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Camera Shopping in Korea

By on May 23, 2011 in Blogs, Korea, Photography, Reviews | 29 comments

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During my morning scan of blogs and forums I came across an interesting thread on Waygook.org that pushed me to write a quick note about shopping for cameras in Korea. The first thread that I read was about a waygook that got scammed at Technomart in Seoul which stemmed from her earlier post where she was trying to get rid of a Canon 550D that she had bought a few weeks ago and felt that she did not need. The responses in the thread made her realize that she paid a lot more for the camera then she should have. From my estimate, she was over-charged about 400,000 to 500,000 won and that is never good.

So I have decided to tackle this issue in a vague attempt to prevent this from happening to anyone else. Before you head any further, take a moment and  read the post by a friend of mine David Smeaton He gives a really detailed post about the nuts and bolts of buying a camera in Korea and what to look out for. Pay close attention to the section on Grey Market (nae-soo in Korean) as it will prove handy at the time of purchase.

The topic that I want to cover is the one that most people ask me about and that is whether the electronics markets are the best place to get a good deal on a camera.  Well, I am going to say NO.  That is not to say that you won’t find a cheap prices there, but it is more likely that you will not get what you paid for or have some difficulty getting the price advertised.

Technomart and Yongsan

These places get brought up a lot and many people believe that they will find the latest and great camera for next to nothing. Sadly, I am sure that day has passed. What you do find are dated stalls or stores selling pretty much the exact same things. I get bored easily at these places and I find searching for “deals” to be a tedious task at best.

The truth of the matter is that yes, you may get a good price if you speak the language and know what you are looking for. However, most of these guys know how to trick you into spending more or not giving you exactly what you paid for.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping at these places are:

  1. If it is too good to be true (for whatever reason) it is likely not what it appears. If you find a stupidly cheap prices and a great set up, chances are it is a con. If the package deal comes with a sweet lens and not the standard kit lens… make sure everything is legit before leaving.
  2. Do Your Research! As David points out in his article, this should be the first thing that you do.  I will second this. Get price IN KOREA. Too many times I have people email me about stuff they found on markets in the US or Canada. Here, in Korea, it doesn’t matter much. This means get on the internet and head out to department stores before you go. Get an idea of what things cost.
  3. Be a Tough Customer. If they think that they can reel you in on just the price, then who knows what you will end up with. If you are tough, haggle a bit and check everything with a suspicious eye, the less likely they are to pull a bait-and-switch.
  4. Travel with a Korean. No, you don’t need them to hold your hand but I find in places like Technomart and Yongsan, it keeps them a little more honest because there is some there that knows the language and come back with a manager or the police if need be.
  5. Check Your Numbers. There are 3 different common models of the 50mm prime that Canon sells. If you think you are getting the F/1.2 (expensive) or even the F/1.4 as a kit lens you are more likely to have the cheaper F/1.8 when you get home.  Check that everything is there before you leave.

So with this in mind, where are “good places” to shop.  Well, first of all, what kind of camera are you looking for? By this I mean are you looking for A) Something that you can carry around, throw in your bag, take to bars and beat up or B) a decent camera that you will want to last for some time and will take care of and is also worthy of an investment?

Why I ask this is that not everyone needs a huge DSLR with a gigantic arsenal of lenses and gear. If you don’t give a flying hoot about f-stops and apertures then you don’t need to venture down the hidden alley ways of Dongdaemun or Busan’s Nampo-Dong because you can probably get a decent camera online with the help of a co-worker, saving you a lot of time and hassle.

If you are serious about the idea of investing in a good camera, then get out to the stores. Head to the brand name shops and play around with the cameras. Get as much information as you can. Again, read David’s guide and follow his tips closely. If you are not in Seoul, head down to Busan and check out Nampo-dong. There is a cluster of camera shops there, including the authorized Canon dealer. Check the prices and shop around.

Hit up websites like Danawa.com Film Nara and Gmarket to get an overall view of the prices (in Korea) and model packages to give you a better idea of the current market in Korea. These are some of the places that I have bought from over the years and constantly check to confirm prices. However, when it comes to major purchases, I always deal in person and never leave without checking over everything. If you are dropping over a million won (or more) on something, you want to make sure that everything is there and taken care of.

