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Why You Shouldn’t Buy Your Next Camera from the Gray Market and Why Those Nikons Aren’t Really ‘On Sale’

I am probably going to piss off Lee Morris and Patrick Hall and probably some of you with this post but there has been a lot of conversation lately, including multiple posts on Fstoppers.com, about ‘discounted,’ ‘gray market’ and ‘on sale’ cameras dramatically priced lower than their manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP).

Some of you see a $2000 camera priced at $1499 and think, “Wow! What a deal!” And some of you also think, “What’s the catch?” Both are valid points and appropriate responses to these deep discounts. So what IS the catch? How can the same camera be sold by B&H for $2000 and another retailer sell it for $1499?

Knowing the difference and what you’re getting into with these deep discount cameras is extremely important when making a high value purchase, especially if this is your business. The $2000 camera and the $1499 camera are not exactly the same as you might assume and it comes down to the retailer, specifically the “Authorized” portion of the retailer and the differences in the product that creates.

An Authorized Retailer of a product is appointed by the manufacturer or main distributor to sell its products. You hear this term all the time in the electronics industry. Beyond the Apple Stores, Verizon Stores and Windows Stores, electronics manufactures have to sell their goods in 3rd party retailers such as Best Buy or Amazon. There is no Nikon or Canon store you can go to and pick up a 5D Mark III off the shelf. You go to Best Buy and buy it there, usually paying around the MSRP of the product + local sales tax if applicable.

So why can eBay sell me the same camera for $500 less?

Well there are a few parts to unpack here. First, eBay is not a retailer. Unlike Amazon who sometimes ships and sells items directly, eBay facilitates sales from other merchants. You’re not actually buying anything from eBay. You’re buying from a seller who uses eBay and PayPal for their online commerce. This is the reason eBay has services like ‘Buyer Protection’ policies, to protect buyers from sellers whom take advantage of them through mislabeled products or bad service.

The second part is you are most likely buying a ‘Gray Market’ or ‘Import’ product which undoubtedly lacks a manufacturer’s warranty that will be honored in your country. They are not ‘on sale’ as they don’t carry the same warranty card from NikonUSA and sometimes lack software, cables, batteries, etc. You are not getting an identical experience as you would if you purchased from B&H or Best Buy. The camera might be identical but it is a risk. You also take a risk with the merchant. eBay does not require merchants to denote an item if it is gray market. And merchants have been known to take forever to ship items or follow up with buyers and force them to buy expensive accessory packs in order to get their deep discount camera. This is not always the case though.

There are some differences between the manufacturers (Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc.) on who will honor gray market cameras with warranties, but NikonUSA will not. Some gray market merchants will offer their own warranties or offer 3rd party warranties but this comes with its own risk with stories of merchants flat out not honoring them or completely disappearing months after the purchase. NikonUSA will not even repair the product but there are some independent Authorized Nikon Repair stations that will attempt to repair gray market products.

So what? I don’t want to pay a $500 insurance policy on gear that isn’t going to break anyway. I still get the camera and I can download manuals and software from the web.

Here is some math. Let’s say there is an 80% chance your camera will never need to go back to Nikon for repair in or out of warranty. That’s $500 for a 20% chance something happens. I can see where people might think they wouldn’t want to pay an extra $500 to cover their butts and just pay $1500 again to replace their camera if something happened. But if you are a freelance photographer and your camera is your business, you want to mitigate risks, not increase it. What kind of business gambles with their main piece of equipment at 20%? If that’s your game, jump on the World Series of Poker.

And don’t even think about getting insurance on your gear. Most insurance agents require warranty cards and proof of purchase from authorized retailers. So if your gear is lost or stolen, you’re out of luck again.

Okay, I hear ya, but it’s a $500 savings now versus a 20% chance of paying another $1500 later.

It all comes down to risk and how much you want to take. If you are a hobbyist and just looking for a great deal, the risk might not be too high for you. Or if you have a lot of cash flow and are not worried about dropping another $1500 if the odds are not in your favor. Whatever your situation, have the facts, mitigate your risks and make smart business moves to keep the lights on and your camera working, it is your money maker after all.

Do you feel the gray market is worth the risk? Have you been burned by buying a camera through the gray market? Share your stories in the comments below.

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79 Comments

Hugh Day's picture

FStoppers literally just posted this article,

https://fstoppers.com/deals/crazy-sale-save-700-new-50-megapixel-canon-5...

A few days ago. Contradicting, no?

Barry Santori's picture

Its expected that different authors have differing opinions. The author addressed this at the beginning of the article.

Lee Morris's picture

that's the point

Jimmy Schaefer's picture

I think people become upset because they see Fstoppers as more of a company then a community of authors that write stories and have their own opinions, so people get upset when they see conflicting things. Also many people just read titles and look at photos. If you guys at Fstoppers really want to increase readership you would make the entire post in <H1> LIKE THIS SO PEOPLE THINK THE ENTIRE POST IS A LARGE AND RATHER LONG TITLE FOR THE POST FOLLOWED BY A <H1> <image>

Lee Morris's picture

I personally love a good debate :)

Justin Haugen's picture

Debate is pointless! Discuss.

Lee Morris's picture

Where's the fun in that!

Justin Haugen's picture

I feel like we're all apart of a debate team that none of us signed up for. I mean that in a good way lol

Jimmy Schaefer's picture

I mean they mention in this article in the first few lines that they are contradicting assholes

https://fstoppers.com/deals/today-only-nikon-d750-ebay-deal-even-better-...

Lee Morris's picture

Well said. I think we made this clear in our original D750 eBay post. During that first "sale" we bought 4 cameras and saved $800/camera. No warranty is worth that. I would argue that a true professional has a physical backup of gear and not the ability to mail a camera back and have it repaired in a few weeks. I also have insurance on all of my gear and I have never been asked to prove that it wasn't grey market but maybe some do.

I just put a stereo system in my car and the local shop cost $1500 MORE for the hardware alone than buying the gear on Amazon and paying them to install it. They tried to tell me that I wasn't going to get a warranty. Who would ever spend $1500 on a warranty for something that costs around $2000?

I completely respect wanting to have a warranty and playing it safe but you also have to put a value on that. What if it was 50% off? What if it was 90% off? I'm personally still very happy with my decision but I understand your view as well.

Casey Berner's picture

Thanks Lee. Yes, I think it's clear in all the Fstopper's posts regarding eBay deals that they are most likely gray market and buyers should make their own decisions based on their needs.

I agree, we all have different thresholds of where we are willing to give something up to get a savings (ie. Our Dignity for a Commercial Size tub of Peanut Butter at Costco) and your car shop example highlights that perfectly.

Patrick Hall's picture

I must also add that Amazon in many cases is exactly like ebay. We sell on Amazon and the only thing that dictates who you are actually buying from is who wins Amazon's "Buy button". That means that some higher rated and reviewed stores can actually sell our own FlashDisc as the main seller instead of us. That means that if GETITDIGITAL decided to sell his cameras on Amazon, and you searched and bought a D750, then he could actually win the seller position over someone like Adorama or BH Photo. It's kind of a dumb thing on Amazon's part but that's how it works. The only way to guarantee that you are buying from a reputable dealer is to buy directly off their website OR click on their store through Amazon and buy it that way.

Lee Morris's picture

Yep, I got a "fake" Nikon battery grip and "fake" Sandisk memory cards on Amazon. You THINK you're buying directly from Amazon but sometimes if you simply refresh the page, it will change who you are buying from automatically.

Casey Berner's picture

Thank's why I always look for this:

Patrick Hall's picture

The problem is, Amazon isn't an authorized dealer either :/

http://cdn-6.nikon-cdn.com/where-to-buy/nikon_img_auth_dealers.pdf

Lee Morris's picture

Haha, what does this actually mean then?

Andrew Griswold's picture

What do you guys know about Digital Rev? I have seen them selling stuff "brand new" for up to a few hundred off the stock price with free shipping. Is this considered grey market? I already know that retailers will not match their prices but they will match various Amazon and online prices I have seen.

G Fernando Chavez's picture

i bought one of that first d750 sales on ebay and the camera works perfect.

Prefers Film's picture

You drive a Civic?

Lee Morris's picture

haha no. F150

Peter Timmer's picture

Where do you leave your gear Lee? doesn't look like there's a lot of space in your car.. :P ;)

Mr Blah's picture

That, would be an F50. F150 isn't quite the same performer! ;)

Lee Morris's picture

I'm already satisfied with the stock stereo in my F50 ;)

Mr Blah's picture

At those type of prices, it's a great deal.

As I wrote in the general thread:

2x 1500$ grey market camera runs for 3000$. That's 700$ more than 1x legit camera.

So that "insurance" of 800$ (legit camera cost - grey camra cost) is actually higher than buying 2 grey camera and having a whole second body as insurance.

Ridiculous pricing....

Alice Avenne's picture

There are a ton of typos and spelling mistakes in this article. Don't you have a proofreader? You should!

Alice Avenne's picture

Some idiots downvoted my comment. Apparently they hate proper spelling, most likely due to their distressing feelings of inadequacy when faced with a piece of paper and a sentence to write. You must be the kind of idiots who neither know the difference between "your" and "you're" and I bet you write "should of" instead of "should have". I'm not even from an english speaking country, I'm from Belgium and yet I know this! I am absolutely horrified by the fact that some people think proper spelling isn't important.

Barry Santori's picture

You have improperly used the word neither.

Alice Avenne's picture

I don't think so but if you would care to elaborate please do so.

Vikram Vetrivel's picture

A "neither" should always be followed by a "nor" later in the sentence.

Alice Avenne's picture

Thank you.

Prefers Film's picture

I'm right there with you. At the very least, they should have a second person look it over. Then again, one of my hats is "Editor", so I am always holding "writers" to a higher standard.

Patrick Hall's picture

On another completely different note, our insurance agency has never asked to see proof of purchase from an authorized dealer. If that is the case, does that mean you cannot insure used gear for fair market value and other potential insured items like refurbed computers, flashes, hard drives, etc etc if you bought them from a friend or online? I've never heard of this personally but that's pretty scary if true. That would change everyone's opinion on buying used.

Alice Avenne's picture

My belgian insurance will insure second hand gear if I have a proof of purchase from a legally registered business. They don't cover stuff I bought from individuals though.

Casey Berner's picture

Basically anything can be insured. It just varies on cost. A standard homeowner's policy covers items in your dwelling. And if you make money with your camera, you'll need a different kind of policy all together. You can schedule items on your insurance based on value but in my experience, when filing a claim you need to produce proof of purchase and an insurer can deem if that is retailer or if it is an individual. It's best to just call your insurance agent and get the facts for your specific insurer.

Prefers Film's picture

Have you ever filed a claim?

Casey Berner's picture

Yes, twice.

michael andrew's picture

agreed, I have the best insurance in the world and all they ask for is serial numbers.

Alfredo Luna's picture

NikonUSA won't repair them, but couldn't you ship them to "Nikon(Whatever country it is supposed to be sold)" and have them fix it that way? I think going this route would still save you a significant amount over buying it here.

Patrick Hall's picture

That is my thought. I might actually ship one of these to Nikon USA and just see what happens (not for a repair but a clean and check).

Patrick Hall's picture

Furthermore, Elia Locardi is here with us and claims that Nikon services cameras bought in pretty much any market except maybe hong kong or China. He claims there are different levels of gray market and that if you buy a camera in Japan and then move/return to the US, they will infact service your camera. It all seems silly to me not to service your own product simply because it was bought far away from where you live. This planet is tiny and people travel and buy gear all over the place.

Casey Berner's picture

First off, NikonUSA is a subsidiary of Nikon and NikonUSA has to apply for reimbursement from Nikon Corporate on any warranty repairs.

Also, this is directly from NikonUSAs website:

"Nikon Inc. USA cannot provide any technical support or warranty service on Gray Market items. Additionally Nikon Inc. USA cannot perform any fee-based repair work on Gray Market items. Please do not contact Nikon Inc. USA for help with any Gray Market products. Please contact the reseller or importer of your Gray Market items for warranty and service information as well as software updates and downloads."

Barry Santori's picture

I agree. Gray market products are genuine, not counterfeit. As long as the mfg can verify the product is genuine and has not been tampered with, it would make sense to service it.

Zachary Lai's picture

Elia is correct. I have bought cameras in USA and got them serviced in Singapore. They wouldn't honour the warranty, but you can pay for repairs.

Chris Adval's picture

I think if you're one of those special members with that membership thing you pay yearly membership fees for, they'll take care of it still.

Scott Mosley's picture

If they will do a clean and check/adjust I'm on board, please report on this as soon as you can. Thank you

Fritz Asuro's picture

Haven't tried to purchase a gray market camera/lens online (and might never) as I always want to see it for myself and have a face to face with my dealer so I can sort out things with them.
Gray market equipment is not that bad. I suggest, better build a good relationship with a local store around your town. See if they are good with taking care of their customers especially on handling store warranty for their gray market products.

Most of my gear are from gray market and never had a bad copy. Most of the time, the problems I experienced with those kind of products are photocopied manuals, manuals with different language, & weird plugs for the charger. Never got a box with missing batteries, cords, and other accessories.

Lee Morris's picture

I honestly don't think there is a single store within 2 hours of Charleston SC that sells Nikon Pro cameras and lenses

Fritz Asuro's picture

That's unfortunate. Well I guess my suggestion really varies regionally.

Prefers Film's picture

I've been using Pro Camera Service (procamera.net) for 20+ years. I even shipped a Canon to them when I lived in Australia. They don't care where you bought it.

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