The Risk of Buying from an Unapproved Vendor

I recently dropped off a couple of my lenses for service at Nikon Canada and observed the risk of buying camera gear from an unapproved vendor.

As I was filling out some paperwork for some warranty work on my 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm, and a repair on a 10-30mm PD zoom (which was not covered by warranty as I bought a used lens), another customer came up to the service counter.

I wasn’t paying that much attention to the actual issue that the other customer was having with his DSLR. Suffice to say that the Nikon Canada service representative was pleasant and professional as she was trying to understand the issue that the customer was having with his camera. My ears did pick up a bit more as the situation progressed.

When it came time to actually enter the camera into Nikon Canada’s service system, the customer presented his receipt for the camera which he had very recently bought online from a vendor in Canada.

As it turned out, the customer had not bought the camera from an approved Nikon dealer and as such the camera was not covered by warranty. The service representative explained this to the customer who seemed to be shocked at the news.

Apparently the customer had bought it online through a well-known online vendor, who he assumed was an approved Nikon dealer and would be the company supplying the camera. Unfortunately his actual invoice was not from that approved online vendor, but from another source that actually shipped the camera to him. As a result Nikon Canada was not able to provide warranty coverage on his DSLR.

The service representative offered to have a repair estimate done on the customer’s DSLR.  The customer declined as he wanted to check things out with the online vendor, and left with his camera. Unfortunately this customer made an uninformed purchase decision, perhaps with the original goal of saving some money.

I raise this real-life situation simply to point out that when buying camera gear we need to fully understand what we are buying, and the relationship that the vendor may have, or not have, with the manufacturer.

There are some unscrupulous people and companies out there that misrepresent camera equipment. Sometimes ‘gray market’ cameras are not identified as such and are misrepresented as coming with a full factory warranty. At other times, refurbished gear is misrepresented as being new or being refurbished by the manufacturer when it wasn’t.

Most of us want to get a good deal when we buy camera equipment and we often look for ways to save money. Like most people, I’ve bought new camera gear from manufacturer-approved dealers, direct from manufacturers, and online. I’ve also purchased refurbished gear, and used camera equipment. Before parting with your hard-earned money, it is critical to understand exactly what you are getting.

Most manufacturers will list their approved dealers on their websites. If that information is not on their website they will typically let you know if a particular vendor is an approved dealer if you contact the manufacturer directly.

Warranty terms vary by manufacturer so it is always a good idea to understand them before buying gear. In many cases warranties are not transferable to subsequent owners. If you see ads for used gear that state “3 years of factory warranty still left” don’t accept that at face value. It is very possible that the camera equipment won’t have any warranty coverage once you buy it used.

It is also important to understand the origin of the gear. For example, if you buy ‘gray market’ camera gear (i.e. gear that was imported into your country of residence by a non-approved vendor or distribution channel) you may not be able to get it serviced in your country of residence by the manufacturer. If that gear fails you may be left high and dry, and your only option may be to send it overseas for service. Worst case, it may just be dead with no repair options available to you at all.

It also pays to be careful when buying used camera gear. Last year I bought a used V3 with EVF, grip and a 10-30mm PD kit lens. Before handing over any money I had the current owner provide me with the serial numbers on all of the individual pieces of kit. I then checked these serial numbers through with the manufacturer to make sure that the camera equipment was originally bought through approved channels and was not ‘gray market’.  Had it been ‘gray market’ gear I would have walked away. As it turned out the gear was originally purchased through an approved dealer. I was able to meet with the owner, inspect the gear, and finalize the transaction.

Buying refurbished gear can be a good option. You need to make sure that the refurbishing was done by the manufacturer and that it is covered by some kind of warranty. Six to twelve months of warranty is typical with manufacturer refurbished gear. I suggest only buying refurbished gear from an approved dealer, or better yet, you can sometimes buy refurbished equipment directly from the manufacturer. I recently was able to buy a refurbished 1 Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 directly from Nikon Canada. I have confidence that I will not have any issues should that lens require service down the road after it is out of the refurbished warranty period.

Each of us makes our own decisions based on needs, expectations, and available budgets. It is important that we do our homework in advance of buying camera gear to avoid future disappointments.

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6 thoughts on “The Risk of Buying from an Unapproved Vendor”

  1. Hi Tom,
    Thank you for sharing your experience and for your very informative blog.

    Bit I’m becoming more and more awkward with the reliability of Nikon 1 gear especially the lenses. I have now the second issue with a lens. Both became first darker while shooting and then stayed dark. The aperture or the shutter doesn’t open properly anymore. Both happened out of the blue.

