Camera Shopping in Korea
During my morning scan of blogs and forums I came across an interesting thread on Waygook.org that pushed me to write a quick note about shopping for cameras in Korea. The first thread that I read was about a waygook that got scammed at Technomart in Seoul which stemmed from her earlier post where she was trying to get rid of a Canon 550D that she had bought a few weeks ago and felt that she did not need. The responses in the thread made her realize that she paid a lot more for the camera then she should have. From my estimate, she was over-charged about 400,000 to 500,000 won and that is never good.
So I have decided to tackle this issue in a vague attempt to prevent this from happening to anyone else. Before you head any further, take a moment and read the post by a friend of mine David Smeaton He gives a really detailed post about the nuts and bolts of buying a camera in Korea and what to look out for. Pay close attention to the section on Grey Market (nae-soo in Korean) as it will prove handy at the time of purchase.
The topic that I want to cover is the one that most people ask me about and that is whether the electronics markets are the best place to get a good deal on a camera. Well, I am going to say NO. That is not to say that you won’t find a cheap prices there, but it is more likely that you will not get what you paid for or have some difficulty getting the price advertised.
Technomart and Yongsan
These places get brought up a lot and many people believe that they will find the latest and great camera for next to nothing. Sadly, I am sure that day has passed. What you do find are dated stalls or stores selling pretty much the exact same things. I get bored easily at these places and I find searching for “deals” to be a tedious task at best.
The truth of the matter is that yes, you may get a good price if you speak the language and know what you are looking for. However, most of these guys know how to trick you into spending more or not giving you exactly what you paid for.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping at these places are:
- If it is too good to be true (for whatever reason) it is likely not what it appears. If you find a stupidly cheap prices and a great set up, chances are it is a con. If the package deal comes with a sweet lens and not the standard kit lens… make sure everything is legit before leaving.
- Do Your Research! As David points out in his article, this should be the first thing that you do. I will second this. Get price IN KOREA. Too many times I have people email me about stuff they found on markets in the US or Canada. Here, in Korea, it doesn’t matter much. This means get on the internet and head out to department stores before you go. Get an idea of what things cost.
- Be a Tough Customer. If they think that they can reel you in on just the price, then who knows what you will end up with. If you are tough, haggle a bit and check everything with a suspicious eye, the less likely they are to pull a bait-and-switch.
- Travel with a Korean. No, you don’t need them to hold your hand but I find in places like Technomart and Yongsan, it keeps them a little more honest because there is some there that knows the language and come back with a manager or the police if need be.
- Check Your Numbers. There are 3 different common models of the 50mm prime that Canon sells. If you think you are getting the F/1.2 (expensive) or even the F/1.4 as a kit lens you are more likely to have the cheaper F/1.8 when you get home. Check that everything is there before you leave.
So with this in mind, where are “good places” to shop. Well, first of all, what kind of camera are you looking for? By this I mean are you looking for A) Something that you can carry around, throw in your bag, take to bars and beat up or B) a decent camera that you will want to last for some time and will take care of and is also worthy of an investment?
Why I ask this is that not everyone needs a huge DSLR with a gigantic arsenal of lenses and gear. If you don’t give a flying hoot about f-stops and apertures then you don’t need to venture down the hidden alley ways of Dongdaemun or Busan’s Nampo-Dong because you can probably get a decent camera online with the help of a co-worker, saving you a lot of time and hassle.
If you are serious about the idea of investing in a good camera, then get out to the stores. Head to the brand name shops and play around with the cameras. Get as much information as you can. Again, read David’s guide and follow his tips closely. If you are not in Seoul, head down to Busan and check out Nampo-dong. There is a cluster of camera shops there, including the authorized Canon dealer. Check the prices and shop around.
Hit up websites like Danawa.com Film Nara and Gmarket to get an overall view of the prices (in Korea) and model packages to give you a better idea of the current market in Korea. These are some of the places that I have bought from over the years and constantly check to confirm prices. However, when it comes to major purchases, I always deal in person and never leave without checking over everything. If you are dropping over a million won (or more) on something, you want to make sure that everything is there and taken care of.
Brand Name Stores
There are tons of stores around Korea that are similar to the Best Buy’s or Future Shops of the West. These places should be looked into if you are want to get a 100% genuine item with no fuss or hassle. They don’t offer the same amazing discounts or “deals” but what you do get is warranty, service and accountability. The prices almost always are higher than the camera shops around Busan or Seoul but there is a bit a security in that you know what you are getting and they are not going to switch out a lens when they go to “wrap it up for you”
In terms of service, I have always been a fan of Pix-Dix. I know, I know… I shouldn’t admit that. However, the guy in Ulsan has always given me a fair price, granted I haven’t ever dropped major coin there but when I have purchased stuff I have always got a lot of service “goodies” and a comparable price to other stores. That being said, other places could be different. I you are not the kind that is always looking for the best price and wants to get a camera without any hassle, then you might want to swing in there.
