If it's not on Amazon, does it really exist? This might as well be the online juggernaut's tagline, but one product category that's always been a bit funky is cameras. Fitting for an industry that well predates the internet, cameras have a retail model that is not only super well established, but it's more closely aligned to that of cars and bikes rather than consumer electronics.
Camera makers like Nikon and Canon have historically relied on a deep roster of vetted official retailers. These stores — think B&H, Adorama or your local camera store if you're lucky enough to have one — remain the gold standard when it comes to buying cameras and camera gear.
Look for the seal of approval.
Official retailers tend to be official retailers because their product knowledge, sales, return and service departments are all top notch. That means that if your camera is dead on arrival, these stores are likely to be able to make things right. Camera makers generally maintain a list of official retailers on their websites (Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm and Sony) that will let you know if where you're looking is legit.
Lucky for all of us Prime-shipping-addicted photographers, Amazon is an official retailer of every major camera company in the US. This means — importantly — if you see the "Sold by Amazon.com" you should be getting a legit, US-market camera that will be 100-percent covered by the camera maker's service and warranty.
You're probably not going to get a price break.
All things being equal (and if you can spare the extra day or two of shipping time), we'd generally recommend buying from a site that has a more narrow photo focus — such as B&H, Adorama, Samy's — as the service level of these retailers is generally going to be higher.
One thing about the camera industry is that prices are strictly controlled by the manufacturer, including seasonal sales. You'll almost never see a discount only at one retailer, instead seeing prices fall across the board as Canon (for example) tells retailers it's time to discount the 5D Mark IV by 10 percent.
Beware of red flags and third-party retailers.
So something like this Nikon Z9 is super tempting, right? Prime shipping, a severe discount over the $5,499 MSRP, and it's available (at the time of writing, just about every legit Z9 was on backorder). All that's weird is that "(International Model)" in the title and the fact that it's sold by a 3rd party retailer. JUST SAY NO.
There's little question that you'll receive a legit Nikon Z9, but this is a part of something called the "gray market". This means the camera was originally sold somewhere outside the US and then imported into the country for resale. Camera makers truly hate this, because it messes with their pricing. As a result, not only will Nikon not warranty this particular camera, they won't even work on it if you pay them (some manufacturers are slightly less insane in this regard).
What about refurbished cameras?
Don't bother, at least not on Amazon. Camera makers will often sell refurbished cameras for nice discounts, but you generally only want to buy these directly from the manufacturer (Nikon, Canon, Fujifilm). That way you'll know the refurbishment was up to par and the warranty (if offered) is still good.
So, to Prime or not to Prime?
So long as you see the "Sold by Amazon.com" and it's a new, not refurbished product, you're generally safe buying a camera on Amazon. That being said, there's not a ton of reason to not buy it from a more camera-oriented online retailer, since you're unlikely to get a better price and you'll probably get better post-sales service.