I'm looking to buy a nice camera (new, Canon EOS 5DS DSLR) for my lab research group. However, the prices vary in two groups between ~$2,000-2,250 by sketchier dealers and then ~$3,500-3,700. I finally found a seemingly-reputable seller in the lower cost group. However, this seller lists the camera as "Import Model 1 Yr Parts & 30 Day Labor Warranty via Seller"

When I emailed the vendor, they tell me that it is an imported model rather than a US model. Does the import model affect the value or quality of the camera, and what other issues should I be aware of?

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    Note similar question for lenses: Is there a drawback in buying an imported (gray market) lens? – mattdm Oct 24 '17 at 19:16
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    Ask yourself... how can one small dealer sell a brand new camera for ~$1250 less than a high-volume really-reputable retailer like B&H or Amazon? A grey market camera doesn't come with this kind of discount. There is something wrong. I don't know why it's so hard for people to see through this. Just pretend the "sketchier" dealers don't exist. You will save yourself a lot of hassle in the long run. – osullic Oct 24 '17 at 23:01
  • That's my opinion at least. Maybe it depends how picky you are. Would you accept a refurbished product advertised as new? Would you accept an "open box" product? A demo product? A product split from its original kit? I wouldn't, but maybe you would. – osullic Oct 24 '17 at 23:15
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    Possible duplicate of Is there a drawback in buying an imported (gray market) lens? – Parth Oct 27 '17 at 12:06

What issues should I be aware of around buying an import model camera?

Items intended to be sold in one market or world area that are shipped to a different market or world area are often called 'grey market' items. Regional differences in pricing and constantly fluctuating currency exchange rates can often make it attractive to buy products in one country (other than the country of origin) and ship them to another country to be resold as "new" at lower prices than the same product sold through official channels in the destination country or market.

  • The 'gray market' camera may be a genuine Canon product from the same factory as the U.S. product. Or it may be a total counterfeit (such cameras are usually assembled from at least some surplus and/or rejected parts made by Canon suppliers). That's the risk you take any time you buy from a non-authorized dealer. Even if a dealer is an authorized Canon dealer in the U.S., they're not authorized by Canon to sell imported gray market items in the U.S.
  • Even if you get a genuine Canon camera body, often the accessories such as batteries and chargers will have been swapped for generic third party versions that are typically inferior. Or you might not get some accessories (camera straps, cables, etc.) at all.
  • Some Canon models intended for different world areas have different firmwares that limit, for example, the available language options. Such models are 'locked into' that region's firmware and can only be updated with firmware versions written for the same region. You can't apply a U.S. firmware update to an Asian model - the camera won't allow it to be installed. There's probably a way to hack it, but in a commercial setting that would likely cost more to do than the amount of savings from buying the gray market item.
  • Lots of sketchy camera dealers will advertise a product at a price they have absolutely no intention whatsoever of selling to you at the advertised price. They'll go ahead and charge your credit card. They'll tell you the exact model you ordered is 'temporarily out of stock' or 'backordered'. They'll try to get you to "upgrade" to a "better" version (with 'metal' instead of 'plastic' parts for something that Canon doesn't even make in a plastic version). By the time you pay their "upgrades" you'll have spent more than if you'd just bought the camera from a legit authorized dealer. If you hold out for the originally ordered product they'll string you along until your credit card charges are over 30 days old and you can't reverse the charges. After that, you might never receive anything.
  • Canon USA's official stance is that they do not honor warranties on 'gray market items' purchased in the United States. They also reserve the right to refuse to service, even for a fee, 'grey market' items. Anecdotal evidence suggests they rarely, if ever, enforce this policy. But there would be nothing to stop them from deciding to begin strictly enforce it the day before you need to have your camera fixed.
  • There are third party repair facilities in the U.S. than might work on a 'grey market' item. Some of them are very good and have excellent reputations. But such facilities are limited by the availability of the parts they might need to repair a 'grey market' item. If Canon parts aren't available to them in the U.S. via official Canon USA sources, then your repair house is likely to turn to a parts supplier in the same country (most probably Hong Kong) in which your camera was originally sold to the reseller who sold it to you. These parts, just like the original items, may be genuine or they may be cheap third party versions or even counterfeit. The time spent waiting for such parts to arrive from overseas will likely also extend your camera's down time in the repair shop.

I would add some specific points for your case to the general advice about grey imports.

for my lab research group

This makes it a business decision (whether that's commercial or academic). Remember that you could be held responsible by those above you for any problems that arise because of the "grey" status of the camera (or the deal turning into a bait-and-switch con).

If your budget is limited then you simply either to decide if you really need this model or a cheaper (or older) model will do. It's possible to get some nice kit from reputable used pro dealers. If you can find a model that's cheaper (and lenses and technique are often more significant issues than the body) this may be a better business decision. Only you know if this is relevant.


this seller lists the camera as "Import Model 1 Yr Parts & 30 Day Labor Warranty via Seller"

"Warranty via seller": this is where the biggest difference with an official product is: the seller's own repair team of technicians fixes your camera if it has any problem.

This means they'll open the camera (or lens) themselves, voiding any warranty in the country where the equipment was originally sold, any unsuccessful repair attempt could cause further damages in the camera (a real case I've encountered personally). For these reasons I see grey market as being tinted with black because not all is made clear and / or transparent.

If repair can't be made, the seller may tell you it's not really a problem, will not recognize or admit the issue, etc..., or if the seller is reputable and serious, will send your equipment at his/her own cost to an official Pentax / Canon / Nikon / Fuji / etc repair center, in the country of origin of the camera. You then usually have to wait several weeks to few months until the camera is repaired.

The above is my experience from interaction with online sellers, discussions with photographers who bought grey / parallel import photographic equipment and my own experience from having once bought from such a store (not online but walk-in store). Asking the good questions to the store clerk revealed many interesting facts.

Now why the business is good for such sellers and advantageous for customers? Because cameras, besides the cases thoroughly detailed by @MichaelClark above, are mostly, if not always, genuine when purchased from a reputable seller, and nowadays cameras are reliable so warranty rarely needs to be activated. You'll find far more satisfied grey market customers than unhappy ones.

So buying grey from a reputed seller is a risk, which could be approximately quantified as the probability that a camera needs a fix within the warranty period (not taking into account how intensely the camera is used, whether or not all possible features of the camera are used, etc...), a low risk but a real one. It's worth considering the purchase of used but official equipment (also from a reputable seller / user).


Over here in New Zealand, we have alot of local parallel importing of goods through smaller online retailers. These retailers being located in NZ anything they sell is covered by our consumer guarantees act which states that products are fit for purpose. This on top of the 1 yr usual warranty makes it attractive and generally pretty safe to buy the parallel grey items - I'm assuming that the US have a similar protection policy in place. If you are concerned maybe look at an online retailer based in the US which should give you some safety if the product turns out faulty.

As far as the model and quality - the camera comes out of the same canon factory(s) regardless of where you purchase it from. Therefore there shouldnt be any issues here. You may just get a battery charger with a different plug on the end which is easily corrected with a adapter plug (as chargers cater for virtually all world wide power 110 - 240V AC 50/60Hz).

If you purchase through a online retailer, once you reach the one year warranty period and the camera is still working fine then you have technically won by the $$ saved.

Personally we've bought Canon L series lens and 5D Mk2 via parallel and had no problems and as long as you research the retailer you should be ok.

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    Many of the consumer protections in the U.S. are not applicable to "gray market" goods. – Michael C Oct 24 '17 at 23:11

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