unfortunately, the camera business is one with extremely thin margins (we don’t make a lot of $ on products), and I am often unable to comply with my customer’s request..  Sometimes the customer will buy from us anyway, because they value our expertise, guidance, and high level of personal service.  But more often than not, we lose a sale after investing a fair amount of time with the customer.  That’s the main problem of being a brick & mortar business, in today’s internet economy.  As I have seen most of my regional competitors go out of business, I’ve known that something’s got to change – and the sooner, the better.

The camera & consumer electronics industries are ones that include constantly changing prices, and a fair amount of price matching.  Manufacturers are trying to stabilize the marketplace, and I am thankful for their efforts.  But, no marketplace will ever be completely stable or predictable.  When I am asked to match a competitor price, I’ve tried to view it as a luxury and an opportunity.  My customer is basically saying “I’d like to buy the product from you – can you help with the pricing?”  It’s an opportunity to educate my customers about product differences, reasons for price differences, along with warranty & service differences  – stuff that all has a very real effect on their purchase throughout the useful life of that product.  But I’ve got to be honest – after 25 years in this business, it’s getting harder & harder each day to treat the constant price matching requests with that positive attitude.

 I’d love for all consumers to appreciate our approach to the camera business – which is centered around great products, competitive prices, friendly guidance & instruction, and a total dedication to personal customer service.  Unfortunately, my wishes are a bit unrealistic.   Because while some of our customers certainly do value what we bring to the table, many are happy to take advantage of our expertise – only to buy online and avoid paying sales tax.   In today’s economy, it seems that only a very small price difference is needed to shift consumer loyalty.  I’m hoping that the sales tax fairness act levels the playing field somewhat, while maintaining the competitive nature of business.

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All Photographers Win!

agesAt this time of year, all photographers win!

With 2 weeks left before Christmas 2012, my guess is that several camera manufacturers have some end-of-year promotions which will be announced soon.  And when that happens, photographers win!

Last holiday season, product availability wasn’t great, due to floods in Thailand and the lingering effects of an earthquake & Tsunami in Japan.  Therefore, the deals were not plentiful.  This year, there have been no huge issues that affect manufacturing – and from what we can tell, there are few product shortages in the marketplace.

So, what does that mean for photographers?  It’s easy – as the large manufacturers fight it out for market share, they will pull out all of the stops and offer the absolute best prices of the year. Photographers win – with the best opportunities to save on compact digital, mirrorless camera systems, DSLR’s, lenses, & all types of accessories.  As an authorized dealer for many brands of camera gear, I can tell you that year-end promotions can sometimes come fast & furious – without warning.  So if you’re in the market for any camera gear, stay tuned.

In addition to great promotions from manufacturers, it seems that some retailers offer great deals – or what seem to be great deals – on selected camera items.  There are many reasons why a retailer might want to sell an item at, or below, their actual cost of that item.  Any retailer might choose to lose money on any product, on any day, for any reason.  Perhaps they have too many in stock, or they might want to get a jump on their competition before the start of a promotion, or maybe that great deal isn’t really what it seems to be at all.  This is a great time for dealers to unload excess inventory, but photographers need to look closely at every deal that might look “too good to be true.”

At Service Photo, we appreciate that many of our customers want to make their purchases from us.  Our goal is to offer competitive prices all day, every day, along with a high level of customer service & guidance.  But, nobody’s perfect – and we’re busy!  We sometimes learn of happenings in the marketplace from our customers.  And, when a customer shows us a lower price from a competitor, we view it as a learning experience.  We appreciate the opportunity to learn what is going on in the marketplace, and we take that opportunity to educate our customers about how our business works.  Most times, we are able to match, or even beat, the price offered by our competitors.  But other times, we are able to point out something in the “fine print” that our customer didn’t notice.  And, we also are able to explain the consequences of buying from a reseller that is not an authorized dealer for the cameras that they sell.  Sometimes, it’s a big deal.

In any event, my point is this:  We can only help photographers if they speak to us before they make a purchase elsewhere.  Once a photographer purchases their item elsewhere, we simply cannot assist them to the same degree as if that purchase had been made from us.   We’re a quick email (salesteam@servicephoto.com) or telephone call away – and we invite you to contact us & tell us if you’ve seen a better deal than what is offered by Service Photo.    Tell us about the product, the price, and the place – and believe me, you can’t hurt my feelings. We need to know!  Once we have the information, we’ll do our best to guide you toward the smartest purchase at the best price – even if it means buying the item someplace else.   We really do appreciate the opportunity to provide our customers with products.  And by having these discussions with out customers, we all learn something.

Happy Holidays!

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New Nikon & Canon DSLR Deliveries – The Real Story.

There is no end to the online discussions about delivery of the new Nikon & Canon SLR cameras. So I’m weighing in with my thoughts on the subject, which will hopefully shed a little light on the entire process and maybe answer the questions of some photographers.

