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Sunday, 29 July 2007

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What you are describing is not a museum, Mike. It's a lending library.

No bookstores anymore have books that have been printed more than a year or so ago. Plus, they are more of a hybrid between coffee shops, design centre, gift shops, gardening supplies, and novelty items.

When I want to see Robert Frank's "The Americans" I have to look for it at the academic library nearby, because if I want to get some good photo books at the bookstore, I need to wade through yards of Anne Geddes, celebrity portrait collections, and Earth From Above collections, all of which are the point-n-shoot of photographic art in terms of starch levels and user friendliness.

If I could go to the Camera Library, rent a Leica III, a Contax II, a Nikon F, as well as a modern Hasselblad, a Canon MkIII or a Pentax K10D at the same time, I would be a much more informed customer, and perhaps could find a better shoe for my foot. But which camera maker really want you to make an informed comparison between their products and those of the competition, or worse, of the past?

Mike it may not qualify as a fully fleshed out business plan but my guess is it could probably work given enough financial backing,correct location and loads of hard work and enthusiasm.

For the last 5 cameras I bought, ranging from about $300 to $5000 (body only), I never tried them out or even saw them before purchase. All but the Leica M8 were available locally, but I consider it unethical to so much as touch a camera in a store if one has the intent of buying it elsewhere.

So some sort of facility like the one Mike envisions would be nice. Or even manufacturer's showrooms. But, either would only happen in large cities. Not in Boulder, or even Denver.

(Ironically, I might have paid full price and the tax if my local store, Mike's Camera, had had an M8 for me to see. They did not, and didn't even know about the Leica recall when I asked them about getting the updated version. So much for local service and knowledge. Bought it from Adorama.)

--Marc

that's exactly what i want, except it would also have a darkroom (wet and digital), gallery space, and library of photo books.

If you are ever in Monterey, CA stop by Camera West. Camera West is a Central California based company which specializes in the highest quality photographic equipment. They buy and sell new and used equipment. Sean (owner) is an encyclopedia of camera knowledge. He can get you anything on the used equipment market through his extensive contacts. It is home of the first Leica Boutique in the US. Check out their website.

http://www.camerawest.com/dailynews.shtml

"I miss the camera stores of my youth, although I probably also romanticize them." Well I dated the manager of my local camera store, I guess that gives me the right to romanticize! :-)

Your photography museum/store idea seems close to the model that modern art museums use where they sell books and prints right inside the museum. Many of them also sell these items online. Your idea could become a side business for an existing online enterprise or for an existing museum. You could put on classes and workshops to bring people in: school kids on weekdays and adults on nights and weekends.

"No bookstores anymore have books that have been printed more than a year or so ago."

Maybe soon they'll not have books printed more than an hour or so ago other than, perhaps, single copies to browse with "sample" printed across each page. That'll turn the tables on the likes of Amazon and Borders.

Don't know what the equivalent for cameras would be - at least until the 3D model machines get pretty sophisticated when it'll be more than just the photography market that's revolutionized.

Small camera stores are surviving here, and a fair number seem to be thriving. What they have done, here, is not to fight the net, but embrace it - many have most of their revenue from online sales driven by the local equivalents of EBay and Amazon market. The store is a product showcase and customer center, still working essentially as a camera store of old, but the bulk of the sales is happening on the net.

I still remember afternoons spent enviously ogling and handling the entire metal and glass Nikon system at Nikon House in NYC (first on Madison and then at Rockefeller Plaza) where you could touch but not buy, before making my way to the late, great Light Gallery on Fifth- god's photo gallery on earth.

Re Photography schoools. There are a number here in Australia that still teach film/darkroom techniques.

Many of the high end camera stores in NYC do exactly what you ask. You can walk into (for instance) Lens and Repro, CameraCare, and even Calumet speak with a knowledgable salesperson, feel the various cameras/lenses in your hand, and if you are interested they will rent it to you for a few days.

