Sunday, January 22, 2006

Breaking the Camera!

or, Finding a familiar tool in an unfamiliar city...

When you use a camera quite a lot, it becomes a very familiar object, even more so when it has many manual controls on the outside, and you use a variety of lenses with it. We have been carrying a 1 year old Nikon D70 Digital SLR which uses interchangeable lenses just like a 1970s or 1980s film SLR camera. We've also been carrying four lenses, And the total retail value of these items is about $2500 US, or, for that matter, 110,700 rupees . Needless to say, we've been careful with this stuff.

We try to be very careful when we have the camera out in public areas, wrapping the long strap around one of our wrists. We don't often leave the camera in the hotel room (it's usually with us), and even when we leave a lens or two they are swaddled in clothes and locked in a suitcase.

This care and security, therefore, makes it all the more ironic that when we were staying in the most modern hotel room, in the most cosmopolitan city we have stayed in in India, in one of the least threatening situations, I managed to pick up the small camera backpack without noticing it was unzipped (I had unzipped it earlier), and sling the camera with a lens attached on a few foot drop onto a marble floor!

I immediately picked up the camera to see if there was any damage.~> read more

There wasn't any apparent damage, but when I tried to take a photo I could tell something was wrong. The camera didn't want to recognize the memory card, and also the back screen wouldn't come on. However, the top screen with the settings seemed fine, I could change manual settings, and take a picture, but the picture wouldn't be saved to the memory card! I tried the "soft reset" and "hard reset" options that I had read about in the camera manual, but neither rectified the problems.

This presented quite a problem! We had 14 hours between the time I broke the camera and our flight out to Udaipur, called "The most romantic city in Rajastan," but no place at all to get a camera repaired, and we will be continuing on through Rajastan and finishing at the apparently picturesque Taj Mahal!

I tried to think fast. I first went to an internet cafe to search on the internet for the problems I was seeing on the camera, searches like "D70 clock flashing" (the "clock" indicator was flashing on the top screen), and "D70 black screen." I tried tens of variations, but came up empty handed. I decided to call Nikon support. It was about 9:00AM in Colorado, and about 9:30pm in Bombay. Nikon doesn't have an arm of their company in India, just some official agents, who of course were all closed, and many businesses don't open there until 10-11am, and we had to leave for our flight by 1pm!!

So, using the "net 2 phone" VoIP technology that sends your phone call over the Internet and is available many places in India, I tried to call Nikon Support in the US. I couldn't get it to work! I thought it was because their number was an 800, but they didn't list anything else! I called my dad who happened to be at work in Colorado for ideas, and he offered to conference me through to Nikon's 800! Great!

Nikon's rep, who sounded like an early 20s American or Canadian, but could have been an Indian with "accent training" according to the book I just finished, "The world is flat", started by asking me some questions about whether I had downloaded software from the website and what email address I had used to register. I was being patient but let him know that I was conferenced called through Denver from Bombay, and he quickly dispensed with the formalities! I explained that I wanted him to walk me through the resets or any other options for fixing the camera without an official service. He carefully walked me through the procedures, but we had no success in changing the unhappy state of the camera at all. He then uttered the terrible words, "I'm sorry, you are going to have to send it in."

He informed me that the turnaround time for repairs done by Nikon USA is approximately 7-10 days. However, getting packages reliably transported to the US is a challenge in itself, and more importantly our next 10 Days were in Rajastan and at the Taj Mahal and about our last 10 days in India. We plan to be in Cambodia (via Bangkok) before all would be done and who knows how we'd recieve the repaired camera there.

So I considered the option of buying an additional Camera "body." This is just the camera without any lens, and since I had 4 different lenses for different purposes, and hoped that the lens that was on the camera hadn't been damaged, perhaps I could get buy this way. I could get our old body repaired at our leisure and possibly sell one of them once we returned to the US. Professional photographers carry at least 2 of these bodies with them for just this kind of situation, but mere mortals like us have to economize on volume and weight of camera gear as well as the obvious cost!

It was quite late at this point so I went to bed with the intention to either try to take our damaged camera to one of Nikon's agents in Bombay hoping they could turn it around in an hour or two (wasn't seeming likely at this point), or investigate the cost of another camera (body). The whole camera (body plus the lens it comes with) runs about $1000 in the US, so I knew it wasn't going to be a pittance! Basic digital cameras are much cheaper but once you use an SLR it's hard to go back, and the difference in quality and creative possibilities is really significant for both of us. It's what we like to use.

In the morning, my luck started to change. I headed over to the internet cafe a couple of blocks away, and searched for "buy D70 Mumbai" and the magic of google led me to a photography discussion board where a fellow in India (actually on the other side of the country, not in Bombay) was asking other photographers how to buy a camera like ours in India. A fellow named Arnab Pratim Das contributed: "Surender, go to or" Although Arnab didn't mention it, I clicked on both links and both companies happened to be in Bombay. I wrote down their bombay phone numbers and called both of them and asked for a price quote on a D70s "body only" meaning no lens would be included. Our model was a D70 which has now been replaced by the D70s but the differences are quite small. JJ Mehta quoted 41,000 rupees, while foto centre quoted 37,000 and was also more convienient for us to take a taxi to within the now about 3 hours left before our departure! 37,000 rupees is about US $836, and the reputable mail order B&H Photo in NYC showed $870 on their website! Great news, buying a D70s in Bombay was, surprisingly, not going to cost an extra arm and a leg.

