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Buying Photography Equipment
Quiapo-Style

Last updated 16 July 2003

Short summary: Quiapo and the Hidalgo area is probably the best place to buy camera equipment. This article talks about the whole Hidalgo experience and how best to enjoy and profit from it.

Don't forget to check out the FAQ for additional quick answers to Hidalgo-related questions.


Introduction

Hidalgo Street and its neighboring lanes are probably the best-kept secret in Philippine photography. There are countless amateur enthusiasts out there who have never heard of the place. Perhaps these are the types who are fiercely independent; choosing to learn the hard-way through self-tutoring and practice, buying countless books and studying on their own. In the comfort of their own arrogance, they opt not to join clubs or local workshops; and they save their hard earned cash only to plunk them down buying equipment at bloated prices at express-labs-cum-photo-supply-shops.

Sound familiar? It does to me. I was like that for much of my life as an amateur photographer. Until I was initiated into the wonders of Hidalgo.


The place

The term "Hidalgo" is actually a nickname that has stuck with photographers for generations. It really refers to an area in Quiapo that covers no more than one city block. In addition to Hidalgo Street itself, camera shops are to be found along P. Gomez and C. Palanca streets. These streets circumnavigate the one city block that everyone fondly calls "Hidalgo".

A short walk away (across Taft Ave.) one reaches Escolta, another one-time bastion of photography shops. Sadly only two shops remain on this street that are still worth mentioning--Rational Commercial and Filipino Camera Exchange. In any case, since the walk is short, a weekday visit (Rational is closed on weekends) to Hidalgo normally warrants a brief detour to Escolta.


The good stuff

Due to the "Hot Pandesal" Effect (sometimes referred to as the "Lechon Manok" or the "Zagu" effect, depending on which generation you hail from), numerous photography shops converge in Hidalgo. The offerings are staggering compared to the limited selection normally found in mall-based photo shops. The timeliness of stock can also be astounding; newly released products will normally hit their shelves in less than two weeks, faster for popular products.

You'll find practically everything here. Among the more interesting things:

  • Darkroom chemicals and supplies, papers, tanks, trays, and (few)enlargers;
  • Enlargers and lenses, albeit few and far between these days;
  • Second hand curiosities like Dual Lens Reflex Bronicas, Nikon Fs, the occasional Leica, old Mamiyas and Yashicas… lots of neat stuff, in various states of wear or disrepair;
  • Camera repair shops who will clean lenses and fix mechanical;
  • All manner of films from the plain (Kodak Gold) to the slightly esoteric (Ilford 3200's), and even a few that defy categorization (lucky, colpan, etc);
  • Rechargeable batteries and their accompanying rechargers;
  • Bits and pieces--lens caps, body caps, cables, filters;
  • Tripods galore, Manfrotto and Slik among others;
  • Studio lighting, strobes and bulbs, diffusers, umbrellas, softboxes;
  • Camera bags and lots of other accessories;
  • Film and digital cameras (and accessories) across all major brands, and, of course;
  • Everything Nikon and Canon.

While the selection may be far from complete, it sure beats any mall-based store you can find. And everything is within walking distance.

For a complete listing of places to look out for, check out my supplier's directory and single out the shops located in Quiapo. Make sure you visit each of these shops to get a feel for what they offer.


The experience

The "Hidalgo Experience" is really nothing more than experiencing Quiapo with a photographic theme.

The streets are lined with vendors selling little bits and pieces of everything. Walking to Hidalgo from the LRT terminal, a shopper is confronted by stall upon stall of street vendors. Ceramics, electronics, hardware, clothing, DVDs and VCDs; you'll find everything for sale on the street.

When you get to Hidalgo itself, the street vendors tend to be food and produce merchants. Fruit and vegetable vendors are everywhere. In front of one of the shops is this street panciteria offering four or five different kinds of pancit. The pancit is all ready to go, kept in huge metal palangganas ready for serving. The food is cheap and tasty. If you're paranoid about cleanliness or picking up diseases, then dining Hidalgo style may not exactly be for you.

Typical of Quiapo, the mood is somewhat festive and very busy. Lots of people are milling the streets; and every now and then a mad pedicab operator will do an Ichabod Crane and come barreling down the street yelling to warn people of his coming.


The shops and their people

In truth, there are actually no more than six or seven shops that are must sees in the Hidalgo area. I'll name them now and briefly mention what you might want to see there:

  • Avenue: everything Canon and Nikon, selection of tripods, studio lights and accessories, selection of films, plus darkroom equipment and supplies and esoterica;
  • Bert's: very decent repair work, lots of second hand stuff including esoterica and antiques;
  • Fotolam: some Nikon stuff, manfrotto and slik tripods, lamination equipment and supplies, Sony digicams / vidcams;
  • Henry's: everything Canon and Nikon, selection of lighting equipment and tripods;
  • Mayer: everything Canon and Nikon, selection of digicams and vidcams;
  • One-Ten: Polaroid equipment and supplies, GP Batteries and chargers, miscellaneous equipment;
  • V-Art: China-made (Lucky) films and chemicals, Kodak films and papers, as well as some darkroom equipment;
  • Watsons: everything Canon and Nikon, extensive selection of digital cameras, some accessories and assorted electronics

There are also around five or six repair shops that also showcase some old used stuff that are neat to rummage through. You'll see them from the street so just pop in and check out the wares. I've seen an old Leica there once, as well as a 1000mm f/11 Reflex-Nikkor.

