One of the most common questions I get about tech from visitors to Japan is “Where do I get a cheap digital camera?” My answer? “Hong Kong”
Once well known as the place to get cheap cameras and new models not available anywhere else, it’s been nearly a decade since Japan was the camera shoppers paradise it once was. The reason for this is two-fold. Fold number one is language. Specifically the menu navigation language option. Several years ago several well meaning *cough* *cough* moronic *cough* companies that will remained nameless *cough* Sony *cough* Panasonic *cough* started to distinguish cameras for domestic Japanese consumption and international consumer models.
It didn’t make sense to make the differences based on function, so they did the only thing they could think of (with two oxygen deprived brain cells that’s not much). They made language specific models. Digital Still and Video cameras from Sony and Lumix can only show Japanese menus. Everyone else in the world gets all the other languages (and often Japanese to boot). For the record, Canon cameras are usually made to the same specifications globally including menus. Why all the nonsense? To keep the market in Japan safe from cheap imports (of cameras made by the same company in other countries). This takes us to fold two.
It’s not cheaper. Seriously, not even close. Most cameras in Japan are now priced significantly higher than similar models in nearly every other market in the world. Sure, some of this has to do with currency exchange rates, but Japanese companies actually go out of their way to keep cheap cameras off the market. Sony for example does not release most of their lower end and less expensive cameras into the Japanese market until months after they are made available in the US, and sometimes not at all. And while cameras start out full price and slowly see reductions over time, pricing in Japan is much more rigid, keeping the release price months and sometimes years after a product hits the shelves.
My suggestion to anyone who wants to buy a new camera for their pilgrimage to Japanese shrines is buy before you fly. So is there nothing left in Japan for the camera lover? Of course not. These are mostly abuses meant for low level and uneducated consumers, but Japan has a huge population of camera hobbyists, and they are well taken care of. For the DSLR or even film (yes, they still exist) photographer, there are lots of reason to be happy in Japan.
While new camera equipment is just as pricey here as the cheap stuff, used equipment is both cheap and plentiful. Ask any Nikon fan in Tokyo where the scene is and you will soon be pointed to Fujiya Cameras in Nakano, well known for it’s wide stock of cheap used lenses. And for when price is no object, high end pro equipment that is rare and difficult to get in most parts of the world can be found on the shelves in your neighborhood Yodobashi Camera or Bic Camera. They may not be cheap, but for a pro photographer on a job, a replacement bulb for your lighting rig may be the difference between a good session or a costly reshoot.
So if you are planning a purchase, or are just looking for a last minute Christmas gift (the writer btw, would love to get a Nikon D3s. Just sayin.) make sure to hit the internet and do a bit of research before you drop your cash. Here are a few links to get you started.