« Best Cameras | Main | More on the Gray Market and Protecting Yourself »

Tuesday, 24 May 2016


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Please have a discussion of "mail in discounts"....where you send documentation of your purchase and then receive a check in
the mail from the manufacturer. In 2006 it took me 6 months and numerous phone calls to get Canon to meet their obligations (at that time they hired an outfit in Minnesota to take care of these transactions). And then there is Drobo, equipment that has done the job, but they utterly failed to meet their "mail in your documentation and we will send you a check" obligations. I stick with the "instant discount" they have at B&H. You get the price reduction right up front and avoid all of the problems associated with mailing in proof of purchase.

I've always been curious about something. If you live overseas for a while and buy camera equipment there, then bring it home, can you get that equipment repaired back home? I don't mean under warranty necessarily, I just mean can you get it fixed. What distinguishes a camera you buy while living overseas and a grey market import?

Don't know about now but in the 70's some New York dealers were crooks. One scam was to low ball the price on popular SLR's and then remove factory packaged items and charge exorbitant prices for the included pieces. Of course there was the 'bait and switch' and 'SLR Dream Outfit', a current popular SLR with $150 tacked on for about $20 worth of junk accessories. I cannot count the number of times friends came to me wanting to know "is this a good deal" on some ad in the back of Pop Photo or Modern Photography back in the day. What was really sad was when they had already bought the kit and all I could was be as kind as possible when they came to show me their new camera. Usually never said a word, no use spoiling their joy.

"Buying Gray Market Cameras Is Like Driving Drunk"

Uh, no, it's not even roughly analogous. Buying camera equipment from a shady seller might result in fraud, disappointment or inconvenience. Driving drunk might result in grievous injury, changes in lifetime trajectories and/or loss of life. They're not even vaguely similar risks, Mike.

That aside, my "grey market" experiences are limited to purchasing two lenses over 10+ years. On both occasions the lenses were perpetually out of regular U.S. stock and I bought the grey versions from, I think, B&H. No problems with either purchase and I had complete confidence that B&H completely stood by the sales.

"Gray market lenses are a somewhat safer bet than gray market camera bodies, because there's less that can go wrong (and QC has gotten so good)."
I'm not confident of that supposition. If we were talking about a completely inert analog lens, such as a Leica M lens, I would agree. But today's contemporary lens models are nearly as much computers as they are optics. My own luck with lenses has been extremely good over the past 12+ years. But I really wonder if the risk exposure isn't nearly identical between cameras and lenses today, regardless of dealer nationality.

Mike: Grey is also the Canadian spelling!

Unofficially imported product (not just photographic) is often not seen here in Canada, one reason may well be the very small available market for such product.

What the camera companies are doing to protect their profits is flat-out unconscionable; in particular, refusing to perform paid service on an item because they don't like where they think I bought it. Given that people travel, and that people move (including across international borders), and that used equipment gets sold, that's totally unacceptable.

While no call for caution can be condemned, I think that well-tested cameras that lack epidemic issues can be safely purchased from top-rated ebay sellers. The risk in doing so is quite reasonable. Done it myself a couple of times.

Spot on, Mike. I've never had a problem avoiding gray market merchandise. Despite paying a bit more than I would at B & H, I'll often patronize an independently owned and operated brick and mortar store. Ironically, I'm often able to get newly released items at a camera shop before the big online retailers have inventory to fulfill orders.

To me buying grey/gray market items is like going into Best Buy and being asked if I want to buy the extended warranty plan. It's a numbers game. Will the new tool fail? If so, how soon?

When I had Canon 5D/7D gear, I bought the US stuff knowing full well that I was paying a premium for "support" that I'd never use. My cameras never failed. Even after years of regular/constant/heavy use.

I didn't sleep any better knowing Canon would give me something/anything more than I already had in hand. So what, _exactly_, did I get for paying a premium?

As for gray/grey market sellers, what evidence is there that the tools the offer are pre-used/abused and therefore of suspicious reliability?

If the gig really is about keeping a support team employed and available for those who might someday need them, then why not offer insurance policies like Best Buy, and keep prices to consumers as low as your gross margin targets dictate?

