Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tell Nikon You Want to Have the Option of Having Your Cameras Serviced Locally!

As a Nikon professional owner and user, I just signed the following letter. Nikon has announced that they will stop selling parts to independent repair facilities after July 13th, forcing you to use either the Nikon Service Center or a Nikon Authorized Center. This is like telling you that you can only have your car serviced at the dealership. I invite you to read and do the same at this link:

There's a firestorm running through the community of independent camera repair technicians after Nikon Inc. sent a letter to them on Monday, January 16, 2012, notifying them that the company will no longer supply repair parts to anyone except 23 Nikon authorized repair facilities (NARS), after July 13, 2012.  The stated reason is "the technology underlying today's cameras is more complex than it has ever been, and in view of the specialization of technology as well as the specialized tools that are now necessary to perform repairs on this complex equipment..."  Nikon states that they will not sell parts directly to consumers, either, so if you need a rubber grip, a battery door or a rubber zoom ring, your access to these simple parts will be restricted.  (Update: Nikon retail dealers received the same notice on February 1, 2012)

The total ban on sales of parts to independent repair technicians or consumers has nothing to do with technology, training or even the quality of repairs.  Few repairs require specialized software, specialized tools or specialized training that are out of the scope of knowledge that trained, qualified independent repair professionals already have.  If specialized software, tools or knowledge were required for the installation of specific parts, it would make sense to restrict only those, not every screw and spring in the inventory.
While you might think that only a factory service center or NARS can provide competent repair, you would be wrong.  Most repairs going to Nikon's factory service center are sub-contracted out, some even going across the border to Mexico.  Some repairs are good and some repairs are shoddy -- on both sides of the fence.  (Check among others and read for yourself.  Reports from the Better Business Bureau suggest Nikon's record on repairs handled through its own facility are not as good as most independent technicians. )

No, this is not quality control.  The real story here is restraint of trade.  Nikon has been squeezing independents for years with increasingly poor parts service, poor communication, and long backorders.

What does the restriction of parts availability mean for Nikon equipment owners?  If you happen to live near one of the 23 Nikon authorized repair facilities (NARS) throughout the United States, you're in luck.  But what about the majority who are not near a NARS facility?  What about the others who use a local qualified repair professional of their choice?  It means access to repairs will become problematic, at best.  It means consumer choice and convenience in accessing repair will be reduced.  If you are a professional relying on your Nikon equipment, you might not be able to obtain fast repairs from your reliable local independent photo technician.  Repairs may be more costly since competition in the field of aftermarket service is reduced.  It also means that the value of used equipment may be reduced.

By comparison, Canon does not have this policy and does an excellent job of supplying independent repair facilities with the parts they need for fast repairs.  Are Canon cameras so much less technical and easy to repair compared to Nikon?  No, they are not.

Members of the Society of Photo-Technologists ( ), which has represented independent camera repair shops for more than 50 years, are asking everyone who has any interest in Nikon to urge the company to rethink this new policy.

In addition to signing this petition, please send a note to the president of Nikon Inc, Mr. Yasuyuki Okamoto, 1300 Walt Whitman Road, Melville, NY 11747-3064, letting him know that restricting parts availability to a select group of 24 Nikon authorized repair stations is bad for customer service, bad for customer good-will, and bad for business in general.  You can also phone Nikon at 631-547-4200 during regular business hours to voice your opinion.

Thanks for reading!

- David Grupa

Monday, February 20, 2012

Happy 110th Birthday, Ansel Adams!

February 20th marks the anniversary of the birthday of legendary landscape photographer, Ansel Adams. Most everyone associated with photography as a profession or an art form has at least heard his name or seen his magnificent works.

Like many of us in the profession, Adams was bitten early in life. He first visited Yosemite National Park as an early teen; during the trip his father gave him a Kodak Brownie Box Camera. The next year, he revisited Yosemite on his own, this time with a better cameras and a tripod. That winter while working part-time for a San Francisco photo finisher, he learned to love the darkroom as well.

In the 1930s, Ansel Adams became a vocal supported of preserving the wilderness; his photographs and testimony before the US Congress played a vital role in designating the Sequoia and Kings Canyon areas as national parks.

"Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space. I know of no sculpture, painting or music that exceeds the compelling spiritual command of the soaring shape of granite cliff and dome, of patina of light on rock and forest, and of the thunder and whispering of the falling, flowing waters. At first the colossal aspect may dominate; then we perceive and respond to the delicate and persuasive complex of nature."
Ansel Adams, The Portfolios Of Ansel Adams
His lasting legacy includes helping to elevate photography to an art comparable with painting and music, and equally capable of expressing emotion and beauty. As he reminded his students, "It is easy to take a photograph, but it is harder to make a masterpiece in photography than in any other art medium." (Wikipedia)

Today, on the 100th anniversary of the birth of this talented artist and photographer, each of us in the profession should pause for a moment and reflect on the beauty and importance of what we do and how Ansel Adams has been - even in a small way - an inspiration to so many photographers across the world.

- David Grupa

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I Borrowed This Idea to Help Make a Point About Shoot-and-Burn Photographers

Every year, my local community center puts on a pretty impressive Bridal Expo, targeting area brides and inviting vendors from the wedding industry to participate. Even though I don't do a lot of these shows, I like this one because it keeps me visible in my community and the cost of the actual booth is very reasonable.