New SLR camera introductions are great – but they also cause stress for manufacturers, camera dealers, & photographers alike because the demand usually far outweighs the initial supply of cameras. Add an unexpected twist, like a battery or light leak issue, and the delays only cause added angst for all parties involved. The internet is a great source of information, but it means that photographers & camera dealers often learn about new camera products simultaneously. This makes for a huge volume of pre-orders received in the first few days after a new product announcement. Hesitate even a few days, and you’ll be waiting many weeks longer for your camera than the photographer who committed immediately. It may not seem fair, but that’s life.

When pre-ordering a new professional SLR camera, photographers make interesting choices. NPS members have it easy – they send an email to Nikon requesting a camera to be delivered to their favorite Nikon dealer. They get priority and a high level of customer service – it’s a great deal for NPS pros. Everyone else must weigh their options. Many photographers assume that huge online sources get the most cameras, and will therefore offer them the best opportunity to get a new camera quickly. That seems logical, but think about this: If you were a camera manufacturer, who would you want to supply photographers with your high-end products? Many photographers are learning that local professional camera dealers, otherwise known as specialty camera stores, offer them the best opportunity to get a new camera quickly. Specialty stores have smaller & more manageable waiting lists, many get favorable allocations from camera manufacturers, and they have a trained staff that is knowledgeable about photography. Sure, many large online resources are trustworthy & reliable – but they are still impersonal, and unexpected issues can make for serious complications. The right specialty camera dealer is your best bet to get a camera quickly, and take great care of you after the sale.

Leaving a deposit can be tricky for new camera intros. Some dealers ask for deposits when accepting your camera pre-order, and some do not. Others require a credit card pre-authorization for the full amount of the camera, without actually charging your card. This can tie up your credit line, so be informed before you give any camera seller your information. Some camera dealers feel the need to require a deposit or pre-authorization, so that they can get a better handle on their serious orders. I understand the reasons for this, but I take the exact opposite approach – no deposit is necessary for the Service Photo camera waiting lists. We’re realistic – we know that many photographers are on several different lists, and we don’t want to tie up their money, only to refund it later. I take the opportunity to communicate with photographers on our lists, and try to update them with accurate delivery information on a regular basis. I can’t always tell photographers what they want to hear, but I think that many appreciate our effort to communicate honestly. We win new customers with our approach – which works out well for all parties involved.

Want information about your camera pre-order? Have fun getting it from an online mega supplier. In their defense, no camera dealers should divulge how many photographers are on their list, or the exact placement of any photographer on that list. Dealers should also refrain from talking about how many cameras they’ve already delivered – and how many that they have on order, etc. Due to the viral nature of the internet, comments can be misunderstood, exaggerated, or otherwise miscommunicated – and that can create huge problems. But, communication with photographers is important. I’ve tried to email candid & personal messages to each photographer on our various waiting lists, whenever updated information is available. Sure, it takes time – but it’s worth it.
Of course I’m biased, but I think that photographers who buy pro SLR’s from mega dealers, big box stores, and e-commerce sites that sell anything & everything, are making a bad decision. Do you really want to spend $3k+ with a place that really has no vested interest in your happiness & long term business? Are you doing it just to save the sales tax? I think that this is a short-sighted error. Internet suppliers cannot offer you any guidance, instruction, or support for the life of your pro DLSR camera . And, local dealers simply do not have the time to support products that were purchased elsewhere – they’re too busy helping photographers who actually bought from them locally. If you’re the least bit serious about photography, I think that you should investigate purchasing from a local source – especially for new products & larger items.
At Service Photo, we love new camera introductions. We’re never able to get enough cameras, as quickly as we’d like – but manufacturers take great care of us. These days, we get products to our customers faster than our mega competitors – making our current customers happy & making us lots of new friends. The entire process gains us the trust & respect of our customers, which translates into loyal customers & countless referrals. That’s why we’re still here, and why we plan to be around for a long time.

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Nikon D800 or D800e? The Debate Continues.

Nikon D800 body

By now, most photographers have heard about the most recently announced Nikon DSLR cameras – the D800& D800e – and the debate about which one might be the correct choice for each user has begun.  There are countless websites discussing this debate, and offering opinions while showing some images.  Unfortunately, most image comparisons aren’t that great & probably won’t help make your decision easier – so far.  But, here is a link that explains the anti-aliasing filter & moire pattern in very simple terms:  http://mansurovs.com/nikon-d800-vs-d800e

By introducing both of these cameras simultaneously, Nikon has done something revolutionary.  It’s exciting stuff.  But, which will be the right choice for you? – consider these factors:

  • Price:  The D800e will be only $300 more.
  • Availability:  I am told that availability of the D800e will be tight – perhaps only 1% of all D800 cameras will be the D800e version.  We’ll have to see how that pans out.
  • Sharpness: ALL Nikon D800 cameras will provide an unprecedented level of sharpness. Sure, the D800e will be technically sharper.  However,  Nikon has been unable to quantify how much sharper it will actually be.  Are we talking 10% or 20% – or just 3% sharper?  So far, we just don’t have an answer.