Well.....
Yesterday I attended an "event" hosted by a fairly large New England chain, Hunt's photo.
for the last couple years they have teamed with manufacturers and a local coastal preservation group to host "Photo Safaris"
These events enable people to pick a brand named safari (Nikon, Canon, Olympus etc) pay $35. which goes to the preservation group and play for hours in a photogenic environment with cameras, lenses, flashes etc.
This was my second one, last year enabled me to select my D200 and this year a couple new lenses. Nikon factory people and Hunts employees assist newbies in the basics, leave advanced shooters alone and a good time is had by all. (I have to admit that I was hoping to play with a couple chi chi lenses that were not available).
This was done with creative marketing by a store that has expanded to 5 additional locations over the last 5 years while others have gone away.
YES I EBAY as well for used stuff but I did just buy a used tripod from Hunts last week.
(Bogen 055 pro for $50. competitive pricing)

The small retailer does have to change and rely on impulse purchases. But that is our fault. I have always used a 10-15% rule to buy local, I will happily pay 10-15% more for the local guy even if 10% is hundreds of $.
These people paid for my kids to attend school and support my Libraries and keep the little bakery and other local quality business alive. Box retailers don't offer selection or service and we all complain about our taxes being high to pay for public assistance to help the underpaid employees with no benefits because the big guys use the excuse that they can't afford to pay benefits and give you the low prices you demand.
So grow up and take some responsibility for being alive.

dale

Re darkroom supplies in camera stores for students, here (Ottawa) there are still schools teaching silver darkroom at various levels and consequently a local demand for supplies (film, paper, chemistry). Some of the camera stores try but generally have very little/no stock. It is interesting that on the same street downtown where the camera stores are there are several, apparently thriving, art supply stores (paint canvas etc.) which have an atmosphere similar to that of the long lost neighbourhood camera store so maybe that's where the darkroom stuff should be sold in future??

My local camera store has an air of death about it. For ethical reasons, I won't ask them to demo equipment unless I plan to buy it there either. I start by asking them their price -- I'll pay 10% or so more than B&H, plus taxes, but that's about it. If they're not in the ballpark, I leave them alone.

I'd pay more for good advice, but when I listen to the folks they have working there, I know they have little value to offer. The local shop in the next town claims that they get the best stuff from Nikon, Canon, etc, and B&H gets second quality stuff.

Last winter the local store told me it'd be 3 months to special order a Canon 50mmF1.4 that was freely available all over the web. Another way not to provide good service.

By the way, the store still does live on the sales to local Junior College students, which begs the question-- why are the Jr. Colleges still teaching wet darkroom work? Here's the answer-- they've got darkrooms, but not computers and printers with sufficient horsepower to teach digital. Also, I suspect, that the instructors don't know much about digital either.

People forget that this isn't some sort of new business model. Mr. Sears and Mr. Eastman took care of the retail store back in the 1800s.

Walmart is just this generation's Sears stores.

What if your photo museum were like a Cabela's store? I've never been into one, not being a hunting/fishing type, but the pictures I've seen make them look to be pretty spectacular. It's a real orchestrated experience, not a dingy, over-crowded store that smells of darkroom chemicals that is completely devoid of the actual experience of photographing out in the world.

This flickr feed does a better job of showing what the store is like than the stores own website
http://flickr.com/photos/pugnugget/sets/72157594503294781/

Mike,

something very close to the photographer's Mecca that you describe actually exists here in Hong Kong. If you were to visit here some time, I could show you around more than one arcade full of shops selling second hand camera equipment. Just the other day, I was window shopping in one of my favourite arcades and saw an old wooden 8x10 displayed in the window right next to a used Nikon D2H - such is the range of products you'll find in one shop. You'll find floor-to-ceiling glass cabinets full of Leica, Hasselblad, Bronica, Pentax, Nikon, Kiev, Fujica, Wista, Linhof - you name it - it's all there. If you want camera museums where everything on display is for sale - and the prices are good - come to Hong Kong.

Craig Norris

I was in the Vancouver Art Gallery a couple of days ago and stopped to browse in the museum shop. They had a whole table of different novelty artsy cameras for sale (not to try out, unfortunately): Holgas, Lomo Super Sampler 4 Lens Panoramic Camera, Lomography Pop 9 (9 Lens Camera), some kind of Japanese panoramic camera, etc.

