Camera Shopping in Seoul

I have a new toy.

I have a new toy.

I keep collecting hobbies as my list of pursuits continues to grow, and photography is the newest realm of dabbling. My interest in photography actually began in college during my photojournalism classes when I got to play with some fun toys. As part of the class, the college issued me a Nikon D100 for a semester — my first exposure to a digital SLR. It only got better in the higher-level course when we had an arsenal of nicer lenses — such as a 70-300 mm telephoto or an 8 mm fish eye — at our disposal.

While I didn’t develop into a strong photographer, my interest in the visual arts continued to manifest in my graphic design. Photography took a backseat to Illustrator and InDesign, but it never left. Fast forward to now, a time when I’m making a little extra money and DSLRs are a little cheaper abroad — especially after the exchange rate. The little shutterbug whispering in my ear combined with my penchant for expensive things  led me to this question: Where does one go to get a camera in Seoul?

How to get there

It’s impossible to find anything around Seoul at a decent price without knowing where to go. It’s not like the States, where you can peruse the Sunday ads and walk into Best Buy and match the best price you find. The area in Seoul where you can find the best deals on cameras is in the Namdaemun Market. After doing some homework and ultimately deciding on a Canon 40D (but not before also considering the Nikon D80 and Nikon D90), I got directions from friends who had been there before and jumped on the subway to the Hoehyon stop on line 4.

Exit 5 of the Hoehyon subway station put me right into the Namdaemun Market fray.

Exit 5 of the Hoehyon subway station put me right into the Namdaemun Market fray.

After leaving the station via exit 5, I immediately turned right, putting me on a path through the heart of Namdaemun Market — a dizzying array of lights and merchants. Although the street looks like a complete mess on first sight, the storefronts and food stands are rather organized for an open-air market. The straight-line walk through the market is about 200 meters long and ends at a major cross-street. There will be a sign that indicates “Gate 2” of the Namdaemun market. There I turned left toward all the camera stores were — the strip of sidewalk lit by gigantic “Canon” and “Nikon” signs — and began my quest to find my Canon 40D. This is where the fun part begins.

There's a lot of stuff going on here other than cameras.

Namdaemun Market: There is a lot more going on here than camera shopping.

How to find the right price

The best/worst part of shopping in Korea is that — especially in markets like Namdaemun — prices are often subject to haggling. The best rule is to check out as many stores as possible. Not only will prices vary between stores, but some vendors will be more willing to throw in a freebie or two to keep you coming back. On the other side of that coin, there are also vendors looking to cheat a wide-eyed foreigner. Here are some tips on how to get the best deal for your camera:

Know what you want

I knew what camera and lens I wanted long before I arrived at any store. There are several reasons for this. First, while most of the stores speak decent English, any possible language barrier can be overcome with the make and model of the camera and/or the length and brand of the lens. Next, nothing perks the ears of a dishonest vendor more than the sound of an uninformed shopper. The online resources are endless, but sites that proved helpful to me were The Imaging Resource and Digital Photography Review. Along with knowing what I wanted, I also made sure to find prices on sites such as Danawa (a Korean site that can search in English) to use as benchmarks in haggling. Their prices are always negotiable, so they’ll try to sell the novice buyer an expensive price as a good deal — usually by throwing in some useless freebies that cost them nothing. Also, beware of anyone willing to sell you something at an absurdly low price. Odds are that they’re giving you an inferior product, such as a used camera being sold as “new.”

Be patient

Never buy from the first store you walk into. Get quotes from as many stores as time allows. These stores, all crammed on the same street, are competing with each other for your patronage, so they’ll usually match reasonable prices from another store. Some vendors pressured me to buy from them immediately, telling me they were giving me the best price. This shouldn’t happen; the most reputable sellers understand the process behind making a big investment in a DSLR camera and will let you look and leave as much as you need. It will be very apparent which stores are looking for the quick sale. You can use this greed against them if you carry cash and threaten to leave for another store; they’ll often cave to your asking price, but make sure you’re getting the exact product you’re searching for and nothing less. Don’t be afraid to say “no” if you don’t like what you see.

