Take our user survey and make your voice heard.

Here
and
Now

opinions

Buying a camera in Japan? Think again

33 Comments
By Steve Nagata

One of the most common questions I get about tech from visitors to Japan is “Where do I get a cheap digital camera?” My answer? “Hong Kong.”

Once well known as the place to get cheap cameras and new models not available anywhere else, it’s been nearly a decade since Japan was the camera shoppers' paradise it once was. The reason for this is two-fold.

First is language. Specifically, the menu navigation language option. Several years ago, several "well meaning" companies, among them Sony and Panasonic, started to distinguish cameras for domestic Japanese consumption and international consumer models. It didn’t make sense to make the differences based on function, so they did the only thing they could think of (with two oxygen deprived brain cells, that’s not much). They made language specific models. Digital still and video cameras from Sony and Lumix can only show Japanese menus. Everyone else in the world gets all the other languages (and often Japanese to boot). For the record, Canon cameras are usually made to the same specifications globally including menus. Why all the nonsense? To keep the market in Japan safe from cheap imports (of cameras made by the same company in other countries).

This takes us to the second reason. It’s not cheaper. Seriously, not even close. Most cameras in Japan are now priced significantly higher than similar models in nearly every other market in the world. Sure, some of this has to do with currency exchange rates, but Japanese companies actually go out of their way to keep cheap cameras off the market. Sony, for example, does not release most of its lower-end and less expensive cameras into the Japanese market until months after they are made available in the U.S., and sometimes not at all. And while cameras start out full price and slowly see reductions over time, pricing in Japan is much more rigid, keeping the release price months and sometimes years after a product hits the shelves.

My suggestion to anyone who wants to buy a new camera for their pilgrimage to Japanese shrines is buy before you fly. So is there nothing left in Japan for the camera lover? Of course not. These are mostly abuses meant for low level and uneducated consumers, but Japan has a huge population of camera hobbyists, and they are well taken care of.

For the DSLR or even film (yes, they still exist) photographer, there are lots of reasons to be happy in Japan. While new camera equipment is just as pricy here as the cheap stuff, used equipment is both cheap and plentiful. Ask any Nikon fan in Tokyo where the scene is and you will soon be pointed to Fujiya Cameras in Nakano, well known for its wide stock of cheap used lenses. And for when price is no object, high-end pro equipment that is rare and difficult to get in most parts of the world can be found on the shelves in your neighborhood Yodobashi Camera or Bic Camera. They may not be cheap, but for a pro photographer on a job, a replacement bulb for your lighting rig may be the difference between a good session or a costly reshoot.

So if you are planning a purchase, make sure to hit the Internet and do a bit of research before you drop your cash. Here are a few links to get you started.

Digital Photo Review

Fujiya Camera

Amazon.com

B&H Photo Video (Will ship to Japan)

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.


33 Comments
Login to comment

Also for DSLR owners, there may be more accessories such as lenses available in Japan than elsewhere.

It's all very well to say that camera equipment is cheaper in the USA, but billions of people live in other countries. However, I wouldn't buy a DLSR camera body in Japan simply because the warranty wouldn't be valid at home in Australia.

For those looking at video cameras - be sure to match the video output of the camera to your home country. This is easy for Americans since both Japan and the USA use NTSC. But for Australians and many Europeans, you need to find a camera that supports PAL. I bought a PAL video camera in Tokyo - a SONY mind you - which has english menus, but you have to be careful to buy one made for export. Actually, the PAL issue applies to a lot of still cameras now which feature the ability to plug into your TV.

Why shouldn't Japanese companies make models only for the Japanese market? It's big enough!

But absolutely - check prices locally before you consider buying in any other country, and be sure that the warranty will be valid when you get home. If you're going to spend a significant amount of money on anything, it's worth a bit of research.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

the writer only gives advice to americans obviously...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

the myth of japan being an electronics buyer's paradise is generally long out of date. i frequently had to disappoint visitors expecting to be able to pick up exclusive models for the best prices. singapore/hong kong are where that scene's at these days