I believe the 'grey' market was invented by Nikon (and perhaps others) so that they could better control prices in different markets, and reduce competition. It has nothing to do with warranty. I live in Canada, but I can't buy a regular 'non-grey', Nikon camera or lens from B&H (the B&H website will not allow it to happen). I can however buy warranted, Olympus, Leica and others (haven't tried them all obviously) from B&H. My Leica or Olympus gear is repairable in Canada with no problems (the Leica stuff is even 'warranted' against inadvertent damage like drops - try that with Nikon!).

Another side effect of this poor customer service from Nikon, is that I need to be very careful of buying used Nikon gear on e-bay, as I don't know for sure the original country of origin, and if it has a problem at any time in the future Nikon Canada will refuse to do any repairs - even though I am willing to pay the cost. This effects everyone everywhere of course, (you in the US may buy something from Canada or elsewhere in the world) and discourages people from casually selling their own (Nikon) property without the original bill of sale and 'proof of intended market'.

It's something to think about when choosing what camera system to buy into. Nikon is less and less popular with me. Although I won't make much of a dent (unfortunately) in their sales.

I don't know how it works in the US, but in the UK there are a couple of other things to consider if buying a grey import.

Generally speaking, with grey imports the VAT and Import Duty hasn't been paid on the goods, and this cost should be borne by the customer. Some people get away without paying, but your camera or lenses can be held by customs if you enter or leave the country and can't prove that the VAT has been paid.

Also, insurance companies won't pay out on goods where a VAT receipt can't be provided - they have to pay VAT after all!

My recent experience with a Panasonic LX100 that I found was suffering from the “Chinese dust on the sensor syndrome” which I am told affected a large number of these cameras leads me to add another thing to your article: buy from a local shop if you can.

I bought it from a bricks and mortar shop. I just took the camera back to them and they dealt with the warranty repair. It came back from Panasonic with another fault and so they sent it back again.

I wonder how things would have turned out if I had bought it via Internet. Minimum I would have wasted a lot of time with phone calls and shipping to get things sorted.

C.a.m.b.r.i.d.g.e. P.h.o.t.o... shudders up the spine.

Of course back then it was all phone calls and paper checks and order forms in blue ink only... looking back it seems so crude and primitive, positively medieval.

B&H Photo is a lesson in corporate repair. If you went to the store front in the mid-1980s or earlier you were routinely shouted at, rushed, and most everything was available as grey market. Kodak film made 300 miles away in Rochester, shipped to Brazil and sent back to NYC for sale cheap at B&H. Nowadays when I visit I really like their service, it is still no nonsense but respectful and professional.

Thanks for this post, Mike. At our busy camera shop - Carmarthen Cameras,Wales - we have so many conversations with customers who quote us a grey price expecting it to be matched - they often think they are being 'ripped off, by a shop. We patiently explain the grey market and sometimes it has an effect, however, by and large, the UK consumer doesn't give a fig, as is shown by the amount of sales from Ebay grey sellers and a handful of actual high street shops who appear to be dodging VAT or import duty(actually the VAT and duty becomes the liability of the consumer, but very few receive a demand unless the seller is investigated).
We sell on our service, after sales support, help and advice, etc., and a keen UK high street price, unfortunately a significant proportion of people no longer place a value on that. We know of at least one major electrical retailer with a terrible reputation for service, etc. that is selling many items at cost to gain market share, just as Amazon do. (don't get me started on Amazon - we sell a lot through Amazon -suffice to say they are too powerful in the market - they recently arbitrarily refunded a customer who said he received a Sigma lens but 'the box was empty' when he received it despite having proof of carriage weight and then they refunded us as well. One gentleman was sent a Fuji X-T1 and he returned an X-T10 and had a full refund, it goes on...
The grey market is thriving in the UK and, as we point out, revenues are lower for public services, etc. but people want cheap foreign dodgy goods and a hip replacement on the NHS even though those grey goods are contributing nothing to the UK economy. Sigma UK recently put out letters to dealers asking for a petition to be signed calling for more action to be taken against grey imports: it received less than 2000 signatures.
Our margins on Nikon and Canon new stock, for example can often reach the dizzy levels of 5%, generally, usually, it is less (less !). The official UK distributors have a margin of, I believe, between 30-40%. Retail prices will always race to the bottom, but the level of support for independent shops is pitiful - we get 'Sale Outs' a small sum if there is a price readjustment that we cannot match with existing stock. As a business model the only economic reason for us to sell some brands is that they attract part exchange where we can make a margin on used items to make the business profitable enough to be worthwhile. It is little wonder that the greys are thriving and smaller camera shops are disappearing (our turnover is around £6m).
Most people who buy grey have no care that they are damaging their own country's economy by reducing revenues and killing the high street. Most will say 'tough', or, 'why should we pay more ?' Fine, you are simply contributing to the disappearance of choice, counter service, hands on experience before you buy and a little bit of life and interest is sapped from the physical world.
I could go on for some while, but thanks again Mike.

