Be Careful of Cheaping Out

As the camera makers more and more emphasize their higher end products, I find more and more users attempting to mitigate costs by "cheaping out." 

Nowhere is that as obvious as with batteries. Nikon’s official EN-EL15C is US$69. You can (as I write this) find third-party versions as low as US$14 (coupons are involved). That’s a pretty big difference, and if you believe the Internet that you’ll need a large quiver of said batteries to keep your Z8 going all day (one extra should do), it looks like you'll save a lot of money buying third-party.

The first question you should ask is simple: why are the manufacturers’ batteries so expensive? Yes, profits are part of the issue. However, having (literally) having been burned by lithium fires, all the camera manufacturers these days are doing testing and mitigation out the wazoo. Shipping any battery that isn’t perfectly sealed, carefully QA’d, and which uses less than premium parts inside becomes a class action suit liability, as Sony and a few others have discovered over the years. 

The company who “makes” the US$14 batteries I note above is somewhere in NYC (the Web site that comes up in Google if you type the company name on the product doesn’t identify where, but they’re in Brooklyn), has limited support hours (27 a week), and has a poorly functioning Web site (menus don’t work, but search does). When you drill down, you find a long page of boilerplate privacy information (which includes not filled in “INSERT xx” statements!), and a terms of service agreement that applies to even your looking at their Web site. But I couldn't find any warranty information.  

While I don’t have any experience with those US$14 batteries, my experience with other third-party batteries is highly mixed. Some don’t live up to the mAh markings on the battery, some seem to lose their ability to charge fairly quickly, and I’ve seen a number of them where the case starts bulging, which is a clear sign you need to safely dispose of that battery, and soon. I have not encountered any of these things with camera maker supplied batteries.  

But the same thing applies to a lot of other accessories, as well. The next big offender is storage cards. An SD card you can put in your Z8 is as low as US$4 on Amazon at the moment (though claimed to be UHS-I, not II). Would I put that card in my Z8? No. Nor do I put 85 octane fuel in a vehicle that really requires 90+. But worse still, people believe that they already have a storage card that works and will just use that. I’ve written for some time that you should buy new cards when you buy a new camera. Why? Because storage cards wear out. Specifically, the NAND gates used in the cards’ chips all have a maximum number of writes that can be made to them (reads don’t have the same problem, so a card can look just fine as you browse it, but not work so well when you try to write to it). 

The next biggest cheaping out offense comes with lenses. I’m amused when someone buys a US$4000 camera and only wants to use a 70-year old lens that wasn’t all that good 70 years ago. Again using Nikon as an example, I’m not overly bothered by the fact that older F-mount, non-AF-S lenses won’t autofocus on a Z System. With only a couple of exceptions, I moved on from those lenses a long time ago because better ones came along. Yes, I get it that you paid a lot of money for those lenses “back in the days,” but have you looked at their value lately? There’s a reason why an excellent copy used 50mm f/1.8D sells for US$60 these days (that’s including dealer profit). Given how good the 24-70mm f/4 S kit lens is, it obsoletes a whole range of older lenses some people are holding onto, particularly since they’re not using those older lenses at f/1.8 (you need to stop that 50mm down to about f/4 before it gets into my excellent category in the center; the 24-70mm does that wide open).

One of my seminal articles published just after the turn of the century was about how it didn’t pay to try to “sneak up on” getting a good tripod. People would buy pods that didn’t really support their gear well and ended up with bent legs while traveling, then move one small step up and try again, eventually spending more on tripods than if they had just purchased a good one in the first place.

I’m a strong believer in buying quality in the first place. If you can’t afford quality, don’t buy until you can afford it.

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