Camera Gear and Loyalty

As a newspaper photographer, out in the community, I am frequently asked for advice on camera gear. I never mind the questions, but I also never know exactly how to help people.

I can easily tell them all about my gear. I am a Nikon photographer (who started out with Canon — so I can say excellent things about both brands). I am a digital photographer and would NEVER go back to film, but I started on film, and I still have my father’s old Canon AE-1, which was my first camera. All of my lenses are f2.8. This is a journalism thing. Photojournalists have often been asked to shoot in low, crappy light. Digital is making that easier and easier to do, but ages ago when you were shooting film and desperately hoping that you could stop your action with a 250 shutter speed and pushing the film from 3200 to 6400 that f2.8 was an absolute essential. It is still the industry standard. And as a result a lot of journalists, myself included, shoot mostly at f2.8 because we love the low depth of field.

Currently I shoot with the Nikon D750. This is true in both my work for the Daily Inter Lake and my wedding and family photography. It is fast, produces great quality images,has a lovely color balance, and the speed is perfect for fast-action events like weddings or breaking news. I had purchased the D800 when it was new, but had to let it go because even though the file sizes are bigger it is WAY too slow for me. I was going completely nuts trying to photograph weddings the way I normally do and constantly feeling like I had to wait for the camera to catch up. I hated it. It’s a great camera. I know others who have it and love it, but it did not work well for me.

That’s my gear. But most of this information really isn’t applicable to someone who only wants a good camera to buy for their son's graduation present or to carry on personal hikes around Glacier National Park. This is too much camera for a lot of people. I understand that. But my struggle with gear advice is, I only know what to look for at my level.

So for years, when someone has asked me about cameras I give everyone the same advice. Call Murphy’s Camera. Murphy’s is a camera store in Lexington, Kentucky (they are a branch of the main store in Louisville, but I have never been to the main store). When I was in college and falling in love with photography I quickly advanced past what that old AE-1. I am so blessed because my parents took me up to Murphy’s and we bought my first round of serious camera gear. They didn’t buy this for me, but they knew I was committed and they wanted to support that. They co-signed my very first loan. That was in 1997. I am still a loyal customer of Murphy’s Camera in Lexington (even though since then I have lived in Arizona, Kansas, Georgia, Missouri, Canada, Washington DC and now Montana).

The lady I work with most often is Annette. A few years ago she and her husband and some of their friends went on a cross-country motorcycle trek which included Montana and they stopped in to Kalispell to visit with me. She’s not just my sales rep, she’s my friend. I trust her. And anyone who wants to know what to buy, I tell them to call her up. 859.255.1012. This is the only Kentucky phone number I have memorized. I have friends and family saved in my cell phone, but this number is the only number I can rattle off without thinking about it. And I always tell people, call them up, talk with a rep, tell them what level you are at, what you want to do with the camera, what results you are hoping for, and they will be able to recommend a camera that is right for you. I can’t do that. Murphy’s can.

This week I found myself with one more reason to be loyal, a really lovely surprise... A few weeks ago I bought a new D750. I’ve needed it for a while and I’m thrilled to have it as I am preparing for wedding season. Within weeks of purchase Nikon announced a sale on the D750 and some other cameras. Honestly, I was a little bit bummed about this. If I had only waited I would have saved almost $400. That’s a lot of money. But I wasn’t angry at the store — it’s not like they knew (Nikon doesn’t warn sales reps about things like that). So I just chalked it up to luck-of-the-draw and moved on. But then I got a call from Annette. Murphy’s has a 30-day price matching program (not sure I have the terminology right on this). But basically, they have refunded the difference between the sale price and what I paid.

Now, in all honesty some of the big camera stores probably have similar policies. But I would have to know about it, and I would have to be the one pressuring them. Annette caught the mistake and did the work for me. The sale also included a vertical grip for the camera so that is being shipped to me now. That’s customer service and you don’t get that at the big warehouses.

One final note on my loyalty to this store. I will never forget the last time I was in Murphy’s. This was fifteen years ago. I was living in Arizona and had come home for Christmas break. My father had died earlier that year and I decided to take the money he left me and make a major switch in terms of my gear. I was going to go fromfilm to digital and from Canon to Nikon. I purchased a D1X (the best digital camera at the time) as well as three lenses. All total I was spending around $11,000 in one day (still one of the most expensive single days of my life).

I lived in Flagstaff, Arizona at this point in my life and I could have easily purchased gear from a camera store I rented from in Phoenix, or B&H, or whomever. But I wanted to come home to Murphy’s and I wanted my mother with me because this was a big deal for me. The store manager, a man named Don, overheard me working with Annette and made a point of coming over to say thank you. He appreciated that I would choose to come back to Murphy’s for something like this and he made a point of showing that appreciation. My mother was so impressed and so touched by his kindness. Don and Annette and the whole store made quite an impression on her. We talked about it on the ride home and a few times more before her death. She liked that I had people like that helping me with some very expensive decisions. I think more than anything else, the reason I am loyal to them, is because of how they treated her.

So, if you are ever looking for gear, either for yourself or for a loved one, I personally recommend talking with a sales rep. There are so many options out there, it feels like too much for me in terms of research. I get overwhelmed at all the choices. So, I trust the people at Murphy's to point me in the right direction. In twenty years with Murphy’s Camera I have never once regretted giving them my loyalty. They’ve earned it.