Should I Buy Grey Market Items?

In Gear by Nathan12 Comments

With an almost endless array of lenses both Nikon and 3rd Party, choosing Nikon or Canon assures you that you'll have the lens you need!

I am going to start this off with a “I just got screwed” story. This is a story of how I got screwed not once, but twice, and possibly a third on grey market items. This is also a warning to you out there looking for new gear. This is also some advice on how you might find out if your item is a grey market item or to find an authorized retailer.

My Tamron Lens

A little over a year ago I sat in my car talking to my wife when a strong gust of wind came up and blew my camera off a cliff and into the ground. The camera survived but the lens did not. I got the insurance on that and turned around and bought a used Tamron 15-30 f2.8 lens off of Amazon. It showed up and it was huge as expected and everything went along wonderfully. Flash forward a year though and I am now singing a new song.

After putting well over 100 miles with this lens in my backpack I decided I was tired of carrying the stupid thing around. Around that time I also began to notice something. I went to take a picture and the focus ring was not moving like it used to. It felt like something was pinching it. I also noticed my images were fuzzy at the widest focal range. After looking closely at the lens I noticed that the barrel of the lens was actually wobbling. Like it was loose between the focus ring and the zoom ring. The connecting to the camera was intact, but the rest of the lens could wiggle just a little. This was a startling surprise as now I no longer have a weather sealed lens and it was not focusing properly. (I also did have insurance any more)

Though I make a modest income off my photography I knew I needed to do something quickly to fix this before it affecting my business. I reached out to Tamron to get my lens fixed but ran into an error very quickly. When I put in my serial number on their website for maintenance they said I needed to call them.

So the next morning I did.

It did not take long for them to confirm that this lens was a grey market lens and that they would not repair it at all. Dang. I then began reaching out to lens repair companies and discovered that they too do not repair Tamron lenses because the company does not provide repair parts or calibration equipment.

The realization of this all hit very quickly. I now have a lens that cannot be fixed, it is breaking and is a liability in the field. The resale value normally is $850 or so but with all these issues it resale value plummeted. Who wants to buy a broken lens unless it's at a crazy good deal? That is what I did. I was able to recoup a little bit, but overall I am out a wide angle lens, over $500 dollars on resale value and now I have to buy a new lens for my camera, so another $900+ dollar issue.

My Canon 70-200

This lens is legit, but the retailer was grey market. I purchased this lens a few years ago from Amazon (see the repeating theme here) and at the time there was a $100 dollar rebate going on. I was all excited. When the box arrived it was 6 softballs. I kid you not. That was a $700 dollar set of softballs. I almost drove to Amazons distribution center in Vegas to throw those balls back through their window. I called them up and got it worked out. When the lens finally arrived I went onto Canon's website and submitted the information and they denied my request as the lens was not from an unauthorized retailer.

Not only did I deal with someone replacing my item in shop and sending me a set of softballs when that was all worked out I still couldn't get my money back. Again another grey market issue. I am getting angry just thinking about this again. So Mad!

Canon 60D

I am not for sure on this one, but I bought a used Canon 60D many years ago. At the time the camera told me how many shutter actuation it had. Fun fact Canon cameras don't have the ability to show that in their menu system in the US (I know I just looked). It takes another program on a computer to tell you that. Now that I think back on it, I think that was probably a grey market item. Not sure, but traded it for a lens later on. I guess I got what I paid for back then.

Do I Have A Grey Market Item?

After reading the stories above you might be asking yourself the question posed above. The first thing you can do is think back to where you purchased it. Was it from the company or a third party site. If it was a third party site, is it reputable like B&H or Adorama? Or was it Amazon, eBay or some other site. If you bought used from someone possibly reach out to them and ask them where they got it from. If you got it through a reputable site, sit back and breath easily.

If you find yourself in the other category do the following. Check to see if it has a serial number. If it does not, you have a grey market item.  If it does reach out the manufacturer and confirm the serial number with them. If you are told your lens/camera is a grey market you have about 120 days to return it to the retailer whom you purchased it from. Also, if it showed up without manuals or weird charging units, it's a grey market.

The Consequences

What happens if you guy grey market? Sometimes you might get defective equipment. You might even get equipment with counterfeit software or other fake pieces within.

Here are some of the companies that are talking about it and thier policies on it all.

Canon– All warranties are void. From what I hear they will still fix the lens/camera but you will eat 100% of the repair cost even if it's been 1 day since you bought it.

Nikon– Won't touch it with a 10 foot pole, you are on your own. All warranties void.

Sony-Could not see anything looking around. If you are a Sony rep reach out to me and I will update it here.

Tamron– Will not repair or fix any issues. You have to return it to the retailer.  They do not provide equipment for others to fix so you are out of luck if your personal warranty expired with the retailer.

Sigma– They will fix a grey market item but it will cost $250 plus the price of repair.

Fuji– All warranties are voided.