Pay in cash — lots of it

Vendors will give you the best prices when you pay in cash for two reasons. First, cash transactions cannot be tracked like credit card transactions. Some vendors use this to their personal advantage when it comes to tax season — maybe dishonest, but it benefits the buyers. Second, credit card companies charge the vendors a fee for each transaction, and that fee is passed down to the buyer. It usually runs around an extra five percent of the total, but on a 1 millon won purchase, that’s an extra 50,000 won. If you make a large purchase, vendors will usually find creative ways to give you a package discount and/or give you some free stuff. I bought a Canon 40D body with an 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, lens hood, 4GB SanDisk Compact Flash memory card, extra battery, and bag, totalling nearly 1.1 million won. In addition to that, the vendor gave me two cloth camera wraps, a lens cloth, rubber lens blower, and UV filter as “service.”

Where to buy

If you get a business card that looks like this, beware of that seller.

If you get a business card that looks like this, beware of that seller.

As I’ve said before, there are good shops and there are bad shops. One store immediately agreed to my lowball price (I just wanted to get negotiations going) and tried to sell me a camera that he said was new, even though it was clearly used. The name of the store is Sung Do, and as soon as I asked to see the camera, he asked whether I had cash and tried to pressure me to buy that night. The store from which I eventually bought my 40D, Hyosung Camera, was very helpful from the beginning. The most helpful thing about this store is that there is a fluent English-speaking employee pretty much there to help out any foreigners. His name is Paul, and he studied in Australia for more than seven years. If he doesn’t have the answer, he’ll find someone who does. If you manage to wander into that store, mention that Daniel sent you, and he’ll get a good chuckle out of it. He’ll definitely give you things like blowers and lens cloths if you need them.

I bought my camera at this store.

I bought my camera at this store.

I’m excited to learn more about my new toy, especially since I’ve only shot with Nikons before this. Hopefully dropping a pretty penny will be incentive enough for me to teach myself some photography basics and improve whatever skills I might’ve acquired in college — and eventually add a new dimension to my young blog.

What are your tips/suggestions/experiences?

Author’s note: I’m in no way affiliated with Hyosung Camera or any other camera store in Seoul. My recommendation of Hyosung comes only from my positive experiences there, and I receive no compensation for doing so.

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30 Comments

Filed under Travel Tips

30 responses to “Camera Shopping in Seoul

  1. Amazing review. I felt like I was there Daniel. Very cool and have fun with your new toy. Happy Thanksgiving too!

  2. robert

    hi daniel,

    did you get problems in letting your new 40d in? or did you have to pay taxes?

  3. Unicorn

    hi Daniel,

    i will be seoul in a week later and is thinking to get my New DC overthere, after read your article, i will definitely check those camera stores in Namdaemun Market, I just wondering, if i back to my country, do i have to pay Tax for my carmena in the Airport? many thanks.

    best regards,
    ewing

  4. I don’t know the answer to that. I haven’t been back to the States, yet. I would imagine if it’s for you, they probably wouldn’t ask if you have it out of the packaging.

  5. Tim

    Hi Daniel,

    I am also here in Seoul teaching English. I stumbled upon your site searching “good places to buy camera lenses in Seoul” on Google. I haven’t had a chance to really hunt for some good shops selling camera equipment and lenses, but I will definitely take a look at the store and area you mentioned.

    How do the prices in Seoul compare to the States?

    Tim

  6. @Tim: The prices can be looked at one of two ways. First, if you look at the prices relative to their settings (1,000 won has about the same spending power in Korea as $1 in the States), then the prices are pretty similar. However, if you look at it through the exchange rate (currently about 1,300 won to $1), then gear is a little bit cheaper here in Korea.

    Also, it’s pretty easy to find used lenses here. You just have to know exactly what you’re looking for and what you’re willing pay. Like I said in my post, there are some shady dealers in Korea.

  7. Prashant

    Hi Daniel,

    You must be a very patient photographer :). I am amazed to read your micro-observations.

    Sending some queries as I am planning to be there for an year (Nov.1st week’ 2009).

    I am basically looking for Canon EOS 5D-Mark II.

    1) Would I get a good discount during festive season (ThanksGiving or Christmas or New Year)?
    2) If I buy any lenses from China thr’ Business-websites like: http://www.alibaba.com... do I have to pay something to clear ‘customs’ for electronics items??

    3) Do you know any place where I can buy Refurbished (but 100% reliable) Cameras/ Lenses?

    4) Can you provide any link for buying used-lenses (100% reliable)?

    Thanks a tonn in advance and if you are still there, hope to get in touch with you.

    • Hi,
      I’ve been shooting for a little while now, but I left Korea about six weeks ago. As for your questions:

      1. There aren’t really any seasonal discounts at the store I mentioned. The prices don’t really change often. They’ll change only to reflect the manufacturer’s pricing schemes.

