Regarding warranties, repairs, and relocation issues with cameras, it would be great if somebody would build a comprehensive database synopsizing all the policies of the various camera- and lensmakers. It would help people make buying decisions based on their own situations and the very real differences between different companies.
That somebody is not going to be me, though, so don't ask! That would be too much like work. :-)
...And it would be a lot of work; there are huge numbers of variables.
One problem is that corporate policies aren't very transparent. Note that the Nikon Authorized Repair Station manager I talked to yesterday said that he didn't know Nikon's exact policies on servicing gray market merchandise. And if anybody outside of Nikon would know, you'd think he would.
The biggest problem might be something else he said: "things can change at any time." What he meant was that you can buy your equipment when one set of policies is in place, but those policies might change before you need service. (I remember an occasion when I was paging through back issues of the magazine I used to edit, in the warehouse where the old overstock was kept. I came across an advertisement that trumpeted "GUARANTEED FOR LIFE!"—from a company that had long before gone out of business. Their life, I guess was what that old promise meant—not the product's, or yours. Come to think of it, there was a mail-in card in one of those old issues promising a free somethingerother, and the Circulation Department would occasionally receive one of those yellowed old cards in the mail even though the offer had been made fifteen years prior and we had long since run out of whatever the freebie was.)
So even if you collected all the relevant information in one place, it would still only be a snapshot of one moment in time. No guarantee the data would still all be good in one year or three. You'd need to hire someone full time to keep it constantly updated.
The ARS manager noted that very new products—the D500 and the D5 in Nikon's case right now—have to be sent to Nikon for out-of-box problems when the products are very new, because the Authorized Repair Stations don't yet have what they need to service just-introduced cameras. So where you are in any given model's lifespan is another variable.
Different products have different "graphs" for their service needs, too. In the 1990s, a camera repair shop owner told me that 5% of a certain company's point-and-shoots were DOA right out of the box, but that the company had decided that that was an acceptable level. He recommended that customers get the camera store counterman to open the box, put batteries and a roll of film in the camera, and shoot a few shots before they even paid for the camera! He said "if you get one that works, it will probably keep working."
At the other end of the scale, I recall that until fairly recently, Leica had an assurance guarantee called "Passport." The company would repair or replace certain cameras for up to three years even if they were lost, stolen, or damaged in use, situations most warranties exclude. I'm not sure, but I think it might even have been actual camera insurance. I don't know if that program is still active—a search for "passport" and "warranty" on Leica's website just now came up empty. Anyway, when the program was still newish, I believe in the '90s, someone in the industry—I can't remember now who it was—confided to me that most Leica buyers baby their cameras sufficiently that the cameras are still essentially "like new" after three years, but that a certain very small percentage of Leica buyers would use the hell out of their cameras for just short of three years, run them over with a car or beat them to perdition with a sledgehammer, and send in for a new one. Leica apparently decided to tolerate this as an acceptable part of the cost of the program. But I doubt very much that there was ever one single mechanical Leica M that was completely DOA right out of the box.
Anyway I'm sure the repair and warranty issues for a D5300 are different than for a D5.
Companies change, too. For example, when I bought my Konica-Minolta 7D of sainted memory, K-M was still in business. When my 7D needed repair, K-M had exited the field and Sony had taken over its DSLR assets and was handling legacy repairs by replacing the still-warranted K-M products with equivalent Sony models, new. That wasn't what I wanted; I liked my 7D, and just wanted it to work. But nobody could repair it. My broken 7D was essentially unsalvageable, a victim of its maker disappearing out from underneath it.
The biggest variable, though, is probably that you never know if any of these policies will ever affect you. Many people buy a camera and use it for years without ever having any issues. Other people buy the exact same camera at the same time in the same country and have to return it multiple times for service. They might have long, detailed tales of woe to recount...but what has that got to do with you? No way to predict, really.
With automobiles we call the bad samples "lemons." There's a term for the opposite, but it's not nearly as commonplace and I can't remember what it is. Best car I ever had was a Ford ZX2—the thing ran like a top for 100k miles never needing anything but gas and oil. The big repair was a new tie rod after I hit a particularly nasty pothole. But I talked to other ZX2 owners and some of them were not nearly so lucky. I often wonder how long I would have used that K-M 7D if its electronics hadn't gotten senile. I liked that camera.
Well, you get the point. A data center for warranty and support policies and issues would be very tough to build and maintain (unless maybe it was crowd-sourced? Angie's List for camera repairs and warranty issues? Could work, but who would pay for it?) If you're mainly invested in one company, though, you might want to look into their warranty conditions and do a little research on how warranty problems are handled. It might be less stressful to at least minimize unpleasant surprises down the road.
