“Grey Market” Should You Avoid It???

Another question I get frequently from photographers that are new or photography students is “should I buy “grey market” camera gear and what exactly is it other than cheaper?”

First, let me start by saying ALL the major camera manufacturers are foreign to the USA and have USA counterparts that import and sell their products in the US. Nikon and Canon both have their US offices located on Long Island, NY and most of the rest of them are located in New York City as well.

These US offices are the ONLY source for importing the camera bodies, lenses, etc from the factories in Japan, Germany and elsewhere and selling in the US market with USA warranties. This image is one of a U.S. legitimate Nikon D7000 box, courtesy of Ken Rockwell.


The reason many people are attracted to “grey market” items is the savings in pricing vs buying in the US. Most of the time, the “grey market” items are made in the same factory as the USA items to the same specs and using the same parts and quality control, but in this day and age there is a LOT of counterfeiting going on out of China, so you have to be very careful.

When you by a “grey market” item, you cannot go to Nikon or Canon US and get service or warranty repair. Even if the item is made in their factory, since it was not imported by the US division and they did not get their mark-up, they are not obligated to honor any warranty and they won’t.

Right now their is a large legal battle between Canon and “Grey Market” sellers on eBay. Canon USA is suing them for hurting their business, which is odd as the “Grey Market” sellers have been doing it for decades and Canon didn’t seem to care until just recently.

Some of the large, reputable dealers even sell “grey market” lenses at least, B&H is one of them and they even have a “grey market” section on their site that explains this. Now in the case of a large company like B&H, they offer a comparable warranty on their “grey market” items and service and warranty them through their massive store in NYC.

Many people have differing opinions on “grey market”, my opinion is do your homework and then decide for yourself. I have bought some “grey market” lenses as the savings were huge compared to buying the USA model and the dealer I bought from is very reputable and warranties the items themselves, but not all of them do and many use slick talk and ads to con you out of your money so you do have to be careful. I would NOT buy a camera body “grey market” as it’s the most important piece of my photography set up. I buy genuine USA models only from an authorized Canon dealer so I know when it needs service I can send it to Canon US.

I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts several ways to save on lenses, like buying them from pawn shops, CraigsList, eBay or from a members of local camera clubs. Most new photographers, and especially photography students don’t have Trust Fund money, so find those deals where you can. I’ve even made a fair share of extra money buying old FD lenses for almost nothing from local pawn shops as they had been sitting on them for 10-12 years and them sell them on eBay for a massive profit and then use that money to buy the new lens or body I wanted.

Is “grey market” for you? Only you can decide that, but be careful and do your homework. Remember the old adage, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”.