As for the other stores and department stores, you know the drill. Would you buy a $2000 DSLR from walmart? Probably not, so Home Plus may not be such a good idea. I also lump the electronics stores like the Samsung and LG stores in the same bin. Perhaps if you were looking for a fridge they would be good, but not so much for camera stuff.
Smaller Dedicated Camera Stores
These are the places that you want to spend some time in. Get to know the staff and talk with them. These are the places that can give a little more wiggle room on the price and are probably not going to soak you as much either. There is still a slight threat of getting ripped off but not as much as other places that cater to people looking for a deal, like Yongsan.
When you deal with these guys, it is best to find a friend that has gone in there before and knows them or find out where a lot of the photographers go. There will be a reason why people go there. For example, I bought most of my equipment from Ilwang Camera in Busan. This place was introduced to me by some great photographers at the time and I have purchased all of my major gear there.
I deal with them mostly because I can deal with them on the price and I have found that they usually are pretty happy to help out and service things. I do have a grey market canon but after finding that out, it solved the issue of “how did I get such a great deal?” Has it cause me any problems? Nope, the only difference was that I had to pay 10,000 won to get my sensor cleaned and it saved me a few hundred thousand won.
With these guys it is all about the relationship. They are not just looking to sell to tourists or people looking for a deal. They are there so sell to photographers. With that being said, they have a great knowledge base and can help you with what you need. Areas like Nampodong have decent amount of these shops and if you ask around they will guide you to the best shop.
These places work best if you know what you are looking for. Have a list of prices that you have found on the gear and see if they will match it. Chances are if they can’t then see if you can get some gear thrown in for service. Having an idea of the price from other stores will make sure that you don’t get soaked.
How Not to Get Ripped Off in Korea
- Ask around. Internet forums are very popular in Korea and people always voice their opinions especially when it comes to bad service. Choose your advice wisely. If the guys telling you are at a bar and keep saying “I always go there” chances are they have been there once or twice. Also, check their creds. Do they know a lot about cameras? Do they have websites? You can be sure that when you follow advice from people that are well known in the photography scene here in Korea (like David Smeaton and most of the others in my blog roll). They all go there more than once and know a great deal about what they are talking about.
- Don’t be afraid to walk away. Nobody is forcing you to buy, so if you feel that there is something shady going on, then leave. Go and check out other places. Don’t worry, the shop will be there if you come back.
- Bring a Korean. Like before, a person that speaks the language can help ask questions and check into things. Also, it is better to go with a friend, another set of eyes can help spot things that you might not notice by yourself.
- Arm yourself with information. Bring your information with you and have it handy. The more confident you are about the prices and your research the less BS they can try and throw at you.
- Don’t start nodding until you are ready. “Yeah, Yeah I like that…” Stuff like that will mark you as an easy target. Ask questions and look through boxes. The harder of sale you are the less they will try to put one over on you. Make them work for their sale.
Common form of scamming in Korea is interesting and sometimes not even noticeable until you have to get your camera serviced. The most common is the “Grey Market” camera which means that it is not a direct import to Korea and thus has no warranty. These are still the same cameras and generally the same quality but are usually cheaper due to import taxes. The common scam is to sell these as the real deal and jack the price up. I have even heard about shops going so far as to switch boxes (most boxes for Canon will have a gold seal on them) to even make it look like the real thing.
There is also the bait and switch. What I mean is that you buy a certain camera and lens set and they swap out the lens or camera body for a different one when they put it in the box. This can be solved by checking before you leave or by asking to hold the camera while they get the box and stuff ready.
“That’s Extra” This basically is where they take everything out of the box and offer a price, just for the camera. This is something that I saw firsthand in Yongsan. I was looking a for camera for a friend who just wanted something cheap. We found a really cheap point-and-shoot and went into the shop. All of a sudden there was a “box price” which supposedly included everything in “the box” (also more than the price we were looking at). When I asked about chargers and batteries, they were “extra” I asked about the warranty and that was of course “extra” too. I guess the “box price” was just for the handy “box” and nothing else.
With all of that being said, I only offer this information from my own experience and nothing more. I offer this advice from purely my own perspective and I am not steering you away from Technomart or Yongsan. If you have any thing to add, feel free to comment below. I would rather people add as much information to this post so that the readers won’t get ripped off in the future.