      2. I never bought anything online while I was in Korea, so I can’t answer that for sure. I had a friend buy a camera from Hong Kong, and I don’t think she mentioned anything about duties. I’m not sure about it, though.

      3/4. I don’t know of any places that sell refurbished lenses. I always bought my used lenses from the store in this post. They’ll let you take some shots in the store if you bring your body in (or they’ll let you borrow a used body if you don’t have it with you). They’re usually pretty honest about the conditions of the lenses. I’ve only bought two used lenses from them, but they’ve both worked quite nicely. As for links, like I said before, I didn’t shop online while I was in Korea.

  8. Hi, I will be in Korea next week. I am looking for a ballhead made in Korea. The brand name is Markins. Do you know by any chance where to buy?

    • I’ve never bought in any area other than the Namdaemun area I described above. Even then I’m not sure they have it there, but I’m sure they can point you in the right direction.

  9. Prashant

    Hi Daniel,

    I’m back with couple of quick queries:
    Can you please share ur inputs about ‘Yongsan Electronics Market’?

    My concern is… if I am looking forward to spend ONLY for a *New* camera… where can I get a *Genuinely New* camera… Namdemaun OR Yongsan???

    Is there any way to check if its genuine?

    Thanks in Advance
    -Prashant

    • You can get a new camera at either place. It’s just riskier at Yongsan. I know they treat foreigners differently and are more likely to scam foreigners than native Koreans.

      As for Namdaemun, if you’re not careful, like it says in my post, you can get scammed, too. Some of the things you should look for in a new camera are a warranty card, the correct neck strap, and a brand new battery with no scratches on the conductors.

      Just make sure you know exactly what you’re looking for in either location.

  10. Prashant J. Soni

    Hi Daniel,

    Firstly, thanks a tonn for all important tips. I had been to Yongsan and Namdemaun. Things didn’t look any different from ur description!

    Yongsan was a-bit cheaper but its extremely hard to tell which camera is new OR the used one.
    Namdemaun was far better. U can rely on their words.
    Had been to Hyosung Cameras and met Paul. He is a gem-seller who understands art-of-selling, gave us lots of accessories at throwaway price with Nikon D40x.

    Ur name worked magic there :). Thanks for the inputs.

    Even, I took latest pics of the shop and Paul. If you want to add them up on this blog I can send u across. My ID is> prashant DOT soni AT gmail.

    New year’s wishes.

  11. Himanshu

    Hi Daniel,

    I too purchased a camera today from the same store , Hyosung Camera. They are really helpful people. No Discount. Fixed Price. Fleunt English. This is what i got in this shop and a nice camera. I’m not a great photographer so i went for a Canon SX 1 IS. Only this shop had that camera because it is quite old model now but i liked it so wanted to buy this only. Your directions are awesome to reach that place. Take right from exit 5 , 200 meter walk, sign board with Gate 2 and then take right took me the store……… Thanks a lot….

  12. Ram

    Hi Daniel,
    Thanks for the info. I will be attending a conference in August 2010. I too use the Canon 40D. However, from the photostream I do not think you are a beginner. As budget is tight, would the store you mentioned have used lens (wide angle)?
    Thanks

  13. ruby

    Hi…I am planning to spend in Korea for summer.
    And I really want to buy Canon 40D or Canon 50D there, could you tell me the price they are right now?
    So, I will know how much should I prepare before leaving.
    Your help will be a great help for me.
    Have a nice day 😉

  14. Ruby

    Hi.. are you still in Korea?
    I will be there in 2 more weeks for vacations. While I am there, I would like to buy camera ^o^

    Would you happen to know how much does the Canon EOS 40D and Canon EOS 50D cost lately?
    I would like to prepare the money from here ;p
    I searched in Naver.com, sometimes I saw it in cheap price. But because I don’t understand the language, I don’t know why are they so cheap.
    T_T

    Your help will help me alot.

  15. hey, this was very helpful, im in korea right now and have been trying to find a good place to pick up a Nikon D7000. your story has been so helpful to me, and i will probebly go down to Hyosung camera and check it out. Thanks.

  16. I am activelly serching for few rare lenses and it takes time to find good ones. Korea seems to be a paradise for zoom lenses, primes require a bit longer search. I will be going there for the 3. time.

    Namdaemun is a great place if you have the nerves for spending at least 15 min in each shop.

    A good tip is to polish your Korean if you live here and share as much info as you can…I got 150 000 Won price down after they realized I am really not a tourist. As said in the review cash payments are welcomed. Know exactly what you want!

