Buying Digital Cameras and Lenses Cheaply as a Canadian - New 2011 Version

We've newly updated this article to reflect current advice for getting the best prices for your photography purchase, as a Canadian. We've archived the original article, written just after we founded in 2007, in case you want to see how things have changed over the years.

Once you've decided what you want to buy, you need to figure out where you want to buy it. In this article, I offer advice regarding where and how best to purchase that coveted camera or lens.

Have you considered the States?

The Canadian photographic equipment market has drastically improved over the last few years, but there's still opportunity for buying from the US to save money on gear. With our Canadian dollar hovering at par, our analysis shows that about half the time, the lowest price (including tax, shipping, and all fees) is from a US store. The reason for this is simply volume: the largest US camera retailer sells more gear in one year than all the stores in our entire country combined!

Are you going to the States any time soon? If yes, it's a no brainer: buy it in the States, and bring it back yourself. You'll need to claim it against your personal exemption, and will be able to save tax (GST+PST or HST) and duty, if you've been out of the country at least 48 hours.

If no trip to the States is planned in the near future, you can always buy by mail order. Over the last few years, some US retailers have been wooing Canadian shoppers with cheaper shipping options to Canada. Notable options include B&H Photo Video, with Purolator shipping which calculates all cross-border fees (just like we do!), and, which now ships select brands to Canada. Another reputable option is Adorama. These three stores are the biggest and most respected camera stores down south.

Don't worry, cameras and lenses are duty free! All you'll have to pay is the tax. To avoid nasty customs brokerage fees imposed by your courier, make sure you avoid UPS or FedEx ground shipping. Other classes of UPS, such as Worldwide Expedited, include most brokerage fees (a $10 bond fee applies). For more details, read our articles on Cross-Border Tax, Duty, and Brokerage Fees.

Note! The product you purchase will have a US warranty (once you bring it or mail it back to Canada, it may be considered "Grey Market"). Some manufacturers (for example, Nikon) will not provide you warranty service in Canada. Other manufacturers (including Canon) will honour a US warranted product provided you can show proof of purchase from an authorized dealer in the states. Still other manufacturers (like Olympus and Pentax) have international warranties that are valid for Canadian service regardless of place of purchase. For more details, read our articles on Grey Market and Warranties.

Have you considered out of Province?

There used to be a great loophole: when you purchased something from your own province, you paid your province's PST. If you travelled to another province and bought something there, you would pay that province's PST. If you mail ordered something from another province, that store wouldn't charge you any PST. Go figure!

Sadly this loophole is closed if you live in an HST province (Ontario, BC, and the Maritimes, at time of writing). Now, Canadian stores are required to charge you the full HST if they ship to an HST province.

If you don't live in an HST province, you're still in luck. Just ordering products from an out-of-province retailer will save you your PST. But note, by law, some provinces require you to report and remit the PST on goods you purchased by mail-order from out of province.

Have you considered Price Matching?

There are benefits to going to real brick and mortar stores. You'll be able play with the stuff before you buy it, and returning it should be easy if it really wasn't what you wanted. As many stores have outrageous list prices, especially the large photography chain stores, it's very important to be prepared and know the best prices for competing stores. Don't think you have to pay sticker price; you may be able to haggle the price down, or get them to price-match one of the cheaper online options. At the very least, you can get them to give you a deep discount on any necessary accessories. As you continue to build rapport with your friendly commissioned salesperson, you'll get wonderful service and discounts without the need to haggle...

One thing that's always worked for us: print out our price list, let them know you know what the current prices are (both in Canada and the US), and ask them what they can do for you. The Canadian market has gotten a lot more competitive, and as a result, virtually all stores are willing to negotiate or price-match.

If you're feeling adventurous, you may be able to get a big-box store with a price match policy to price match some ridiculously low prices. I'm generally able to get Future Shop or Best Buy to price match any local store price, saving hundreds of dollars plus an additional 10% of the difference. Since their list price is generally several hundred dollars more, this can amount to significant additional savings.

Do Your Research.

Check and familiarize yourself with the best prices for what you want to buy. Arm yourself with a price list, especially if you're going to a brick-and-mortar store.

Also, there's nothing more costly or time consuming than having to return the camera or lens you bought because you've decided that it doesn't fit your needs. Do your research thoroughly before deciding to buy.

Good luck, and happy photographing!

February 2011

Original article written July 2007

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