There’s an old saying — you get what you pay for. And the same rings true when it comes to camera gear. While the big industry leaders like B&H, Hunt’s, Adorama and others are authorized dealers. Their gear comes from distributors who get the goods directly from the manufacturer overseas. These distributors offer reliable, reputable service that you can count on. But what do you lose when you buy cheap, whether it be new or used gear?
Understanding grey market retailers
While B&H, Hunt’s, Adorama and your local camera store will offer you a product with a certified U.S. warranty, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, you can pay for a camera body or lens for a significantly discounted price on eBay or even from Amazon third-party retailers. These can be “grey” brought into the country by others than the authorized distributor who is often a subsidiary company of the manufacturer. There are authorized manufacturer’s distributors practically everywhere in the world.
The price discrepancy often comes from the price of local currencies. One country’s money may be less valuable than the dollar for example. A less-than-reputable dealer might purchase cameras from that country and bring them to the U.S. to sell for a lower price while maintaining a profit margin. The downside for the consumer is that the warranty is good only in the country where the camera was sold.
Grey market gear is also known for having a different type of warranty, one that most domestic camera distributors won’t honor when you send it in for service. Some distributors go so far as to refuse to service any type of grey market gear, even for a price.
Take this example, a Canon 5D Mark IV I found at B&H. The MSRP price is $3499, and it’s on sale for $3099. On eBay, I found the same product for nearly $500 cheaper, at $2559.
They look the same, right? If you scroll down on the eBay listing, you’ll see an embed from a company called Deals All Year. Hidden on that, under About Product, you’ll find the following, which states “We carry Import Models and U.S. Models and both are available in our store.”
Most companies aren’t that clear. And it doesn’t just happen to camera bodies — a few years back, I was looking for a new wide angle lens for my Nikon D800. I stumbled upon a Tamron 15-30 f/2.8 being sold on Amazon by third-party retailer Ritz Camera. It was about $200 less than the retail price. When I contacted Ritz Camera, they confirmed that it was not covered by a U.S. warranty, meaning it was grey market.
What about used gear?
Purchasing used gear from places like MPB.com is safe, and you’re given a guarantee that stands by what they sell. Even places like B&H and Adorama sell used gear. Often the items will be marked “as is” indicating that the product does not have a warranty.
But there’s a catch
While MPB.com, B&H and Adorama will sell you authentic, certified new gear, you lose one thing when it comes to all used purchases — the original warranty.
Most camera manufacturers stipulate that only the original owner of the item can take advantage of the warranty, meaning you can’t transfer it to someone else. Technically, as soon as you buy it from someone else — whether it’s a company or an individual — you lose the option to get a warranty. Some companies will provide their own warranties you can purchase, while others will not.
While there are certainly ways around this — mainly if the original owner never filled out the warranty card, you could certainly do so — it’s frowned upon and you may have mixed results.
Used gear is great for low-risk purchases. Cheap lenses, backup camera bodies, etc. But for all my primary gear that I use in professional settings, I buy new from a camera store that sells merchandise from the authorized distributor.
While we all love a good deal, dealing with grey market and used gear can often be more than what we bargained for. Next time you buy something, be sure it’s from a reputable, authorized dealer, and you’ll be safe for the future should anything happen.