Craig Collins's blog


Beware the Ides of Grey Market

Most savvy Nikon shooters know there's an official Nikon USA import sales channel, and an enticing lower-priced "grey market." The catch: Nikon USA will simply refuse service on any products not imported by them. It's then up to the buyer to find service, and that can be very difficult, as Nikon doesn't provide most repair shops with parts. Retailers might offer their own warranty, but how to obtain service?

Here's some important tips, and a recent experience that shows how tricky this can be.

If you're in search of only the lowest price and willing to take your chance with ever needing repair, ignore the rest of this post. But know that increasingly complex cameras and lenses are more vulnerable, with sophisticated electronics, motors and plastic components.

First: how to tell which is "grey market" and legitimate US import when you buy: There's price of course. If the price is noticeably lower than most others, it's probably "grey market." And most retailers will disclose "USA Warranty" vs. "Import" in their online listings. Read the fine print carefully.

Second: Once you've got your product: Verify! Any USA import will have a 2-part Nikon USA Warranty form in the box. There's often (but not always!) a serial number beginning with the letters USxxxxx. With "grey market," sometimes the "manual" is an obviously photocopied version.

Your USA Warranty looks like this. Look for the "5 year warranty" sticker on the box.

Don't forget to register with Nikon, or you'll only have the 1-year standard warranty!

Here's where it gets tricky: Want to verify a serial number from either an official or other seller (like eBay): good luck! According to Nikon, the only way to tell is to take the product in for repair. At that point, it's too late of course.

Now a tale of just how difficult this can be. I just purchased a Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 lens from a major national New York retailer, to take advantage of Nikon USA's current instant rebate promotions. (If you haven't yourself, get shopping! The rebates last through March 2015) The seller's site listed both "USA" and "import" options. When the lens arrived, the invoice clearly stated "USA" but there was no USA warranty card in the box.

I called the retailer, and was cheerily informed that, according to their serial number database, indeed I had a USA import. "Not to worry about that warranty card," the rep stated, "because Nikon often relies on the sales invoice as proof of purchase."

That's when I called Nikon, and was told they can't verify the serial number. I emailed a contact I have at Nikon, and got a quick reply requesting a scan of the invoice. A day later, I got a very apologetic call from the retailer, acknowledging a "mixup in our warehouse" and an overnight shipment of a genuine USA import.

The moral: be very careful about your import purchases. Even a normally reputable retailer may end up leaving you stranded when you need warranty coverage. And hopefully Nikon USA will make it easier for customers to verify their purchases.


Nikon D810 and a Taste of Moiré

Much has been said and speculated about sensor moiré in high-resolution cameras like the Nikon D800E and D810. It's an unavoidable artifact of the digital capture world, due to the interaction between finely-detailed repeating patterns in subject matter and the raster rows of modern camera sensors. It's typically an issue in architectural and fashion photography, where fabric and fine details trigger the effect.

In the endless quest for maximum resolution, Nikon has removed the anti-aliasing filter in these cameras, which helped control moiré at some loss of sharpness. Sensor moiré can't be accurately seen in preview, as the display will create its own moiré that may not actually be in the image file. And this type of moiré is different from that occurring with 4Color process images, in either scanning or prepress. So: how big a problem is it?

Here's an example of just how extreme moiré can be, in the 36 Megapixel Nikon D810. These screen grabs are a section of an image of the outdoor display panels at the beautiful new American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, in Washington, D.C. The site features strong horizontal black bands of varying width embedded in glass, to create tonality in the very large panels. Look what resulted once I opened up my photos on the computer:

Nikon D810 moire sample 1

Large glass panels with embedded horizontal lines create
both color and luminance moiré.

Here's a closer view from the original file. You can see the bands of color. How bad are they?

Nikon D810 moire sample 2 Nikon D810 moire sample 3

Yikes! They're that bad, and a powerful creator of eyestrain to even work with such an image!

You see the the beginning of efforts to isolate and remove the effect in Photoshop, by building paths and tight selections. Moiré is even present in the very sharp type layer. What a nightmare!

Nikon D810 moire sample 4

Low-res preview is even more horrifying!

Can such an extreme case be fixed, or even prevented? Some suggest twisting the camera at a slight angle to minimize such moiré, but that's not always practical in tight compositions and the pressure of photo assignments--especially when the effect is not visible in camera.

To repair, there's many helpful tips available online, but in the end, it's a lot of work, and a compromise between maintaining detail and residual moiré. On this set of images, many such techniques were necessary; too extensive for this blog post. I'll post some useful resources in a followup.

Here's a small piece of the near-final result. Bands of color are completely eliminated, and residual moiré (slight diagonal banding in the fabric) is not objectionable across the entire image. Note the sharp text with no moiré or signs of blurring.

Nikon D810 moire sample 5

In the days of film, there would have been no such problem, at the price of considerably less image sharpness, ease of color enhancement, and with greater detail-robbing grain. But in this case, film would have saved a huge amount of post-production time and effort.

Indeed, all that terrific sharpness and resolution we are now capable of capturing can be both a blessing and a curse....