Why You Shouldn’t Buy Your Next Camera from the Gray Market and Why Those Nikons Aren’t Really ‘On Sale’

Why You Shouldn’t Buy Your Next Camera from the Gray Market and Why Those Nikons Aren’t Really ‘On Sale’

I am probably going to piss off Lee Morris and Patrick Hall and probably some of you with this post but there has been a lot of conversation lately, including multiple posts on Fstoppers.com, about ‘discounted,’ ‘gray market’ and ‘on sale’ cameras dramatically priced lower than their manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP).

Some of you see a $2000 camera priced at $1499 and think, “Wow! What a deal!” And some of you also think, “What’s the catch?” Both are valid points and appropriate responses to these deep discounts. So what IS the catch? How can the same camera be sold by B&H for $2000 and another retailer sell it for $1499?

Knowing the difference and what you’re getting into with these deep discount cameras is extremely important when making a high value purchase, especially if this is your business. The $2000 camera and the $1499 camera are not exactly the same as you might assume and it comes down to the retailer, specifically the “Authorized” portion of the retailer and the differences in the product that creates.

An Authorized Retailer of a product is appointed by the manufacturer or main distributor to sell its products. You hear this term all the time in the electronics industry. Beyond the Apple Stores, Verizon Stores and Windows Stores, electronics manufactures have to sell their goods in 3rd party retailers such as Best Buy or Amazon. There is no Nikon or Canon store you can go to and pick up a 5D Mark III off the shelf. You go to Best Buy and buy it there, usually paying around the MSRP of the product + local sales tax if applicable.

So why can eBay sell me the same camera for $500 less?

ebay gray market retail

Well there are a few parts to unpack here. First, eBay is not a retailer. Unlike Amazon who sometimes ships and sells items directly, eBay facilitates sales from other merchants. You’re not actually buying anything from eBay. You’re buying from a seller who uses eBay and PayPal for their online commerce. This is the reason eBay has services like ‘Buyer Protection’ policies, to protect buyers from sellers whom take advantage of them through mislabeled products or bad service.

The second part is you are most likely buying a ‘Gray Market’ or ‘Import’ product which undoubtedly lacks a manufacturer’s warranty that will be honored in your country. They are not ‘on sale’ as they don’t carry the same warranty card from NikonUSA and sometimes lack software, cables, batteries, etc. You are not getting an identical experience as you would if you purchased from B&H or Best Buy. The camera might be identical but it is a risk. You also take a risk with the merchant. eBay does not require merchants to denote an item if it is gray market. And merchants have been known to take forever to ship items or follow up with buyers and force them to buy expensive accessory packs in order to get their deep discount camera. This is not always the case though.

There are some differences between the manufacturers (Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc.) on who will honor gray market cameras with warranties, but NikonUSA will not. Some gray market merchants will offer their own warranties or offer 3rd party warranties but this comes with its own risk with stories of merchants flat out not honoring them or completely disappearing months after the purchase. NikonUSA will not even repair the product but there are some independent Authorized Nikon Repair stations that will attempt to repair gray market products.

So what? I don’t want to pay a $500 insurance policy on gear that isn’t going to break anyway. I still get the camera and I can download manuals and software from the web.

Here is some math. Let’s say there is an 80% chance your camera will never need to go back to Nikon for repair in or out of warranty. That’s $500 for a 20% chance something happens. I can see where people might think they wouldn’t want to pay an extra $500 to cover their butts and just pay $1500 again to replace their camera if something happened. But if you are a freelance photographer and your camera is your business, you want to mitigate risks, not increase it. What kind of business gambles with their main piece of equipment at 20%? If that’s your game, jump on the World Series of Poker.

And don’t even think about getting insurance on your gear. Most insurance agents require warranty cards and proof of purchase from authorized retailers. So if your gear is lost or stolen, you’re out of luck again.

Okay, I hear ya, but it’s a $500 savings now versus a 20% chance of paying another $1500 later.

It all comes down to risk and how much you want to take. If you are a hobbyist and just looking for a great deal, the risk might not be too high for you. Or if you have a lot of cash flow and are not worried about dropping another $1500 if the odds are not in your favor. Whatever your situation, have the facts, mitigate your risks and make smart business moves to keep the lights on and your camera working, it is your money maker after all.

Do you feel the gray market is worth the risk? Have you been burned by buying a camera through the gray market? Share your stories in the comments below.

Log in or register to post comments

79 Comments

FStoppers literally just posted this article,

https://fstoppers.com/deals/crazy-sale-save-700-new-50-megapixel-canon-5...

A few days ago. Contradicting, no?

