Taking pictures isn’t easy in Saudi Arabia. It’s not just the mutawwas patrolling the streets, detaining you for taking perfectly legal photos, or the culture, where taking a picture of a woman, even at a wedding, would lead to a lynching. We also have to deal with the ever present downsides of the Saudi consumer economy. Namely: Electronics are sold at an obscene markup.
For me, the shock came in the fall of 2009. Till then I had bought most of my equipment while living in the United States and picking up a new lens had been as easy as walking into B&H Photo on 9th Avenue (NYC). Since moving and starting to take on professional assignments however, I realized I’d need to upgrade.
I had my eyes set on the Canon 5D Mark II. This beast, with its full frame sensor and excellent low light performance had me sold. Sadly, the local stores hadn’t. I spent a month scouring the stores all over Saudi. The Mark II, which costs about $3500 (~SR13,000) in the US, was up for an average price of SR20,000 here.
That ladies and gentlemen is a markup of over 50%. At that price, I could get a ticket to NYC, buy the camera and come back, and still save money. The state of photography is dismal in Saudi. Even the “official” Canon dealers rarely have anything but the narrowest range of lenses. Each one marked up high enough to make you shudder. I suspect its similar with Nikon.
This doesn’t stop at just electronics. Did you know that you were getting ripped off on the price of printing at ‘studios’? Here’s just a brief comparison of printing rates.
|Print Size (inches)||Cost in Saudi Arabia
Source: KODAK printers
|Cost in the US
|4×6 (~A6)||SR1||$0.19 = SR0.7||40%|
|5×7 (~A5)||SR5||$0.60 = SR2.25||122%|
|8×10 (~A4)||SR15||$1.28 = SR4.8||213%|
There’s also the fact that they simply have better printers out west and photos from there are easily of higher quality. And then you have photobooks, flushmount albums, proofing albums and a wide assortment of other print products that simply are not available in Saudi Arabia.
How do photography enthusiasts deal with this? Simple, we take our business outside.
My quest to buy the 5D MkII did have a happy ending! Tired of the market here, I logged onto Adorama and had a look around. It turned out they offer international shipping. After a few back and forth emails with the customer service (Yes Saudi Arabia, CUSTOMER SERVICE!!), where they assured me of their international shipping, I went ahead and placed my order. Shipping charges: ~$100
My camera arrived in 5 days (business days that is!).
Since then, I have placed quite a few orders through Adorama. Each one has arrived within a week, and I’ve never had a reason to complain. Not comfortable with just one reseller? B&H Photo is also well known and well regarded. And they too offer international shipping to Saudi.
Now you might say that it makes sense to pay $100 to ship something that costs $1000+, but what about printing and other minor shipments? In fact most US based printers do not ship internationally. To get past that, there is a service provided by Aramex (and I hear DHL as well) called Shop&Ship. It costs SR100 to set up which gives you a mailing address in the US.
You simply ship your prints to this address and they’ll charge you a low fee (SR30 + 35 for every half kg) for shipping. Photo prints rarely go above 0.5kg and never above 1kg so expect to be paying between SR65-100 per shipment. This will not always be cheaper than printing locally, but here’s a quick reference on which option to pick:
|Print Size (inches)||Break Even (SR100 shipping)|
|4×6 (~A6)||334 prints|
|5×7 (~A5)||36 prints|
|8×10 (~A4)||10 prints|
As you can see, if printing anything but the smallest size, it becomes very economical to have your order shipped. The only downside here being that you’ll have to wait about 10 days for your delivery as opposed to same-day.
This method of shipping also makes economical buying photo-bags, lens filters and other small items.
Of course I’m not adding in the SR100 set up fee here, but then again, you can always use your mailbox to buy that t-shirt from zazzle.com that you had your eye on ;P
Know of better alternatives in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere? Do let me know in the comments!
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