Now, how to get 37,000 rupees? I asked foto centre whether they could take VISA, and the response was "No, I want only cash." I paused for a moment and the agent thought I was done and hung up. I called back a few minutes later to make sure they had the body in stock ( "it's ready to go!" ), and also asked if we could pay some of the amount in USD if we couldn't get enough rupees ("No No, only Rupees!") Of course we could get our USD changed into Rupees, which might cover a bit over a third of the total, but usually this carries a bit of a surcharge and we like to have some USD for emergencies and places without ATMs.

Oh yes, ATMs. We had tried to get 12,900 rupees out of one ATM and it turned us down, though we could get 10,900. I headed over to the fancy Taj Hotel hoping they had a loaded ATM, although the real issue is daily limits on ATM withdrawls through our banks in the US. The Taj directed me to a nearby bank whose ATM displayed limits; 10,000 for a basic account card, 15,000 for a debit current card, and 25,000 for a premium service card. These unfamiliar banking terms were not helping, so I of course tried for the 25,000. No way. I dropped down the the 15,000. The machine started whirring, but we have found that is no guarantee. A few more moments, and out pops a huge wad of 500 rupee bills. Great, we're almost 1/3 of the way! I then popped in Tiffany's card and tried the same trick, expecting the ATM to say it was out of cash or the security guard to restrain me until police arrived or some such situation. whir...pop! another 15,000. But I was out of cards, so back to the hotel I walked, trying to think of a way to get the remaining 7,000, plus I had no idea what taxes might be involved.

We figured we could change some USD to make up the difference, but only had about an hour and a half left, and would have had to run around town to do the exchange. Pondering this, Tiffany realized that she had another VISA from another bank account that she had activated, but never used at any ATM. Eureka! I planned to march right back to that ATM, but I thought twice since 1. The darn thing might be empty at this point, and 2. I didn't really want the same security camera and guard to see me back with the third card in an hour.

So I walked away a little of our precious time but found another ATM, and tried for another 15,000. Whirr-Snap! All right, that should be enough to cover the whole thing! Back to the hotel to regroup with Tiffany. Back in the room I stuffed all 45,000 (what a thick wad of cash, 500s and 100s!) into my around-the-neck traveller's pouch, and we decided we'd meet back at 1:00 at the hotel, which was when we had to get in a cab (hopefully a real one this time) for the airport. Tiffany wasn't going to hang around in the lobby since it had been full of arab men (the apparent clientele of our hotel) the entire time we were there, just shooting the breeze.

So I hopped in to a taxi bound for the next neighborhood in Bombay. After deciding that the driver knew where I was going (he did, but just the general area), and checking that he was really going to use his meter, we were off. We arrived in an area with a bunch of photo stores, from antique camera repairers to film sellers to hawkers of the latest slim-line point-and-shoot cameras and handhelds. Not many of these dealers handle Digital SLR cameras. Just for some perspective, I walked into the first big store with a Nikon sign and asked them how much for a D70s body, even though I wasn't sure they had one in stock. Response - 58,000! No Thanks. I stopped into another store, and was quoted something in the same neighborhood.

OK, so foto centre has a good deal, better find them as time is running out anyway. The address I had was:

Shop No.2, BNG Davar House,
Fort, Mumbai

The situation with these "Shop No." addresses is there is no actual address, BNG Davar House is the building (good luck finding the name of the building anywhere with all the shop signs running up the facades), and of course the shops aren't numbered either. Essentially, I wandered around until I ran into the place...

Which was a shop just big enough for a customer to stand in on one side of the counter, and 2 salespeople on the other side. As soon as I walked in the proprietor knew I was the westerner that had been calling him. Though he had been curt on the phone, he was exceedingly friendly and his assistant wasted no time in showing me the D70s, which looked totally new and I took a couple of photos with it using my lens (that was on the camera when I dropped it) to verify that both parts were working. I asked ... 37,000, correct? he said, 37,500. I had heard incorrectly on the phone (I was standing on the sidewalk next to the equivalent of 5th avenue, but with more horns), but this 500 was no problem.

So, I counted out this huge stack of cash from my pouch. 30 500s, 30 more 500s, and finally 15 more 500s. Wow. The fellow checked it, and with this transaction done, he asked if I would take tea. Though we didn't have too much time, I knew how long the cab back to the hotel would take and that I had 15 minutes or so to spare. I accepted the offer for tea. The assistant wrapped up the camera for me. I talked a bit with the proprietor about Nikons, when I told him I hadn't realized my backpack had been unzipped he informed me that another westerner had just the same problem yesterday but had broken a 70-200 f2.8 (high end) lens, which he didn't think would be repairable like my body, 75,000 rupees for that one!! I didn't feel quite so bad.

The tea arrived, served in soft disposable plastic cups barely bigger than a shot glass, but it was surprisingly tasty masala chai, in the top 5 chai servings I've had in India! Certainly not what I expected from a camera shop. We talked a bit more over the chai and when we were done I headed off, cab back to the hotel to meet tiffany, grab our big backpacks and into another cab for about 1.5+ hours in Bombay traffic, but soon we were on the airplane to Rajastan with a brand new camera, and no worries! Thanks to Arnab Pratim Das and foto centre for making this possible!


Anonymous mommy moore said...

Oh Andy, I laughed over this story, I wanted to cry, and I wanted to hug you as you went through all this frustration. My oh my, what perserverance you do show!!! So glad you got your camera and that the story ended well. Every day seems to bring a new adventure. Lots of love to both of you as you trek onwards!!!!

2:07 PM  
Blogger jskalet said...

Oh my! i'm exhausted just reading this!! congratulations, your resourcefullness is incredible, grandma sally will be impressed!!

7:49 PM  
Anonymous Arnab Pratim Das said...

Hey, that was fun reading :) Glad to have helped! Hope you have upgraded your camera many times over by now :))

2:22 PM  

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