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I find camera shopping in Japan to be overwhelming in terms of selection, but disappointing in terms of price. I had planned to purchase a Lumix LX3 on a recent trip to Japan, but after some light research on the internet, I concluded that it was cheaper to buy it in Canada. Still, if you're looking for the newest and greatest accessories for you camera, Japan's the place. I love how they have models, of almost everything, out in the open for potential customers to try and fondle over. When I bought my LX3 in Canada, it was kept behind a locked glass case, and only brought out and placed on a velvet cloth when I requested it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese love over charing themselves. Good for American businesses too. Here people actually pay the price on the box. Got to love the non thinking, non barging Japanese. Youd think that Narita airport (tax free) would be cheaper for cameras, think again. The price it at the same price, including tax. basically 5% up. As for the Japanese thing, who cares if Japanese do that. And thinking about Narita and language issues, What I cant understand is why MAC in Narita has only Japanese menus (with a big display) and an English menu posted outside alone the walk way. No bilingual menu there. My local MAC has a bilingual menu. Companies are very strange when it comes to Japanese. (but let's all remember, Japanese is a dieing language. In 50 years I might be only spoken by the old.)

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

This writer isnt the most knowledgeable it seems, cameras & lenses are almost always more expensive in Jpn, selection is great to be sure but pricing STILL to this day isnt cheap on new models.

This goes for the newest DSLRs or the oldest Leicas, in the 90s I used to buy classic cameras off ebay & re-sell them on consignment here & even after paying the shops 15-20% commission I wud make between 40-150% on stuff it was a great way to fund buying the stuff I wanted & pay for developing etc. Those days are over but still prices arent cheap, Jpn might be good for finding something rare or somewhat hard to find but no cheaper than most cud buy in their home countries.

As far as J-companies gouging their fellow countrymen, hahaha thats been the way with almost anything you buy in Jpn! Although the last few years people are less likely to pay the piper & willing to buy lots more used stuff where in the 80/90s they wud never have stupped to such things, I mean look at happoshu no way a self respecting Japanese wud have bought that crap in the 80s oe early 90s but now hell yeah but I wont!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Language is no problem for me, and cheaper is not always better.

The harper kind of alluded to it, but service has value. Quality has value. I stopped worrying about things breaking about 20 years ago and I do not want to go back to that. Maybe I have been brainwashed, but let's just say that my behavior has been highly reinforced by the notion that, in Japan, the vendor AND manufacturer will make sure that you have a good product that will work reliably.

I have gotten great "deals" that had nothing to do with price. Maybe it is just good luck, but buying a great product by a conscientious manufacturer from a responsible vendor at a fair price is the best way to go through life. It avoids many costs.

If it breaks, it's junk. And junk at half the price is still junk.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

That's weird, I literally bought my Panasonic TMZ3 in Japan and you can set it to any language you want. Probably because I bought it at the duty free shop. At the time, you could only buy it in Japan.

That said, you can usually get cameras cheap in the US through Amazon because you avoid sales tax and also because after a couple of months all the stores start breaking the MSRP. Gotta love competition.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Is it just me or does this guy have no idea what he's talking about?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I don't understand this article. Yodobashi and Bic are always more expensive than the smaller shops; they are not the best places for price unless there is a big sale. Used cameras in Japan is where it's at - Japanese photogs generally baby their equipment and used gear can be had for a song in practically new condition.

I did recently do some price comparison shopping for camera kit when I was in Singapore - the prices I could get stuff in Japan (using Kakaku) were significantly lower than what sellers in Sim Lim or Funan were offering. Of course they beat the Yodobashi/Bic price but...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yodobashi/Bic do occasionnal huge discounts on all models and if you bring a print of the Kakaku list, they usually lower their price. Small shops make super-discounts on not so recent one articles. Both can be interesting. I have always heard from friends buying pro material that they found the same prices in Japan or back home, but they appreciated the large choice on display and immediatly available in Japan, plus the second-hand bargains.

But well, if you don't live here, the after-sale can be an issue. For the small fancy models and the service, that's not bad here, really.

2 yrs ago, I got a camera (a little sony digicam) during a flash sale in a big store, 60% off, plus I used "points" (as I buy my paper and ink there) so I got it for a coin of 500 yen. After 6 months the wheel was broken (my fault), they changed it without discussing (they never discussed about repairing anything in my experience) and they extended the warranty. In France, my brother-in-law spent hours comparing web-shops to get the same kind. In Japan, mine was 2 yr before's model, there that was the brand new one. He got it for 150% the Japanese full price (the euro/yen change matters a lot for that). It's true they didn't want the display in Japanese. After 2 weeks, my sister fell in a pond with the camera, the brand representative made them pay postage to send back the camera, took months to answer and say warranty didn't apply (their other insurance did hopefully). They had to buy another one.

