5 Reasons Why You Should (Still) Shop at a Camera Store

Photos © DL Byron

Quick question: where did you buy your last piece of photo gear? If you're like more and more photographers these days, you probably bought your new telephoto lens, photo bag, or mirrorless camera body from one of the many online retailers out there such as Amazon, B&H, or Adorama.

Next question: were you satisfied with the online process for buying your gear? Sure, it was fast, and the price was right but were all your questions about the expensive lens you wanted to buy answered? Was there anyone online to talk to you at all? Did you have to return your gear? Was it a hassle?

Well, for those very reasons, many photographers still choose to shop at traditional brick-and-mortar photo specialty retail stores. That's why places such as the legendary Glazer's Camera store in Seattle, near where I live, are doing just fine, thank you very much.

That’s even with Amazon Prime delivering much of what Seattleites need within a few hours or a day. Glazer's Camera is surrounded by housing for Amazon's workers on pretty much all sides with some biotech mixed in. Glazer's former landmark location with the red wall was recently replaced by a mixed-used, ground-floor level apartment building also with a red wall.

I arrived in Seattle long after the store was first established at a Pioneer Square location in 1935 and the smell of film chemicals permeated the walls. Before their old building was destroyed to make way for the new one, nearby was a long-since closed photo lab that ran 24 hours a day and a grip house for production crews.

Recently, at the glass display case with a staffer asking me what I needed help with, I realized there are still many very good reasons to shop at a store like Glazer's Camera. If you’re into Leica, they’ve got a boutique inside with special editions, like the Safari M. There’s a well-stocked used department if you fancy vintage cameras and lenses. I picked up a mint Nikon FM2 there and Leica M lens from 1956 for when I’m in an analog mood, decompressing from a camera launch.

When it comes to finding quality photo gear I need in hurry for a particular assignment, I haven’t stumped Glazer's yet. Thinking more about what traditional camera stores offer over shopping online, I came up with five reasons to step inside a photo specialty location for your next purchase rather than shopping online. Here they are:


#1 You Can Get Real Advice Directly from an Expert
On a recent shoot, I was using a mega mast to get an aerial shot without a drone and had NO IDEA what pins connected to what between Sony and the mast's cords. Glazer's sure did. They sold us the right cord and sent us on our way to the shoot.

#2 You Can Actually Demo the Product
You can't test out how a camera feels in your hand before you purchase it online, or get a walkthrough of the menuing systems, or a sense of the weight of the camera with a lens attached, or its speed or…just about anything. I was stumped on a product feature recently (how to fire it off) and a staffer figured it out with me. It takes more effort to understand a camera these days than simply looking at a picture of it online, especially with manufacturers stuffing more and more features into them. There is nothing that compares to how a camera feels in your hand. Your hands may be too large for a mirrorless body, or too small for a gripped body. You need to touch and try it in a real camera store before you surrender your credit card.

#3 You Can Stuff Out the Camera Bags
Take all your gear to a camera store and see what fits in the photo bags they're selling. My ongoing quest for the perfect bag has yielded just lots of photo bags that aren't exactly right, mostly because I didn't have them in my hand first. It’s very abstract to try to determine how a camera bag works online. I’ve brought my gear in and tried the various configurations to come up with what works. As someone obsessed with packing light and mirrorless, trying bags in person is extremely helpful.

#4 There's No Lead Time
Hit Glazer's Camera on the way to a shoot, as I've done more times than I’d like to admit, and you'll likely find what you need. They and other stores in the area such as CameraTechs in Ballard haven’t failed me yet. Glazer’s central “racetrack” setup provides the interactions with a massive selection of products and helpful staff. The U-shaped counter at the main entry and exit doors speeds the purchase out the door. Upstairs is where their events take place.

#5 Rentals
If you need X lens for a project and don’t have thousands to spend to get it done, you can rent gear from most photo specialty stores. I’m always surprised by the photographers that don’t know how big the rental business is. Stop into Glazer's Camera on a Thursday and you’ll see all the pros getting ready for a weekend wedding shoot or for an assignment to cover a Seahawks game. I’ll often rent a lens for travel, like a zoom I’d normally not use.

With apartments above them and a bakery next door, Glazer's sorta feels like an emulation of what a retail camera store used to be like. That’s ok when you think about it because what we’re shooting digitally is intended to emulate the film Glazer's started selling back in the day. The educated staff also more than makes up for the lack of Seattle’s photographic history in their all-new surroundings.

Maybe they could vent in some film processing smells?

If you’re in the Seattle area, Glazer’s hosts photography events year-round. They also have plenty of free parking below the two floors. Next door is a trophy-making store, another part of Seattle’s history that I suggest you visit before it’s replaced by a condo/office building occupied by tech workers who probably work at Amazon.