Sunday, April 03, 2011

Buying cameras in Wan Chai

Baffled and bemused by the gumpf in camera shops on a prior occasion

Today I went with my sister-in-law-to-be to buy a camera at the Wan Chai Computer Centre. This is a two floor maze crammed with tiny shops selling electronic devices. It's a strange array of shops as they all seem to sell almost exactly the same things, with very slight variations in price.

Well, there's three different shops: ones that sell laptops, ones that sell computers, and ones that sell electrical cables of varying length and thickness. In a market so saturated, it's hard for each shop to differentiate, but each one finds its niche: there's the camera shop at the top of the escalator, where it's almost impossible to find your way back down, there's the camera shop where the batteries are twice as much as the manufacturer's recommended price, there's the camera shop where they try to sell you a magnifying lens that fits on the front of your camera and makes everything out of focus, and then there's the camera shop where they try to sell you incredibly expensive memory cards that have so much space on them you'd wear the shutter button out on your camera before you filled the card up.

Oh, hang on. Every camera shop has those three characteristics. The real way to differentiate them, as they're all selling the same cameras, is how surly the salesman is, how willing they are to knock off a hundred dollars to secure a twenty thousand dollar transaction, and whether they're any good at reliably attaching a screen protector to the back of your camera without leaving lots of bubbles.*

Sadly, our favourite salesman, the ever cheery Benson, was off today, and his shop presided over by a man who thought it was ridiculous for me to want him to put a battery in a camera before I bought it, to see if it worked or not. So we left him behind (a shame, as Benson has the best screen-protector-attaching skills in the business), walked left, right, up an escalator, round the corner, past the toilets, back down some stairs, left, right, and fetched up in the store next to where we'd started. As the chap there gave us a hundred dollars off the retail price, we were quite happy, although he attempted to cross-sell us a super expensive memory card (300 dollars more than a normal one), a magnifying lens (700 dollars more than ... well, 700 dollars more than zero, the price you'd pay if you didn't want blurry, out of focus but slightly-magnified photos) and a 600 dollar neutral filter (for making your photos a bit darker than they would be if you didn't have the filter on).

Having already bought all of these things over the last three years, when naïve and easily persuaded by camera salesmen to buy photographic related tat (or things that are possibly useful to a professional photographer but hardly justifiable to somebody who spends a few minutes every day photographing cliches), I was now a seasoned veteran in turning things down. Or at least I can honestly say that I have all these things already. Perhaps then he recognised a bitter man, already bled half dry, and accepted there was nothing else to extract. So having saved my soon-to-be-sister-in-law (a STBSIL - I wonder if that abbreviation will catch on) $1,700 it was time to go home.

However, I'd also bought a tent today, so I was keen to linger in the computer store, and wasted another half hour of the salesman's precious time by asking about the ability of different cameras to take slow-motion films. I really do know how to take full advantage of a sunny day in Hong Kong.

This is actually one of my other favourite things - wasting my time and somebody else's by asking them complicated questions about obscure details, which could be much more easily answered by referring to the internet. On any of the online devices piled up on the counter of each shop, stuffed in our coat pockets, or stuffed in the drawer beneath the counter. Ah well. It's a high tech game of chicken, and the first person to flinch and suggest looking it up on a website ... will probably find they have a more productive life.

After half an hour of the two of us fumbling about, I'd learned that a Canon 600D is a Canon Kiss X4 if you're buying a Japanese version (which I knew already, but it's good to have your Japanese-English translations corroborated), that there are at least five different cameras that don't do what I was asking for, and that there's now a salesman in Wan Chai called Yo who despises me for wasting his time with idiotic questions about cameras. Jolly educational, really.

* If you want to buy cheap, useful things for cameras much cheaper than in a shop in an enormous mall, you can take the MTR to the splendours of Sham Shui Po, but we'll come to that another day.

There's also the camera shops in Central (useful for spending lots of money on incredibly expensive things and occasionally getting something you can't find anywhere else) and the big chains (Fortress and Broadway) which leverage their corporate expertise in flogging televisions/air conditioners/washing machines to give you expert advice on camera lenses that turn out to be 4,000 dollars more expensive than Wan Chai.


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