You could optimize all the variables for your own protection...but if you conclude that life's kinda too short for that I wouldn't necessarily blame you.
Still, I think buying expensive products with full official warranties from authorized dealers is just good sense—whether a local bricks-'n'-mortar authorized dealer or an online authorized dealer like B&H Photo (my personal choice for my own purchases) is up to you. It makes no difference from a personal protection standpoint. It's just sensible to have that "insurance"; It doesn't cost that much more.
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Featured Comments from:
Eamon Hickey: "I agree that a database like this would be a helpful service to the photographic world.
"But the idea prompts me to say that in my extremely extensive experience with camera consumers, manufacturers' after-sales service and support is pretty low on the list of factors that influence buying decisions.
"And the somewhat lamentable dilemma for camera manufacturers is that by far the most important factor that influences camera buying decisions is price. It's a dilemma because the two—selling price and after sales service and support—are in direct conflict with each other. Providing exceptional after sales service and support costs much more money, and you have to collect that money by charging a higher initial sales price for your products.
"I'm over-simplifying a bit here, but this is why really good after sales service and support is so hard to find across so much of the consumer landscape. People say they want it, but most are not willing to pay for it, for most of the things they buy."
Mike replies: Hey, you're good. Have you ever considered writing about photography? ;-)
I attended a lecture by Zeiss that featured a handout listing all the design constraints faced by lens designers, from most to least important. No. 1 with a bullet was the targeted selling price. Everything else has to fit that. (No. 2 was size. Zeiss sometimes doesn't let itself be much constrained by either one!)
Oren Grad: "The best—or at least longest—warranty ever was offered was for Gitzo tripods by Karl Heitz, their long-time U.S. distributor: 'YOU ARE COVERED BY THE FULL GITZO WARRANTY BUYER PROTECTION FOR LIFE—PLUS REINCARNATIONS.'"
Michael Perini: "As Eamon Hickey pointed out, it costs real money to provide real support, and the increasing average resolution of sensors requires more precision in manufacture, which also costs money.
"Yet some manufacturers do a better job than others. We use both Nikon and Canon equipment in our business. Both produce beautiful results. Both have proven to be durable in hard professional use. But things occasionally break, and when they do the difference is stark. Nikon is slow, does not communicate well, and often do not fix it right the first time. A recent example sent a 70–200mm lens in for major repair. It took over a month, cost $600 (which was fair) but when it came back it didn't work. It couldn't focus. Sent it back, waited another 3–4 weeks. Finally fixed right. If we get a camera or lens to Canon on Tuesday it is back in our hands by Thursday or Friday. Canon offers Professional Courtesy repairs at three levels: free with a certain amount of equipment purchase, and two paid levels (which is basically like insurance, but provides Free FedEx return, Discounts on repairs, loaner equipment, etc.). That is a big deal to us."
robert e: "After reading this whole post, I think something far more useful than a database would be an actuarial table—something that takes into account all these variable risks, rather than simply taking a snapshot of policies (which aren't wholly accurate anyway as predictors of actual service). In fact, a couple of your anecdotes suggest that this is the manufacturers' approach to warranty service anyway, so we'd be fighting apples with apples rather than oranges (feel free to substitute a less mangled metaphor; I just happen to be hungry).
"Eamon Hickey's comment reminds me again that different cameras from the same manufacturer can have different warranty terms. e.g., a 1Dx body gets very different protection than a Rebel. It may be obvious to some, but it's very important for the inexperienced shopper to be aware of. Just because that pro wedding photog buddy-of-a-buddy raves about Canon service doesn't mean you'll get that service for your consumer kit. (Same goes for reliability and toughness, by the way.) That would all be accounted for in the actuarial table."
Moose (partial comment): "Might this all be a tempest in a teapot, at least for most of us? My late brother did some statistical analysis on the Consumer Reports frequency of repair data for cars. He said the the data, while accurate, had no meaning. The rates of failure were so low, that the differences between them weren't significant. He advised ignoring them."
Dennis Huteson: "I note that it's been mentioned that one rarely sees the servicing of a camera as a decision point when buying new gear. Au contraire...I was a Nikon user for 40 years and after two horrendous servicing incidents with a D5300 and Nikon UK I switched to Fuji."
Mark L. Power: "Thinking about the subject of this informative piece I astonished myself by realizing that in a lifetime of owning cameras, film and digital, some new, some antiques, a few regarded as classics but most, including those, in various stages of decrepitude as I have never been particularly kind to equipment (lenscaps were invariably lost within weeks of ownership and never replaced). I have never once had the need of a camera repair. No moral to this story; simply surprise. Now of course I have jinxed myself because my latest machine ( Sony RX10) will show only a black screen the next time I start it up."