Off to the camera shops in Singapore

Published Fri 14 September 2007 22:44 (+0200)

My first task in Singapore was to go buy a new camera, my trusty Canon S60 having served its time (and getting bashed up a bit coming back to Wellington after Xmas/NY in Chch), and a full trip's worth of stuff to take photos of ahead.

Singapore has just the place for this: Sim Lim Square, a consumer electronics mecca with many floors of mostly-small retailers trying to talk you into buying your devices from them.

They mostly deal in cameras and cellphones and so on on the ground & lower floors, steadily moving more towards laptops, network gear and other computer products as you get higher, finally giving way to import/export wholesalers and component vendors in the top floors (most of which were closed when I visited, as it was Sunday).

The sheer number of places is a real challenge. Obviously, you don't have to visit all of them, but it's hard to resist looking around when you know a better deal might be quite literally around the corner.

I spent an hour or two going around the ground floor, working out what camera I wanted to buy (more on that in a second) and what sort of price and inclusions I should be looking for… Then I remembered that there was more than one floor, and looked up! And lo, there was more.. much more.

As it turns out, while the guys on the ground floor may have the best position & so be the most cutthroat, that doesn't necessarily translate into the best deal for you.

Some buying tips

If you're going to buy a camera from a place like this, there's a few things to look out for:

  • Make sure you get an international warranty. Some of the cheapest prices will be because they only have a local warranty, which is generally not much use to you unless you actually live in Singpore.
  • Make sure you factor taxes in. Singapore does charge GST. Confusion arises because you can claim back on the GST – but you can't claim all of it! IIRC it's about a 70% rebate. See more below on the claimback process.
  • If you need/want to buy it on a credit card, that's a factor you need to negotiate for. Visa and Mastercard both charge retailers 2% of the price (yes, everyone and everywhere – they just normally suck it up, but this is why some places refuse to take credit cards), and in the Sim Lind Square world of razor-thin margins, that's just not doable, so they break the Visa/MC rules forbidding them from passing that 2% extra onto customers, presumably using the standard explanation that NZ retailers in this position use ('it's not a 2% extra for CC, it's a 2% discount for cash') – and if you don't specify, of course they quote and negotiate for the cash price.
  • If you're being offered a ‘bundle’, eg. camera + case + memory card, make sure that they have the stuff and that you're happy with it. A crappy brand of memory card isn't worth much to you. Similarly, a place that doesn't have the items for the bundle – one shop apparently expected me to trek across town to some other random location to use their coupon to get the bundled stuff (do I look stupid?). And cases cost $5 from the shops in the square, so don't let them sway you.

I won't cover choosing the right camera (though one hint: research & choose yourself, don't accept anyone's word as to where a camera fits into the market – unless you're an encyclopedia of products, you won't know what's current & what's a year old), or negotiation strategies (though anyone who tells you that you have to accept the deal on the spot, ie. that you'll get a worse deal if you go away and come back later, should be audibly laughed at).

About that GST refund

BTW, the “standard” method of claiming the GST back as I mention above is to get it at the airport once you've got your boarding pass; if you go with that, remember that means you have to front that additional cash for the days that you're there.

The extension to this scheme is to basically move the refund half of the process up front – in the case of Sim Lind Square, when you buy from one of the many retailers participating in the ‘Tax Free’ scheme, you can take your receipt (including GST) down to the ‘Tax Free’ counter on the ground floor and get the refund there on the spot (after the serving person does a ridiculously long list of paperwork operations at high speed).

However, as that person will explain to you, you still need to get the bit of paper that said person gives you stamped at the place at the airport (much quicker of course than the whole refund process would be, but still another task for you to do).

So, if you don't have anything better to do after you've checked in, and have no pressing need to get the refund a couple of days earlier, you may find it better to just do the whole thing at the airport.

Without further ado

I bought myself a Canon Digital IXUS 860IS (or in America, the SD 870IS; don't confuse with the SD 850IS aka. IXUS 950IS – Canon's product naming department needs a swift smack upside the head).

Frankly, it's great. I would never have believed that a compact as small and light as this could produce unblurred shots as often as this little guy does in my ultra-shaky hands; and while it's not got about 2 features from my ‘prosumer’ era S60, it's got a lot of good stuff, and it's fast, has a big screen, decent battery life, and a good interface. Oh, and did I mention it has a 28mm equiv lens? I do like my 28mm photographamatising, so was pleased I was able to match the S60 in that regard.

By the way, don't even worry about megapixels any more – any current generation camera has more pixels than the lens can noiselessly supply, so when you buy a 12MP camera, you're paying for something that won't produce higher quality photos (and in some situations will produce worse). 8MP is quite enough from a compact.

Anyway, these new Canon kiddies haven't quite hit the market outside near asia yet, so I'll hopefully write up a more detailed post about 'em soon (time permitting…), but for now, Canon IXUS 860IS: recommended.

In the end, I went not with the very cheapest place but with a fairly cheap one that was more upfront in their negotiating (giving me a bit confidence I wasn't being dicked in more subtle ways than I know about) and gave me a deal on the stuff I wanted (ie. a proper Sandisk memory card, not a crappy brand, and no lame case). Works out to about NZ$600, maybe a little more depending on the exact exchange rate Visa gives me.

Mmmm DSLRs

Also, I found it very, very, very hard to resist spending $300-400 more to get the new Nikon DSLR kit – a basic stabilised ~8MP DSLR + lens (14-68mm, IIRC) + misc bits. Obviously not a professional quality DSLR, but still… damn. You could take some nice photos on it!