It's a desert where I live. Oh, there a couple of Kits Cameras, part of the Ritz chain. But...I, who know nothing about scanning or ink jet printing had to teach the guy behind the processing counter how to make a 5X7 from one of my half frame negs! When I walked into Glazers(60 miles north in Seattle)with a OM-1 slung over my shoulder one idle salesman piped up "we don't have any Olympus stuff", this before I even opened my mouth! Eventuality another salesman decided to be friendly and show me the camera I did come in to see. Yeah, I miss real camera stores and no, I can't afford to fly into New York for a weekend of shopping.

The neigborhood camera store is still alive and well in South Korea, coming pretty close to the description in Mike's post.

They're scattered throughout Seoul and surrounding cities, however, there's one area in particular that's a lot of fun. The Namdaemun market in Seoul has entire strip of the "neighborhood camera store" with a few caveats; the owners aren't crusty, and if they don't have something you want, they're likely to tell you to wait ten minutes while they have it delived. Other than that, I imagine it pretty much the same. The front windows are stacked from top to bottom with equipment, the staff is knowledgeable and curteous, and they're eager to sell product so the minute you ask about something, they run to get and thrust it into your hands.

Not really getting into photography until I arrived in Korea, it was quite the rude awakening when I returned for a visit home earlier this year. In sharp contrast with what I'm used to, the lone camera store in my hometown in Canada is rather spartan in comparison; although the staff is friendly and helpful, the new stock is quite limited, there's even less used stock, the prices are insane and it's not a very fun and exciting trip.

It's funny because people used to think that monopolies were a bad thing. Now they're believed to be more efficient. The web was supposed to level the playing field because anybody could set up a web site and sell stuff, but it just created different monopolies.

The fact is that we are mostly all so affluent that all of the so-called price competition and freedom of choice is high comedy. Everyone owns one of everything, sometimes more than one. How many geenerations or brands of 35 mm gear have you owned? We fret that one retailer sells a camera for a few dollars more than another retailer, as if it mattered in a culture where shopping is the primary leisure time activity of most people.

On a related note, here's my take on the demise of the custom photo lab ' -

http://landscapist.squarespace.com/journal/2007/6/28/ku-476-marcy-dam.html?SSScrollPosition=760

Small bookstores are great when you can find them ... there actually is one that's about 15 mins from my house (forgot about it in prior post) and while it doesn't have the selection of the chain stores, I don't exactly miss the cafe, the music shop, the vast wall of magazines or the huge "bargain" section where I still never find anything worth the discounted prices !

In the town where I grew up, there was one camera store. I bought my first couple (used) cameras there from knowledgeable people in total absence of any knowledge of my own (mom drove me down with my paper route money in hand, some 25+ years ago.) They even had a camera repairman who knew his way around any old manual focus body.

Fast forward and now it's a few snobbish "we know best" guys who have been there forever. They sell Canon SLRs, Tamron lenses, Oly point & shoots and discredit anything you might want to buy that they don't sell. Honestly, it's just hard to imagine a shop carrying a wide array of stuff to try out that can sustain its existence outside of a big city; in a town of 30,000 people with a few smaller outlying towns, an electronics store can sell plenty of appliances, but there just aren't many people interested in any midrange or high end camera gear.

If I make a day trip out of it, I can visit B&H (hopefully this October I'll get there during Photoplus Expo). Talk about feast or famine ... what a great store !

Regarding the camera museum idea; that's what I'd love to see car manufacturers do ... have regional test drive stations where you make an appointment to try out a vehicle or three. Of course, I'm trying to solve a different problem - eliminating car dealerships :) The Saturn approach is probably closest (I enjoyed a recent test drive, even though I didn't end up buying one).

- Dennis

At my small liberal arts college in central MA, we still teach darkroom, but we also teach digital. Our courses are studio art courses and are designed to allow students experiment with any process. As to the comment why a school would still be teaching darkroom by Steve above -- we do it because we WANT TO. I happen to believe it would be a dis-service to our student if we don't "expose" them to all avenues of the medium, both old and new. The plan is to continue with the wet darkroom so long as supplies are available.