Brand Name Stores

There are tons of stores around Korea that are similar to the Best Buy’s or Future Shops of the West. These places should be looked into if you are want to get a 100% genuine item with no fuss or hassle. They don’t offer the same amazing discounts or “deals” but what you do get is warranty, service and accountability. The prices almost always are higher than the camera shops around Busan or Seoul but there is a bit a security in that you know what you are getting and they are not going to switch out a lens when they go to “wrap it up for you”

In terms of service, I have always been a fan of Pix-Dix. I know, I know… I shouldn’t admit that. However, the guy in Ulsan has always given me a fair price, granted I haven’t ever dropped major coin there but when I have purchased stuff I have always got a lot of service “goodies” and a comparable price to other stores.  That being said, other places could be different. I you are not the kind that is always looking for the best price and wants to get a camera without any hassle, then you might want to swing in there.

As for the other stores and department stores, you know the drill. Would you buy a $2000 DSLR from walmart? Probably not, so Home Plus may not be such a good idea. I also lump the electronics stores like the Samsung and LG stores in the same bin. Perhaps if you were looking for a fridge they would be good, but not so much for camera stuff.

Smaller Dedicated Camera Stores


These are the places that you want to spend some time in. Get to know the staff and talk with them. These are the places that can give a little more wiggle room on the price and are probably not going to soak you as much either. There is still a slight threat of getting ripped off but not as much as other places that cater to people looking for a deal, like Yongsan.

When you deal with these guys, it is best to find a friend that has gone in there before and knows them or find out where a lot of the photographers go. There will be a reason why people go there. For example, I bought most of my equipment from Ilwang Camera in Busan. This place was introduced to me by some great photographers at the time and I have purchased all of my major gear there.

I deal with them mostly because I can deal with them on the price and I have found that they usually are pretty happy to help out and service things. I do have a grey market canon but after finding that out, it solved the issue of “how did I  get such a great deal?” Has it cause me any problems? Nope, the only difference was that I had to pay 10,000 won to get my sensor cleaned and it saved me a few hundred thousand won.

With these guys it is all about the relationship. They are not just looking to sell to tourists or people looking for  a deal. They are there so sell to photographers. With that being said, they have a great knowledge base and can help you with what you need. Areas like Nampodong have decent amount of these shops and if you ask around they will guide you to the best shop.

These places work best if you know what you are looking for. Have a list of prices that you have found on the gear and see if they will match it. Chances are if they can’t then see if you can get some gear thrown in for service. Having an idea of the price from other stores will make sure that you don’t get soaked.

 

How Not to Get Ripped Off in Korea

  1. Ask around. Internet forums are very popular in Korea and people always voice their opinions especially when it comes to bad service. Choose your advice wisely. If the guys telling you are at a bar and keep saying “I always go there” chances are they have been there once or twice. Also, check their creds. Do they know a lot about cameras? Do they have websites? You can be sure that when you follow advice from people that are well known in the photography scene here in Korea (like David Smeaton and most of the others in my blog roll). They all go there more than once and know a great deal about what they are talking about.
  2. Don’t be afraid to walk away. Nobody is forcing you to buy, so if you feel that there is something shady going on, then leave. Go and check out other places. Don’t worry, the shop will be there if you come back.
  3. Bring a Korean. Like before, a person that speaks the language can help ask questions and check into things. Also, it is better to go with a friend, another set of eyes can help spot things that you might not notice by yourself.
  4. Arm yourself with information. Bring your information with you and have it handy. The more confident you are about the prices and your research the less BS they can try and throw at you.
  5. Don’t start nodding until you are ready. “Yeah, Yeah I like that…” Stuff like that will mark you as an easy target. Ask questions and look through boxes. The harder of sale you are the less they will try to put one over on you. Make them work for their sale.

Common Scams

Common form of scamming in Korea is interesting and sometimes not even noticeable until you have to get your camera serviced. The most common is the “Grey Market” camera which means that it is not a direct import to Korea and thus has no warranty.  These are still the same cameras and generally the same quality but are usually cheaper due to import taxes. The common scam is to sell these as the real deal and jack the price up. I have even heard about shops going so far as to switch boxes (most boxes for Canon will have a gold seal on them) to even make it look like the real thing.