Of course offerings change often and so it's good policy to just pop-in and check what's new in each of these shops. All the shop-owners are friendly so don't be afraid to ask. Some shop attendants actually know what they're talking about, but you take your chances. The shop owners (who are almost always there anyway) do tend to know their stuff!

A few precautions

Please try to follow these precautions while in the area, particularly if you are like me, and are often there alone:

  • Make sure you know where your wallet is. Quiapo isn't a den of thieves or anything, but it never hurts to play safe. Keep your cash on you, where it cannot be filched out of a purse or a pocket.
  • Don't take too much cash with you. There is a BPI and a BDO right on the corner (near the SM). All shops worth noting will accept VISA and MASTERCARD; although a 6-7% surcharge will normally apply.
  • Bring an empty bag to stash your loot. Normally, shops will give you a shopping bag to keep your stuff. Considering how much you just spent, would you walk around Quiapo with the stuff dangling from a shopping bag? Normally a good rugged canvas bag that you can hug close to you is best. Backpacks are ok, too… but slashing has been known to occur.
  • Wear sneakers. Applies specially during the rainy season, where puddles and watery mini-black-holes abound. Also, it is highly likely that you will walk around in circles for a bit... so wear something comfortable.

Getting there

There are two modes of getting there--public and private. If you want to hazard the traffic and bring your car, here are a few tips:

  • Do NOT try to get your car into Hidalgo itself. If you get it in there, you may have trouble getting it out considering how tight it can get with vendors and pedicabs.
  • Park at Quiapo church or SM. Easier to get to, and easier to get out of. It's also safer.
  • Know your way. In Quiapo, it tends to be a matter of knowing a good route. For the life of me, I've never found one that was as fast as going public... so don't ask me. If you do know a sure-fire route, please email me. I'll gladly add your advice to this article.

A better method is to use the public transport system. Here are a few pointers:

  • The LRT is your friend. The LRT has a station right at Carriedo Street. That's a five minute walk away. So if you can get yourself to any LRT station, you're pretty much set. Park near the station and take the train. The LRT is 12 pesos regardless of where you get on and where you get off. Get off at Carriedo station and you'll end up on the wrong side of Taft Ave. Just cross the street and walk down Carriedo Street towards the church... just check out the map, you'll understand it.
  • The MRT is also your friend. The LRT and the MRT join up at Taft Ave. So if it's easier to take the MRT to Taft, do so. Follow the directions above once you reach the LRT. You'll have to walk through a station mall to get to the LRT, but there should be signs and arrows hung from the ceiling of the station-mall. Just follow the arrows to the LRT.
  • Have a stored-value ticket for the MRT. Normally, by the time you cross back to the MRT, the line at the MRT ticket counter is quite long. So have a stored-value ticket so you can just walk right in. These stored value tickets are very convenient and only cost Php100. If it's your first time to Hidalgo, let me reassure you: (a la T3) you'll be back.

The best first-time experience: The Hidalgo Pilgrimage

For those who have never gone there, the best option is really to join a Hidalgo Pilgrimage. This is when a number of Quiapo newbies are accompanied / escorted by Hidalgo veterans all the way there. The veterans will also advise you as to where best to go depending on what you're looking for.

If you're really lucky, one of the uber-veterans may come along. These are the ones who know all the shop owners by name and, more importantly, who are known by all the shop owners by name. Along with their guidance you'll get tons of neat little stories of who's related to who, who once carried what brand, why they lost it, who once was part of the scene but ended up getting taken to court for estafa, and who got who pregnant... you get the picture.

Normally, everyone--Hidalgo virgins and whores alike--meet up at a common point like a Starbucks or Seattle's. At least one veteran / babysitter will meet up with them and hold their hands all the way to Hidalgo. The usual plan is for everyone to commute all the way there via the LRT/MRT route; hence Megamall and Shangri-La Mall as the usual meeting place.

Sometimes a second group will join up at Quiapo itself (for those who are closer to Quiapo than Pasig). Common meeting point is the Jollibee next to Quiapo Church. The keso sundae cone is a must.

Then the tour begins.

With any luck, you'll have pancit somewhere along the way. It seems to be a custom.

How do you sign up? Well that's the tricky part. It isn't exactly a regularly planned or scheduled event. The best way to join one is to:

  1. Join the PH-Photo Mailing List (if you're not yet a member). You can sign up online at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ph-photo, or you can just email a blank message to ph-photo-subscribe@yahoogroups.com;
  2. Introduce yourself (if you're a first-timer on the list). Just say hello and give a brief background about yourself and where you are in your photography, and then;
  3. Ask if anyone can accompany you to Hidalgo. I know that sounds hokey and jahe. But it's actually the best way. There are probably half a dozen vets who visit Hidalgo every Saturday... so it's usually no bother for you to tag along. In fact, the moment someone mentions it, it actually does become a scheduled and planned event. So just ask for one. Many other newbies will usually jump in and join!

Summary

Hidalgo really is a neat place. Even if you don't have any current needs, or don't plan to buy anything, it's still a fun experience to see the place and everything it offers.

If you've never been there, the best way to see it for the first time is on a Hidalgo Pilgrimage. Or at the very least make up your own little group and ask some Hidalgo vet to escort your group. Even if you've been there dozens of times, its fun to be with other photographers. It expands horizons and, at the very least, gives you another person to try to peddle the equipment you've outgrown.

Oh and don't forget to tip your waiters and thank your tour guides if you do get yourself on a pilgrimage.


Special thanks

To Charo and Papa Bert for initiating me into the wonders of Hidalgo. When it was my first time, they were quite gentle. :)



 
Copyright 2003 Taj Deluria. All rights reserved.