Our local camera store, who must not only complete with the mentioned Hunt's, but there is also Zeff and Calumet. But "our guy" is still a full service store, and sells high-end digital as well as the supplies necessary to support digital, and at the same time, he supports the wet darkroom, too. And he has a complete mini-lab in store. He told me he had one of the best years ever last year.

Pitchertaker

The Photographer's Mecca is B&H Photo, as anybody who's been there knows.

It's actually very much as you describe -- I pay $40 to hop a train to NYC. Downstairs, there is every product imaginable, from the cheapest offbrand 3 megapixel point-and-shoot to an ungodly expensive Leaf back. The staff will gladly let you hold anything in the store and will explain everything to you. Upstairs, there's a used section which is very close to a museum -- cameras of all types and formats going back 50 years can be had here for a fair price.

Best of all, B&H usually has the cheapest prices you're going to find from a camera shop that isn't going to pressure you into expensive upsells.

I'd love to have such a thing in MY metro area. But we don't have 7 million residents or a high percentage of artists, students and journalists. I'm lucky to have a single independent Canon shop, a part time Nikon shop, and a Ritz.

Oh, and as for online discounts: there are some deals to be had, for sure, but you have to weigh that against the importance of having a local support system. You have to learn your limits: what level of discount would be high enough that you would avoid your local establishment and move online? I bought one of the first six XTis in Albany from Stuyvesant Photo. It was a good idea -- at the time, nobody was able to offer discounts on the camera, so by ordering it through my local shop I paid about the same but got it much sooner. I bought the 18-85 IS there, too, because I needed it that day and the difference in price was only about $80. My 24-105 IS, however, I bought online, because it was $500 cheaper.

A few years ago I was ready to plunk down several grand for a scanner that could do medium format (Nikon). I wasn't really sure if the scanner would be up to snuff and do what I wanted. I went to my local professional retailer; no B&H, but the biggest guys in an area of about 800,000 people. They would not rent me one. They would not let me use one in the store. If I found it unsuitable for purpose, they were going to charge me a 15% restocking fee, regardless of the condition of the item. They said they didn't want people 'renting' for free for a week. I went with an on-line retailer with both a lower price and better return policies. I was willing to pay more to the local for the experience, but they offered a worse experience, not better. The same thing happened later when buying a 300/2.8IS lens.

They now offer various digital services. For a much higher price then on-line, they offer very little in process control, information on profiling, or just about anything else useful.

I see they are struggling now; I have a hard time having sympathy for them. I would happily pay more if I got more, but many locals seem to got used to being the king and have a hard time adjusting to customers having more choice.

When I was a teen photo-nut in the late seventies, my home town had four camera stores, and the town I live in now has three. I've frequented all of them. And none of those seven stores, to my awareness, had/has owners or staff which seem to either know or care a lot about cameras or photography. I dunno.

Another thing that camera stores used to have nearly sole possession of was (biased) information about what was out there equipment-wise. Apart from once-a-month photo mags, information was scarce on the ground unless you were part of a camera club or something, so consumers went into the shops for sales talk and brochures. Even back in the late seventies as a teenager in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin, I remember getting a run-down on all the latest SLRs from the owner of the local camera store/photo studio. (And then I went and ordered mine from a New York mail order house listed in Pop Photo - bad Damon!) These days of course, one can learn the smallest minutiae from the Internet, so without actually holding the object in your hand, you can know precisely how it works (or doesn't) from spending your time in the forums at dpreview.com for example.

I'm happy to say that in Toronto where I now live, there are still a few big and little camera shops where you can check out the merchandise. And I also found that I was able to buy my K10D at one of these and pay less than I would have online.

I like the museum idea though I can't imagine it really working. One thing that Henry's in Toronto does is set up bi-annual trade shows that accomplish the same thing. If you're sufficiently interested, you can go to one and talk directly with company reps about all their products (and buy something and Henry's gets their cut).

Another alternative is the Apple Store model. Apple found they weren't getting enough coverage in mainstream computer stores, so they ended up setting up their own retail channel. It would be something to see Pentax do that, but ... not gonna happen.

Mike,

You may not want to hear this, but... You're part of the problem. And at the same time, part of the solution.