There is also the bait and switch. What I mean is that you buy a certain camera and lens set and they swap out the lens or camera body for a different one when they put it in the box.  This can be solved by checking before you leave or by asking to hold the camera while they get the box and stuff ready.

“That’s Extra” This basically is where they take everything out of the box and offer a price, just for the camera. This is something that I saw firsthand in Yongsan. I was looking a for camera for a friend who just wanted something cheap. We found a really cheap point-and-shoot and went into the shop. All of a sudden there was a “box price” which supposedly included everything in “the box” (also more than the price we were looking at). When I asked about chargers and batteries, they were “extra” I asked about the warranty and that was of course “extra” too. I guess the “box price” was just for the handy “box”  and nothing else.

With all of that being said, I only offer this information from my own experience and nothing more. I offer this advice from purely my own perspective and I am not steering you away from Technomart or Yongsan. If you have any thing to add, feel free to comment below. I would rather people add as much information to this post so that the readers won’t get ripped off in the future.

 

29 Comments

  1. Joe

    December 8, 2011

    Post a Reply

    Hey. Im looking to buy a canon 5d mark 2 this weekend grey market. Ive looked online at danawa.com and found it to be significantly cheaper (1.9 million) oppose to 2.6 million. Do you know where would be the best place for me to look? Im really scared of being conned and would really appreciate it if you could reccomend a legit place that sells grey market canons in Seoul. Thanks so much!

    • Jason Teale

      December 10, 2011

      Post a Reply

      hmm Seoul is not my best area, but DO NOT hit yongsan or the likes of that. For grey market stuff, you best to head to camera shops in Namdemun like Hyosung Camera. I have heard good things about them. I am not sure about cameras but another district to try in Seoul in Chungmuro.

    • Joseph

      December 19, 2011

      Post a Reply

      I think Jason gave the best advice by mentioning danawa.com. That’s really your best tool for assessing what you’re going to have to pay. His second bit of advice of walking around and being able to walk away is difficult as a N. American but excellent.

      Michael Hurt (metropolitician/feetmanseoul) seems to have good luck in Yongsan and even made a podcast walking tour that was really helpful. Personally, I get angry and argue with the shop owners every time I go to Yongsan.

      One thing I would like to add is that prices are usually cheaper the higher up you go in a building and the farther away from the street you get. For example the stores on the main thoroughfare for Namdaemoon will run 5~10% more than the stores crammed into the Seungnyemun shopping center.

      You mentioned that you’re going to get a 5dmk2 and with such an investment, I’m curious why you would risk going for a grey market item. I’ve visited 3~4 different Canon A/S Centers on a dozen or so occasions and have been charged for repairs to item still under US warranty as they were not Canon-Korea. At least, that’s from my experience.

      There’s another tactic that Yongsan shops will employ that may or may not be unethical. They’ll sell used items and list the price on danawa.com which does not distinguish between new and used items. I’m not sure if this is common for cameras but can attest to seeing this first-hand with lenses. I thought I found the steal of the century when I checked danawa and for a lens I wanted and it was marked 200,000 won cheaper than the price quoted to me by the store I usually visit. I called the store in Yongsan and they kept telling me that it’s sold out. Finally, I drove over to the shop and asked when he will receive another shipment. The owner explained to me that he doesn’t know since it’s a used item.

      Also, great article.

  2. Lindsay

    December 3, 2012

    Post a Reply

    I’m having trouble with my Nikon, but I think it might just be a battery issue. It simply won’t turn on. Is there anywhere you would suggest I go that might let me stick a new battery in it to see if that’s the problem? I’m thinking that Nikon shop in the picture above looks pretty good…could you give me directions? Or somewhere else that might be better? Thanks!

  3. Jon Fuhrmann

    May 2, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Hi Jason,

    Thanks for this compilation! I am currently in Busan and wandered round Nampo-dong today, and wandered into a camera shop that had a tidy-looking Nikon D7000 second-hand on the counter.

