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Insights & Thoughts

Clearing The Smoke Around Grey Market Gear, and Why It May Be A Good Option For You

By Anthony Thurston on August 31st 2014

I was recently made aware of a stigma around purchasing “Grey Market” gear, mostly due to misinformation. I wanted to make a quick post to sort of clear the air around grey market gear, and explain why it may be a good option for you.

grey-market

So, before I really explain why I think it can be a great option for you, we first really need to define what I mean when I say ‘Grey Market’ gear. I recently was disturbed to hear that some people were under the impression that grey market gear was somehow of a lower quality or in some way tainted compared to non-grey market gear. This is incorrect, at least if you subscribe to the definition of grey market gear that I do.

Grey market gear, as I have had it defined to me, is simply the selling of gear that was originally meant for sale in another market. So for example, say B&H purchased a bunch of Canon 6D bodies from a store that was going out of business in India (or ANY other country/market), if they wanted to turn around and sell them here in the US, they would have to sell them as grey market. The bodies are identical to the other 6D bodies in the B&H store, but the one glaring difference is that since they were originally to be sold in India, they would not be covered under a Canon USA warranty. The gear is not a knockoff, nor is it inferior to the Canon USA gear. It is simply gear imported into the country not through the official distributor of the company (in our example above, Canon USA).

grey-market-1

This works the other direction too. If a company in the UK wanted to sell bodies originally meant to be sold in the US they would be listed as grey market (or imported). If you would like more detail or clarification from a trusted source, you can check out B&H Photo’s official definition here.

So, now that we understand what I mean by Grey Market gear, let’s talk about why it may be a good option for you. The most obvious reason, is that usually grey market items can offer you a decent savings over that of normal in market gear. For example, I shared a great deal on Canon EOS-M kits the other night, $249 for the body and the 22mm F/2 – which is a great deal.

In addition to finding great deals on gear, the grey market can sometimes offer you the opportunity to get your hands on items that may be discontinued or hard to get through an official distributor. Which can be nice if you are looking for something hard to get.

You should always research who you are getting this gear from, whether it be on eBay or from an established store. If you buy grey market on eBay you run the risk of getting duped, and left out to dry without a factory warranty to fall back on. But really, that is no different from buying standard gear on eBay (in that you can get duped on any purchase), and grey market gear is protected just the same as normal gear by Ebay buyer protection. As for established stores like B&H, you can just about count that as good as a standard gear purchase because they will (depending on their policy) at the very least cover dead on arrival units. It is a risk buying grey market for this reason, you can’t be 100% sure what you are getting is a good unit. But if my personal experience is any indication, it is not something I really worry about too much so long as the seller checks out. In my time, I have purchased lots of grey market or imported items, and never had an issue.

Are grey market items for everyone? Certainly not. You need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages yourself and decide on your own. But in my personal experience, I have been just as happy with every grey market purchase I have made with all the standard USA market items.

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What are your thoughts on grey market items? Did this post help clear up the issue for you at all? Leave a comment below!

Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Raquel Ames

    Thanks for the clarification!  I feel better.  I did get a 3 year extended warranty for the 24-70.  The place I bought it from said they were not a Authorized dealer for Tamron but do get product from a manufactured dealer..hmmm well I will let you know what I hear from them, but it is covered through Newleus the extended warranty I bought.  

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  3. Ether Ling

    Great clarification & suggestion on grey market gears!

    I would add that manufacture refurbished is an even cheaper way to go. I can only speak for Canon refurbished, but all 8 refurbished lenses (primes, zooms, L lenses) I have gotten direct from Canon not only perform extremely well, they look pristine as well.

    A downside of mass production is the fact that not every piece of product that comes off the assembly line gets checked for quality—only a small percentage of it does. However, every refurbished gear gets checked and is guaranteed to meet original manufacture specifications.