Mike, I agree with you, it is generally a false economy and can end up being worse.
But there is more than one problem. There are all the permutations of the Gray Market that you described, but there is also a growing problem with actual counterfeit merchandise -- so far mostly limited to Flashes and other accessories. It is enough of a problem that Canon has been doing an 'awareness campaign'http://petapixel.com/2014/05/04/report-canon-claims-18-people-unknowingly-buy-counterfeited-gear/
The companies themselves sometimes make the gray market problem worse by what Thom Hogan calls 'Dumping Excess inventory into the gray market' and having somewhat antiquated country by country authorization---so even equipment bought from an authorized dealer in ,say, Canada, won't always be covered in the US.
This can also manifest as a piece of equipment being 'back ordered' as a USA warranty, but Available from the same store as Gray market.
I still completely agree that it rarely makes sense to buy gray market items, and I personally never have, but in an increasingly global purchasing environment the country by country 'Authorizations' need to be revisited.

Yes we should support those camera dealers who are real experts as much as we can. Not only camera experts, all experts can use our support nowadays. So many good camera dealers in my home town have disappeared in the last two decades. There are only two or three good shops left here in Amsterdam. There is a second category of shops where you can buy the same stuff cheaper. These people have less knowledge. They are mainly interested their own profit and turnover. They just shove boxes.
But the cheapest dealers are of course the ones without a shop. You sometimes even don’t know where they are located. Or maybe they don’t even have a location.
I must admit that I bought my Olympus 75mm from the last category. My top dealer asked €999, the box shovers asked €839 but the ghost dealer only €550! I had contact with them and they were very helpful and friendly. But not the slightest notion about what they were selling. That 75mm is a great lens to own, but I do not use so much that I would have paid €999 for it.

Spot on Mike and it is buyer beware. I recall that these import cameras are also being shipped and reshipped all over the globe as part of a huge trading enterprise and has no connection to the "photo business". We are talking about cameras designated for the lowest wholesale or retail price markets and then being shipped back with utilizing very shady business practices. I recall speaking with a small camera shop owner many years ago when his customers purpose was to handle the cameras in his store and then walk out and purchase through the mail order process. The owners purchase price direct from his authorized supplier or direct from the manufacturer was always more than what the discount house cost was. He just could not compete. Grey market cameras were always a bad idea, now more than ever due to the digital camera age.

From what I have read (but not experienced directly), Nikon might be a toss-up. If you buy gray market, you're out of luck if something goes wrong. If you buy authorized, you may be out of luck getting them to honor their own warranty.

Just sayin'.

With best regards,


"generally the bigger the store the safer you are" True, but don't be confused - a big website or a multi-page ad in some photo magazine doesn't make you a big store. Many years ago, on my first to New York, I decided to visit a store (no longer in existence, I believe) that had a very large advertising presence in all then photo magazines. When I got there, it was a dingy storefront with no merchandise, and a couple of seedy-looking and suspicious characters behind the desk. Having seen the place, I wouldn't order a used paper clip from them. But prior to that visit, their ads gave a great impression.

Surely the better question is why do gray imports offer a cost saving? As you note, this is the same product, almost certainly built in the same factory, but by some quirk of the corporate supply chain it is sold more cheaply in another country. That's the manufacturer's business if they want to work that way, but a gray market is the inevitable result.

