Can you tell which of these Canon 600EX-RT flash units is the real deal, and which is fake? The one on the right is the phony, but the physical differences between the two are frighteningly minimal.

Canon made an announcement this week warning of counterfeit 600EX-RT flash units being sold as the real deal. What's perhaps just as disconcerting as the idea of being ripped off, is that these counterfeits are also incredibly-difficult to tell apart from the real thing. They're so convincing that it's possible you might have one and not notice until it fails prematurely (or fries your camera's circuitry).

Of course 'knock-off' camera products are nothing new. Nikon also made an announcement recently, warning consumers of a shady practice by some second-hand sellers who swap the model badge on a camera body for that of a more expensive one. For example, they might pass off D800 as a D810 by simply swapping the badge.

Naturally, consumers want to seek out the best deal possible on photography gear, because, well, it's really expensive. But as more and more convincing fakes are masquerading as the genuine article, it's important now more than ever to purchase your gear from reputable sellers. Here are a few tips to prevent your next gear purchase from turning into another cautionary tale:

  • When buying from brick and mortar stores, look specifically for businesses that are 'authorized dealers' of the brand you are purchasing.
  • When buying used gear online, it's always best to try sites like KEH.com first, before jumping into eBay or Craigslist. As a rule of thumb, I never purchase from an eBay seller with anything less than a 98% rating.
  • When buying a camera body, look to purchase from users who clearly state the number of shutter actuations the camera has, and ask a lot of questions to verify that the seller is knowledgeable about the product.
  • When buying from the big sellers like Amazon*, B&H and Adorama, things are a bit more clear. But just like you would with sellers on eBay, check the feedback history of third party sellers before making a purchase. Also, don't try to save a few bucks on things like batteries and memory cards. A bad third-party battery can fry your entire camera, and could cause injury. Needless to say it will also void your warranty. That's an expensive gamble to make for a small saving.

*FULL DISCLOSURE: dpreview.com is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon but both dpreview.com and our sister site connect.dpreview.com are editorially independent of our parent company.