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  4. Emilio Savov

    I would buy a grey market gear for sure! It’s absolutely the same as the other gear, so this is an option for me to get it for a cheaper price. :)

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  5. Phil Bautista

    Living in the Philippines, I’ve noticed how much cheaper it is to buy stuff on sale in the US, even if I have to pay shipping and duties. Naturally, that means that I’m buying grey market items, so no warranty and no support. Thankfully, I’ve never had need of a warranty and there are a lot of local shops who’ll provide maintenance for my equipment no matter where it came from.

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  6. Timothy Tasmin

    Some camera companies do honor warranty from other markets, I’ve read that Fujifilm had no problem doing other warranties from different countries. And there are third-party warranty services out there like Squaretrade that does Gray-market items.
    “Gray-market / International items. Many camera and cell phone manufacturers will not honor their warranty on international items. Covered.”

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  7. Rafael Steffen

    From all the experiences described above there is no question that I would never choose grey market.

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  8. Tim Broadbent

    Thank you for the clarification , I did think that was the case but it’s still good to here it from some one like in this site . Cheers

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  9. Hannes Nitzsche

    Thanks for the clarification! I actually read up about this a few weeks back on the B&H Photo website.
    I’m a big fan of supporting local businesses and creating a sorta business “relationship” with trust and respect with my local camera shop. Unfortunately the price gap between (most) the local businesses and online retailers (grey import or not) has usually been quite large. Lately though, some shops here started selling grey imports which created a decent amount of competition and those savings were directly being passed on to the customers.
    The most important thing in my opinion, as was also mentioned in previous comment, is the warranty. Some grey import retailers will sell items cheaper to you, but if something goes wrong, an item is faulty or breaks, you would have to ship the item back to the manufacturer (and back to you, later) at your own expense. That’s why, if I buy a camera body or a lens, I usually bite the bullet and go to my local dealer (who only sells non-grey imported goods). He might charge a little more, but I know I can go back and get the item repaired or replaced in a very short time and without incurring shipping costs(which can become quite expensive if you need content insurance/tracking, etc, not to mention GST if you’re above the tax free threshold – at least here in Australia). And in return, my local camera shop will look after me and give me discounts. For the purchase of my 6D body, for example, I get 25 free prints each month for a year. Sweet! :)

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  10. Michael Leslie

    My last three lenses were ‘Grey Imports’, Tamron 24-70 VC, Tamron 70-200 VC and Sigma 50mm Art, UK price £2,550 grey import price £1,843 enough change to buy another lens and at the time it was easier to get a Sigma 50mm Art from Hong Kong than from any UK retailer.

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  11. Taylor Huston

    I had an issue once, and partially my fault for not doing my research.

    I bought a D7000 kit from NewEgg. But not from NewEgg so much as a third party selling through NewEgg. Turns out the D7000 was grey market, which wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the ad, and I didn’t find out until it broke and I tried to get it repaired through Nikon. The ad had said ‘1-year factory warranty’, which turns out it meant they would repair it if you sent it to them (the seller).

    So I sent it to the seller in NYC, on my own dime. They kept it for 2 months before sending it back, un-repaired. I sent it in again, this time they had it for 4 months, every time I called they were ‘waiting on parts’, before they again sent it back unrepaired. I went to the BBB and all that jazz, but nothing every really came of it. Oh wells, live and learn.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Yeah, getting grey market gear when you think you are getting warranty covered gear is not cool.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Anthony, I think it would be worth mentioning in this article officially that Nikon does in deed have an extremely strict policy with regards to refusing to service non-USA equipment, and since they recently changed their corporate policies to cease selling repair parts to third-party repair shops, this can literally make it impossible for you to repair a very pricey Nikon camera that is only lacking a $200-300 repair. All because you wanted to save $50 on your original purchase.

      I have this info from both B&H and Adorama directly, from my old CameraTalk Xanga page, and have heard many stories like Taylor’s unfortunately. Simply put, if you live in the USA, one should NEVER buy Nikon’s grey market gear, and Canon shooters ought to extensively research Canon’s repair policies about grey market equipment. (I think they will indeed service gear, but there is zero warranty from day one basically)

      =Matt=

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  12. Herm Tjioe

    Often the price difference is negligible , given that the warranty may not be honored, it’s up to the buyer to determine how much that is worth to him/her.

