Three Ways to Save Thousands on Gear

Three Ways to Save Thousands on Gear

Buying new gear can be one of the major expenses for any photographer, so taking any opportunity to save is important. There are a number of ways to save on any gear purchase, without compromising on the quality, warranty, or buying experience.

Rewards Credit Cards

There are a number of reasons to make your purchase on a credit card. Some cards offer price protection, allowing you to claim savings if the price drops after purchase, while others, like Amazon’s Rewards Visa, provide higher rates of rewards earnings for shopping with their affiliated store.

If you plan on making a significant purchase, like a pro-body or super telephoto, consider opening a new card. Many cards offer a significant rewards bonus for spending thousands within a defined period. By placing the large order on the new card, it is effortless to trigger this award, which on some cards, can be worth thousands towards travel or other rewards. Only consider this if you’ll be able to pay off the entire balance and can responsibility handle the increased credit line, as interest on the balance will quickly destroy any benefit of the bonus.

If you’ve recently made the purchase, but find that the item has dropped in price, check your credit card’s website or welcome information for price protection. In my experience, filing a claim is simple with the right documentation, making this an easy way to claw back savings.

For additional savings, consider using a card with an extended warranty feature. Citi’s cards offer the most comprehensive version of this, but American Express and Chase’s cards offer their own benefits. Broadly speaking, these supplement the item’s warranty, typically by extending the coverage period. Terms and conditions vary, so carefully consider whether your purchase will be eligible for coverage. Typically, the item has to be purchased new, while any claim can’t be related to accidental damage or any other exempt cause. If you’re the type to purchase an extended warranty, this can be hundreds in savings just for using a certain card.

Rebates and Sales

Most manufacturers are running aggressive sales and rebate programs. Check the specials at your favorite retailer, like B&H's specials, and consider timing purchases to coincide with these sales. For rebates, make sure to thoroughly read the terms and conditions. As an example, Canon frequently runs a significant rebate on their Pixma Pro-100 printer, but the rebate requires a number of steps, and missing any can prevent you from receiving the money.

Even outside of sales pricing, prices can fluctuate. For higher-priced items, like bodies or lenses, prices stay consistent across dealers, but for accessories, consider tracking prices with a tool like Camel Camel Camel. This free web resource tracks prices for any item sold on Amazon, allowing you to see historical prices and receive notifications of any price drops. Don’t forget to take into account individual vendor’s return policies and shipping charges, as these can quickly turn a deal into a rip-off.

Considering this CamelCamelCamel price graph of Nikon's 24-70, you can see it may be worth waiting for the $2,196 price drop.

For the very basic commodity items, like reflectors, tripod plates, accessory bags, or memory card cases, purchasing an off-brand via Amazon, eBay, or Aliexpress can result in significant savings.

Lastly, check a variety of vendors, but be careful of the bait and switch companies. These will offer an unusually low price on a body or lens, but after your order is placed, will try to increase the price you pay in a variety of ways. These commonly include a fee to get a US warranty eligible body, extortionate pricing on things like chargers and batteries, or just directly claiming you need to pay more money for the item to be in stock.

Buying Used

New gear is appealing, and while it doesn’t have that new car smell, it can be just as addictive. For many pieces of equipment, however, used is worth considering. I particularly like used for non-electronic items like tripods, light stands, bags, and lighting modifiers. With these, there is no worry of hidden damage, and they are less likely to be out of date when compared to items like bodies or lenses.

Savings won’t be as significant, but any risk of getting a dud is reduced when shopping for that type of item. If you are looking for a body or lens, consider Craigslist or a legitimate dealer. While eBay has a number of protections for buyers, if the case drags out, it can be months before you can make that gear purchase somewhere else.

When buying from a dealer, like B&H’s used section, pay attention to the item rating. If you’re willing to accept an ugly duckling with some superficial damage, you can save significantly more over like-new used items.

