I want to start off by saying I have no sponsors. This allows me to be completely unbiased and honest with my opinion., unlike many other reviewers or sources.
So you’ve decided what Camera to buy, now where do you buy it from?
The purpose of this post is to showcase different options and maybe answer a few questions regarding different options and risks people have when looking for the best Camera deal online. This post is intended for the US market only as different countries have different Laws, taxes, tariffs etc. that don’t apply to the US.
First off, there are two types of Cameras you can buy. US models (or wherever you live) or Grey Market models. (Import).
For these examples ill use Nikon US as the Camera manufacturer. All Camera manufacturers operate in a similar manner so this post will be valid for any camera you’re looking to buy.
US models: These Cameras are sold by stores that are approved by Nikon US (authorized dealers) and offer full Nikon US warranty. The risk level for these is very low. If something happens you simply return it to either the store you bought it from (within a time frame) or to Nikon US to service it under its warranty. Also, once warranty has expired you can still send it to Nikon US for repairs or cleaning (for a fee of course). They are sold at full retail price.
Grey Market: These are also referred to as International or Import models sometimes (its all the same thing). These Cameras are sold at a heavily discounted price. Physically they are exactly the same camera as the US models. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. There is NO difference between a US camera and a grey market or International version in operation or quality. There IS a big difference in warranty however. As in, for all intents and purposes, there is none… Most of the time you can return it to the store you buy it from within a small time frame, but after that you’re on your own. Not only that, but Nikon US will not even repair your camera even if you pay them. Basically, if it breaks it will be very hard to get it fixed anywhere in the US. The risk here is high. But so are the savings.
For example, as of this writing, a Nikon D750 body is:
US Model: 1996$ (on sale)
Grey Market: 1622$
That’s a savings of 374$
The question you have to ask yourself is: Is 374$ in this case worth not having a warranty? Is it worth the risk? It’s a question I can not answer for you. Everyone is different. I can not in good conscious as a reviewer recommend that you forgo the warranty to save money. All I can do is arm you with right information I’ve learned through my experiences, to help you come up with your own concussion and decision.
My top places to buy US models (authorized dealers):
- Best Buy
- Local Small Camera Store
- All other Authorized Dealers.(Check Manufacturer’s website for more)
The reason I have B&H and Adorama listed 1 and 2 is the lack of sales tax for most states. Simple as that. B&H in particular has excellent customer service and return policies. It’s been around for a very long time and is used by most Pro photographers to buy their gear. Free shipping and no sales tax = win *It is however subject to “Use” tax depending on what state you are buying from.*
Amazon is great for pretty much everything. But does have sales tax now on most things.
Best buy is good if you need to finance a purchase as they often offer 0 interest for 1 year as well as reward points. As well as super easy returns if needed.
Support your local small “mom and pop” camera store !!! There are less and less Camera stores around. The power of the internet has shut many down and it’s a shame. So whenever you can, try buying accessories and other products from them.
Grey Market Options
Now for the Juicy part.
I want to start off with a warning. Most of the Grey market sellers iv come across that are US based are very shady and have very questionable business practices. If you are looking at grey Market Camera, I would NOT buy from any US based website. They often try to call and try to upsale you after you’ve already payed. I’ve heard stories of orders taking months to fill. Cameras being shipping with no Batteries. And many many other horror stories. If they price seems too good to be true and it’s a US based store (especially in New Jersey) Just forget it. They also often straight up LIE and tell you the Import model is inferior physically to the US model in some way to try to get you to buy the US retail version from them (they make a higher margin). Just don’t do it. Save yourself the hassle and just skip these sites. If the price seems too good to be true there, then it most certainly is.
So where SHOULD I buy Grey Market Camera then?
eBay’s feedback system and buyer protections that are in place, are there for a reason. They offer you an extra layer of protection should someone try to scam you. You’ll get your money back in a timely manner.
More specifically look for high volume sellers that have tons of feedback. 10-20k+ feedback sellers that are 99%+ positive are all safe places to buy. Usually that means the seller will be in Hong Kong. That’s perfectly fine. They usually offer free shipping, and the US and Hong Kong (and most of Asia) there are no import fees or duties into the US for Cameras. The price you see is all you pay. They are often 100x more trustworthy than any US based Grey Market seller. Everything I’ve ever bought from these Hong Kong large sellers has gotten to my door in under 4 days from the date of payment. It absolutely blew my mind how fast shipping was. (and free)
Keep in mind that they do offer a warranty usually. However, it isn’t a Nikon warranty.. it’s a warranty through the seller. So you’ll have to ship it back should something happen (free of charge). Not only that but eBay itself offers a Squaretrade warranty (for a fee) that covers your Camera for years. It’s an extra expense but it should still be much cheaper than buying retail.
Well, whats the downside of buying from these HK sellers?
From real world use and experience, the main downside iv come across is the resale value of the camera in the used market, especially in the first few years after purchase. So if you decided to sell your camera, expect it to go far a lot less than a US version on the used market. Also of course, should you need to repair your camera, The manufacturer will not repair it for you (even if you pay) if it’s not a US version. I’ll be honest I’ve never had an issue or needed a repair so Im not familiar with what the options would be available at that point, that is why I recommend getting the Squaretrade warranty.
Personally I’ve bought 2 high end cameras this way. A Sony A7 and a Nikon D750 and never had an issue with either, Updated firmware, worked flawlessly, came with US chargers, Manuals etc. I’ve also bought US version of all my other cameras (from regular stores) and have had to claim the warranty a couple of times. It’s all about the luck of the draw I guess. Thankfully, I bought most of my gear from B&H and warranty was process very fast and easy.
There are also two other resources for buying camera gear.
Buy Used Cameras,
The best place to buy used from is fredmiranda.com buy/sell forums. It’s a huge community of pro and enthusiast photogs and also has an ebay style feedback system in place and you must pay a small fee to sell. I’ve sold and bought a total about 30 high price items (500$+) on there and have never had an issue.
There are also Buy/Sell resources on Facebook pages, like the Nikon Equipment: Buy & Sell Facebook group that is great.
And then of course eBay. However since ebay charges ridiculous fees to the seller, you can often find better deals elsewhere.
As for Craigslist, I personally have never had luck on CL. People expect a king’s ransom for their used crappy photo gear on there often times. Im talking about prices that are more than ebay and ebay charges huge fees. Makes absolutely no sense and just makes me mad whenever I get on there so I stay away. It’s up to you.
Where can I Rent from?
Your local rental camera store, it’s the easiest because you don’t have to mail anything. Borrowlenses.com is what I’ve used in the past with great success. I highly recommend renting a Camera you are on the fence about first before buying it for a weekend. It’s a very easy process.
It’s all about how much risk you want to assume vs how much money you want to save. Everyone is different. I would recommend you always buy the US version when you can to minimize risk and have peace of mind. If you willing to take on some risk, make sure to minimize it as much as possible through extra warranties and buying from trustworthy sellers with good reviews.
Please leave any questions or comments in the comments section below.