Nikon's policies for honoring warranties are confusing. This is troublesome here in the US because many online and mail order retailers offer one or both of two types of Nikon products: official NikonUSA warranty or gray market (sometimes also called "parallel import").
Here are the relevant details for US purchasers:
- Gray Market=No Warranty and No Repair. If you purchase a gray market import, you won't get any Nikon warranty. The only warranty that will be honored is any that the retailer provides (B&H, for example, provides their own one-year warranty on gray market imports). Moreover, outside of warranty, the product will (usually*) still not be repaired by NikonUSA--you'd have to find a third party repair shop to fix it once the warranty expired.
- NikonUSA Import=Warranty. If you purchase an officially imported product, you get a warranty that your NikonUSA honors. Moreover, once out of warranty, NikonUSA will repair the equipment (and charge you for the cost of repairs).
*in early 2007 I began receiving emails from a few folk that have successfully gotten NikonUSA to repair a gray market product. However, their official policy still appears to be the same: NikonUSA says they don't repair gray market products.
Outside the US, things are similar, only sometimes stickier. I understand that new EU laws make it near impossible for Nikon Europe to disclaim gray product warranties, so Nikon Europe's policies are more embracing than those of NikonUSA. Still, where Nikon owns the distributor, the rules I list for the US, above, are the usual practice. In particular, Canada seems to be a real stickler with not wanting to repair anything that wasn't purchased through them (a real problem due to the proximity of US camera shops to many Canadians).
Over the years, Nikon has slowly tightened its policies worldwide in ways that are problematic for users. This has coincided with their acquisition or creation of Nikon-owned distributors in much of the developed world. Moreover, ever since the F5 was introduced, Nikon stopped providing third party organizations repair equipment, manuals, and parts to currently manufactured products, although that total embargo on that has loosened enough to allow a few third parties to repair Nikon equipment officially. This "Nikon-only repair" policy is generally true for the more elaborate products, including (but not limited to): pro camera bodies, Speedlights introduced after the SB-26, AF-S lenses, and VR lenses. In the US, NikonUSA has an official policy of not accepting for repair (at any price!) items that weren't purchased through official import channels, so that means that the non-supply of parts and test equipment makes third party repair options limited, if available at all.
Before you get all anti-Nikon, note that most of the Japanese electronics manufacturers have similar policies. Switching to Canon or Pentax or Sony isn't necessarily going to get you any better deal.
Here's what I believe happens under current Nikon policies in the US:
If you purchase a gray market (parallel import) item (new or used):
- NikonUSA will not honor the warranty. You can usually send a gray market product for warranty repair to the Nikon Japan service center. But you'll be dealing with large shipping fees (especially if you use insurance) and the language barrier, not to mention the fact that it is nearly impossible to figure out how to contact them in the first place.
- NikonUSA will not repair these items out of warranty (though see * footnote, above).
- Software upgrades or required hardware fixes won't always be available unless there's a do-it-yourself option, as in downloadable firmware updates, or Nikon corporate subsidizes a worldwide repair as they have ocassionally done (I know of three for digital bodies in 10 years, and all were short term offers).
- The retailer where you purchased the product may repair or replace defective products under warranty if they provided a warranty at the time of purchase, and if the warranty provider is still in business (some retailers, such as B&H, appear to self-warranty, others use third-party companies).
- You may be able to find a third party that can do some repairs, but this is not guaranteed and not all repairs can be done by third parties. Moreover, you will always be charged for such repairs if they can be done.
- The value of your equipment when you sell it will be less if the buyer is savvy about warranty policies, as they'd be buying an unrepairable product.
- Any rebates (even Instant Rebates) in effect for the product are not paid (in the US, rebates are also only paid to US mailing addresses).
If you purchase an officially imported item (new or used):
Note that the term "officially imported item" refers to where the product was purchased. If you travel to Canada and purchase an officially imported item there and get an invoice that shows that you did so (preferably with the serial number on it), NikonUSA should honor the warranty when you return to the States. Note further that Nikon may require that you show the warranty form that came with your product (which has the serial number and part number on it) along with the proof of valid purchase (digital camera bodies don't come with this--the dealer sends information about the camera sold to Nikon).
- NikonUSA will honor the warranty and repair these items for no charge to the original owner under warranty,
- NikonUSA will for a fee repair the equipment outside of warranty or for subsequent owners.
- Software upgrades or hardware fixes will be available normally. NikonUSA has even been known to notify registered owners of specific problems.
- The value of your equipment when you sell it will be higher if you can prove the official import status to a savvy buyer.