Sony, for example, does not release most of its lower-end and less expensive cameras into the Japanese market until months after they are made available in the U.S., and sometimes not at all.

Er... I think it's the contrary. They launch on the US market models that were in Japan 5 yrs ago and no longer interest anybody here. You still find them in back-street shops for a few thousand yen.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Incidentally, my new camera is a Casio and it's the Japanese version, but it has English as a second language option. If it didn't, I wouldn't want to own it. I hate the way all the manuals are always only in Japanese though, and have to check for online manuals before I buy anything,

0 ( +0 / -0 )

the 3rd reason not to buy is that the international warranties are not worth the paper they are printed on. Maybe that has changed since my experience 9 years ago.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I've had mostly good experiences with camera use and purchasing in Japan - but I didn't think anything was especially cheap. Mind you, I'm from Australia and wasn't deeply in to cameras when I got my first, a three megapixel some years ago.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

For the DSLR or even film (yes, they still exist) photographer, there are lots of reasons to be happy in Japan. While new camera equipment is just as pricy here as the cheap stuff, used equipment is both cheap and plentiful.

There are plenty of film photographers out there. A little research would have shown that.

It would have also shown that not all used equipment is cheap. Used Contax, Leica and Nikon gear, especially Nikon rangefinder gear, is MUCH more expensive in Japan than it is overseas. A mint condition Leica M3 can be as much as $2500, mint condition Nikon RFs are sometimes $3000 or more. Prices are much lower than that in Europe and the US for the same equipment.

And used junk cameras aren't always cheap, either: a broken Spotmatic can still be between $20 to $50. In the US they'd be cheaper; there are no bargain-bin $2 cameras in Japan. If they're that cheap, they're totally broken.

Japan's advantage is that its used gear is usually in very good to excellent condition. Everyone knows that Japanese consumers are picky, and so if boxes and/or manuals are missing or there are signs of neglect (scratches, dents, missing paint, brassing) prices come down. One reason is because Japanese consumers take better care of their equipment (even keeping the individual plastic bags that things come in) another is because Japanese brokers went abroad (Europe & the US) during the Bubble and bought up most of the excellent condition classic cameras, bringing them to Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My old Canon Ixy comes in Japanese but can be easily switched to English. I now have a Ricoh CX-1 and it also switches to English. It was niman at Sofmap. All of Japan's electronics are ridiculously overpriced. Especially music equipment. I can buy something from the states or the EU and have it shipped here with express shipping and it'd still be cheaper than buying it here.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

spot on! i bought my Alpha 300 DSLR body in Australia a year ago for equivalent of 40000 yen. That was brand new back then. I had a fun chat with Aussie tax return guy at the airport when he was asking why on earth I was buying Sony while visiting from Japan. I quoted this article (a year before reading it). i bet he bought himself a sony as well :-)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Haven't bought electronic equipment in shops for years. Great for checking out the gadgets, but buy your stuff on the Internet where you get a 20% price cut automatically. Even for TV shopping junk you can find most stuff for 80% off on Yahoo Auction.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

After 2 weeks, my sister fell in a pond with the camera, the brand representative made them pay postage to send back the camera, took months to answer and say warranty didn't apply (their other insurance did hopefully).

Hahahaha hello hello NO maker is going give you another camera or fix the one you dunked YOURSELF(or yr sister) in a pond, thats 150% your fault

0 ( +0 / -0 )

One of the most common questions I get about tech from visitors to Japan is “Where do I get a cheap digital camera?”

I'm sorry to be pedantic but that question is about shopping, not technology.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

lol at people buying things in Japan and complaining its not in English!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

FYI, I bought a Lumix camera two years ago from my local Yamada Denki (cheaper than BIC Camera) and had no problem finding one with an English menu. In fact, all the cameras I tried (Canon, Lumix, Sony, FujiFilm, Casio) had English menus. And I wasn't even shopping in the 'tax-free' section (local stores don't have tax free, export models).

Why does the writer provide links to US sites? He said that HK is cheap, so why no info about that place? Surely there are many reliable sites on the Internet, not just American sites.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My Nikon SLR was definitely a lot cheaper than any other country when I bought it in Japan, and it has English menu's.

