Camera Shopping

Daniela and I agreed that the picture quality from our digital camera (a Casio Exilim) was not the greatest quality. Pictures were often very blurry, or heavily pixilated. The camera was nominally an 8 megapixel one, but the pictures were of lower quality than the 2 megapixel Mikon Coolpix 800 that it replaced. I managed to convince her that a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera was a good thing (I myself needed no convincing) and we decided that we’d rather get it sooner, rather than later as there are only a few months left of our India time and India is a very photogenic country.

I went camera shopping.

Now if you are camera shopping in Bangalore, there are the chain stores such as GK Vale – where you can buy a camera – and then there are the professional stores – which amount to temples dedicated to photography. There are two professional stores in town. Together, they service this part of Karnataka and all of the local pros call the shops by the names of the proprietors; not by the store names. The first is essentially a streetside kiosk with a storeroom. A chaotic group of well dressed men stand in front of it and shout orders. Only instead of ordering samosas (a fried dumpling, often sold by street vendors), they are ordering half lakh ($1000) cameras and parts. The other is a quiet shop on a busy street. It is quiet only in comparison to its competitor a few blocks away. Packed into every bit of available display space is tens of thousands of dollars worth of professional grade camera equipment; bodies, lenses, filters, bags, tripods, you name it. Whenever you go in, there is always someone trying out a gigantic lens to add to his lens collection, or trying out a monopod for supporting the gigantic lens that he recently bought. The proprietor is extremely helpful and brimming with advice.

But there is something else about both places. When you ask for a quote on a piece of equipment, you get two prices. You get one price and another (considerably higher one) if you want a receipt. One of the proprietors explained to me that 80% of all DSLR equipment sold in India is grey market.

The first interesting thing is that 80% of the camera equipment market is grey (or even black, what Americans refer to as “under the table”). This is an unfortunate side effect of many “socially oriented” tax and tariff policies; that the higher they are, the more of the economy is driven under the table. This has the twin effects of bringing in less revenue comes in to pay for those policies and turning increasingly large segments of the public into scofflaws and weakening respect for the law. The second interesting thing was that both shops were so open about the dual pricing policy. These gentlemen are not opening trench coats and saying “pssst… want to buy a camera?” or laying out towels with cameras that they can swoop up and run off with if a policeman comes along. They are stand up businessmen and the go-to people for the professional photography community; yet feel comfortable brazenly selling grey market camera parts.

This says so many things about both the economy and the government.

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