Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Palika Bazar - The Shrinking Grey-Market

Three years after I purchased my first digital camera from Palika Bazaar in Delhi, I returned last week to look for an exchange. The bazaar had changed – the number of shops selling cameras had shrunk – they now preferred selling DVDs or MP3 players instead. Now only a handful of shops sold “grey-market” digicams and that too at a discount to MRP that had shrunk substantially.

When I was working in the Connaught Place area, Palika Bazaar used to be a regular haunt. I liked to walk in the underground maze, past aggressive salesmen peddling leather belts, fake Ray-Ban glasses and pirated videos,. But I never got around to buying anything electronic. I couldn’t bear losing money over equipment that was not covered by any warranty.

Then came DelhiBird and its numerous recommendations for Nikon equipment from Shop no.269 – Alpha Photos. The salesman here had a compelling argument against warranty papers, “You get only limited warranties for electronic goods. If you buy a camera with bill and warrany and if, god forbid, the camera drops from your hand, it is as good as gone – the warranty is useless…the equipment is not worth repairing anyway”. He had a point. I overcame my jitters and picked up a Nikon Coolpix 5600 for Rs.8500. The same model was selling for Rs.15,000+ at the photo studio’s in CP and Khan Market.

It turned out to be a pretty good bargain.I used it quite intensely for three years, shooting over 6000 pics, in all kinds of situations. It survived trekking trips, marriage functions, boat rides and unkind handling in Jakarta, Bangkok and Japan. I loved the way it fit into my pockets; the ease with which you could charge and replace the batteries (normal AA) and the hundreds of memorable prints that came out of it.

All these years I had been using only a SLR (Nikon F-65) and a point & shoot (Kodak Kroma), both used wet films which had become expensive to process. So it was an amazing convenience to have a digicam in which you could check photo immediately after clicking, rather than wait for the studio to give you the thumb prints.

Even though the Coolpix-5600 become obsolete within an year of purchase, I still could not part with it for better models with bigger LCD, higher megapixels and much more sophisticated CCDs. All was well until last month, during a school reunion at Bangalore, I was using the macro function to photograph a praying-mantis when the shutter cover got jammed. I did manage to repair it with a blower but the camera could no longer focus on anything less than 30cm away.

So the search for a new digicam started. An article in NYT (reprinted in IE) had recommended Fuji Finepix 50D or Canon 850-IS. In the last three years, Nikon compact digicams has slipped far behind Canon, Panasonic and Fuji. But in Palika Bazaar, nobody stocked Finepix 50D; only one shop (CamZone, M8), had 850-IS but they were asking for Rs.16500 (with bill & warranty) in Palika Bazar. Most shopkeepers lamented that the grey-market had been steamrolled by the OEMs. Many shops had 860IS, 960IS, etc., but the starting price was still above Rs.15000.

Yesterday, we finally picked up a Canon 860-IS from …Electronic Hut (No.15, central hall) for Rs. 12,000. This was the only shop that was willing to reduce the price to Rs. 14000 and to pay .2000 for the old camera.

We loved the black and silver styling, the large LCD and the super-fast response time, but we'll miss the optical viewfinder and the ubiquitous AA batteries. Hope this one lasts like the 5600.

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