- Add-on warranties (for example, the 4 years of extended service coverage for Nikkor lenses in the US) are only honored if the appropriate registration card is filled out and returned to Nikon within the prescribed time period. (There is some evidence that Nikon sometimes doesn't require that card to have been returned, but I think it's safest to assume that you need to return it to get the warranty extension.)
- Rebates are paid if the correct information is provided to Nikon within the prescribed time period, and Instant Rebates are paid immediately.
All of this brings up two further questions: how do you know if you've gotten an officially imported item, and how does Nikon know? Good question with a terrible answer: NikonUSA basically forces proof on you if it's not obvious to them that it's an officially imported product and/or it might be out of warranty. So how do you tell?
- With consumer film SLR bodies, official Nikon US imports begin with an N in the name. Outside the US Nikon used an F. This applies to the N50, N55, N60, N65, N70, N75, N80, and N90 cameras (and the N6006 and N8008, etc., before that). If you've got an F65, for instance, it wasn't officially imported into the US.
- With pro film SLR bodies, there's no easy way to tell on the product itself. These bodies begin with an F in their name, after all. However, almost all were accompanied by a NikonUSA warranty card with the serial number on it, so check to see if you have that. This applies to the F, F2, F3, F4, F5, and F100 bodies. The F6 body is handled like the DSLR bodies.
- With DSLR bodies, NikonUSA does not provide any useful identification technique. The serial number is usually coded to region, and during the initial production run of consumer bodies the correct starting value for a US DSLR would be 30xxxxx. Unfortunately, many consumer products have production runs that exceed the available serial numbers, so other region codings are used, and not always consistently. Still, a consumer DSLR with a 30xxxxx serial number is almost certainly a NikonUSA import. Unfortunately, this doesn't work for pro bodies, which are not region coded. Most of the pro DSLRs have a yellow NikonUSA sticker in the battery chamber, but that would be easy to remove or fake. No Nikon DSLRs come with a US warranty slip with the serial number on it. I believe this to be a customer-unfriendly policy that needs to be fixed, but hasn't been in the many years I've been complaining about it.
- With lenses, some lenses have a US in front of their serial number. This is generally a reliable verification for new products, but its possible to etch a US before a serial number after the fact, so isn't always a reliable indicator for used equipment. Since an official import has more value than a gray market product, unscrupulous souls can scam the system by getting an etcher and running arbitrage by buying gray and selling as US. Worse still, not all officially imported lenses have a US in front of their serial number, adding confusion. However, if you're buying new, all NikonUSA imports should have two things in the box: a US warranty slip with the serial number on it, and an envelope that has an offer for a four-year extended warranty for returning a registration card. This is also the only guaranteed way to ascertain status of a used lens: ask to see the US warranty slip with serial number. Corollary: keep that darned slip! It'll make you money if you ever sell the lens.
We Need a Bill of Rights
This nonsense and confusion with warranty and repair has gone on long enough. I'm not going to get into the argument about whether gray market should exist or not, only how Nikon should address the situation they've created. Nikon's stated corporate vision is "Meeting needs. Exceeding expectations." Nowhere is this less achieved than in way Nikon handles warranty and regular repair work for their products. Indeed, I'd go so far as to say as saying that the current practice at Nikon for warranty and repair work is "Confusing users. Erecting barriers."
Indeed, if you go beyond Nikon's vision and look at the commitments that they aspire to in order to hit that vision, you find "communicate well" as one of the ingredients. The warranty and repair situation is filled with examples of total lack of communication.
Therefore, I believe that it's time that Nikon users worldwide demand some basic and simple steps:
- All products should come with a way to tell their official import status. Either give us consistent regional serial numbers or have a standard form that indicates status and is tied to the serial numbers (as happens now with most lenses).
- Nikon Japan should publish in a visible spot the place and method for which International (gray market) warranty repairs can be obtained. At least one of the Japanese repair stations will repair gray market cameras under warranty. But it's almost impossible to find that out, let alone figure out what you should do to get such work done. Put up a Web page (with appropriate language translations, of course), that tells purchasers how to obtain such repair. Put that Web site URL in the manuals.
- The Nikon subsidiaries should no longer refuse to repair (for a fee) gray imports. There's really no excuse for this exclusion, especially here in the US where we have about the best prices for Nikon equipment worldwide. Moreover, for lenses, that four-year extension for official imports should keep any sales erosion from happening. Moreover, this takes care of what would be the fourth demand: that Nikon provide a reliable way to tell if used equipment is repairable or not.
Is that really so hard to do? Is there really no one at Nikon that has these things as a responsibility and sees how they tie into their corporate vision? Do Nikon users everywhere have to start a letter writing campaign to make them aware of this lapse? Let's hope not.
On the other hand, I've been writing about this problem for most of a decade now and nothing has changed.