Episode 86: “Grey Market” Should You Buy It? & Personal Projects

In this episode, should you buy “Grey Market” camera bodies or lenses.? What are some of the potential pitfalls?

Another question I get frequently from photographers that are new or photography students is “should I buy “grey market” camera gear and what exactly is it other than cheaper?”

First, let me start by saying ALL the major camera manufacturers are foreign to the USA and have USA counterparts that import and sell their products in the US. Nikon and Canon both have their US offices located on Long Island, NY Fujifilm is north of White Plains, NY Sony is in NYC and most of the rest of them are located in the New York City area as well.

These US offices are the ONLY source for importing the camera bodies, lenses, etc from the factories in Japan, Germany and elsewhere and selling in the US market with USA warranties. And the manufacturers do this to protect not only the consumers, but their profits as well.

The reason many people are attracted to “grey market” items is the savings in pricing vs buying in the US. Most of the time, the “grey market” items are made in the same factory as the USA items to the same specs and using the same parts and quality control, but in this day and age there is a LOT of counterfeiting going on out of China, so you have to be very careful where and how you buy.

When you by a “grey market” item, you cannot go to Nikon or Canon US and get service or warranty repair. Even if the item is made in their factory, since it was not imported by the US division and they did not get their mark-up, they are not obligated to honor any warranty and they won’t.

Right now their is a large legal battle between Canon and “Grey Market” sellers on eBay. Canon USA is suing them for hurting their business, which is odd as the “Grey Market” sellers have been doing it for decades and Canon didn’t seem to care until just recently.

Some of the large, reputable dealers even sell “grey market” lenses at least, B&H is one of them and they even have a “grey market” section on their site that explains this. Now in the case of a large company like B&H, they offer a comparable warranty on their “grey market” items and service and warranty them through their massive store in NYC.

Many people have differing opinions on “grey market”, my opinion is do your homework and then decide for yourself. I have bought some “grey market” lenses as the savings were huge compared to buying the USA model and the dealer I bought from is very reputable and warranties the items themselves, but not all of them do and many use slick talk and ads to con you out of your money so you do have to be careful. I would NOT buy a camera body “grey market” as it’s the most important piece of my photography set up. I buy genuine USA models only from an authorized Canon dealer so I know when it needs service I can send it to Canon US.

I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts several ways to save on lenses, like buying them from pawn shops, CraigsList, eBay or from a members of local camera clubs. Most new photographers, and especially photography students don’t have Trust Fund money, so you need to find those deals where you can. I’ve even made a fair share of extra money buying old FD lenses for almost nothing from local pawn shops as they had been sitting on them for 10-12 years and them sell them on eBay for a massive profit and then use that money to buy the new lens or body I wanted.

When it comes to “grey market” you will get the same performance from these items as they are still made by the same company in the same factories to the same tolerances, so no worries there. But another thing to keep in mind is many “grey market” sellers, especially Abe’s of Maine will want to sell you a US warranty and by time you add in that cost your savings is almost non-existent.

Now if you opt to buy “grey market” without a US third party warranty you have to keep in mind that you can often get warranty work done on the item but you will have to ship it back to Japan or Germany for service and wait weeks to get the item back, where with a US warranty you can ship it to the local service center in the US and have your item serviced and back in a few days.

As I mentioned before, I would not personally buy a “grey market” body since it is the most important part of your set up, but I do know some photographers that buy ALL “grey market” items for the savings and have had no issues, but you have been warned!

Is “grey market” for you? Only you can decide that, but be careful and do your homework. Remember the old adage, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Personal Projects

As photographers, we must always strive to find ways to keep from falling into a rut, creatively. We have to always be creative and imaginative in our work in order to make our clients happy. Over time you may find that you have lost that “spark” and photography is starting to feel too much like a job rather than someone you loved that you went to school to get paid for.

A good way to stay “fresh” as a photographer and artist and keep your passion alive is with personal projects. Personal projects are photography projects that you come up with that are mostly for fun and to keep the spark ignited, but can also serve a purpose such as raising social awareness. I personally recommend and I know many of our professors so as well, that you always have one or two “pet” projects on the back burner, that you work on when you have time.

Over time, becoming established as a professional photographer, you may even be commissioned by a client to do a photography project, such as the one Time Magazine sent Ed Kashi on, photographing the incoming Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey with nothing but an iPhone.

For me personally, I am working on a personal project right now I call Forgotten Pieces of Georgia. For my project, I am traveling the back roads of Georgia, shooting old buildings, rusted old vehicles and the like and talking to people as I go to get more information about their area and the way it’s  been devastated by the poor economy. The project will take considerable time and effort as I am shooting in all 159 counties of Georgia, but yours doesn’t have to be as massive an undertaking. I am including a couple of shot from my project for inspiration as we as one of Ed’s from the Super Storm Sandy project he did for Time.

So, think of a personal project that you would love to do, and just do it. You may not be able to devote all your time and energy to it as other things get in the way, but you can at least set some time aside every month to make some progress. Now get out there and shoot!

Also be sure to join the Liam Photography Podcast Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/liamphotographypodcast/ You can reach the show by call or text @ 470-294-8191 to leave a comment or request a topic or guest for the show. Additionally you can email the show @ liam@liamphotographypodcast.com.

You can find my work @ https://www.liamphotography.net on and follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @liamphotoatl. If you like abandoned buildings and history, you can find my project @ http://www.forgottenpiecesofgeorgia.com.

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