So, you’ve been scrimping and saving for that new camera/lens/tripod/must-have-gear and now the money is burning a hole in your pocket.
Who gets your hard-earned money?
What are the best stores for buying cameras and why?
This article looks at ten of the most well-known camera retailers in the US, what sets each apart, and which are my favorites.
Like any list, the results will be idiosyncratic.
Your preferences and needs may leave you with a different favorite.
While my examples are mostly DSLRs, for you Panasonic and Olympus fans, the same information holds for your smaller mirrorless and micro 4/3rd cameras.
Whatever your needs, you ought to be able to choose a dealer from this list that will serve you well.
And, if you’re one of our international readers, some of these companies ship outside the US.
I hope the information I provide can help you evaluate your own national or regional camera retailers to choose what’s best for you.
Should you be looking for camera recommendations, that's not what this article is about.
You can find advice about mid- to high-end cameras in a recent article by Brian Pex; less expensive options in this piece by Kevin D. Jordan; and some general advice about camera brands and systems from Jim Harmer and Rusty Parkhurst.
If you are looking for the cheapest retailer, you may be out of luck.
For current models of camera (e.g. the Nikon D850, Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, or Sony a7r3) big retailers agree to a Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) set by the manufacturer—the retailer is not allowed to advertise a lower price.
In exchange, the stores get priority shipments, first access to new gear, and other benefits from the manufacturer.
What that means for you is that the prices between all of the ten vendors I researched are within a couple of bucks of each other.
No great savings there, but previous models (like the Nikon D810, Canon EOS 5D Mark III or Sony a7r2) are typically not bound by MAPs, and prices do vary, sometimes on a daily basis.
However, this does not prevent retailers for selling new cameras for less than the MAP.
Have you ever been shopping for a camera and seen a website which, instead of listing a specific price, tells you to call or add to your shopping cart to see the price?
Generally, that indicates a price lower than the MAP and is worth checking out.
Calling or clicking to add to your cart doesn’t obligate you to buy. It just gets around the MAP restriction on advertised prices.
A couple of things to be aware of:
- Where to begin. If you’re just starting out in photography and don’t need the top-of-the-line cameras, any of these dealers can fill your needs.
If you need specialty gear or are looking for the newest, greatest cameras, your choice is more limited. Spectacularly wide choice is why I prefer Adorama, B&H and Amazon.
- Location, location, location. I live just outside of Washington, DC. Basic ground delivery from the big New York stores is typically next day service for me.
That won’t be the case if you live in St. Louis or San Francisco. As an example, Samy’s may be better for Californians, Kenmore Camera outside Seattle for the Pacific Northwest and Precision Camera in Austin for Texans.
- Death and taxes. You can, at least for now, avoid taxes on your camera purchase, which can save you some serious cash.
Maryland, where I live, levies a 6% sales tax. Purchasing a $3,000 camera would generate $180 in sales tax.
Ordering from some, but not all, online retailers avoids the sales tax.
- Happy holidays. Some of the online retailers observe Jewish holidays and will be closed in observance.
That doesn’t bother me and I respect anyone who is serious about their beliefs.
However, if you should suddenly need to replace a piece of gear during Passover and need it the next day, you may need to look elsewhere.
- Iffy shades of gray. Look out for gray market deals.
Gray market cameras are cameras intended for a different market.
A Nikon D850 intended for Germany would be a gray market camera in the US.
In some cases, the MAP varies widely between countries and gray market gear can seem very inexpensive.
While the camera would be identical, some of the accessories could be different.
Cables, cords, connections and batteries can differ and can cause problems outside the intended areas (think of the difference between plugs and voltage in the US and in Germany), and the manuals may be in a different language.
Gray market gear comes with no manufacturer’s warranty and is not eligible for repair at many manufacturer-authorized repair sites.
In addition, because the manufacturer is not controlling the supply chain, it’s easy for a sketchy seller to market defective or incomplete items.
Buying a gray market camera from a reputable retailer may be perfectly fine—it’s not illegal—just remember: buyer beware.
While some of the retailers listed below sell gray market gear, they clearly identify it as such so you can make an informed decision.
My top three stores
My favorites are colored by where I live and what I typically need.
