June 20, 2013
Shopping for Cameras
Buying a camera in Taiwan can either be an enjoyable experience or a nightmare. Like everywhere in the world, the shopping experience always depends on the store and especially the staff servicing the purchase.
That said, whether you are a visitor or a local, Taipei is an amazing place to pickup a new camera or accessorise your current kit. Photography is very popular in Taiwan, so cameras and accessories are available throughout the city in specialty camera shops and even general department stores.
It is common in Taiwan for stores selling the same type of thing to be grouped together, and the same is true for photographic equipment. In Taipei, for the most comprehensive and convenient shopping experience, one should head over to the BoAi Road area (you can start here: http://goo.gl/maps/2CmxY). Within a roughly three block area, there are over 40 stores selling everything from cameras and lenses to bags and other kinds of accessories you did not realise you could not live without.
Many major international brands are sold in Taiwan, including Canon, Nikon, Casio, Panasonic, Pentax, Olympus, Leica and more. Local brands include Benq, Premier, and Genius.
Naturally Mandarin and Taiwanese will be the primary languages, however some of the stores will have a member of staff who can speak English (see my recommendation below). I think it is part of the fun when in a foreign country to try and interact, and shopping is a great way to do this. In my opinion, it is better to know the type of camera you want, i.e. a point and shoot, DSLR etc. Then have a walk round and ask to see what is available and note the model numbers of those that you like. After you have a list, check online for reviews and narrow the list down to one or two. I recommend this because even if the member of staff speaks great English, explaining the technical specifications is difficult and can get lost in translation.
The next day head back to the stores and find the best price. Of course one of the advantages of having the stores in one area means it is quick and easy to compare prices. While it is possible to haggle the deal, the prices are often as marked. However, you may be able to get things thrown in (i.e. a memory card, battery etc.) so I would take this approach. And it is far better to smile when doing negotiations, an aggressive approach will usually not help (as with most dealings in Asia). As with all Asian countries, cash is king, and if you pay in cash, you may get a cash discount (as it saves the credit card fees). Don't quote me on that though.
Other things to look out for are the OSD (on-screen display) and documentation. It can be surprisingly difficult to change the language of the OSD when everything is in Chinese, so if the store doesn't change it for you, ask them to do so. With the global camera brands, the OSD and support documentation (user manual, quick start guide, warranty) are typically available in multiple languages (English, French, Japanese, German, Chinese and more). For the local camera brands, English and Chinese are typically the norm. Before you make the purchase, it is better to ask the seller to confirm the available languages. Also note though that you can download manuals and documentation for many of the major brands.
You should also check the warranty, and if it is only for Taiwan this may be a factor to consider before you buy. Other things to check are the voltage of the battery charger (although they virtually all cover a range from 100V to 240V) and the power cord. I recommend buying plug adaptors in Taiwan as they can be expensive overseas, and don't rely on buying the whole power cable overseas as thy can be ridiculously expensive.
So enjoy the shopping even if it's only window shopping, and when you have finished, why not try a pig knuckle flavoured ice cream…
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