    Now I know I have to go back and look at it more exactly, but the reason I am posting is that it’s the very shop you have a photo of up there (the Nikon shop with “www.bosincamera.com” on the front). I take it that I can count on not being ripped off here in the strip-the-camera-and-replace-with-cheap-parts sort of way? I know the rest is up to me to make sure, but that’s the sort of thing I couldn’t spot.

    Any help would be much appreciated!

    Cheers,

    Jon

  4. Win

    May 13, 2013

    Post a Reply

    I’m planning to buy a point and shoot cam in Busan. I’m a tourist and I’m a bit scared of being scammed. Where can I find a trusted store with cheap price? Do they speak english?
    Thank you.

  5. Archie

    October 7, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Jason, Thanks for the information.
    I am traveling Busan and Seoul next week and was really looking forward to buy some Rokinon/Samyang lenses.
    Do you have any advice? I am surprised to find that shops may not sell these lenses in Korea (even though its made in Korea)

    • Jason Teale

      October 15, 2013

      Post a Reply

      Yeah I have found the same thing. I have even went so far as to contact the company. The sales rep. in Seoul speaks English

  6. Sergio

    January 31, 2014

    Post a Reply

    Hey, I’m from Mexico and I will be spending my semester abroad at Seoul. I was hoping to buy a Sony NEX 3N over there, can somebody tell me how expensive/cheap this can be?

    • Jason Teale

      February 1, 2014

      Post a Reply

      Hi Sergio, I found the Sony NEX-3N from 417,000 won to 545,000 won. These all came with the 16-50mm lens and various accessories. Check out gmarket which is one of Korea’s largest online shopping malls for this kind of product as it will most likely be the cheapest there.

      • Yam kumarRai

        February 19, 2017

        Post a Reply

        Hi. i want to buy a canon camera. But i don’ know about lence and megapixel. what is the 15 to 80mm lence, and 15 tp105mm lence. and also quality of camera. so please inform me. thanks

        • Jason Teale

          February 19, 2017

          Post a Reply

          This is a really big question. The main thing that you have to think about is “What do you want to shoot with your camera?” also why specifically “canon” because many of major brands are also good. As for lenses, my personal favorite is the 24 to 105 lens. simply because it is a great all around lens but it is a little expensive. What I would do is check out places like Costco and Hi-Mart and see if they have a camera that you like and possibly a package deal. This will give you more equipment for a cheaper price.

  7. Louisbob

    February 6, 2014

    Post a Reply

    Hi Jason,

    I will go in Korea for at least 4 month in 10 days. As I heard cameras are really cheaper in Korea, I’m waiting to be right here to buy one.
    I’m really interested in the OLYMPUS PEN e-pl5. Here in France, it is almost 500€ (730000won or $680) with a 14-42 lens. I just checked on danawa and they show an amazing price : 424900wons oO (http://search.danawa.com/dsearch.php?k1=e-pl5&module=goods&act=dispMain&x=-788&y=-61) Is it the correct price in traditional market in Korea? I mean, if the price is 500000wons or 600000wons, it will be a good price compared to France anyway…

    Best regards

  8. Yagya

    September 3, 2016

    Post a Reply

    Hi Jason, i’ve been followin your feeds for a while now and i like them a lot.
    i’m a student here in korea and i’ve been wantin to buy a camera namely Fujifilm XT1.
    i actually don’t wanna buy a new one but instead try my hands on a second hand camera first.
    i’m not a professional photographer but a serious enthusiast. ^-^
    i know a newer model Fujifilm XT2 is releasing soon,
    so could you have any idea how much price reduction i can expect after the release of the new model.
    And to be clear i’m planning to go to the Namdaemun markets.
    Sorry if this is a strange question,
    Thank you..

    • Jason Teale

      September 12, 2016

      Post a Reply

      HI, to be honest that is a tough question. If you are looking at a larger discount then I would look more at the used market. Some stores may not give that much of a discount especially if the new model is at a higher price point. The key points are a) do you homework before the XT2 comes out and know the price. b) Check around to see if anyone is selling one used and c) check a couple of different stores in the area.

