Everything costs more in Australia. A $1000 lens in Australia will typically cost ~$700 in Hong Kong or USA. Even with postage you are likely to save a lot. In the past I’ve been asked by many people about what I thought of these savings. Here are my thoughts on different options on sourcing a lens. Of course, in the end it is up to you how much risk you want to take and how much each discount is worth to you.
New or Used
If a used lens saves you a lot of money, don’t buy it. Counter intuitive?
A good quality lens does not lose much value at all, so if you see a great deal, then one of the following is true:
- the lens is a low quality or kit lens that nobody wants
- the lens has hidden/intermittent issues
- the seller is a fool who doesn’t know the value of the lens (unlikely)
- it’s stolen goods (even less likely)
A good used lens with original boxes that is still in warranty can be worth up to 90% of new retail price. Out of warranty it’s still worth the same as a new grey import depending on the condition, as you can get it immediately vs waiting 2 weeks. Plus you can check it before purchasing.
Does warranty matter? I’d say if you check the lens properly, then not really. I’d pay a little extra for warranty, maybe 20% or so, but otherwise I can live without it. A new camera body on the other hand I would buy with warranty.
Local retail lenses generally have 1-3 year warranties. Some brands have international warranties (usually 1 year). Anyway, if a lens fails after 1 year of usage, it’s probably not a manufacturing fault but something you did.
International warranty policies
Here are the known policies of major manufacturers. Subject to change so double check before relying on this info for your purchase.
- Nikon: All Nikkor lenses are automatically covered by an international warranty for 1 year.
All (film) SLR lenses are covered. DSLR are mentioned separately, and are not covered internationally. This suggests that all EF lenses should be covered, while EF-S are not. Users suggest to keep calling support until you get an agent who will take it under warranty.No international warranty for any products.
- Pentax: Depending on country, you can send for an international warranty card, valid for 1 year.
- Tamron: 3yr local warranties can be swapped for a 1yr international warranty.
- Sigma: 2yr local warranty. No international warranty is valid in Australia. Buy these locally or well checked.
- Tokina: 3yr local warranty, some swappable for 1yr international warranty.
Grey vs local
Grey importers generally ship goods directly from Hong Kong to your doorstep. Most of them will offer a “Full Australian warranty” for 1 year. This is not a manufacturer’s warranty, but the shop’s own promise to fix any issue at their expense using their contracted repair centers (which may be overseas).
Grey imports have NO manufacturer warranty regardless of the brand’s international warranty policy. This surprises a lot of people. International warranties are valid when you buy from an official distributor in the country of purchase. That is, if you buy a Nikon lens while in Hong Kong, it comes with a valid international warranty. This is my preferred way of buying. But if a company buys a lens from Hong Kong and sells it to you in Australia, you have nothing.
Note that even in Hong Kong there are official and grey products. The greys are often sourced from Japan where it may be cheaper or included accessories may be superior. Or some shops will sell a grey lens, its hood/caps, and pouches as separate items. So be sure to ask.
There is nothing wrong with grey imports, as long as you know what you’re getting into. Generally with simple mechanical items like lenses I would not hesitate in buying from a grey import retailer who lets me check the lens for immediate DOA swap.
Online vs Retail
I prefer to buy lenses from retail shops where I can inspect and check the lens before taking it home. I’ve played with lenses in over a dozen different shops, and have never had an issue with staff. They all let me mount the lens to a camera of my choice, and most of them will let you turn on the camera and try a few shots.
I’ve heard of people saying shops won’t let them touch the lenses, even when they are making the purchase. If this was true, why wouldn’t you just go elsewhere? Given the nature of camera lenses, testing really is a must. Of course you may actually have to fork over the cash first, but if you check the lens immediately at least you can get a swap straight away if there are any defects.
If you buy online, then you receive your lens 2wks after you fork over your cash, then if anything is wrong, you send it back to them at your cost. They’ll send it back overseas to their buyer, who will send it in for repairs. Simple repairs in my experience take 2-3wks, then it gets sent back along the chain to you. It could be almost 2 months before you get your lens or a refund! This is someone’s actual experience.
I don’t want to take the risk, so I always buy retail. OK the risk is quite minor, but generally I have found that after calculating postage you will only be saving 10-20% off the next best retail price (which could also be grey). Some local retailers will partially match a price too, which can take the price difference down to just the GST.
Your choice matrix is basically:
- new vs used
- official vs grey
- retail vs online
The cheapest grey online price will typically be 20% less than the cheapest official retail. The cheapest official retail will typically be 25% less than the most expensive retail.
For my own peace of mind, I would only recommend buying face to face, ie retail, or used. I know the extra I have paid is worthwhile, because I have checked lenses inside a shop and found dust or worse.
Some people insist that they have purchased a whopping 2 lenses online and never had a problem and so they will never have a problem. Some people have threads in forums detailing troubles that are not resolved after 2 months. Some people have never ever checked the lenses they own. In the end it’s up to you to decide how much you want to save and how much time you’re willing to risk to get that price.