Nov. 22, 2012 at 10:24 AM ET
While there are plenty of deals and discounts to be had on TVs, phones, laptops and other tech products, camera-wise, there aren't a lot of reasons to wait in line until midnight after Thanksgiving dinner. That's because the year's best cameras — many of which are rounded up here — simply aren't subject to fire-sale pricing. The cameras you'll most likely find in sales circulars are cheapies to begin with, or are nicer but older cameras that have to move because they're just taking up space.
Sure, you can get a Nikon D3200 for $600 at Best Buy on Friday, and that's a good deal on a relatively new camera. But this is the same good deal that's been going at B&H and other retailers for a while now. Same thing goes for the unremarkable $649.99 Black Friday price tag on the remarkable Sony NEX-5R with kit lens.
The camera you'll see everywhere with the biggest price cut is the Canon T3. Though it'll take decent pictures, it's a year old, was downmarket to begin with, and has long since been replaced by shinier hardware.
What about the dozen or so point-and-shoots that cost less than a steak dinner? Many of them, particularly the off-brands, will perform worse than your phone's camera.
Only a few noteworthy point-and-shoots appeared as we combed Black Friday ads from top retailers. Canon's ELPH 110 HS and Samsung's WB150F are both modest but decent little cameras that usually go for around $180, but will be selling for $130 at Best Buy and Adorama respectively. Neither would be a bad camera to keep as a back-up, or to give to a photo-enthusiastic kid.
Another recommended Canon, the SX260, lists for $299.99, so the fact that Best Buy and others are selling it for $199 is pretty great. It's definitely a deal — especially with free case and memory card — but the camera already sells on Amazon for $229.99, and we spotted one other retailer selling it for $209.99.
Whether the motivation lies with the retailers or the suppliers (or both), the price flexibility in the camera world shows a desire to offload old inventory, not to shed light on hot new cameras. Perhaps the assumption is that shoppers, in the heat of the Black Friday or Cyber Monday moment, won't have time to check the specs. Meanwhile, camera buffs will likely pay more for hot devices like the Olympus E-M5 or Sony RX100, so why offer them deep price cuts?
But if you're a photographer — or just shopping for one — don't despair. Prices may not be plummeting on the best stuff, but accessories are on sale, and camera bundles offer a new kind of value proposition. Who couldn't use an extra 16-gigabyte SD card? At under $10 each in multiple sales they're a solid deal. And every photographer needs a couple external hard drives — and you can get multi-terabyte ones for under $100 at Staples, Best Buy or Office Depot.
If you do decide to pick up a camera, even at fairly regular prices, keep an eye out for bundles. Sometimes in order to get around manufacturer pricing rules, shops sell a camera for an ordinary price but include a bunch of goodies to make up for the lack of savings.
For instance, here's that D3200 at Adorama for just under $600. But if you scroll a little further, here's the same camera with the same lens for the same price — except you get a bag, a 16-gigabyte card, and some filters as well. Why is this? It's a mystery, but not the bad kind of mystery. Get the bundle. Even if there are things in there you don't think you'll use, it can't hurt to take it all and sort out what you'll keep once you get home.
And if you do want to pick up a sweet new DSLR or fancy point-and-shoot, just remember that prices will never go up, and tend to go down. Generally, the worst time to buy any camera is the month or so after it launches, but soon enough, the pricing does start to ease downward, even if it doesn't drop like a rock. Just because the camera of your dreams isn't a doorbuster doesn't mean it's not delivering value. And in the Black Friday frenzy, when every slash of a price tag triggers a visceral reaction, it's worth remembering that you sometimes have to pay more to get more.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.