I can grant that for a working pro, high-quality support is worth paying for, but that's not most of us.

And "no warranty" is one thing, but if any company ever told me they wouldn't do a (paid) repair because the product was bought in another country, that would be the last dime of mine they'd see.

(Outright scams are always a worst-case scenario, but that goes for any transaction. You might as well say "buying used camera gear is like driving drunk.")

This is all true, and good advice, but the risk does vary.

It's a bad idea to buy anything new using cash or money order. It's insane to buy a gray market version of, say, a top-tier canikon SLR that would otherwise come with excellent pro-level support.

On the other hand, what about the budget consumer kit or digicam that normally comes with crappy support and a six month warranty? Especially if you can use a credit card with good purchase protection?

Not sure about the lens advice as sometimes you need the lens be upgraded to work under new body, especially third party lens.

Only cheap and throwable one (lens or body) you can try these days. Too many things inside.

Of course those mechanical lens (new or old) is ok.

I have questions. How exactly does a camera become a 'gray market' camera? Where does flibinite.com get their cameras? Are they stolen off a truck on their way to an authorized dealer? Or does, let's say, Nikon sell to Flibinite? Would that not make them an authorized dealer? Are they bought in bulk in other countries and shipped to USA/Canada? If I bought one, could I just not say I bought it in another country while on vacation there? How does flibinite.com have so much room to discount, yet real dealers have very little margin for profit? Any investigative reporters out there in TOP-land?

It is also important that good companies with valid warranties make enough profit to stay in business. Otherwise cameras and lens transactions would I transpire through road warrior type organizations. Saving money on feet market purchases will ruin a quality industry.

While I understand your point of view on this issue, consumers would be better served if you use the power of this site to force companies like Nikon to honnor their warranty, no matter where the camera is bought. For instance, I purchased my D700 some years ago, in my country, paying a lot more than what it cost in USA. A year or two later, I come to US and something goes wrong with the camera. Why is it acceptable for Nikon (or any other manufacturer to refuse servicing my camera, just because it was purchased in Europe? In this globalisation era, such practices are bad business practices.

You are, of course, quite correct.

I was thinking of buying a Canon 80D body using your link to B&H to save a couple of hundred dollars on the local price, but you've convinced me to support one of the local dealers (amazingly we actually have two survivors in the nearest big city) instead.

[You're confusing different issues. I'm recommending buying products from Authorized Dealers that have valid warranties, and both those things can be true of either bricks-'n'-mortar store sales or Internet sales. There's nothing wrong with buying from B&H in terms of gray market. They label all their import product clearly and simply offer it as an alternative, almost always offering the officially imported counterpart as well, and they provide a (real) store warranty. You are not any better off buying locally, from a safety-of-purchase standpoint. You might get other intangibles that you value. --Mike]

True....but: this assumes that the manufacturer's support system is in place in fact. In the case of Pentax USA, it is not. And apparently it is not in the UK either. We are talking about cameras and lenses sent back to Japan for repair, and those repairs taking as long as six months.

I have a wonderful Pentax 645Z, truly a remarkable device. But there are quite a few horror stories about the current state of Pentax support. This is a legacy from the horrible days of Hoya, but still not corrected by Ricoh, a much better company that has an excellent support record for its business printers. All of us Pentax owners impatiently await a turnaround. Meanwhile, all of us worry deeply that something will go wrong with our cameras, or worse, just live with a fault that doesn't completely disable the camera.

The rule for grey and second-hand purchases, as well as purchases from unknown vendors, is the same - never pay more than you are prepared to lose.

Oh my.!!! Just want to add my 2 cents. It took Nikon Canada a looong 2 months to repair my noisy focus motor in my 300 f4 lens. Their communication was awful, finally got it back, it sat for 6 months ( due to illness ) and I now take it out and guess what?. it still squeeks. Aargh.!!! and don't get me started on the Olympus rebates, where you cut out the UPC from the boxes, mail them in and then wait !! 3 months !! for a cheque. Wow. ( The hole in the box kills resale value as well ). All of the above was purchased at my local camera shop.( authorized dealer ).