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  13. Jeff Morrison

    good info…

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  14. Jeff Jones

    Your article may be defining grey market well, but it is leaving out a real concern with these items. Getting repairs done – specifically my experience is with Nikon USA. When I was working for a daily newspaper we were trying to stretch our budget a bit and picked up some grey market gear. Eventually some of it needed to get repaired. Nikon USA refused to work on it at all. I am not just referring to warranty work, I mean even when we offered to pay for the repair they refused and sent it back to me. A local camera repair place also refused to work on the gear saying that Nikon would not allow them to purchase the parts they needed for the repairs. You may be saving some cash on the front end, but when I ended up having to buy the items a second time it was a lot more expensive.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Each company is different, and has different polices. But yes, this is definitely something someone should weigh when deciding on a grey market item or not. Depending on your policy, having your gear insured may be able to mitigate this by having them replace the item if it is broken and the company refuses repairs.

      I am still looking into this, but I believe if you find out which market the product actually came from you may be able to get it serviced there (for example, a Canadian buying a Canon USA product, wouldn’t be able to get it serviced from Canon Canada, but might be able to send it to the US to be serviced). It may turn out to be cost prohibitive, but could be an option in some cases.

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  15. Austin Swenson

    I like that you brought the grey market thing up, because that is what I guess you ultimately sacrifice when you buy a lens from Japan or singapore or wherever… You get a better price on ebay and it’s still completely new, but you do end up losing any warranty on it. Then you just hope that statistics of a new device not breaking or being defective are on your side.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      This is where having insurance on your gear can help. The manufacture may not service your item, but if it is ruined your insurance may pay to replace it (make sure to clarify this with your insurance provider).

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    • Michael Leslie

      Having delt with grey imported to the UK, their own provided warranty is actually pretty good, many include a warranty card to have items repaired at specific UK repair centres, the Canon 7D I bought a few years ago from an importer developed a couple of faults both of which were fixed in two weeks through the supplied warranty and the repair centre used was the exact same one Canon use for their repairs in Scotland.

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  16. Ian Moss

    This issue really became apparent in the early 1980’s. Camera companies were selling the same equipment at vastly different prices in different countries. They were working out what a particular market would pay for a product and then pricing accordingly. It didn’t take long for some retailers to realise that they could buy a camera cheaper retail from (say) the USA than wholesale from (say) the UK. They then imported gear from the cheaper market and sold it cheaper to the consumer. The downside is of course the warranty, but actually the consumer should be covered by the warranty from the retailer.

    The camera manufacturers made a big deal about warranty, but it was really a non-issue as a faulty camera would usually show the fault within the retailer warranty period.

    Same equipment different price.

    With far more international trade these days with consumers used to buying from all over the world, I’m surprised that ‘grey’ products are even mentioned these days, but the fact that it does benefit the manufacturers might be a clue to persistence of the idea that you are buying an inferior product this way.

    It

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Yes, It would totally make sense for the manufactures to perpetuate that idea. Just important for consumers to know the truth, which is the point behind this post.

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  17. David Hill

    Like most I guess, in my head I had them as somehow inferior but had never actually read they were. Daft I know! Thanks for the headsup! Wish we had that deal on the EOS – M here in the UK. Just the lens is over £200! Thanks. Dave

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    • Michael Leslie

      The 22mm ef-m lens is currently on ebay uk from a, you guessed it, grey imported for just £62 delivered.

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  18. Liam Murphy

    Thanks for the clarification. I had to do some research on this a while back when purchasing my Sigma 35mm Art lens.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Yeah, it seems to be an area where a lot of people are misinformed or assume things that are incorrect. It is certainly not something for everyone, but it is a great option for some.

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