In the Comments to the previous post, Arg asked:
"So are you with this article trying to discourage all your overseas readers from using your affiliate links? If I, here in Australia, buy from B&H, it is a grey import, yes?"
Here's the story:
• What actually makes an item gray market is not how you buy it, but how the retailer buys it from the manufacturer. If B&H Photo buys a camera from Canon USA, for instance, it's not gray market no matter who they sell it to or where they ship it to. It's still warranted by Canon USA.
The question then becomes, with a camera or lens you bought from the U.S. and had shipped to Australia or elsewhere, will your local authorized distributor and its warranty service providers honor your U.S. warranty? With so many companies out there, and a variety of distributors in numerous countries, it's impossible to give a blanket answer. The answer is, they should, but the original retailer can't necessarily guarantee that they will in all possible cases.
With Nikon, the situation is a little clearer, because Nikon is a bit more Draconian about its policies. Nikon prohibits authorized U.S. retailers from selling new digital SLRs and AF lenses outside the USA. So B&H Photo (and other U.S. authorized retailers) may not ship a non-import, U.S.-warranty Nikon or Nikon lens to any address outside the USA in the first place.
• Another question that came up in the Comments is, what happens if you a) move to a different country, or b) come visit the U.S. and buy a camera or lens while you're here, or c) need warranty service while you're on vacation in another country? Again, the theoretical answer is clear: as long as you bought a non-gray-market product in the first place, and can prove it (meaning, you should carry photocopies of your receipts with you*), you should enjoy reciprocity—that is, the manufacturer and its representatives should treat you the same as if you bought your camera or lens in the country that you're visiting, or that you came home to, or that you moved to.
As to whether every single customer will have that sort of seamless friction-free experience is where it gets a tad more dicey. Most will. A few might run into snags and SNAFUs. (And many of the latter will let the Internet know about it loud and clear, potentially exaggerating public perception of risks.)
• Next, as we can glean from the Comments as a whole, different companies are quite different. Looking just at Canon and Nikon as examples, Nikon again seems to take a hard line—it has long been adamant that it will not perform any service, in warranty or out, on a product that was originally bought gray market. You'll send your camera to Nikon USA and if they decide your serial number is not kosher, they'll return the item to you untouched.
This causes a potential problem with equipment bought used. The status of the serial number depends on its original sale. So if you buy a used camera that the original owner bought with a full warranty, Nikon will service it. If you bought a used camera that was originally gray market, they will decline. Unless you bothered to ask the seller which it was—and trust that you got an honest answer—you might not know whether your used camera is eligible for service or not.
Canon USA, by contrast, has a longstanding tendency to lean the other way—it will treat a gray market item pretty much the same as U.S.-warranted item as long as you have a dated store receipt. Same goes for servicing an out-of-warranty product—Canon USA will charge you for parts and labor, but it will perform the servicing for you.
• Lastly, there's this little issue: as was widely reported (for instance at dpreview, nikonrumors, and PetaPixel), in 2012 Nikon stopped supplying parts to independent repair shops that do not become certified as Authorized Repair Stations. Nikon on one side and the repair shops on the other had explanations for this that were naturally at odds, and I won't get into the issues again here (it's a thorny thicket). But the upshot is that once your warranty expires, getting Nikon equipment serviced anywhere other than at a Nikon Authorized Repair Station might be problematic, depending on what needs doing.
Back around to the original point: I recommend staying away from gray market purchases. In my opinion you're better off buying equipment with full warranties from authorized retailers. It's what I do myself.
(Information provided by B&H Photo Video was used in this post; thanks also to Eamon Hickey)
UPDATE Wednesday evening: Following up on what Eamon wrote in the Comments, I spoke just now to a manager at a Nikon ARS (Authorized Repair Station), who allowed as how gray market issues with Nikon repair is (well, naturally) "a gray area." In-warranty repairs are either done by them or sent along to Nikon, but the customer needs to present a receipt and sometimes the warranty card that comes in the box. When out-of-warranty equipment comes in to them for repair, they don't make any attempt to evaluate whether it was purchased gray market or not—they repair the item for the customer if they can, and (because they are an ARS) Nikon supplies any part they order. However, he said there are some situations where the item, for any of a variety of possible reasons, can't be repaired by them and has to be sent back to Nikon. He emphasized that he does not know Nikon's policy and that he does not speak for Nikon, so he can't speak to exactly what standards Nikon applies or why, but he did say that sometimes things are sent along to Nikon and are returned without anything being done, presumably because Nikon determines that the item was originally purchased as gray market.
So to the question as to whether out-of-warranty repairs on gray-market products can be done, the answer is "sometimes." —Mike
*Which you should do anyway to avoid possible problems with Customs.
Original contents copyright 2016 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Darlene: "The thought of buying used Nikon gear now frightens me. Lighten up Nikon!"
Mike replies: As Eamon noted, these policies go back a long way. Nothing's really changed.
Eamon Hickey (partial comment): "Just in the interests of trying to paint a full picture: Nikon USA's gray market policies are not driven by the Japanese—i.e. Nikon Japan, or Nikon Corp, as it is officially known. I don't know for sure that the policies go back to Joe Ehrenreich himself [the original importer of Nikon in the U.S. —Ed.], but I do know for a 100% certainty that they were created by Ehrenreich's people. When I joined Nikon USA in 1989, every senior executive in the company was still an inherited Ehrenreich executive, and the policies were already old by then.
"Nikon's Japanese parent company was not a big fan of Nikon USA's gray market stance when I was at Nikon USA. The gray market itself was a significant point of contention and conflict between the two entities. Why doesn't Nikon Japan just order Nikon USA to change its policy? They could. But one of the major functions of a regional subsidiary is to handle region-specific decision-making. So there's always a give-and-take—more so when the parent is a Japanese company that does not like to give explicit orders that it knows will anger the subsidiary and may hurt it financially.
"All that said (and now I'm stepping into opinion territory), both branches of Nikon have, together, inadvertently danced themselves into a very customer-unfriendly corner. It's stupid, and they should find another solution. That they have not, even after 40 years, is a significant black mark against them both. But they are not really alone—thousands of companies in hundreds of industries have big problems handling gray market issues in a smart and customer-friendly way. If this were a blog about cars, or luxury watches, or even tractors (yes, tractors!), it would have similar gray market discussions from time to time."