Your reasoning is only partly correct IMHO; yes the money from a grey-market product doesn’t finance the brand’s service organization in your country. However, the product comes from another country where the same brand also has a service organization to finance so in the end you _are_ paying for the brand’s service organization.

The main problem is that the gray market itself is maintained by the brands.
A few years ago, products that cost say 1000 dollars in the US would be priced 1000 euros in Europe, even though the euro was worth 40% more; what was the european customer getting for that 400 dollar price difference? I don’t know.

I have yet to see warnings in airport shops that international customers buying products there may lose the warranty. Or are the same products sold in airport shops suddenly coming with an international warranty? Why?

Brands can figure out themselves that when they create sufficiently big price differences between regions, they are creating a problem. And instead of leaving their customers in the cold they should minimize the price differences and re-balance the service organizations accordingly if needed.

This is the same as the region restrictions on DVDs; maybe good for the corporate financial interests but not for the consumer.

So we should vote with our wallets and only buy (from your national distributor if you prefer) products from brands that offer an international warranty.

And yes, it is of course normal to pay for the advice and service you get in your local brick-‘n-mortar shop compared to internet shops that offer none of that in order to lower the prices as much as they can.

An addendum to Mike's footnote that gray market lenses might be worth it. They are, if they are of the increasingly rare all-mechanical variety. Lenses with built-in electronics and motors are subject to the same issues as cameras, these days.

Accordingly, I've stuck to buying only mechanical AF-D lenses for my Nikons. I'm confident that a cam and pinion brass helical focusing mechanism is something any independent repairer can fix for a long time to come—in the unlikely event that that sturdy and uncomplicated mechanical system needs repair.

I think that these days, it might additionally only be Leica that also offers all-mechanical lenses for their cameras.

My sole experience with an electronic AFS lens was a scary $400 repair bill for that $500 Nikon silent focus lens when the AF-S motor died after 4 years. Never again.

One point people are missing, is that cameras sold in different countries are different! The video will have limits and different frame rates depending on from Japan, Europe or the USA. As each of these countries uses a different standard. So if you are interested in video, then always buy local or buy for your intended market.
Lenses are now tricky, thanks to fly by wire and magnetic AF. So you can run into problems. Thus I buy lenses used from reputable photographers that have "tested" the lens. This way I save money and get a working product.

[Just curious, how do you know those photographers haven't "tested" a lens and found it to be lacking, which is why they're selling it? This was common just before my time in photography, in the '70s and earlier. Lewis Baltz used to tell how he would buy three copies of any Leica lens he wanted, test them, keep the best one, and sell the other two on. --Mike]

Mike: Grey is also the Canadian spelling!

So it should be. Why change the spelling of a perfectly good word?!

One factor in the purchase of my Fuji gear was that it was available from my local camera store and I could try one out for an hour or two and take some images before deciding.

Amazon and ebay have their uses for uncommon accessories such as Feisol tripods (very nice) and basic stuff like memory cards and filters, but I would never use them for a high value purchase of something complex. I like to have a person to talk to if it all goes wrong.

It is a gamble, as with most things in life. It seems to me that official prices in the US are already very competitive: for example while generous mail-in rebates are common in the US they are infrequent in Europe, which sways the pointer a little towards the gray market. In Australia, the difference was sometimes quite absurd for some brands... due to decisions made by the distributor. Moreover the back-up was often lacking: a friend in the retail industry was overjoyed when the then distributor of Olympus went belly-up, since he'd no longer have to deal with them.
The point about the relative complexity of bodies and lenses is interesting, but the only faulty camera equipment I've bought in the last 20 years were two Pentax lenses (17-50 and 50-135/2.8)... except that the "fault" was a bad design which Pentax never owned up to.
These days, I suspect the majority of faults are in fact software/firmware problems due to inadequate development time allocated to debugging.

I've had a good experience and a mixed experience quite recently buying gray market/international.

The good one was that I already had a Zeiss Loxia 50 for the Sony, but I was curious about the Zony 55, which is pretty much universally praised. As I recall they are usually around $1000 from US dealers, which was prohibitive just to experiment.

