US vs. Gray Market Lenses: Knowing the Differences

US vs. Gray Market Lenses

If you’ve tried to purchase lenses in the USA, you might have noticed two very distinct labels: USA and Gray. Gray market lenses are, in a nutshell, lenses which were imported from other countries. USA lenses are locally manufactured and sold. They have quite a number of differences and similarities and this article should give you at least the most important points.


The main difference you’ll notice is the price. Usually, you’ll expect imported goods to be more expensive than USA labeled products, right? However, in the case of lenses, USA lenses are more expensive than Gray Market or imported ones. The label “gray” might make you suspicious already. Why is it cheaper?


This is probably the reason why gray market lenses are cheaper than USA labeled ones. USA lenses come with manufacturer warranty and this can last for as long as 4 years, depending on the brand. Gray market lenses don’t come with manufacturer warranties. At least theoretically, they’re sold as they are, and once you break them, they’re gone. However, a lot of reputable retailers in the USA do offer warranty service equivalents for Gray Market lenses. You just need to look for a retailer who can be trusted and who has the facilities to actually fulfill their promise. An equivalent warranty from a shady retailer means nothing.


This topic is controversial because some retailers claim that USA lenses are made from top quality glass while Gray Market lenses are made from plastic. This can’t be farther from the truth. The truth is that Gray Market lenses are made from the very same materials that USA lenses are made from. This is especially true with branded lenses like Nikon and Canon who have factories all over the world. These firms maintain the quality of their products, so they won’t go around selling plastic just because the factory is in the USA.

If you have a retailer trying to sell you USA lenses using the plastic argument, step out of the store and look for another one. The only real differences between USA and Gray Market Lenses are the prices and the manufacturer warranty.

Other options

Are you thinking of getting Gray Market lenses because of the price? You might want to consider purchasing USA lenses instead which are second hand. There are plenty of these sold over at eBay, and some of them are in good condition. However, it is true that even if the lens looks good from the surface, it doesn’t mean that it’s in perfectly good condition. It could have been exposed to a lot of dust, impact, and spillage.

Best solution

It is still best to go for USA lenses if you’re in the USA. The same thing goes for photographers who may be based in Canada or any other country. It’s best to choose lenses which are manufactured in their own countries. This way, you’ll be able to get the benefits of a full manufacturer’s service warranty. For a price difference of 30%, most photographers say that the expense is worth it.

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