Photographer Psychology plays a part in this decision, too.  Many photographers will take comfort knowing that they own the sharpest  & highest resolution camera possible within their budget.  And likewise, they’ll feel that they have an inferior camera in theD800 if the D800e provides seriously sharper images.  This is why we have seen a higher number of D800e orders than originally expected.  However, I feel that photographers need to put aside their egos, and consider the true needs for their types of photography.  Sure, the D800e will be great tool for serious designer, graphic artists, studio photographers, landscape photographers, & others who can spend time processing & perfecting individual images for ultimate sharpness.  But, is that you?  Here are a couple of quick scenarios:

Sports Photography – You need the speed – get a D4.

Studio Portrait Photography – Studio & high fashion photographers might benefit from the D800e, because they can control lighting very well.  If this is not the case, you’ll  spend too much time in the computer removing the moiré – go with the D800.

Video & More – I cannot imagine how much time it will take to edit moire’ patterns out of video.  Let’s just say it takes lots of time – and what is your time worth? The D800 should be a better choice.

Serious snapshots & casual travel photography –  The d800 will probably be your camera.  The D800e will be primarily for RAW shooters.  In order to remove the moiré patterns the RAW images will need to be processed in Photoshop or in Nikon Capture NX2.  Do you want to do this with your vacation images?  I think not.

The bottom line is this:  BOTH cameras will be fantastic!  The D800e will be the perfect camera for a small group pf photographers.  It will take time to process the D800e images, and for many photographers this extra time may not be worth it for the small, and yet to be defined, increase in sharpness.    The large percentage of photographers who choose the D800 will be well served, and will still be blown away by the sharpness & resolution.

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The Loss of a Great Specialty Camera Dealer

Earlier this week, photographers in the Baltimore & D.C. area lost a great resource, as Penn camera filed for bankruptcy & immediately closed 5 of their 8 stores.  I was personally very surprised & sorry to hear the news.  I don’t think that it’s my place to speculate on the circumstances surrounding this situation – it’s really none of my business. But since so many people have said things to me like “you must be happy – you’re the only game in town”, and since this development will definitely have an effect on our business, I feel compelled to make a statement – so here it is:

First and foremost, my thoughts are with the Zweig family who own Penn camera because this situation must be extremely difficult for them in ways that I can only imagine.  They are good people, as are the Penn staff, and the business that they have grown over the last 50+ years has been a major force in our industry.  Penn camera has been a valued supplier to many photographers, businesses, & government agencies, and they will be sorely missed.

When a specialty photo dealer leaves the marketplace, it is bad for the industry and bad for the local photography community.  Sure, we’ll pick up a little business from photographers who prefer working with a local specialty camera dealer.  However, the majority of Penn’s customer base will now undoubtedly find their products on the web 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.  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.   Penn Camera 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.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows a company to reorganize, and that’s exactly what I hope that Penn Camera will do.  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, Penn Camera will continue to operate the three remaining stores in the DC area for many years to come.  I wish them the best of luck in whatever decisions they make for the future.  And hopefully, they realize 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 Penn Camera customers in the Baltimore area, and we hope to work with them in the future.  We also hope that Penn Camera continues to operate their stores in the DC area for many years to come – along with our other DC area friends at Photo Craft & Ace Photo.  A healthy specialty camera dealer network in this region gives photographers a choice – and that’s what we all need to stay healthy.

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Are Top Search Engine Results Really Your Best Bet?

Photographers – Here’s an important shopping tip that you can use yourself + pass onto friends & family:

In today’s retail marketplace, search engine placement is a big deal.  Google & other search engines are today’s equivalent of The Yellow Pages – matching consumer requests with sources who have their items available for sale.   Many consumers think that the top search engine results to their queries are simply the most relevant, and therefore the best place to purchase their wanted items.    And while that can sometimes be true, sometimes nothing can be further from the truth.  Here’s why you need to be cautious – especially around the holidays:

Retailers pay big bucks to get the best search engine placement possible – in their local area, for the entire USA, and even throughout the world.  Search engine placement is offered by a complicated bidding system with different keywords, that generate retailer ads that link to their websites.  The best placement is given to those who are willing to pay the most $ – plain & simple.  At this time of year, many retailers will pay more for better placement, while also extending their reach to areas all over the USA.  The results are interesting.

During the holidays, consumer shopping is huge – with many people buying gift items that they know very little or nothing about.  Unfortunately, some retailers are paying top dollar for search engine placement – only to take advantage of unknowing consumers.    I recently came across a deal for a Nikon system from a “top of page” Google search result, which claimed to be offering a huge discount.  However, they were actually selling the kit for about 30% more than most authorized Nikon dealers.  They were also selling a $10 memory card for $89 and were offering an extra high capacity Nikon  battery for $110 (or $169 with a 5 year guarantee) – the same battery that you can find at Service Photo or elsewhere for just $45.

It’s unfortunate that some retailers seem to exist only to take advantage of consumers, but it is certainly true.  Just another reason to buy from a trusted source, which may or may not have the absolute lowest price found in the universe – but who can be trusted to provide a high quality product, at a competitive & fair price, and who will support the product & provide a high level of customer service long after the purchase is made.

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