I got a gray market one on EBay for $700, which was probably especially stupid with this lens, which can have some quality control issues. I knew that. I was lucky to get a perfect copy though. I used the lens for some hundreds of photographs and test exposures and then decided the Loxia was my lens. (The Sony 55 is sharper wide open and has smoother bokeh, while the Loxia passes it in sharpness around f5 and has IMO mostly nicer character to the bokeh). If I were rich and had an assistant to carry gear I certainly would have kept the Sony, but it just wasn't going to be the main lens. I sold it on Amazon marketplace, sure of it's high quality, and described it as a gray market lens. I asked just a bit under what I paid for it, and it sold immediately, within hours of listing it. So except for the amazon fee, I got to use it/test it for almost nothing.

The current thrash is that I just bought a Voigtlander Ultron 35 f1.7 from the dealer Robert White in England for about $660, while it lists for $979 at B&H. (I do believe it was higher over a week ago when I was ordering it, like $1079). Anyway, again, it was the difference between "I really can't afford this" vs "I really really can't afford this."

It turns out to be a rather complex situation. It's a Leica M mount adapted to the Sony a7rii, and I'm using a slightly weird adapter, the Hawks helicoid v5. This adapter means the close focus of this lens can be halved by extending the lens, which is really cool for a lens with such incredibly beautiful bokeh and a pretty fast aperture. I knew before doing it that this lens exhibits rather extreme field curvature on this camera, and it's something to deal with. I knew I'm stepping into water full of alligators adapting a lens period.

What I've got now is an extremely sharp, beautiful bokeh lens with a very unique and pleasing character, but I'm seeing a soft left side at times. At first it freaked me out badly, and I figured it was certainly the lens. With a US dealer I would have sent it right back. Instead I kept testing it. What I find is that it sometimes is quite good on the left side, while it is sometimes horrid. I don't know everything about lenses, but it doesn't seem likely that the lens itself would be bad in a variable way -- especially an all manual lens without any autofocus issues to confound things. I'm still a little nervous, but also quite in love with this lens and glad I didn't send it back the first hour, as I probably would have. I'm experimenting with focus techniques, and I also have another (cheap) adapter on the way). I will take careful notes.

While I am not taking a stand on the wisdom of buying gray market gear, it sure seems like a camera maker's refusal to service its own defective (gray market) products at any price would be a class action lawsuit waiting to happen. This is a risk particularly for a company like Nikon which is rumored to often dump excess inventory into the gray market and has had a slew of recalls and QC problems with recent products.

Maybe more similar to driving without insurance ...

@Robert Roaldi
Definitely maybe. Several years ago I exchanged a number of emails with someone at Nikon USA (I am in Japan) asking that question. It took quite a few exchanges before he clearly stated that Nikon would honor any warranty on a Nikon bought in Japan as long as I had the original receipts.

Of course, unless things have changed getting any other support---even for Nikon software---from Nikon US or any other region outside of Japan is near impossible. Another reason that somewhat soured me on Nikon.

@David A Bateman
There are some regional differences for video---Australia (and many others) use a different standard (PAL) than the US, but Japan and the US and much of North and South America use the same (NTSC) standards.
It is something to be aware of one does want to use video with a grey market camera, but most interested in video are hopefully aware of those basic differences.

Google Nikon warranty repair and "impact damage." As far as I'm concerned, you're rolling the dice on Nikon warranty service. That's why I have camera insurance that includes accidental damage coverage. BTW, buying grey market and using the savings to buy insurance won't work for Nikon products - Nikon won't repair gray market gear even for money. Love the cameras, detest the company.

Just wanted to give a shout to Olympus and my local retailer, Park Cameras in London. Shortly after I bought the Oly 12-40mm f2.8 lens I bounced it on the pavement and jammed the focussing mechanism. With a heavy heart, I took it back to Park Cameras who told me that sometimes Olympus will repair a recently purchased lens for no charge, irrespective of who's at fault for the damage. True to their word, after a few days I picked up the lens as was told that there was no charge apart from the shipping fee!

Wouldn't have got that service from the internet!