If you’re buying from a person over Craigslist or similar, make sure to understand what to look for. Check if the item in question has known defects, is under any recalls, and what it should perform like. Also, consider getting a bill of sale. This document should include the camera’s serial and amount paid, as well as serving as helpful documentation for things like insurance and customs.

For Lenses

  • Try test shots at various focal lengths and apertures
  • Test each button and ring for functionality and stickiness
  • Check the front and rear glass using your phone’s flashlight at an angle to accentuate any flaws
  • Try putting a filter on the lens to make sure the threads aren’t stripped or binding

For Cameras

  • Bring a battery and memory card to test with
  • Check button functionality
  • Test focus performance on near and far subjects
  • Check sensor condition with a flat, neutral subject at a small aperture
  • Test shutter performance at a range of speeds
  • Test the pop-up flash functionality, if present
  • Confirm the shutter count — higher values should reduce the value, as the shutter’s lifespan is reduced

Wrapping Up

Getting new gear can unlock plenty of creative possibilities, but can be a significant expense. Shopping smart can help reduce the sting. By leveraging the credit card rewards you already have, timing your purchases, and making smart substitutions, you can save quite a bit on any purchase.

Lead image by Alexandru G. Stavrica.

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17 Comments

Leigh Miller's picture

Or...rent!

Rod Kestel's picture

I looked at renting recently and it was roolly expensive. Reckon you could buy the item after just a few days.

Alex Coleman's picture

That's definitely what I've found- if I'm going to use something enough to justify renting it, I'll consider buying it or a cheaper alternative. Except for the super telephotos, renting can be more expensive than it's worth.

If you you have to rent gear for a shoot just pass the cost along to the customer. the other advantage of renting is that if it doesn't work the rental house will get you another one that does work. The catch being the rental house is close to where you are working. I have my main go to lenses and bodies if I need anything else I rent it. and if I rent something 3 times in 6 months then I consider purchasing that piece of gear.

It's been a while since I purchased camera equipment but for high dollar items, I've consistently used greentoe.com and saved thousands. You have to be very patient with that method though.

Alex Coleman's picture

Looks like an interesting site. Have you found that you actually save that much? For example, can you name a price substantially lower than market value (Amazon, B&H, etc)?

Yes, especially for Canon gear. Amazon, B&H, Adorama, etc. are stuck to Canon MSRP. By placing a "bid" on greentoe, you can beat MSRP prices from reputable dealers. It's been quite a while but I've made quite a few purchases from greentoe and one of them was from Adorama.

I buy used from LensRentals a fair amount. You get to try out the lens and if you decide you like it, get your rental costs applied to your price.

Alex Coleman's picture

That can work out nice- I know LensRentals does a ton of checks of their gear, but I'd still be concerned about the warranty situation down the road. Have you ever had any issues, given that it's used gear?

So far no. In each case I've purchased something that I've rented. The costs are commensurate with their age or usage or shutter counts, so I recognize that potential repairs may come down the pike earlier than if an item was purchased new.

Lino Paul's picture

buying used pro gear from enthusiasts , you can save some really good money ..
unlike pros will be of low usage and mostly in mint condition ..

Sell gear you don't use to pay for new gear you need.

Rayann Elzein's picture

One way is missing: don't buy the newest gear as soon as it's available. Wait some time or even better, buy the "older" model when a new one comes on the market. For example, I bought a 5D Mark III when the Mark IV came on the market, while shops still offered both, and saved a ton of money!

Andre Goulet's picture

I totally agree! I saved $600 buying a 6D Mark I when the II came out, for the otherwise same kit. Didn't need anything on the II to get my work done.

Alternatively, you could sell your house, outsource your wife and kids to slavery and "donate" a kidney.
Heck, you can even sell the cat!

Laughing Cow's picture

…Or quit the Adobe subscription…

Marcus Joyce's picture

Here's a thorny one... Buy grey market...