At our recent Thrive conference the Sony team decided to kindly offer all of our attendees a complimentary sensor clean, regardless of camera brand. It was lovely to be able to not only spoil the photographers but also spoil their kit after such a long break from our annual conference. Of course, it was very popular and whilst we were all concentrating on the presentations they got on with doing the cleans.

At lunchtime, James from Sony pulled me aside to say that there was a problem with one of the cameras. The lovely Sophie Alexandra’s A7III had a motherboard that was failing. This is just a random fault that can occur at any time and thank goodness she wasn’t at a wedding. They already had a loaner camera being driven up to Glasgow from the Sony Centre in Carlisle and they sent hers off to be repaired. It was an exceptional level of service.

It got me thinking about how we buy kit these days. Only just today in our Photography Farm Facebook Group someone is asking about the best place to buy grey imports. If you don’t know what these are, they are online companies outside of the UK that can be cheaper than buying here. Grey is because they sit somewhere between the usual market and the black market. Whilst it’s tempting to pay less, be aware that you are essentially getting less.

First of all, your kit will not come with the manufacturer’s guarantee. Instead, you might be offered their own warranty. You will have to return the camera to its country of origin for any repairs so be prepared to pay for international shipping payments. Also factor in that the repair can take upwards of 10 weeks plus the time needed to ship it each way, you could well be without your main camera body for an entire wedding season.

Buy from your local camera store and you can go back with any issues. You can speak to a human and chances are high that they will be able to give you an assessment pretty quickly. And you know that discount you get from the online place? Well, often you can sweet-talk your way into a deal either in the store or on the phone. Especially if you are buying lenses and accessories as well as a body. They have more margin on those items so you might even get a better deal, depending on what you need.

Also, look out for cashback deals. This comes from the camera manufacturers and yes you might have to fill out a simple form but it really is cash back into your account. Again you don’t get these on the grey market and they often bring the price down lower. Sony does theirs twice a year, once in the summer and once in the winter and they typically run for about three months so it’s worth biding your time until they are active.

Don’t dismiss buying secondhand camera gear either. Whilst a camera in my hands will look like it’s been through the wars after only a couple of months, enthusiasts treat their kit with much more care. They also trade up to the latest gear whereas I will literally use something until it dies. I have regularly used the excellent MPB for buying used equipment. Their rating system is super reliable and they will guarantee everything for a year. I’ve picked up some of my favourite pieces of kit from them and I love that almost everyone who works there is also a photographer. They are a huge online business but they are actually based very close to my house in Brighton. They grew from just one guy selling stuff on eBay into now having a massive warehouse that I got to visit. It was fascinating to see how it’s all set up.

Lookout for secondhand camera stores in your area or most places that sell new will also have a used department. Did you know that Fixation is owned by WEX? So not only will any used kit have had a thorough examination and recondition but they will give you as much support as possible with their substantial repair division on all gear sold by WEX.

Sony also has a Pro Support Service that you can register for. Then you receive benefits like having phone support, free loan cameras if yours go for repair, free collection and returns plus twice yearly sensor cleans. It can cost £50 per camera for these so you are saving £100 each year. You cannot register for the service if you bought the grey imports.

I’m a big believer in doing business face to face. You always get more, whether that is more for your money or more support from an industry expert. We need our local camera stores, we need to be able to go in and try a bag on for size before we buy it or test out a new lens. Build a good relationship with your local store and they might let you borrow stuff to try out. They will have your back if something goes badly wrong or you find yourself in a tight spot. If you were a chauffeur you wouldn’t buy a car on grey import. You’d buy from someone that you know will sort out any problems and get you back on the road as soon as possible.