(a) Bought into Nikon because they came out with an inexpensive 18-200mm lens before Canon. Lens if registered had 5 yr warranty. Of course, 5 yrs and 2 weeks later, wouldn't focus closer than 3 ft. Nikon honored the warranty and sent me their newer version of the lens practically by return mail. Imagine if gray market!
(b) Back in the early days of personal computers before IBM changed that world, I worked for a company that couldn't get authorized for the prominent brand that everyone wanted. We got gray market PC's from authorized dealers who couldn't make their quotas. They helped us with warranty problems, parts, etc. until they got investigated by the manufacturer. Then we had problems servicing our customers until we could dig up other sources since there were certain essential non-standard parts we couldn't get elsewhere. That's why I never bought gray market anything for myself since - I know what even conscientious non-authorized resellers go through.

Yes B&H does sell all kinds of gray market items. They also have a warranty of 13 months rather then the usually 12. I just found this out myself because someone asked me if I would buy a gray market item from B&H and I said no because of all the reasons Mike stated. Then I was shown that B&H offers a better warranty.

As for pricing, Nikon and Canon set the price, not so much the stores. If B&H sold it for less than what has been approved by Nikon or Canon, they would lose their authorized dealer status. This is why when you see it for less, it is not from an authorized dealer. This is also why you see B&H give things like cases and batteries away. It's the only way to be competitive. The margin on cameras is so thin that most stores make their money on accessories.

Back in the 90's there were all kinds of shady guys in the back of magazines who you could order a camera from for less. They take your payment and info, then ask you to buy all their crappy accessories that were inferior to the Nikon or Canon items. If you said no thanks I just want the camera, they would tell you that it is out of stock all of a sudden. Of course it would never come back in stock.

Grey/gray,....that sure seems to be somewhat a grey/gray zone!?

Just to give the background -- I've been involved in both the official importation of Nikon products into the U.S. (as a Nikon sales rep) and in gray market importation of Nikon products into the U.S. (don't ask; won't tell). Some quickie answers (please note that my purpose here is just to fill in facts, not to advocate a point-of-view about the rightness or wrongness of any person or company's practices or policies):

@ Robert Roaldi: ... If you live overseas for a while and buy camera equipment there, then bring it home, can you get that equipment repaired back home?

Typically, yes. This situation is not a gray market purchase. (What gray market actually is can be a little tricky to understand.) In the case of Nikon USA (and all other companies that I'm aware of), all you have to do is show them a receipt that proves you bought the camera outside the U.S., and they will gladly repair it.

@ David Dyer-Bennett: ... Given that people travel, and that people move (including across international borders), and that used equipment gets sold, that's totally unacceptable.

See above. Buying a camera in one country and moving or traveling to another country is not gray market and no company that I know of will refuse to repair gear purchased that way. But you may have to show your receipt. (You're proving that you did not buy a Chinese-market camera in Brooklyn, which IS gray market.)

@ Ryan Cousineau: Surely the better question is why do gray imports offer a cost saving?

There's no single answer. In the camera industry, however, the biggest reason (not the only reason, but the biggest) is that the products leak from regional distributors who sell them to folks they aren't supposed to, for prices that would not be possible if the distributor had to cover warranty and marketing costs for those products (they declaim those responsibilities to the customers they sell them to).

@ Neal Styles: ... How exactly does a camera become a 'gray market' camera?

See above. Ultimately, at all but the smallest scales, they come from regional distributors who have excess inventory they are willing to sell sideways (sometimes through a front man). Global distribution networks are very complex and can include regional distributors, regional sub-distributors, multiple sub-distributors etc., and these entities rarely have identical financial interests with parent manufacturers or distributors from other regions. Few manufacturers can completely control these networks. None of the camera companies can.

@ Ken: ... which is rumored to often dump excess inventory into the gray market

I've seen this stated, but it's an odd phrase to my ears. I'm sure that Nikon Japan does not intentionally feed gray market channels as an official company-wide sales policy. But some factions within the company's overseas sales division (let's say the Asia group, as opposed to the European group) may exhibit extreme incuriosity about the behavior of the particular regional distributors they sell to, when they are under pressure to make quarterly sales numbers etc. I guess you can decide how you would phrase that.