    Check out for these stores, prices are negotiable and the sortiment is much bigger than what they show online.

    http://www.ukbulcamera.co.kr (very nice staff)
    http://www.ilovecamera.net
    http://www.yesdica.co.kr ( very pushy and aggressive seller)
    http://www.whixcom.com ( mainly New Canon lenses)

  17. This is great. Thanks for posting. I want a new DSLR and have been dreading the thought of Yongsan.

  18. Ali

    hi Daniel,
    I am a student in Korea…looking for an upgrade to my ancient Yashica…I came across your post…and will definitely check this place out…I just wanted to know whether Canon cameras available in Korea are manufactured in Janpan or in Korea…because in some Korean shopping sites, the location for manufacture is labelled as Canon Korea/Japan…so was a little bit confused there….Also, what is your opinion regarding the canon G12…hoping to hear from you…
    thanks..

  19. I took your advice and went to these stores looking for a replacement battery for my point and shoot. All very helpful and prices did range wildly.

    Unfortunately, they didn’t have any REAL canon batteries only imitations. But the imitations were very very cheap. I want to look up more about them but I forgot the brand name. Would you by chance know what I’m talking about? any help would be much appreciated.

  20. Akram hsiahm

    Hi Daniel,

    I read this article few months back before arriving to Korea and i had high expectations in this shop u mentioned. But unfortunately, i went today, but i didn’t ask for Paul to see how it goes !! , and guess what … it was the most expensive shop over there !! i was so surprised with their prices !! but the only thing is that they provide Korean warranty .. i know that’s good but i’ll be leaving Korea in a few days and probably won’t be here again for the rest of my life .. so i dont know what to do ?? seeking some advice and Thanks buddy 🙂

  21. Rejith

    Hi Daniel,
    Thank you so much for this blog and it gave me enough confidence to go around and purchase a couple of good Canon lenses!! After many years also, this information was quite helpful.
    I guess Paul left Hyosung camera since nobody could recognize that name.
    I had done my homework for almost 6 months on which gadget to buy and at what price before making this purchase (EFS 17-55 f2.8 and EF17-40f4L). Let me brief my experience and learning too:
    1. Prices are very much comparable to the US or even cheaper. I got the best deal among the US, Japan, Korea and India considering USD/ KRW/ JPY-INR conversion.
    2. Almost all shops have similar prices and most of them have refurbished and used pieces for around three-fourth of the new gear price.
    3. Important to note that some of the shops cheat by trying sell refurbished or old lens claiming it is new one.

    I bought from the authorized exclusive shop of Canon finally. ( 5th or 6th shop right turn from Gate 2 board). The shop is in ground floor and 4th floor is Canon service center.

    Very very important points to note when any one buy a brand new lens from these shops:
    1. there is nothing like grey market now in Namdemaun market. it is used/refurbished product.
    2. people even cheat keeping old lens in new packets with Korea warranty seal.
    3. Make sure the serial number written on box, warranty card and on the lens are matching. this is the only way to beat cheating.
    4. They never open and show you an unpacked box piece under warranty.
    5. The lens/ camera inside the box will be wrapped by a thin transparent polythene bag. this will be very clean without any folding other than the packing areas. This wrapper will have too many rumples if it was opened before.
    6. Canon service center staff will help to identify it is a refurbished or old product by checking their system and through a professional visual inspection.
    Hope, this note helps all folks who are planning to buy camera/ lenses from Seoul.

    Regards,
    Rejith

  22. Hi Daniel
    I am searching for Nikon LEMIX and Nikon ANAM items (accessories, lenses, brochures, straps, compact cameras etc)
    Coming to Seoul is difficult, as very far andexpensive, so I would like to find some one speaking English that could search for me in the various shops, and eventualy buy and ship (all expenses paid)
    Any idea ?

    please mail me

  23. Hong An

    Thanks for your tips. I am going to Seoul to go to University and I will look for a camera for myself.

  24. Aniket

    @Polina I visited yesdica on Sat and I felt that owner is nice, Not pushy at all. He replaced battery in my shutter remote for 2000 Won

    I inquired about selling my D40 (bought in 2008), and he said he can buy that.
    I also asked about D7100 price and it’s 850,000 WON for body only.
    Apparently he cleans sensor as well for 20000 WON

  25. jen

    They don’t speak any English- at least on all three of my visits. The attendant was also a bit rude and aggressive.

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