I have no direct experience with Samy’s or Kenmore or Precision because they’re too far away.
If you live in those areas, they may turn out to be your number 1 choices.
I find myself needing (ok, and wanting) gear that’s beyond the basic level and creeping into the pro realm.
For that reason, I need a shop with a really wide variety of gear, and the limited stock of a Ritz or National Camera Exchange is a no go, but they may work for you.
Finally, I look for retailers who have been around a while and shown staying power.
I’m not against trying start-ups but a long history indicates that a merchant is doing something right.
For those and many other reasons, my top three places to buy a camera are: #1 B&H, #2 Adorama and #3 Amazon.
I don’t have a great, convenient, local camera store (which would otherwise be number 1).
Read on to learn what each offers and how they compare to other top camera dealers, listed alphabetically.
Ten Good Places to Buy a Camera
Your local camera store
OK, so I’m starting out of alphabetical order with your local specialty camera store.
That’s because it’s a critical part of the photography ecosystem but an endangered species.
Like many retailers, they’re facing competition from online retailers and a shift in shopping patterns.
However, if you have questions, need advice or want to hold and try out a camera or a piece of gear, your local camera store can’t be beat.
Although they often won’t get the latest and greatest gear as fast as the big online guys, they do usually have very competitive prices, will help you learn how to use your gear and you can build a relationship with them.
Have a filter stuck on your lens? Drop by the store and they can probably help you out.
Getting weird artifacts in your files? Take the camera in and they can probably do some trouble shooting.
Need some hands-on instruction on how to use some of the features of your new camera?
They can show you and may even have a class you can take. Need to try on a backpack and have it fitted for you?
Your local store is your answer.
There are a lot of benefits to dealing with a local source of photography gear and knowledge.
I really miss Penn Camera, a small local chain, which folded in 2014. While there are a few other stores still in the region, they’re not as convenient or not as well stocked.
Patronize yours if you still have one.
Abe’s of Maine
Founded in 1979 in, where else, Maine, Abe’s has moved a couple of times and is now warehoused in New Jersey.
It carries a wide variety of gear, although not as comprehensive as B&H or Adorama.
Abe’s has competitive prices, although I found more variation from the norm here than I did with other big online retailers.
Occasionally you can bag a real deal. I found some great prices on Canon cameras during Abe’s “New Year Sale,” so they’re definitely worth checking out.
Shipping charges can vary but you can frequently score free ground shipping.
Abe’s lets you return merchandise within 14 days, where many others offer 30-day returns.
You may also face a 15% restocking charge.
For you international readers, Abe’s can ship outside the US, but it isn’t easy.
There’s detailed information on their website to help walk you through the process.
This big New York retailer is, by a whisker, my second favorite. Adorama’s been around for 35 years, has a great selection of gear of all types and good customer service.
Their prices are comparable to the other stores on this list.
Calling and speaking to a representative can sometimes net you better deals, especially if they have open-box specials that aren’t on the website.
In addition to all of the latest and greatest new items, Adorama has a good selection of used gear that has been tested, inspected and graded and which carries a 30-day money back guarantee.
Adorama has a generous 30-day return policy.
It’s worth reading the details to make sure you conform to their requirements, but they are mostly common sense things. I had to return an item I bought from them and the process was efficient and painless.
You get free “super saver” shipping on most items, which they list as 7 – 10 days, and many others qualify for free 2- or 3-day shipping.
They ship to Canada and roughly 200 other countries, but be aware of individual customs, tax and other requirements.
Adorama has a VIP loyalty program, through which you can get discounts and exclusive access on some items, and a more extensive VIP 360 (at $49.99/year) which nets you free 2-day delivery, a one-year drops and spills coverage and an expanded 60 day return window.
Adorama also hosts a robust selection of photography education and information in the Adorama Learning Center, including a bunch of useful videos on AdoramaTV.
If you live in New York, they also have a space for presentations, demos and classes where they host a regular series of events.
I occasionally go to New York and, when I do, I usually stop by Adorama or B&H.
The staff at Adorama have been great in person, as well as online.
When I dropped by in December, I had a screw-in circular polarizer filter that was stuck on a rectangular filter holder.
