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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Gray Market Lenses for Canon EOS Cameras

What would you do if you received a “gray market” or “Japanese” version lens when you were left with the impression that it was a genuine USA lens? Would it matter if you spent more on the lens because you were led to believe the lens was a genuine USA model?

This is an issue that I recently encountered and it was both an educational and learning experience for me. This is not only a gray market story, but also an eBay story – of which the outcome is still pending.

Before we get started, let us define what a gray market lens is. According to Tamron (the manufacturer of lenses for Canon cameras) here is the deal with gray market lenses:

In looking for our products, you may find that products not supplied through our regular channel are sold in your market. Such products are generally called “gray-market products” and may involve quality problems.

Interchangeable lenses are precision optical and mechanical products. Therefore, if handling during transportation or storage is not adequate, defects or malfunctions may occur. As for our products supplied through our regular distribution channel, meticulous care is taken in transportation and storage in order to ensure quality protection. However, in the case of gray-market products, it is more likely that they are handled inadequately during transportation or storage; are exposed to undesirable conditions such as high temperatures, vibration, shock, high humidity, dust, dirt and so on; or that they have been mixed up with used products since they are not under our strict control. Therefore, we are unable to warrant the quality of gray-market products.
The reality of the statement is that in most cases the gray market lenses are of the same quality and reliability as their genuine USA counterparts. However, since there is no way to guarantee this – they are not covered by warranties since their authenticity cannot be determined. In addition, these lenses have a significantly lower resale value (~25%) than their genuine counterparts for the same reason, even though most warranties are not transferable in the first place.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I bid on and won a Tamron SP AF17-50mm f/2.8 XR Aspherical lens on eBay. The lens was used, but was in mint condition and a genuine USA product. I placed my bid for what I thought was a reasonable savings over whether I had purchased the lens new from B&H or Fortunately, I won the lens well within the price I was looking to pay and the items was delivered very quickly to me.

When I opened the box, I was immediately concerned that the lens was not a genuine USA lens. Why? Because all of the pamphlets, manuals, and other documentation were written only in the Japanese language. There was one small foldout that had a couple of sentences of English in it – and that was it. Two other telling signs, there was a multi-layer “receipt” in the box with Japanese writing on it and the US UPC code and information on the bottom of the box was covered with another sticker that had additional information on it.

However, since I was not positive, I hooked the lens up to my Canon EOS Rebel XTi 400D and snapped some quick photos. The lens worked great, and the clarity of the photos taken with the new lens were far superior to the kit lens, the EF-S 18-55mm lens that the Rebel XTi ships with.

Still, I had to contact the seller to see if they knew that the item they sold was a gray market lens rather than the genuine USA one. After a quick reply, the seller suggested I check with Tamron to verify the authenticity. Even though the lens came from “Preferred Photo” a well-known grey marketer and seller of imported products – the seller was not willing to discuss options until I received word from Tamron.

The next morning, I placed a call to Tamron. I spent about 5 minutes on the phone with the agent providing information and asking a number of questions. At the end of the call, the agent responded with – the serial number is not in our system, and based on the rest of the information – you have a “gray market” lens. Now it was time to go back to the seller.

While I was willing to put several different options on the table, the seller was not. The seller felt it was fine to mislead buyers since the lens worked well – regardless of the authenticity or the lowered resale value. For me personally, I could not advertise a lens as genuine USA that was not for a couple of reasons – one, it is dishonest and two, I would expect a reasonable buyer to return the lens.

At that point, I requested that I return the lens under the 7 day money back guarantee that the item was posted under. The seller has resisted, but should not be able to step around the clarity of the return policy. I will update on how that goes as it is currently in the PayPal “dispute” statue.

Now I will need to scour the market to find the best price on a genuine USA lens from B&H Photo or

To summarize and answer my own questions:
What would you do if you received a “gray market” or “Japanese” version lens when you were left with the impression that it was a genuine USA lens?
I would return it.

Would it matter if you spent more on the lens because you were led to believe the lens was a genuine USA model?
Yes, especially since at some point I plan to resell the lens.

More importantly, what would you do? Let me know with a comment below.


Anonymous said...

Did they tell you it was a US lens? If you have an email, case closed.

Ken Hanscom said...

That along with a combination of 7-day return policy that had no stipulations, as well as the original manual being missing should lead to a case closed. The only problem? PayPal can take up to 30 days to decide.

Anonymous said...

So you sent that email to Paypal and they still take 30 days?

Ken Hanscom said...

Yep. "Up to 30 days" according to them. 6 days since I sent that email to PayPal.

Armando said...

Got an update? What happened???

Ken Hanscom said...

Hi Armando.

It took two months, but I finally won the dispute with PayPal. Here is the article with the details: