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Zero Knowledge: What the average electronic or camera store staff member knows about cameras and technology.

As someone who spends his free time giving advice about digital cameras, it is rather frustrating that the places where people shop and buy cameras are mostly inadequate for getting information about them. Before going into more details, let me say that I do know at least one specialized camera store which caters to professional photographers and does have a knowledgeable staff. Also, the lack of technical and practical knowledge on items sold is not limited to digital cameras, but also to other technology items like computers, laptops, LCD screens, printers, cellular-phones, etc.

Frequently, I overhear store staff members trying to help someone buy a camera. Most times, what they say is shocking and demonstrates ignorance. What they do know seems limited to what is printed on box in large letters, things like megapixels and zoom – forget about the small print. If their ignorance was limited to knowing so little, reality would not be as bad as it is. Unfortunately they frequently know even less. How is that possible? I have no idea but I frequently overhear false statements and lies. Check out this paraphrased conversation:

  • Woman: Can you show me a good Canon camera?
  • Clerk: We have this Powershot A70 or this G3 which is better because it is 4 megapixels.
  • Woman: Oh, that G3 looks good. Does it have a good lens?
  • Clerk: Yes, its a Canon lens, all Canon lenses are good.
  • Woman:That’s good to know, but can I change the lens and put another one in?
  • Clerk: Oh yes, just take off the lens and put another one in its place.
  • Woman: Great! So I can use this camera with the Canon lenses I already have from my film camera. I’ll take it.
  • Clerk: That is a good choice, do you want an extended waranty with that?

A few minutes later, the woman left the store with the G3, which according to the clerk has an interchangeble lens. Unfortunately for the woman, that is completely untrue. The G3, like all compact cameras, is a fixed-lens camera and even though it may accept adapters, it won’t accept any Canon lenses from other cameras.

Some other incidents which show complete disregard for the buyer even occured to me. Here is one:

  • Me: Do you have a Konica-Minolta A2 in stock?
  • Clerk: You are in luck, we sold all of them but one..
  • Me: How much is it?
  • Clerk: 1159 dollars.
  • Me: Good, can I see it?
  • Clerk: Here it is. I’ll open the box for you.
  • Me:The viewfinder is broken on this one.
  • Clerk: Thats not a problem since people don’t use the viewfinder, you won’t need it.

After this, I swiftly left the store, needless to say, without buying a camera. Having acquired my first A2 somewhere else, which was an ordeal in itself, I went to look for a wide-angle adapter for it. Here’s what happened in the first store I entered:

  • Me: Hi, I’m looking for a wide angle adapter for a Konica-Minolta A2.
  • Clerk: Oh yes, I have one. Its a Kenko 49mm 0.75X converter.
  • Me: I brought the camera, can I try it?
  • Clerk: OK, here it is.
  • Me: Hmm…. this is not good, it makes the corners of the image dark.
  • Clerk: That is normal, it’s because you must zoom in. Let me show you… there are no dark corners now, see.

Perharps that clerk did not understand the point of a wide-angle converter. When you zoom in, it cancels the increased field-of-view given by the wide-angle adapter but reduces the optical quality since it adds more glass elements in the optical path. I later left this store, never to return again.

As a final annecdote, a friend went to a store and asked about the Nikon D200’s weather sealing. The answer he got was that the D200 was completely weather sealed and you could take it into heavy rain and rinse it in the shower with you. Well, I don’t own a D200, so I checked Nikon’s website. It read: the D200 is weather sealed against dust and casual humidity. Somehow, my mind won’t equate shower and casual humidity.

As I said earlier, this is not always the case but it seems to be frequently so. Places that deal exclusively in photography have a better chance at knowing something about it, but that is not certain. In conclusion, one cannot know wether a store is knowledgeable without knowing the answer ourselves in the first place. To quote Anais Nin: advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.

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