As with many Bridal Expos, there are couples who are are there to "kick the tires", as well as other couples who are pretty serious about planning an event. There are also maids-of-honor, sisters, friends, parents and of course, a few reluctant grooms. (I still think bridal fairs should have an open bar and a big screen TV just to give these poor guys something to do!)

My displays consist of finished albums and large canvas prints, with a few smaller books and some non-wedding couple and family images sprinkled in for a wider base of appeal (just in case you're the MOH or girlfriend who has a family or just wants to update their image with their "significant other".) It's always good to let prospective clients know you do more than just weddings.

There are drawing forms on the table for a series of prizes; in additional to the basic information (name, date, address, email and phone) I also add a few important check-boxes:

    - I have immediate need for your service; please call to schedule a studio visit!

    - I am still in need of a wedding photographer and would like more information.

    - I'm not interested in your services, but please let me know if I'm a winner.

    - If I'm a winner, I would prefer the cash value of the item instead.

My best prospects are going to come from #1, with some potential for those who checked #2. Obviously, I'm not going to waste time and money marketing to those who check the #3 or #4 boxes.

One of the other things you can do after you've had your drawing is send out "Second Prizes". I will often send out a $100 studio gift card to every attendee who fit into the #1 and #2 category. This gives them a little added incentive to call the studio and schedule an appointment; people hate to walk away from a gift card with any kind of substantial value.

Even though my business model is selling completed albums and printed images, I also get my share of people who say "we just want the images on a disk." Earlier this week, I saw a post come across on Facebook that was too good to pass up. It showed an old floppy disk with a CD label that said "What if this was the only way you could view your grandparents' wedding photographs?" Brilliant! How many hours have I spent extolling the virtues of professionally printed images to couples and telling them that any type of media - CDs, DVDs, thumb drives, even hard drives - is fragile and permanent storage and long-term accessibility can be questionable.

So . . . off to eBay I went to find someone selling old 5 1/4" floppy disks (I don't even have a computer that takes these, so I tossed all of my old ones). I also ordered some business-card sized stickers from my lab to put on each disk. I will hand these out to brides who request info this weekend, as well as displaying one on my table.

I think it gets the point across quite well.

- David

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Do You Really Need the Latest, Greatest Camera Body?

With Nikon's announcement of the D4 and D800 series bodies, photographers everywhere are drooling over this latest morsel and trying to find a way to fit it into their camera bag and checkbook. The same thing happens when Canon introduces new product.

This has been a long-standing argument with photographers; should I buy the more advanced camera body, or should I buy a better lens?

Here's my 2 cents worth (c'mon, you knew it was coming!)

Unless you're working with a very low-end consumer grade DSLR, I'm going to tell you to buy the better lens every time. When we dealt with film, I always said "the body is simply the film holder and advance mechanism. The glass is where the difference is made." I stand by that advice with digital.

Think about it like this: would you go out and invest in a Porsche but then decide "ummm, I can't afford the really good tires, but I think I have some at home I took off the mini-van." Are you nuts?!?! You now have a high-end sports car and you will NOT get the expected performance out of it with crappy bald tires. You can, however, put better tires on the vehicle you currently drive and feel the improvement in handling, cornering and even the smoother ride immediately. Is it going to be as sexy as the sports car? Probably not, but it will still get you to the desired destination while being safe and comfortable as well.

The same is true in our industry. Do you really need the latest, greatest camera body? Probably not. Sure, you may be giving up extra megapixels and not have full-frame capability, but as long as you're not photographing "professionally" with consumer-grade gear that's designed for hobbyist applications (car snobs refer to it as driving a "total POS") you will benefit more from getting better glass first. That WILL give you a noticeable improvement in your images immediately!

Whether you're a Canon or Nikon user, the coatings used in the production of better lenses will give you a distinct advantage over the ones used in the "good enough" kit lens that came with your camera. Go ahead and upgrade the body if you really need the new hardware (especially if your camera says "Rebel" on it), but investing in good quality lenses will NEVER be a mistake.

- David Grupa

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What's Hiding in Your Mailbox?

We've all had it happen. You get a vendor or client who says something like "Didn't you get my email?" or "I sent you a message on Facebook!" It didn't show up when we clicked on our mail, but they swear they sent it.

Really? Are they just making up excuses?

Possibly not.

Mail services such as Yahoo mail and Google's Gmail employ some pretty intensive filters in order to prevent "spam" mails from reaching you. Since many of these unsolicited messages are sent from free email services, some clients may also be blocked or sent into the the "Junk Mail" folder. Depending on the virus scanner used on your system, this may also filter email which have a "suspicious" appearance. Unfortunately, these scanners are not 100% accurate.

Make it a habit to check your "Junk Mail" folder on a regular basis to make sure you're not missing an inquiry from a current or prospective client.

You're thinking "I already check my junk mail on a regular basis; this isn't news." If you do, great! You're a step ahead of the game. If not, you may wish to check that box more frequently.

Here's one that came as news to me, however!

On Facebook, click the "Messages" link on the left side of your home page. When you do, a small link opens underneath it that says "other". Clicking that may reveal messages from people who you haven't friended, or messages from groups you have joined. I found no less than 6 messages from colleagues and clients who I had not previously friended . . . some over a month old!

Fortunately, you can keep yourself from looking like an individual who doesn't pay attention to or return their messages simply by checking these areas on a regular basis.

Until next time . . .

- David Grupa