Some grit had gotten into the threads and I couldn’t get them apart.
A technician took them into a back room, worked some magic to separate them and thoroughly cleaned each piece, while I waited and at no charge. Gotta love the service!
Nobody can really match Amazon on their comprehensive inventory of goods.
They have great service and quick delivery, especially if you have an Amazon Prime account. Amazon’s prices are hard to beat on many items, though they, too, abide by the MAP on new cameras.
Amazon doesn’t get pre-order links up as fast as dedicated camera retailers, but that’s not an issue unless you absolutely must get your hands on a new camera the minute it becomes available.
Amazon has a nice 30-day return policy and offers shipping advantages, like Amazon Locker, if you don’t want expensive gear left on your doorstep, that the others don’t.
If you don’t live near one of the big, online camera stores, Amazon may be your best option for quick delivery. It ships everywhere, fast.
Because Amazon has distribution facilities in Maryland, I have to pay sales tax on orders. Whether you will or not depends on your state.
While we think of Amazon for new gear, they also have an intriguing selection of used items.
If the thought of going on ebay scares you, but your budget tells you to buy used, you can find some real steals on Amazon.
All of my buying experiences with Amazon have been good ones.
In addition, Amazon has affiliate programs, where a business like Improve Photography gets a small portion of a sale resulting from a buyer clicking on a link from Improve Photography to Amazon.
This doesn’t affect the price you pay, but may make you may feel better about supporting small businesses through your Amazon purchase.
- Sony a7R III Mirrorless Camera
2. Nikon D850 FX-Format Digital SLR Camera Body
3. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Full Frame Digital SLR Camera Body
Have you ever wondered what the B and H stand for? According to the website, it's Blimie and Herman, the couple who opened their camera store in Tribeca in 1973.
Now a 70,000 square foot “super store” on 34th Street near Penn Station, B&H stocks as wide a variety of photography and electronic merchandise as anyone.
Their prices are comparable to Adorama and Amazon and they get the new stuff and pre-orders as quickly as Adorama.
In the US, B&H offers free standard shipping (7-10 days) on most items and free expedited shipping (3-7 days) on orders over $49.
Outside the US, they ship to all but a handful of countries.
Most orders ship the day after being placed. B&H has a 30-day return policy and clear but reasonable return policies.
B&H Rewards, a loyalty programs, lets you earn points for purchases that can later be redeemed for discounts.
Points expire after six months so, if you’re not a regular buyer, that may not matter to you.
They have a wide variety of used equipment, which is inspected, tested and graded and which comes with a 30-day return policy.
I’ve visited B&H several times when in New York and experienced great and knowledgeable service.
B&H claims that it’s associates spend 25% of their working time in equipment training and I believe it!
B&H Explora has a wide variety of free articles, videos, and podcasts that will help expand your photography knowledge.
In addition, their Event Space hosts a regular series of presentations by leading photographers and industry representatives that locals can attend free.
Many of these are recorded and available for viewing, free of charge.
One thing that sets B&H apart is B&H EDU, a discount program for education.
While other camera retailers have a discount program for educational institutions, B&H includes students.
In addition to photography programs at colleges and universities, the EDU program is available to some photography workshop participants.
That’s where I got mine and I’ve gotten some good deals with it.
As I was researching this article there was a terrific EDU price on a Sony a7r3 that could have saved one several hundred dollars.
B&H is also a frequent sponsor and supporter of photography conferences and workshops, and I give them props for helping bring photography education to us, all over the country.
For all those reasons, it’s my favorite store for cameras.
Since you probably have one nearby, Best Buy can be an attractive option for many, combining the attributes of the big, online camera stores with your local bricks and mortar store.
Their prices are very competitive. However, there are some key differences.
While Best Buy online has a terrific selection of cameras (though not so much in accessories) most stores have a relative lean stock that emphasizes beginner-level models.
In addition, while the staff at big camera stores is particularly well trained and well informed, your Best Buy associate may have only a limited knowledge of cameras.
Best Buy only has a 15-day return policy and limited free shipping.
Because they have stores in most states, you’re likely to pay sales tax even if you order online.
It can be an option, but it’d be pretty far down on my list.
