Should I risk buying "grey market" ?
What is "Grey Market" anyway?
Often there is confusion here as some believe "Grey Market" means an item has been imported direct by the end user, bypassing the local distributor.
This is not the case. Grey market ("Grey") cameras are those which are purchased from either a dealer who is not an authorized Leica dealer, or else from an authorized dealer who has in turn obtained the camera from a source other than the official distributor in that country.
Sounds like scholastic hair-splitting, but the difference is crucial. A typical Grey example would be to purchase from an Authorized Leica Dealer in (say) the USA, but one who themselves sourced the camera from (say) Germany bypassing Leica NJ, the authorised US distributor.
Keep in mind there is nothing illegal about this — "grey" does not mean "stolen"! — it is just that grey items bypass the sanctioned distributor and/or reseller in the country where you bought the camera, that's all.
So if you buy the equipment from an authorized dealer who sourced the camera from an authorized distributor, then regardless of wherever else you subsequently take the camera, it will still be covered by the Leica warranty and will be repaired and serviced as normal by your local Leica rep. Which means there is no problem with buying equipment on the net and importing it directly to wherever you live. Provided the warranty card is marked with the names of the authorized distributor and dealer in the country you bought it from, then your local Leica representative will (and indeed must) honour the warranty.
If OTOH the warranty card is only marked with the name of the authorized dealer, but is missing the mark for the distributor, then Leica will still honour the guarantee, but to have it repaired or serviced you will have to ship the camera to Germany (at your own expense).
If the card is blank (no stamp or markings from either authorized dealer or distributor), or if the card is missing altogether, then you have a Grey item and the Leica warranty is void. Another indicator of a Grey item is that the Leica box it comes in doesn't have the distributor's sticker on it, or else the box is missing entirely!
Mind you, Leica will still repair and service Grey cameras, it is just that you will have to pay for it. This is unlike the USA distributors for Nikon or Mamiya, who refuse to touch any camera not brought into the country via their official channels. Also, often when you buy grey market in the USA, you will be covered by what is called a "MAC" warranty. This means that Mack Camera & Video Service warrant to do any repairs, rather than the official Leica distributor.
Now, what happens if you live in a country where there is no authorised Leica distributor or dealers - say for example Indonesia - and you don't wish to import it yourself. In essence you are forced to buy Grey even if you purchase from a reputable dealer! This is exactly what happened to Ray Moth in Aug 2001, and in his case Leica agreed to repair his camera (an R8) under warranty in Germany.
Furthermore, according to Dr Joseph Yao, Leica will also sometimes make exceptions and relax the rules for Grey R8/9 owners due to the electronic and mechanical complexity of those particular cameras (+ motor). You will of course have to pay return shipping to Germany, but it is better than nothing.
Many Thanks to Wayne Murphy for (finally) clearing up this issue!
Why do it?
With all this in mind, why risk buying grey market at all? Easy - at times the savings can be considerable!
A personal example: in mid 2000 the cheapest "authorized" price I could find in Australia for a M6 (0.85) TTL body was $AUS 4800. OTOH, the Grey camera I bought from a NYC dealer ended up costing $AUS 3650 (total including courier fees & all import duties + taxes).
This is a whopping discount of $AUS 1150, and more than compensated for any lack of warranty. Provided the camera wasn't completely DOA (in which case the NYC dealer would have replaced it with another one), I could use the savings to pay for two full CLA's in the coming decades, long after the usual warranty expired.
I guess I wasn't the only Australian photographer who did this, as a year later the local "authorized" price mysteriously fell to $3600-$3800. I Wonder Why …
Wheeling & dealing in Southeast Asia
There are an awful lot of grey market dealers in SE Asia. A few are seriously less wonderful than others. To help you sort through all the issues involved, see the following URL: