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Buying Gray Market Cameras: What You Need To Know

Published: 18/05/2015

GrayMarketCharlie asked:

I’m thinking about buying a Sony A7S but see prices all over the board. Do you know if the cheaper ones on EBAY are the same model as US ones. Are they the Japanese model and thus worth less?

I've not had any direct experience with this issue, but I always buy only from Amazon or B&H because I know they both have products made for the US and they have standard warranties. After a little research, I found this article at that gives some more insight into Charlies question. In summary the article says:

A “gray market” camera is one that is advertised for a price significantly less than is charged by the original manufacturer or their authorized dealer. The consumer can often be misled by gray market vendors that make misleading statements about what they are selling and engage in sales tactics that legitimate dealers would question. They often use the offer of significant savings to lure potential buyers into spending more without getting what they thought they were buying. When you are talking about cameras, especially high-end models, the maxim “there is no free lunch” applies. You get what you pay for, and every consumer that is considering dealing with a store that advertises their goods significantly under the manufacturers’ advertised price should do so with caution and skepticism.

Has anyone had any direct experience buying gray market gear?

Larry Lohrman

16 comments on “Buying Gray Market Cameras: What You Need To Know”

  1. I've never bought any gray market cameras but I have bought a few gray market lenses and some accessories back in the seventies and eighties. I never had any problems with them. I do agree, I've only used Amazon and B&H for the past 10 or so years. I've never had a problem with either one of them. Before that I nearly always bought from local camera shops and I do miss that interaction with them.

  2. That article isn't really about gray market cameras. Most all reputable camera dealers, including B&H sell gray market cameras. The only difference is typically the warranty offered.

    To avoid the seedy bait-and-switch online camera shops check or even better: only buy from reputable retailers like B&H, Adorama, or your local pro shop (if they're still around).

    Considering how shitty Nikon/Canon customer service is these days, there's a really good argument for seriously considering gray market items. Here's an interesting article from Thom Hogan:

  3. Another issue to consider is warranty. You're spending more money for a higher end camera, but if something isn't up to snuff, and you want a warranty repair you need to send it off far away and must wait longer even just for the shipping issues. Full price cameras have their company repair shops here in North America.

  4. I picked up my first full frame camera used, nikon d800. I learned just before the purchase that it was grey market and sold new by a local camera store. I was told it was same product just offered through different distributor (not licensed by nikon) and not with standard warranty. I guess a warranty was offered by other company but you may have trouble finding someone to deal with a faulty product. That was well over a year ago. Great savings. Since then I've purchased two lenses, nikor 14-24, 2.8, and 24-70, 2.8 new from ebay. The ebay company e-infinity offered their grey market product at a significant savings. Shipping was super fast and quite remarkable considering it was coming from Hong Kong. I haven't had any problems with any of these and would considering grey market again. However! I'm not so sure I'd feel the same way if I needed a product fixed under warranty.

  5. I bought a Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8 lens on ebay, not realizing it was gray market. I found out the hard way that Nikon USA will not service gray market product under any circumstances, warranty or not.
    In my experience, the slight cost savings (from reputable dealers like B&H) is not worth the risk...

  6. Gray market, same camera but no USA warranty. Warranty may be an add-on by the store or a separate purchase. Terms and conditions of these warranties can be really flaky. You have to be careful and know exactly what is being covered. and the sales people are not very helpful. Second problem, calling and ordering from someone is a real hassle as they are extremely pushy and want to switch you to other and more expensive equipment. You have to keep saying NO, NO, NO as they keep trying to switch you to another upgrade model, add-on alternate lenses, batteries, chargers, filters, camera bags, etc. I found it a real pain in the butt and now just deal with B&H or Adorama where you only get good help and NO hassles. The last time I called one of these "gray market" stores I wanted to buy JUST a specific camera body. I had to spend almost 1/2hour refusing upgrades or alternates before he rudely processed the order for Just the camera body I wanted. If you want to go to one of these bait and switch operations you better be ready to just hang up the phone if you get one of their sharks!

  7. How can you tell if you are purchasing a grey market product? I just ordered a Sony a7ii from B&H. This would never enter my mind until reading this post.

  8. @HEV - If you get it from Amazon or B&H It is not gray market. Gray market is where it is significantly less than Amazon or B&H. For example the Sony A7S that Charlie asked about is $2498 on both B&H and Amazon... but there are some on Ebay for $1550 and $1800 where seller is in Hong Kong... that offer no warranty, they are gray market.

  9. @Larry - I just spoke with a sales rep at B&H. They do offer grey market products (they do not offer grey market sony products or ziess). They label them "Imported".

  10. Many of the sellers on Amazon also sell gray market items sent directly from China, Hong Kong and other places. Some have been less than honest about it.

  11. Grey market are the same as stated, even equipment from Canada is considered grey if bought for use here in the USA. Seems stupid but it is how Nikon for example protects it's licensed dealers and distributors. Repair for these items needs to be performed by private repair companies and hopefully they can get the parts. I have had two grey market bodies, never had an issue so knock on wood, I just wear them out and when that happens it's time to upgrade anyway.

  12. @HEV - OK, I stand corrected. So both Amazon and B&H sell gray market gear also. What I was referring to was the main price that comes up first is the most expensive... this demonstrates how difficult it is to sort out what is gray and what isn't.

  13. A couple of variations on the issue.
    1) Fully mindfull of Nikon USA's policy not to work with gray market, a couple years ago a Nikon rep was in the local camera store so I posed the question "What if you are in Europe on vacation (or a professional photo shoot) and all your gear is stolen (or you saw a good deal as a tourist) and had to replace all your gear. Would Nikon USA honor any warranty work when brought back home?" The answer was if purchased though their authorized importer counterpart, they would, but if it was gray market in that country, they wouldn't. You may want to check the accuracy, but on a business level it makes sense. After all, why should an importer/distributor who takes a risk and receives a profit subsidize those who bypass.

    2) Kind of a variation of the above - but not leaving home. I am gradually making the switch from Nikon to Sony and with the strength of the US$ it provides some opportunities buying from Authorized Retailers in foreign countries. Canada is a good example with a 0.81 conversion factor that is, for easy math, a built in 20% discount. You do have to know prices as sometimes they are marked up higher than the 20%, but sometimes they do have a factory authorized discount (sale) applied that is not available in the US. Example, the Sony a7s mentioned earlier is 2499 CAD with a current 100 CAD sale making it 2399 CAD or US$1919 vs US$2498 at B&H. This includes the Authorized Canadian importer's warranty. While I haven't done it with a camera body, I did with a Sony lens which brought up another variation as Canada provides a better warranty, 2 yrs vs 1 yr and includes accidental damage which the US warranty exclude. I am not going to mention the firm but is large, well know even described as the B&H of Canada, but be aware some of the other Canadian mailorder firms negate the currency issue by switching the server and subsequent pricing to the originating (i.e. US) country.

  14. There are obviously different gray markets. The way I understand it, is that some gray market items are simply bought at reduced prices in bulk from the manufacturer. When this happens, you are essentially getting the exact same camera as you would if you purchased from an authorized dealer. Other gray maker items, who knows where they are getting them from, and what is potentially wrong with them. Therein lies the problem I suppose, which one are you getting, but you can usually get a good idea of established gray market sellers.

    I don't normally buy camera equipment gray market. It seems to me like B and H just has such dynamite prices on things like bodies, and they throw in a bunch of stuff. It does not seem worth it. One thing I will say, embrace the gray market. Other countries I have lived in simply don't have markets like this. When the option isn't there there is no way to keep the authorized sellers as honest, and you just simply don't have that cheaper option if you want it.

  15. Expensive high end equipment such as cameras and lenses I will buy from my local camera store. I have built up a good relationship with them over the years and receive excellent discounts, and know that if I do have a problem with my camera or lens, they will get it repaired for me and any warranties will be honoured. In the past I was also able to get a loan camera for the period that my camera was in for repair at no extra charge. This means zero downtime for my business. Lower end accessories such as speedlights, triggers etc. I don't mind sourcing via eBay.

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