The Amazon Effect in Photography

February 16, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Full disclosure, there's going to advocating a few services here, but I in no way am being endorsed or sponsored by these companies.

So let's get started. Who here (which basically means you) goes straight to eBay to buy their latest Chinese manufactured 'tat' because we feel it's a safe bet, and eBay will do us right? Come on... Hands up! No..? Yes..?

Okay, if you said 'Yes' (in your head), then you are like how I was. Anytime I saw something someone else using and thought "damn, I need that" I went to eBay and looked for it's cheapest substitute copy and bought it, or bided on it. Which usually meant either getting outbid and having to buy it from an eBay store somewhere else (or buying it there in the first place), having checked that the shipping wasn't going to shaft me in the long grass.

I'd then sit there for days, sometimes weeks, waiting for this 'Made in China' stamped device/gadget/tat to arrive, and then be blinded by the almost Christmas effect that this object had when it finally arrived. Convincing myself that no matter how crap it was, it was worth the effort and investment and that I'd simply work with it till I grew to love it, plus ignore its limitations. This is fine when you're single, or all the funds you generate within the business stay in the business, but what about when the wife/husband/partner/Mum gets involved in your spending? Or in my case: 'The Missus'.

My response when something came through the door was always, "But babe, I need this, I saw this guy using it and it was awesome, granted his cost 5 times as much, but I got a bargain on eBay". The Missus would then enquire a month or two later as to why I wasn't using said gadget, to which I'd respond "Nah, it's not that good, but that's okay, I'll stick it back on eBay and get my money back", knowing full well that would never happen, cause that takes 'effort'.

Enter the world of Amazon

I was slow to join Amazon, I admit it, I was wedded to eBay having been one of its very early adopters, so Amazon to me was all about the books. How wrong I have been.

Everything you buy on Amazon has one unique feature, a speedy returns policy. It's because of this I want to tell you the story of the Camera Stabiliser I purchased just this very Monday (today being Wednesday), but first, I have to give you a little bit of background, on why I migrated to Amazon for my buying, instead of eBay.

My daughter is a big fan of Amazon, a few years back she'd let me know the sort of Christmas presents she wanted, and she had done so by supplying me with an online shopping list on... You guessed it, Amazon.

At that time I had never used it, I just felt I could get it cheaper on eBay and save myself a pound or two, which isn't worth it in hindsight. So my daughter's Christmas presents arrived at various points during the course of the month, one or two items after the event, but she knew they were coming and didn't mind. Scroll forward a few months, and my eldest daughter bought me an Amazon FireTV Stick. I had AppleTV, but to be honest, it's shit (don't bother with 'em - see, saving tip number one). Amazon has it covered on the subscription front, not only do you get to watch Prime (additional fees apply) but you can stream stuff through Netflix and a little-known app called Kodi.

I even bought myself the odd wee thing here and there, but it wasn't until I purchase that 'Prime' product that things really made sense to me. Not only did I have access to all manner of digital media entertainment through my Stick (which incidentally, I now had two off (one for the bedroom), I also had access to 'Next Day Delivery' to anything listed as being a 'Prime' product, which leads me on to Monday...

As you know (those who follow my blogs), I'm trying to downsize my digital technology. The plan being to have only the very necessary things I need for this business and my new passion of 'vlogging'. Whilst attempting to sell on my HD Camcorders to fund my single awesome camera strategy, I found I wasn't getting offered the same value for what I'd paid for these great cameras. So I then set about adapting my plans by looking at alternatives, now I'm not throwing in the word 'cheaper alternatives' in for a very good reason. If you've never heard the saying "Buy cheap, buy twice" then let me explain it to you. If you buy a quality product that has been designed and tooled to do a specific job, that has quality and reliability at its core, then it's obviously going to cost a little bit more. If however, you buy it's cheaper Chinese copy counterpart, there's a good chance it's going to bite you in the bum and let you down, you'll then either buy another one (the twice bit) or you'll suffer and wait it out until you can buy the quality one you should have bought instead (again, still twice).

So over the weekend, I set about researching 3 axis gimbals that could cater for my existing hardware, and still give me that silky smooth footage I'm craving when I'm actually walking with my camera. What I discovered was that the manufacturing had moved on leaps and bounds in terms of products out there designed specifically for this purpose. Fantastic I thought, let's get it on!

Having trawled through the various items on Amazon, I finally picked the gimbal that appeared to do the trick. It was available on Prime, which means that if I ordered it within the countdown period, I could have it the next day. Which was great, because I was waiting on a call back from a local singer who had recently appeared on the X-Factor, and he was looking for me to create his newest song release and make it into a video for a regional TV station this Friday.

Sutefoto / FOTOWELT Handheld Camera StabiliserSutefoto / FOTOWELT Handheld Camera StabiliserDo not buy this product - Image from my Instagram Account (@DMfotoNI)

 

Let the Christmas Factor Kick In

Okay, I'm a sucker for tracking my orders online. I admit it, I get excited by new tech. I'm just glad I don't have to go through the drama of writing product reviews every day, otherwise, I'd be an anxious wreck all the time, waiting for 'stuff' to arrive, just so I can play with it. Having placed my order at around 3:30 pm on Monday, I was then told at 5:30 pm that my order was despatched from our closest regional hub in Scotland. The following morning at 4:30 am it was in the hands or the distributing carrier, and by 8:10 am the delivery driver had it out for delivery to the office in Derry.

At 1:22 pm I had it handed to me by the courier and I set about configuring it to my HD Camcorder. It was fiddly as hell, but I was expecting that, as these things have to be balanced to perfection, you also have to consider using a wide angle lens, because no matter how stable you make it, there's always going to be some judder as you walk that can be rectified by post production stabilisation software tweaks.

My singer called and canceled. He couldn't spare the time, nor could he ask I do the work required in the time allowed on the limited budget he had left for this track release, which was fair enough. I had other uses for this 3 axis gimbal that went beyond the music video.

I took it out for a test run on my long walk to the dentist who is situated over the River Foyle in the Waterside of Derry, which typically takes about 20 minutes to get to, so it would give me ample time to test it in a few situations, including strong winds. It was a sodding disaster.

A couple of key things annoyed me about it:

  • The weight of it didn't justify the balance requirements. The weights attached are to do with balance but the whole rig was made of cheap materials and only added stresses to my arms whilst holding it.
  • The handle was too close to the slider plates that held the camera in place, so that everytime you tried to do a pan down shot, it would hit off the handle and ruin the flow.
  • The Holding plate was just naff, no quick release and it had spirit levels on release dials that were always going to be vertical, it made no sense.

I tried and tried to get it to do what I wanted it to do, and those old creeping eBay feelings started to take over me, I tried to justify my keeping it in that I'd use it indoors where I could, and then I'd ultimately stick it on eBay and sell it on at some point, which would involve effort and in all likelihood, it would sit on a shelf with all the other tat I've been meaning to sell gathering dust.

But at about 5:00 pm another thought came to mind. Return the damn thing. This is AMAZON (think SPARTA)..! I put it all back in the original packaging, and logged back into Amazon and started the process of returning the item that I'd had for less that 4 hours. Amazon have made it so simple to do this, and my local post office is less than 3 minutes walk from the office, why shouldn't I just return to sender?

At 5:22 pm it was back in the hands of the post office and it's now making its way back to wherever the hell it came from (the dump I hope), I should have the credit note on my account in the next day or two, but only this time, I'm going to save up for the camera I really really want.

Tell me in the comments section about things you've regretted buying, and what did you do with them...


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