Nikon's policies confuse many, including (sometimes), me.
Nikon's policies for honoring warranties are confusing. This is troublesome here in the US because many online and mail order retailers offer one or both of two types of Nikon products: official NikonUSA warranty or gray market (sometimes also called "parallel import" or "imported").
Here are the relevant details for US purchasers:
- Gray Market = No Warranty plus No Official Repair out of Warranty. If you purchase a gray market import, you won't get a Nikon warranty in your country. The only warranty that will be honored is any that the retailer provides (B&H, for example, provides their own one-year warranty on gray market imports). Technically, these products do have a Nikon warranty, but in the country of origin, which you might not know. Moreover, outside of warranty, the product will (usually*) still not be repaired by NikonUSA—you'd have to find a third party repair shop to fix it once the warranty expired.
- NikonUSA Import = Warranty plus Official Repair out of Warranty. If you purchase an officially imported product in the US, you get a warranty that NikonUSA honors. Moreover, once out of warranty, NikonUSA will repair the equipment (and charge you for the cost of repairs).
Outside the US, things are different, only sometimes just as confusing. I understand that European Union laws make it near impossible for Nikon Europe to disclaim gray product warranties, so Nikon Europe's policies are more embracing than those of NikonUSA. Still, where Nikon owns the distributor, the rules I list for the US, above, are the usual practice unless the government forces them to do more.
In particular, Canada seems to be a real stickler with not wanting to repair anything that wasn't purchased through them (a real problem due to the proximity of US camera shops to many Canadians).
Over the years, Nikon has slowly tightened its policies worldwide in ways that are problematic for users. This has coincided with their acquisition or creation of Nikon-owned subsidiaries in much of the developed world. Moreover, ever since the F5 was introduced, Nikon temporarily stopped providing many third party organizations repair equipment, manuals, and parts to currently manufactured products. Fortunately, the original total embargo on equipment and training for third parties has loosened enough to allow a few third parties to repair Nikon equipment officially; those organizations buy Nikon repair equipment, training, and access to Nikon parts, so you won't find a lot of them. Worse still, starting in late 2011, NikonUSA stopped supplying parts to independent dealers that didn't buy into the full authorized repair program. That said, except for the most recent camera models, you can usually find a third party in the US who will repair a gray market body (at a cost, and not under warranty).
In the US, NikonUSA has an official policy of not accepting for repair (at any price!) items that weren't purchased through official import channels, so that means that the third party repair options are limited: third party Nikon authorized repair centers.
Before you get all anti-Nikon, note that many of the Japanese electronics manufacturers have similar policies. Switching to Canon or Pentax or Sony isn't necessarily going to get you a better deal, though Canon in particular does seem more relaxed on their repair policies than Nikon.
The following is what I believe happens under current Nikon policies in the US.
If you purchase a gray market (parallel import) item (new or used):
- NikonUSA will not honor the warranty. You can usually send a gray market product for warranty repair to a Nikon Japan service center or in the original country the product was shipped to. But you'll be dealing with large shipping fees (especially if you use insurance) and the language barrier, not to mention the fact that it is nearly impossible to figure out how to contact the right repair shop in the first place.
- NikonUSA will not repair these items even out of warranty. You'll be limited to the independent Nikon Authorized Repair Stations. You will always be charged for repairs.
- Software upgrades or required hardware fixes won't always be available unless there's a do-it-yourself option, as in downloadable firmware updates, or Nikon corporate subsidizes a worldwide repair as they have sometimes done (e.g. the D600 and D750 service advisories).
- The retailer where you purchased the product may repair or replace defective products under warranty if they provided a warranty at the time of purchase, and if the warranty provider is still in business (some retailers, such as B&H, appear to self-warranty, others use third-party companies).
- The value of your equipment when you sell it will be less if the buyer is savvy about Nikon’s repair policies, as they'd be buying a product that won't be repaired by Nikon itself.
- Any rebates (even Instant Rebates) in effect for the product are not paid. Plus, in the US, mail-in rebates are also only paid to US mailing addresses.
If you purchase an officially imported item (new or used):
Note that the term "officially imported item" refers to where the product was purchased. If you travel to Australia and purchase an officially imported item there and get an invoice that shows that you did so (preferably with the serial number on it), NikonUSA should honor the warranty when you return to the States. Note further that Nikon may require that you show the warranty form that came with your product (which has the serial number and part number on it) along with the proof of valid purchase (some earlier digital camera bodies didn't come with this—the dealer sent information about the camera sold to Nikon). However, note that Nikon Taiwan currently does not seem to agree with this and won’t repair product that was bought as an official import elsewhere. This is a disturbing sign, as it essentially disenfranchises anyone that moves between countries.
- NikonUSA will honor the warranty and repair officially imported items for no charge to the original owner under warranty. Note that warranties are not transferrable, and do not include misuse, abuse, abnormal use, neglect, alteration, or accidents. Also, note that the warranty does not apply to the battery!
- NikonUSA will for a fee repair the equipment outside of warranty or for subsequent owners.
- Software upgrades or hardware fixes will be available normally. NikonUSA has even been known to notify registered owners of specific problems.
- The value of your equipment when you sell it will be higher if you can prove the official import status to a savvy buyer.
- Add-on warranties (for example, the 4 years of extended service coverage for Nikkor lenses in the US) are only honored if the appropriate registration card is filled out and returned to Nikon within the prescribed time period. (There is evidence that Nikon doesn't require that card to have been returned, but I think it's safest to assume that you need to return it or register your product on purchase to get the warranty extension.)
- Mail-in rebates are paid if the correct information is provided to Nikon within the prescribed time period, and Instant Rebates are paid immediately.
All of this brings up two further questions: how do you know if you've gotten an officially imported item, and how does Nikon know? Good question with a terrible answer: NikonUSA basically forces proof on you if it's not obvious to them that it's an officially imported product and/or it might be out of warranty. So how do you tell?
- With consumer film SLR bodies, official Nikon US imports began with an N in the name. Outside the US Nikon used an F. This applies to the N50, N55, N60, N65, N70, N75, N80, and N90 cameras (and the N6006 and N8008, etc., before that). If you've got an F65, for instance, it wasn't officially imported into the US.
- With pro film SLR bodies, there's no easy way to tell on the product itself. These bodies begin with an F in their name, after all. However, almost all were accompanied by a NikonUSA warranty card with the serial number on it, so check to see if you have that. This applies to the F, F2, F3, F4, F5, and F100 bodies. The F6 body is handled like the DSLR bodies.
- With DSLR bodies, for many years NikonUSA did not provide any consistent or useful identification technique. Starting in 2012 they began again supplying a NikonUSA warranty slip listing the serial number. The serial number is usually coded to region, and during the initial production run of consumer bodies the correct starting value for a US consumer DSLR would usually be 30xxxxx (the D7100 and D7200 were exceptions, and started with 25xxxxx). Unfortunately, many consumer products have production runs that exceed the available serial numbers, so other region codings are sometimes used, and not always consistently. Still, a consumer DSLR with a 30xxxxx serial number is almost certainly a NikonUSA official import. Unfortunately, this doesn't work for pro bodies, which are not always region coded. Most of the pre-D5 pro DSLRs have a yellow NikonUSA sticker in the battery chamber, but that would be easy to remove or fake. The D5 uses serial numbers that start with 30. Until 2012, most Nikon DSLRs did not come with a US warranty slip with the serial number on it. Now all do.
- With lenses, many lenses have a US in front of their serial number. This is generally a reliable verification for new products, but it's possible to etch a US before a serial number after the fact, so isn't always a reliable indicator for used equipment. Since an official import has more value than a gray market product, unscrupulous souls can scam the system by getting an etcher and running arbitrage by buying gray and selling as US. Worse still, not all officially imported lenses have a US in front of their serial number, adding confusion. However, if you're buying new, all NikonUSA imports should have two things in the box: a US warranty slip with the serial number on it, and an envelope that has an offer for a four-year extended warranty for returning a registration card. This is also the only guaranteed way to ascertain status of a used lens: ask to see the US warranty slip with serial number. Corollary: keep that darned slip! It'll make you money if you ever sell the lens.