That said... many camera's just don't include languages other than English (although there's a separate English version of the same camera that you can buy outside Japan.) At the very least they could surely give you the option to flash such camera's with the English firmware.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Edit: "many camera's just don't include languages other than English"

Should read - "many camera's just don't include languages other than Japanese"

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I bought a Lumix camera two years ago from my local Yamada Denki (cheaper than BIC Camera) and had no problem finding one with an English menu.

I don't think this is true. I think the article is correct. Makers are increasingly offering Japanese only firmware on their cameras. The best thing to do is to play with the model on offer in Yamada Denki or wherever. Have a look at the menus, if you can find an option to change it to English then all well and good, if not well you'll have to find an international model in Akihabara. I can say for a fact that the Japanese version of the Lumix LX3 on sale in your local Yamada Denki in Japan does not allow you to change the menus to English.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

'scuse me... are you calling me a liar? I'm so sorry..it IS true!

I did not say it was Lumix LX3. In fact, I asked the salesperson for a camera with an English menu - he then proceeded to show me the cameras that had English menus.

Sorry to burst your little bubble, it was also a FULL English menu.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Just checked camera receipt/guarantee...camera was purchased in April 2007. After, I must add, my Canon camera broke after only 3 years operation.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

'scuse me... are you calling me a liar?

Didn't mean to imply that you were a liar, especially on Christmas day.

What I meant to say was that I don't think it is so easy to find models with English menus in your local Yamada Denki. Some models may have the option to switch Japanese to English but don't count on it. Always best to play with the camera first. And if you are relying on the salesman to show you models with English menus then you are drastically reducing your choices.

Another camera I'm interested in at the moment is the Sony TX1... of course the Japanese model doesn't have any English option in the menu...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

OK...all is forgiven...Merry Christmas.

We are already correcting the misinformation in this article. Not all cameras have English menus, but many do.

Yes, I realize that relying on salespeople can sometime reduce choices. That's why I think most of us use the Internet in order to do research. Also, a lot of it depends on the salesperson you get. I find that getting one of the sales-managers or a senior salesperson very often aids the cause.

Articles like this often misinform people and I think it's up to the likes of us to correct the info.

Sorry you can't find an English version of the TX1 - perhaps it isn't for the overseas market?

I'd like to ask the author of the article why he expects all the camera manufacturers to provide English language option on all cameras. Some of the cameras are for domestic use only.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@GW

They write "waterproof" on the box of the cameras, so they should replace the camera even if it was wet by more than light rain. Japanese electronic stores don't discussed if that's your fault something was broken (and for my camera, that was very obviously). I guess they charge more to cover that. But well, I prefer it that way.

@Forinagai

English is the second official language in Japan. That wouldn't cost them musch to add an English menu.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Articles like this often misinform people and I think it's up to the likes of us to correct the info

I still think the original article is correct to say that Japanese camera makers are increasingly distinguishing models as domestic or international by marketing Japanese only models in Japan.

This is a trend which I expect all manufacturers will adopt before long as it gives them more control over the market.

Sorry you can't find an English version of the TX1 - perhaps it isn't for the overseas market?

I can find one if I go to a tourist shop in Akihabara, just not in my local Yamada Denki.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

They write "waterproof" on the box of the cameras, so they should replace the camera even if it was wet by more than light rain.

Naw, those little cameras that are 'waterproof' always only refer to incidental water, not full submersion. The only time a camera would be warrantied against full submersion is if it explicitly stated something like "safe to submerge to 5m", etc.

I know recent Panasonic models are all Japanese-only when sold in Japan, but pretty much every other manufacturer sells models with optional English menus especially Olympus, Canon, Nikon. I seriously doubt the manufacturers worry so much about including English as an option - the market for English-only camera purchasers has got to be really, really small compared to the market for those who speak Japanese.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Enormous price differences can be found in Japan. Yodobashi Camera is one of the best known camera shop chains in Japan but also one of the most expensive. Yes, they give you 10% discount points if you have their customer card but they are at least 15% more expensive than other shops.

I bought a new Canon 7D camera body recently from Amazon for 138,000 yen that was priced 188,000 yen at Yodobashi. Yes, exactly 50,000 more expensive. OK. I would have receives 10% discount, that is 18,800 yen in discount points but I would have had to spend these points also at Yodobashi. 50,000 yen minus 18,800 is still 31,200 yen more I would have had to pay at Yodobashi.

I don't know if Amazon here in Japan would deliver to hotel guests but it's worth trying it out.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites