Should I Buy a Gray Market Camera?

Short answer: if it’s a new Nikon camera model in the US, probably no. 

First, let’s define gray market. Gray market tends to be a product that Nikon dumps directly in high quantity from the factory to large distributors and resellers—mostly into SE Asia—basically without warranty or support. It can also 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.

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 to keep track of this, and these so-called “official imports” almost always come with a printed warranty certificate with that serial number on it (there have been periods where that isn’t true, but as I update this article, NikonUSA is back to added a printed certificate again).

Here’s the thing: under virtually no circumstances will NikonUSA service a camera they didn't directly import, in other words, a gray market camera. They won’t provide warranty service, nor will they even repair the camera for money. The one exception is 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). 

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 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. 

Note that this changed to the current situation in 2019. For a few years previous to that, Nikon did allow some third-party repair shops access to equipment, training, and parts. 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 avoid gray market product. 

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