I looked up a few other lens companies out there, but I did not see anything in specific on their sites. If you have questions about your companies gear you can ask them.

Why Still Do It?

Unfortunately, there are still good reasons to do grey market purchases. The biggest is the price savings. In fact, that is the only one I know of. You might be able to get gear hundreds of dollars off possibly even a $1000 if you are lucky. If you are only saving $100 or less, don't do it.

Grey market items are legit though. They are made by the manufacturers and they have all the quality that you would expect from the company. They just have a few hidden dark aspects to their existence. If you are willing to risk it for the price savings go for it. If you don't have extra cash just to potentially burn, save up a bit more an go through a reputable source.

 

Final Thoughts

I will never do grey market again. I have been burned too many times now. In fact, if I were you I would not buy Amazon for cameras or lenses. They are having a bad reputation for people sending the wrong things to you. I would rather deal with the slightly higher costs of going through a reputable source than deal with the shady side of the business world.

Do you buy Grey? If so tell your stories below, both good and bad.

 


About the Author

Nathan

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Nathan works for the state of Utah as a biologist for his day job, but does landscape photography on the side. His work focuses on the landscapes of Southern Utah including Zion, Bryce and the slot canyons of the southwest. He enjoys spending his weekends in the wilderness or selling his photos at local markets. To view his work go to: https://www.standrephotography.com/

Comments

  1. I buy lenses and cameras from Amazon all of the time and have yet to have a single problem with them. Keep in mind, however, that third party sellers peddle their wares on there as well so be sure to check which specific seller you’re ordering from before you place you order. As long as the seller is Amazon themselves (different from Fulfilled by Amazon, which is still ultimately a third party seller) you’re probably safe. On the off chance that something does go wrong, if Amazon is the seller, then I’ve found that their resolution process is pretty simple and hassle-free.

    As a general rule, however, I tend to stay away from grey market goods simply because I find the savings aren’t worth the potential trouble if something does happen to go wrong. You’re usually better off just buying a used domestic lens/camera than a brand new grey market one because at least companies will repair the used ones, even if it’s coming out of your own wallet. The fact that so many companies will refuse to even touch grey market items even if you’re willing to pay the full repair price makes it too much of a gamble for me.

  2. Great article, but its still not clear why an item is considered grey and is not supported by the same manufacturer that made it in the first place. Are such itrms some sort of production reject? Or is the only “sin” that of buying through another channel instead of the local importer?

    1. It’s pretty much the latter. Grey market items are items that were produced for other markets and were not imported through the proper channels. This means that in certain instances, they can be slightly different (to comply with the laws of the intended market) and chances are that the proper taxes were likely not paid in the process of bringing them into the country.

      Theoretically speaking, the actual quality of grey market items should be no different from their domestic variants nor should their function. There are a few instances where this is not true, but those are the exceptions rather than the rule when it comes to camera equipment.

    2. Worked in a camera store for five years selling major brands….grey is simply a piece that didn’t go through the AUTHORIZED chain of distribution to the retailer…in which case, warranty would be nil OR an”international” warranty usually by a third party… some chain stores offered their own warranties…in my experience, though, manufacturer warranty is least hassle for sure

  3. If you’re fortunate enough to have a good ole Camera Store near you (Hunts has two near me and they are great, support them. They offer extremely competitive prices (Basically the same as online) and you get incredible customer service. I love them! And you can browse the store (Melrose, MA store is like Toy’s R Us for adults!) and play with everything – including things like the Huge Intuos Cintique Graphics Display! GREAT STUFF!

    If online, I stick with B&H! Great service and it is their sole business. Too many issues with Amazon as of late to buy anything worth more than $500!

  4. Nathan, Sorry to hear about your misfortunes. I too had an issue like this with my Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 (first gen). I bought it off eBay shortly after they became available. I was assured by the seller that it was a USA/Canada Tamron Authorized lens. It came with a Warranty Card that stated “North American” Market. So I assumed it was. This was about 6 years ago, around 2012. When they first came out. Anyways, last year, I noticed that it had some fungus growing behind the front lens element. I reached out to Tamron and asked them for service. I gave them my serial number. They told me that it wasn’t showing up in their system. And was told to call Tamron Canada. I called Tamron Canada and they told me that my serial number is not showing up on their system as well. I said how could this be possible? My Warranty Card states “North America.” Tamron Canada told me that they would have to get in touch with their head quarters in Japan in order to trace my serial number.
    After 2 weeks without getting any answers. I called Tamron Canada again. And finally, they were able to trace my serial number.
    My Tamron lens was destined for the European Market. And if I wanted to have it repaired, I would have to send it to Tamron Europe in Germany. After sending an email to Tamron Europe. I got a reply stating that Tamron USA(New York) would be willing to repair my lens for a fee. ($275) + 90 day warranty. It was an ordeal.

  5. Pentax told me they would repair grey market cameras for the cost of the repair. No drama.

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