    Luckily one of the lenses, a 30-110, was under Dealers warranty, the second, a 11-27,5, not. This lens is from mid 2012 and only rarely used. In a German forum I find more and more often similar descriptions of broken lenses over the full range of N1 system. In any case a lens aperture unit change was offered at cost of nearly 250EUR. And this for a system what is just some more than 5 years on market.

    That’s the reason I’m looking for another modular system now.

    1. Hi Dieter,
      I’m glad you are enjoying the website – thanks for the positive comment! If you are experiencing reliability issues and are losing faith in your Nikon 1 system, moving on to a different system is a decision that may make sense for you.

  2. Hi tom

    Thank you for your comprehensive response. I feel reassured enough to perhaps add a few more lenses and future proof as you have.
    When I stared out in photography over 50 years ago nothing smaller than 120 film (6x6cm) was considered adequate for quality work. The IQ of a 1 inch sensor today, is way better than that. Lets hope Nikon keep it going.


    1. Hi Richard,
      I also hope that the Nikon 1 system continues. Other than senior Nikon executives no one knows for sure…so I’ve been future proofing my kit to be on the safe side.

  3. Hi tom

    Over the years I have bought equipment from approved dealers, new and used from ebay and Hong Kong discounters. Some times the dollar difference can be large. I think my gambles have mostly paid off.
    I know this is a little off the subject but I am starting to wonder about Nikon 1 quality control. You seem to have needed to send more items for repair over the years than seems reasonable. I too, have had unexpected failures of a Nikon 1 body and a 30-110 lens.
    Before adding Nikon 1 to my line up, I had many Canon bodies and lens from just about the beginning of digital without a single failure of any kind. Maybe I was just lucky.
    I am semi retired but still do some real estate work. I find the J5 with 6.7-13mm is the best combo I have ever used for interiors. I hope they stay reliable.
    A Nikon 1 system is, in my opinion, most useful when travelling. Unfortunately both failures I have had were on the other side of the globe.


    1. Hi Richard,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences and adding to the discussion! You may have had some luck with your Canon gear as I know a few photographers that have had a number of issues with their equipment.

      As far as the durability of my Nikon 1 gear goes, I’m not sure what would be considered ‘reasonable’ in terms of service issues. I can tell you that owning a D600 was exponentially more troublesome than all of the issues I’ve had with my entire Nikon 1 kit combined. During the many months that I owned the D600 I only took a few hundred images with it. The rest of the time it was in for repairs. Eventually I switched over to a D800 as the D600 was simply a disaster.

      Here’s my Nikon 1 service history:
      – I took three 10-30mm non-PD zooms in for service. At the time when I took them in, all were working well without any issue at all. The only reason I took them in was because of a Service Recall. Nikon ended up making repairs to 2 of the 3 lenses.
      – My recent issue with my 6.7-13mm was very minor. The issue with the lens was that it would not turn a Nikon 1 body off when retracted. Other than that the lens was functioning properly. It ended up being a small issue with an electrical contact which Nikon fixed without needing to replace any parts.
      – The 10-30mm PD zoom repair was not the result of a quality issue at all. My wife was using that lens on a V3 while we were in New Zealand. She tripped on a tree root while on a beach and fell face first onto the beach. This caused jamming of the front of the lens so that it would no longer close. This ended up being a quick repair at a very modest cost.
      – After three years of heavy use one of my three Nikon 1 bodies had an issue with the rear screen dying (like you this was while I was on the other side of the globe). Other than that the camera was still operational. After being repaired the camera has been doing a great job with my client video work.
      – I have had a ‘shuddering’ issue with my 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm where the lens would not focus at about 240mm. This has been repaired twice. Of all of my Nikon 1 lenses the 70-300 certainly gets the heaviest use. When out photographing birds it is very common that I would capture over 2,000 images with it within a few hours. I have lost count of how many thousands of images I’ve captured with that lens. I absolutely love the CX 70-300 and have added a second one to my kit to help ‘future-proof’ my system.

      To put my Nikon 1 repair history in context, it should be noted that I own 7 Nikon 1 bodies (update on this comment – I now have 8 Nikon 1 bodies, three V2, three J5 and 2 V3) and 16 1 Nikon lenses. Unlike many other owners of Nikon 1 gear I don’t own any other camera gear. After selling my D800 and all of my F-Mount lenses about 3 years ago, I’ve been shooting exclusively with Nikon 1 for both my client work and personal use. When I go out on a client assignment I need to feel confident with my Nikon 1 gear, which I absolutely do.


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