Since the 1950s, Hunt’s has been keeping the good folks in New England supplied with camera gear.
Still a family-owned company, Hunt’s sells cameras and gear while also offering photography education classes and photo walks.
If you’re outside of Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island, you won’t pay sales tax on online orders.
Hunt’s does not ship outside the US.
Hunt’s provides competitive prices and the typical 30-day return policy.
They stock a good variety of gear and have a good reputation for quality and service.
They sponsor a variety of charitable and community organizations and events.
I’ve seen Hunt’s as a sponsor of photography events, like the annual Nature Visions Photo Expo in northern Virginia, and I appreciate that as it helps keep ticket prices down for people like me.
I talked to their representatives while they did a sensor cleaning on my camera at Nature Visions and found them very knowledgeable, effective, efficient and pleasant.
National Camera Exchange
Based in the Minneapolis area since 1914, the family-owned National Camera Exchange has a good variety of cameras and gear and a great selection of used gear.
If you’re looking for a Canon EOS or Nikon camera (but not a Sony a7r3 0r a9), then this could be your place, especially if you live in the upper Midwest.
They also offer occasional photography classes.
National Camera Exchange has the standard 30-day return policy but impose a 10% restocking fee on returns over $1,500.
Shipping is free for orders over $50.
Ritz was founded as a portrait studio in 1918 and, in 2012, was bought out by C+A Global, which also picked up and consolidated Wolf Camera, Calumet, Camera World, Inkleys and Ultraprint.
You may remember seeing or shopping at one of those brands in your local mall.
While Ritz still maintains some actual stores, they also have a strong website with a decent, but not great, selection of gear.
They stock the Nikon D750 and D810 but not D850. They have the Sony a77 but not the a7r3.
Like National Camera Exchange, they seem focused on the casual and amateur photographer.
Ritz has a 30-day return policy with a 10% restocking fee but has free ground shipping.
Some gray market items (see above explanation) are available with a one-year, third-party warranty.
As they have a number of local stores, you may have to pay sales tax on your online order.
Samy’s Camera, founded in 1976, is based in California and has multiple storefront locations.
They’re a west-coast, full-service camera store and could be a great option for California and the southwest.
They’ve got competitive prices, a wide selection and comparable policies to the New York big guys and have a nice loyalty program.
Samy’s has the typical 30-day return policy, free shipping over $49 and offers some classes and in-store events and instruction.
Unlike B&H or Adorama, their used department works through ebay.
You counted the logos in the title image and noticed there are more than ten? Bonus points to you!
In addition to the big, national brands there are a number of other camera shops that are worth considering.
My research led me to places like Kenmore Camera outside Seattle and Precision Camera in Austin, Texas, for just two examples.
Both have 14 day return policies and offer some interesting benefits. Precision rents gear and their studio space, for example.
Kenmore has free shipping over $50 while Precision offers free shipping over $200.
Unless you live nearby or in that region, I don’t see them making a compelling case to unseat B&H, Adorama or Amazon.
If you’re looking to buy a used camera, which can be a great way to upgrade your gear inexpensively—well, relatively inexpensively—there are online stores that specialize in used gear.
In addition to checking out the used selection at your favorite store, take a look at KEH and MPB.
You’ve probably seen KEH’s ads in photo magazines. They’ve been around since 1979 and have a pretty broad selection of used gear.
They use an 8-category grading system and provide a handy chart comparing their system to that in use at B&H, Adorama and Amazon.
KEH has a price match guarantee that will refund you the difference if you see the exact same product at a lower price (some restrictions apply).
They also offer a 180-day warranty and 14-day return policy.
MPB is the newer kid on the block, with offices in New York and the UK.
They have a 7-day return policy and offer a six-month warranty on purchases.
MPB uses a 16-point grading system as they inspect and rate the gear they sell.
They, too, have a good selection of used gear and have been advertising in photo magazines.
In the end
As buyers, we have a huge amount of options on the Internet. Sometimes sifting through a hundred options to find the best one can seem daunting.
With photography, a lot of the work’s been done for us and the first sites that come up when you Google “camera store” are likely to be your local retailer and my favorite trio: B&H, Adorama and Amazon.
What are your favorite camera stores and what sets them apart?