Should I Buy a Gray Market Camera?

Short answer: if it’s a new Nikon camera model in the US, probably no. Update: ditto for lenses and accessories.

First, let’s define gray market. Gray market tends to be a product that Nikon has supplied directly in high quantity from the factory to large distributors and sometimes resellers—mostly into SE Asia. Excess quantity of that product may be sold off without warranty or support to others. This can be excess inventory that non-Nikon owned distributors want to get rid of, which would have had a warranty and support within the distributor’s region, but doesn't once they pass it off to another region.

So a definition: gray market products are ones that were imported or sold through channels that NikonUSA didn't authorize (in the US). 

Most of the time a Nikon camera is sold from Nikon corporate to a Nikon subsidiary, where it is then resold to authorized dealers in that country/region. Nikon uses serial numbers and other techniques to keep track of this, and these so-called “official imports” should always come with a printed warranty certificate with that serial number on it (there have been periods where that isn’t true, but currently NikonUSA adds a printed certificate to the box).

Here’s the thing: 

  • NikonUSA will not provide warranty service to any camera they didn't directly import
  • NikonUSA will not under any circumstances repair a gray market camera 

 The two apparent exceptions to the above have been (1) for cameras for which there is a worldwide service advisory active (e.g. the D600, D800, or D750 models have all had this type of advisory); and (2) when someone moves from one country to another country and can prove that they bought the product from an authorized Nikon source (e.g. not gray market).

Note that lenses are handled a bit differently:

  • NikonUSA will provide warranty service to any lens they didn't directly import, or fix it for a fee if out of warranty (but you'll need proof of purchase from a legitimate Nikon authorized source, thus gray market lenses don't get such service) Nikon changed their policy on "international warranties" for lenses and accessories at the start of 2021, and now uses the same regional (subsidiary) policies as with cameras (above). This means all Nikon warranties are specific to a country or region, and that the subsidiary for that area will not honor warranties for products distributed to other areas. It is currently unclear whether NikonUSA's "won't repair" edict will apply to gray market lenses, but I'd assume this to be the case.
  • NikonUSA effectively provides a 5-year warranty for lenses they directly imported

Outside the US what a Nikon subsidiary will or won’t repair is controlled by local law. In some areas (e.g. parts of the EU) you can get gray market product repaired by Nikon because of specific local laws, in others you can’t. 

NikonUSA also no longer authorizes third-party repair shops to work on Nikon gear, and no longer sells test equipment, training, or parts. And that’s where we get to the short answer, above: only NikonUSA has the equipment, training, and parts to repair cameras in the US, whether in warranty or not, and NikonUSA won't repair a gray market camera.

Note that this changed to the current situation in 2020, and again with lenses in early 2021. For a few years previous to 2019, Nikon did allow some third-party repair shops access to equipment, training, and parts, which allowed those shops to make gray market repairs. But that’s no longer the case. 

But what about the “warranty” that most gray market camera sellers advertise you will be getting? Based upon reporting from this site’s readership, I’d say that this is a hit or miss proposition. Some of the more reliable sources of gray market will do swap outs of product in lieu of actual repair. A few repair if they can. But I’ve heard plenty of horror stories where a gray market seller didn’t honor the warranty they advertised (or worse, the actual warranty provider was now “out of business”). 

My advice is this: if you’re buying any new Nikon camera or lens, your best bet is to for sure avoid gray market cameras, and think carefully before buying a gray market lens. 

Finally, a word of advice: keep all original receipts for gear you purchase. If you have any say in the matter, make sure the seller writes the serial number of the product on the receipt (most do as a matter of course). 

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