Where to get your strobist gear?

If you’re one of the 250,000 geeks who read David Hobby’s strobist blog, you might be looking for some lighting equipment and accessories to get you started—and if you haven’t been reading, you might want to get started with his excellent guide at budget lighting with Lighting 101.

Unfortunately Singapore is not exactly a cheap place to get the equipment that David recommends, and that sort of defeats the purpose of going strobist in the first place. In this article, we go through some options you have, and hopefully you wouldn’t have to break the piggy bank for them.

Bricks and motar store

There are two bricks and motar stores which sell lighting equipment, and they are both located in City Hall and are located one street away from another.

Ruby Photo
3 Coleman Street
#01-01 to 02
Peninsula Hotel Shopping Complex
Singapore 179804
Tel: +65 6338 0236 , +65 6338 4104
URL: http://rubyphoto.com.sg/ (don’t bother visiting their site, really)

Cathay Photo
111 North Bridge Road
#01-07 to 08 (Cathay has three store fronts in Peninsula Plaza, 07 to 08 is the one you should go to for your strobist needs)
Peninsula Plaza
Singapore 179098
Tel: +65 6338 0451
URL: http://cathayphoto.com.sg/

The problem with them is that they’re usually way overpriced. A case in point: our dear friend Nanda, out of desperation, bought a wireless remote radio trigger (the RD616) from Ruby Photo at a whooping S$80. As a good friend of his, of course I had to tell him that the RD616 is retailing on eBay at S$33—including shipping.

You see, both shops boast that they are the sole agents of a large number of brands in Singapore. Cathay Photo for instance is the sole agent for lighting support maker Manfrotto, and the Swiss strobe-makers Elinchrom. Ruby Photo is not so much of a sole agent of premium products, but they are probably the only bricks and mortar store selling cheap China knockoffs (i.e. the kind of equipment the budget strobist is looking for) that can only be bought over the internet.

Someone once joked that being the “sole agent” of a particular product means that they are they’re going to charge you the price you pay for buying the products online, plus the exorbitant shipping charges and an additional 7% GST. Of course that’s not entirely accurate though, because Nanda paid an additional 140% tax for his S$80 wireless trigger.

There are good things about buying locally though: warranty (for the expensive gear at Cathay, not the China knockoffs from Ruby) and speed (you get it instantaneously, no shipping time!).

Singapore-based online stores

Coincidentally there are also two major Singapore-based online photography stores serving the strobist community: Tago Tech and JL Photo.

I have personally bought a mini lightstand (S$28), a softbox umbrella (S$33) and a reflector (S$29) from Tago Tech. I have not bought anything from JL Photo before, but one of my students have and recommended it.

The prices are about 50% cheaper than what you pay for at Ruby. Although both stores do not carry the RD616, they sell a similar and very popular wireless radio trigger, the PT-04 TM, for S$45 a set at Tago Tech, and S$40 a set at JL Photo (registered shipping not included). That works out to be 50% cheaper than the S$80 triggers that Nanda bought at Ruby.

I had expected a faster turnaround and delivery for a Singapore-based online store. That is not my experience with Tago Tech however. I made my order on Tuesday night and paid $5.50 for registered mailing. My items were only posted on Thursday evening and reached me on Saturday afternoon—about four days in total.

So if you’re in a hurry for the equipment, these online-based stores may not cut it. But you’re bound to save a substantial sum by ordering from one of these stores as compared with shopping at Ruby or Cathay.

Hong Kong/China-based eBay stores

If you’re not in urgent need of the equipment, and are willing to venture out of Singapore, you’ll be guaranteed the cheapest possible deals for your strobist needs.

Remember the wireless radio triggers (the RD616) that Ruby sells for S$80? They’re on sale on eBay at S$33 with shipping to Singapore.

And the PT-04 TM that Tago Tech and JL Photo sells for S$45 and S$40 respectively excluding shipping?

I eventually bought mine from a Hong Kong-based eBay seller, jiakgong, at S$29 a set. Initially it wasn’t the S$10 savings that attracted me to buy the triggers from eBay rather than from Tago Tech or JL Photo, but the problem that the versions sold by them did not come with PC sync port on the receivers (more information about why I wanted the PC sync port—and why you should too—in another article about basic strobist setup to come).

However, I soon found that jiakgong was selling his goods much cheaper than Tago Tech or JL Photo, sometimes for less than half the price. For comparison, I recently ordered:

  • Hotshoe Flash and Umbrella holder (Jiakgong: S$13.40, Tago: S$36, JL: S$35) — 62% cheaper,
  • a Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce knock off for the 580EX II (Jiakgong: S$4.60, Tago: S$12, JL: S$12) — 62% cheaper,
  • and a TC-80N3 Timor Remote Controller knockoff (Jiakgong: S$55.80, Tago: S$80) — 30% cheaper

As you can see, both the Singapore-based online stores are charging a premium of between 30-60% on top of the price of what you could have gotten from jiakgong through eBay. There could be other good sellers on eBay, but I have bought from jiakgong and he has earned my trust for delivering the goods in great condition and in a reasonable amount of time.

Turnaround time is pretty impressive for an overseas store. My first purchase from jiakgong took about seven days: I ordered on a Sunday, the items were shipped out on Monday, left Hong Kong on Friday, and delivered to my place on the following Monday. My recent purchase took slightly longer at nine days, perhaps because I ordered on a Friday and the items were only shipped on Monday.

Both times I paid an extra US$2 for registered mail and insurance. which comes free if your purchases amount to more than US$70. Standard international shipping by normal postage is free.

Conclusions

I’d definitely try to get my gear from jiakgong over eBay first. The slightly longer turnaround of a week compared with four days from a Singapore-based online store like JL Photo is worth waiting for, especially when I’m saving up to 60% off the costs of the items.

I’d recommend you to pay an extra US$2 to get registered shipping—you’d be better protected against delivery losses and you get a tracking number that could be useful if you’re impatient like me.

That said, there are items that make better sense to buy through the local online shops rather than to ship in from overseas through eBay. Bulky items such as lightstands and umbrellas cannot be delivered by normal postage or registered mail, which is why you don’t find jiakgong offering these items in the first place.

Other eBay sellers are selling them, such as this lightstand from the States. However, the item alone costs S$29, and the shipping at US$33.50 (S$48) costs more than the item. It makes much better sense to buy such items from mini lightstand at S$28 to the heavy duty ones at S$55. If you’re wondering if the mini lightstand is good enough—I have mounted a monolight with umbrella without a problem.

And finally, unless you’re desperate and need the gear immediately (most of the time, you don’t, really!), I would advise you to steer clear of the bricks and mortar stores in Singapore for your strobist needs.

Any other stores or recommendations?

Where do you buy your gear from and why? Recommend them to our readers in the comments below!

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