Much as I hate to admit it, I very seldom buy any of my camera equipment from the local camera stores here in town. I’d really like to, but the deals I get online save me hundreds of dollars. In fact, on a recent purchase of a camcorder, we saved over $140 by purchasing the equipment online! And it really wasn’t anything fancy, just a middle of the road camcorder!
So, if you’re tempted to buy camera equipment online, I don’t blame ya. In the course of your searching, you may discover that you have a choice between slightly higher priced “USA” items and cheaper “Imported” or “Gray Market” goods.
While these “Gray market” items aren’t illegal, they aren’t exactly all they appear to be either.
Here’s how it works. These “imported” or “gray market” items are basically imported into the US via unofficial routes—in other words, not directly from the manufacturer. Maybe the store buys them via from another store in Japan, China, Australia, the UK—who knows? They can buy this equipment cheaper for various reasons (lower pricing to some regions, plus tariff or currency differences come to mind), so they can charge you less for it.
Although it’s the same equipment, you’ll find that it does not have a US warranty, is likely missing little extras (batteries, straps, caps, etc), and quite possibly that the instruction manual is written in Japanese, Spanish, etc.
Even if you could live with the rest, the warranty issue is a big one. If you have a problem with the equipment, you’ll find that sending it back to the manufacturer will do you no good—they won’t fix it (at least not for free).
Sometimes, the company selling you the gray market equipment will provide the warranty, but we’ve heard mixed reviews about this. The company may go out of business, you may find that you just can’t get the equipment fixed properly, it may take months to get your stuff back—need I go on?
So, when you order any kind of camera equipment online, be sure to insist on a US warranty. Don’t let them try to trick you into anything else or assure you that their warranty is better. If you’re not 100% sure of you’re getting a USA warranty, go somewhere else.
Also, be sure to order from a reputable company. I’ve been ordering from B&H since about 1989 and have NEVER had a problem. They will indicate clearly if you are buying a US or imported item. They are usually very competitive and I highly recommend them (no, they aren’t paying me to say this either, I’ve just had great luck in dealing with them over the years):