      This way you can have a better idea of the price and then you can communicate that with the salesperson. It might get you a bit of a discount or some extra stuff. However, I would add that banking on a price reduction after a new model comes out is tough.

  9. Rakib

    January 29, 2017

    Post a Reply

    I am looking for a Nikon D5300. I want to know how safe it is to order it on Gmarket or Hi-MArt? I am also confused with the price as Gmarket offering it at 150-200 usd less than the Official stores in EU and USA with 18-55mm kit lens. I seek your kind suggestion.

    Thanks in Advance.

    • Jason Teale

      January 30, 2017

      Post a Reply

      I would caution you against Gmarket as they are individual sellers and if the price seems cheaper, you might not get exactly what you ordered. Also dealing with Gmarket is kind of a headache. Hi-Mart is a well established chain and typically offers some ok prices for cameras. So ordering from them might be ok, however, I would actually go into a Hi-Mart and check out the camera in person.

  10. Laras

    February 27, 2017

    Post a Reply

    hi!
    this is very helpful because i’m planning to go to busan and seoul this year and i want to buy sony a5100. but i have a few questions:
    1. can you tell me the direction to the camera shop in nampo-dong?
    2. and i just checked the hi-mart website, the price is quite good, but i can’t find the location, where in seoul i can find hi-mart?
    3. do hi-mart and camera shop di nampo-dong area accept cash? or i have to pay with credit card?
    4. can we get tax refund from both places?
    thank you so much 🙂

    • Jason Teale

      February 27, 2017

      Post a Reply

      Hi Laras,
      Thanks for stopping by. I hope that I can answer your questions as best as I can.
      1. Here is the information you need
      17-4 Gwangbokdong 1(il)-ga, Jung-gu, Busan
      ilkwang.co.kr
      051-245-8215
      There is also a dedicated sony store there too. Just walk up the street towards the department store.
      2. You can find hi-marts all over the country. If you enter “hi mart Seoul” into google maps, it will give you many locations.
      3. Yes, they accept cash as long as it is Korean currency.
      4. I believe that they do. I know that hi mart does, but you will have to ask at the smaller places.

  11. Jass

    February 28, 2017

    Post a Reply

    Hi Jason,

    My friend from the US will get me a Nikon D5600, so, I’m looking around the net to get the link for her to purchase and had it deliver to me in Seoul. I’m looking for a camera that is already in South Korea so that I don’t have to pay the custom.

    I have already checked Ebay & Amazon and I couldn’t find one that located in South Korea and I’m not sure which ads in Gmarket I should choose(item already in South Korea). As for 11st, when I tried and click checkout, the only payment options are Wire transfer (Korea) and Alipay, Paypal has been disabled since 2015 and there’s no option for Credit Card payment. Please help me.

    Thank you!

    • Jason Teale

      March 1, 2017

      Post a Reply

      That is a tough situation. I would suggest that perhaps your friend wire you the money and you can pick it up here or purchase it on 11st if that is the one that you want. I always caution about buying from those kinds of places simply as it is a huge risk. You are better off getting the money sent to your account here and heading to a brick and mortar if you are particular about the camera and whatnot. However, if you are dead set on online purchases make sure that it is from a registered vendor.

  12. Laras

    March 3, 2017

    Post a Reply

    Thank you for your reply!
    I’m curious about fujifilm, is it easy to find them in camera shop? And do you have any recommendation where to buy fujifilm?

      • Laras

        March 4, 2017

        Post a Reply

        Okay thank you 🙂
        Is it uncommon for koreans? Do they prefer canon and sony more?Hi-mart also just sell only 3 types of fujifilm at the moment.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Dongdaemun History & Culture Park at Night / Photo & Travel Links: May 28, 2011 - [...] Teale posts some very sage advise for those looking to buy a camera in Korea. Be sure to check…
  2. SEOUL Weekly: June 1, Issue No. 479 - [...] Teale posts some very sage advise for those looking to buy a camera in Korea. Be sure to check…
  3. Seoul Days: Biking, Couples, and Picnics | MintyMornings - […] As a foreigner in Korea, you might want to check out The Sajin‘s post on camera shopping in Korea…

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