On balance Nikon are taking quite a bashing here. (Rightly so) They seem to offer their goods in a particularly labyrinthine supply chain. I know they don't offer a level playing field for dealers and we are finding out that, just as Canon are doing, warranties are being honored from any source in any region, thus undermining the dealers position. However, we do see a number of grey products come in that are faulty where the seller has offered no service what so ever.
The net result of the grey trade in goods is that ultimately independent shops suffer - hark the sound of violins - as manufacturers concentrate their efforts into supporting branded outlets with very little staff expertise in the products they sell and who, importantly, offer no choice, enthusiasm or imagination in helping a customer decide.
As these posts show, overwhelmingly, I think, this is a lost cause, Mike.
It is price that decides and customer service is not an important factor, unless you pretend it is when you try out the stock of your local camera store and then after an hour of interest, discussion and the garnering of knowledge not available on a forum you slope off, promising to come back, and buy grey.

@ Mark Walker: On balance Nikon are taking quite a bashing here. (Rightly so) They seem to offer their goods in a particularly labyrinthine supply chain.

Actually, Nikon's global supply chain is not very unusual. It distributes through wholly-owned subsidiaries in all major markets (just like everyone else) and uses independent import/export companies in some smaller markets (just like lots of other manufacturers). Its structure in Europe -- where I believe you said you are -- is identical to nearly every other major Japanese exporter, as far as I can tell (an umbrella EU supervisory company based in the Netherlands, with individual physical distributors in each EU country [the Italian distributor is an independent company]).

As far as gray market products hurting authorized retailers, that depends on local laws and practices. In the U.S., for example, any retailer can choose to sell gray market products alongside the authorized products they also sell (as B&H does with lenses). So they can compete with anyone, authorized or gray, if they so choose. Many of my old dealers in San Francisco did just that when I was a Nikon rep. I often sold to them standing side-by-side with their gray market supplier (a man named Simon from a company in New York nobody here has ever heard of.)

Nikon USA takes quite a bashing because of its historically aggressive anti-gray market policies, but those policies, which go back four decades or more, are primarily a product of the combative personality of its original incarnation (what is now Nikon USA started out as an independent importer called Ehrenreich Photo Optical, a legendary entity in the mid-century American camera business that was not always keen on compromise.)

Mike, thats true that one may filter out lenses. However thats why it doesn't hurt to ask questions, if unclear from the description. Also with the exception of Sigma, which is getting better, for my need I haven't seen much difference in lenses from Olympus and Panasonic. I even recently tested two panasonic 100-300mm when mistaken purchased 2. Even though one had clearly traveled the world, and I knew this from the photographer, they were both identical at 300mm. There was only slight difference in the OIS feel between the two.

@D.Hufford. You are correct. I had always grouped Japan as being Secam, but I was wrong. However now doesn't matter much with Atsc in North America and ISDB in Japan.

When buying gray, in the worst case, you're only harming yourself.

A better analogy might be driving with only the minimum liability insurance the law requires. There's always a possibility you'll crash your car or it gets stolen. Everyone has their own calculus for the risk they're willing to tolerate (or can't afford to insure for).

Buying gray is self-insuring. I've bought nothing but gray lenses for the last 20 years or so and saved a bunch doing so. Never had a dud. Of course, the next one might be. If it is, I'll have to swallow that loss, but over the long term I'll still be better off. Others may or may not be comfortable with such a strategy, but there's no moral angle to it, it's nothing but a business decision.

I thought it was a great analogy..the drunk thing.

I have lost two good friends to drunk drivers..one who was drunk and decided to drive home..ran his car into a building - and one who was t-boned by a drunk kid in a van.

Just because this happened to me does not mean that it closes the door on the choices people make when they try to make a comparison, give an example. I get extremely tired of people who seem to feel that because something happened to them, that it's time to end certain practices in pnguage..that stuff becomes ooff limits..please, move on and geo up.

What are some companies that sell gray market cameras? So i can be aware from where to buy from. Like in brooklyn or ny itself.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007