Gear is expensive, and saving a couple hundred dollars on brand new gear might be tempting, but sometimes, it costs more than you expect.
For the last couple of years, digital camera and lens markets rapidly grew, and each year, new products with better features keep triggering our G.A.S. Switching systems or investing in better gear costs lots of money for sure, especially for enthusiasts and amateurs who cannot compensate the cost with photography. Secondhand markets are an option for those who don’t want to pay big bucks, but they can be risky, and you have to be lucky to find gear that is both affordable and in good condition. Usually, you can save up to 40-50 percent when buying used gear. At this point, gray market come into play as an affordable option. Buyers can save up to 20-30 percent depending on the product and get the brand new version of the gear. Although it sounds great, it has some downsides.
What Is Gray Market?
First of all, gray market products are not counterfeit; they are the original products, imported without the consent of the authorized distributor. In the photo industry, products are usually imported directly from Hong Kong, China, or Japan and sold on eBay at a cheaper price. In other industries, such as watch companies, the goods are bought in bulk at a cheaper price from the local distributors; therefore, distributors can continue holding their distributor titles for another year. This is another version of gray market, but in the photo industry, it is unlikely for a local distributor to sell the items in bulk, so each “gray market” has its own ways to supply the goods.
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages?
The only advantage of a gray market product is the cheaper price. You can even use the gear for long years without any problems a lot of the time. Even though there are reputable sellers online, you might struggle to get a replacement when you face an issue with your gear. Therefore, these sellers mostly do not specify the warranty conditions; instead, they usually state that they provide one-year in-house warranty. But if that warranty is comparable to the security of coverage you get from the manufacturer is not guaranteed.
In another scenario, when your gear is broken or has an issue based on its series, you cannot get a replacement from the authorized dealers. While some brands accept the gear and fix it, some charge you extra for using gray market products. For example, Sigma released a new policy about gray market products last year, and as of January 1, 2017, they started charging an extra $250 in addition to the parts and labor for the servicing of gray market Sigma products. It is likely the other brands may follow the same path in the near future.
Besides the lack of warranty and problems with authorized servicing, you may find non-genuine chargers and instruction manuals in different languages. And lastly, when you decide to sell your gear, be prepared to be offered less money due to its gray market status.
Have you ever bought a gray market product? Or would you consider buying one? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Lead image by StockSnap, used under Creative Commons.