Its expected that different authors have differing opinions. The author addressed this at the beginning of the article.

that's the point

I think people become upset because they see Fstoppers as more of a company then a community of authors that write stories and have their own opinions, so people get upset when they see conflicting things. Also many people just read titles and look at photos. If you guys at Fstoppers really want to increase readership you would make the entire post in <H1> LIKE THIS SO PEOPLE THINK THE ENTIRE POST IS A LARGE AND RATHER LONG TITLE FOR THE POST FOLLOWED BY A <H1> <image>

I personally love a good debate :)

Justin Haugen's picture

Debate is pointless! Discuss.

Where's the fun in that!

Justin Haugen's picture

I feel like we're all apart of a debate team that none of us signed up for. I mean that in a good way lol

I mean they mention in this article in the first few lines that they are contradicting assholes

https://fstoppers.com/deals/today-only-nikon-d750-ebay-deal-even-better-...

Well said. I think we made this clear in our original D750 eBay post. During that first "sale" we bought 4 cameras and saved $800/camera. No warranty is worth that. I would argue that a true professional has a physical backup of gear and not the ability to mail a camera back and have it repaired in a few weeks. I also have insurance on all of my gear and I have never been asked to prove that it wasn't grey market but maybe some do.

I just put a stereo system in my car and the local shop cost $1500 MORE for the hardware alone than buying the gear on Amazon and paying them to install it. They tried to tell me that I wasn't going to get a warranty. Who would ever spend $1500 on a warranty for something that costs around $2000?

I completely respect wanting to have a warranty and playing it safe but you also have to put a value on that. What if it was 50% off? What if it was 90% off? I'm personally still very happy with my decision but I understand your view as well.

Casey Berner's picture

Thanks Lee. Yes, I think it's clear in all the Fstopper's posts regarding eBay deals that they are most likely gray market and buyers should make their own decisions based on their needs.

I agree, we all have different thresholds of where we are willing to give something up to get a savings (ie. Our Dignity for a Commercial Size tub of Peanut Butter at Costco) and your car shop example highlights that perfectly.

Patrick Hall's picture

I must also add that Amazon in many cases is exactly like ebay. We sell on Amazon and the only thing that dictates who you are actually buying from is who wins Amazon's "Buy button". That means that some higher rated and reviewed stores can actually sell our own FlashDisc as the main seller instead of us. That means that if GETITDIGITAL decided to sell his cameras on Amazon, and you searched and bought a D750, then he could actually win the seller position over someone like Adorama or BH Photo. It's kind of a dumb thing on Amazon's part but that's how it works. The only way to guarantee that you are buying from a reputable dealer is to buy directly off their website OR click on their store through Amazon and buy it that way.

Yep, I got a "fake" Nikon battery grip and "fake" Sandisk memory cards on Amazon. You THINK you're buying directly from Amazon but sometimes if you simply refresh the page, it will change who you are buying from automatically.

Casey Berner's picture

Thank's why I always look for this:

Patrick Hall's picture

The problem is, Amazon isn't an authorized dealer either :/

http://cdn-6.nikon-cdn.com/where-to-buy/nikon_img_auth_dealers.pdf

Haha, what does this actually mean then?

Andrew Griswold's picture

What do you guys know about Digital Rev? I have seen them selling stuff "brand new" for up to a few hundred off the stock price with free shipping. Is this considered grey market? I already know that retailers will not match their prices but they will match various Amazon and online prices I have seen.

G Fernando Chavez's picture

i bought one of that first d750 sales on ebay and the camera works perfect.

You drive a Civic?

haha no. F150

Peter Timmer's picture

Where do you leave your gear Lee? doesn't look like there's a lot of space in your car.. :P ;)

That, would be an F50. F150 isn't quite the same performer! ;)

I'm already satisfied with the stock stereo in my F50 ;)

At those type of prices, it's a great deal.

As I wrote in the general thread:

2x 1500$ grey market camera runs for 3000$. That's 700$ more than 1x legit camera.

So that "insurance" of 800$ (legit camera cost - grey camra cost) is actually higher than buying 2 grey camera and having a whole second body as insurance.

Ridiculous pricing....

There are a ton of typos and spelling mistakes in this article. Don't you have a proofreader? You should!

Some idiots downvoted my comment. Apparently they hate proper spelling, most likely due to their distressing feelings of inadequacy when faced with a piece of paper and a sentence to write. You must be the kind of idiots who neither know the difference between "your" and "you're" and I bet you write "should of" instead of "should have". I'm not even from an english speaking country, I'm from Belgium and yet I know this! I am absolutely horrified by the fact that some people think proper spelling isn't important.

You have improperly used the word neither.

I don't think so but if you would care to elaborate please do so.

Vikram Vetrivel's picture

A "neither" should always be followed by a "nor" later in the sentence.