Yes, some small Mom & Pop stores had decades of experience to offer forth as a value-added service. But many didn't, and were - as others have pointed out - not much use unless trying to sell their own stock.

And Wal-mart and their ilk have done nothing to try and replace this. However, in a free economy a gap like that is usually filled. (Or so my economics teacher always assured me...)

What's surprising is that the gap hasn't been filled by a company or industry as such. Instead, it was filled by people, with little or no motive to make profit.

Blogging, reviewing purchases made on sales sites like Amazon - individuals are filling that experience void themselves, often for free. It's not perfect, but it's interesting to watch.

For example, I can't even remember where I got directed to yourself, but whoever it was regarded you as an authority and I trusted them enough to give you a chance. You proved yourself worth reading. I could have walked away at any time.

In the old model, if I only have one camera shop nearby and it's crappy, where do I go to? Where is the next nearest one? How many will I have to visit to find a good one? How far will I eventually have to travel?

It's easier to find an authority you trust here on the internet. It may or may not be a good authority, but it's certainly easier to find them. The fact that they're mostly self-appointed (even if only for five minutes, as I appoint myself here) is irrelevant, because the cost of evaluating and of then ignoring or returning to them is so very low.

You are replacing this function of small stores. In a way, you're also killing the remaining survivors I'm afraid.

But then, I get the feeling this hasn't occurred to you. You're not blogging for profit - although what money comes from the ads is no doubt welcomed - but you started blogging because you just wanted to say something. To share your experience and opinions.

Your generosity with your knowledge is both part of the problem and the solution, as I said at the start.

I believe that the market has found its optimal solution in this regard.

It turns out that the value of the knowledge wasn't as high as we'd thought per sale, but that the number of sales you can make through it when you can get that knowledge distributed better (as either reviews on Amazon to assure purchasers, or ad clicks on a blog) is higher than we'd thought possible.

I don't know if we've found the equilibrium between those two factors, but it'll certainly be interesting to see over the next few years...

As for your camera museum idea - a great one. But I can't help feeling that at some point, it would end up putting reviews on the web and the visitors would dry up... :-(

Sad, but full-service stores are becoming extinct in all areas of our lives. In Houston, we have one of the last great camera stores (a promotional line they use informally now incidentally). Houston Camera Exchange is a treasure, with people who are passionate about what they do and it shows. Actually, they have been able to somewhat bridge the changes in retailing by providing an equally effective web presence http://www.hcehouston.com/

Photographer's mecca? An enclosed commercial space where photography may be restricted at the whim of the owner? Tsk.

There needs to be something to photograph. I suggest hiring some models full time and giving them paintball guns.

It wouldn't be for making actual photographs, just for trying out the operation of the cameras. Sorry, I thought that was clear.

Mike

The most fun camera shops I've been to were the large photo retailers in Tokyo - they have an incredible range of cameras ready to be picked-up & operated without asking, along with top-of-the-line lenses. So in the same store I was able to fire a D2X with a 70-200 f/2.8 and then just walk to the next table and try a Bessa R3A with its life-size viewfinder, or fondle a Pentax medium format camera. And of course, the camera's batteries were charged!

What you described, Mike, is the photography equivalent of http://www.copia.org/

Copia is all about food and wine. They have rotating exhibits, herb and vegetable gardens, a demo kitchen, a gift shop, and a restaurant. I don't know if they are self supporting or if they're running off of some endowment, but they've been around for a few years.

Mike, my wife and I do wish to go to Japan one day for vacation. If this idea turns into a real trip, I'll be sure to pay a visit to Pentax museum whereever in Japan that may be, though I sincerely hope it would be Tokyo... I guess it answers your question pretty nicely, doesn't it?

;-)

Well, I guess I've been "severely" blessed by the fact I live in a town that still has the 'old-fashioned' camera store! It is Tempe Camera of Tempe Arizona--they are the coolest bunch there. Yes, they do sell digies, but they also service film cameras as well as rent out equipment from pro to amateur. And considering I own a 40+ year old Minolta, that I was very hesitant to use initially, the "crew" at TCR were so good to this 'newbie'!!

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