The lens peddlers at B&H photo in New York say there is no difference (other than the warranty) between a Grey Lens and one with a USA rating. Can this be true? Or are there quality control disparities?
The lens peddlers are correct, at least when they are peddling Nikon equipment, I can't speak for any other manufacturers' equipment (except for Fuji and Agfa Films). Refer to the following link that includes a pretty comprehensive write-up on Nikon Gray Market versus Nikon Worldwide equipment.
In the last year I bought two Grey Market Nikkors from B&H, a 70-300ED and a 60 Micro. The 70-300 because the USA version was not in stock anywhere safe, the Micro because of price. Both lenses are excellent, in both quality and operation. Compare prices for Grey market lenses to used lenses in excellent condition; both have one-year warranties. How would you know if that used lens were USA or Grey? I will buy USA products for the Nikon USA warranty if there is a lot of electronics involved, like a SB-28 Flash or F100 Body. I would have no problem buying a Grey Chrome FM2n, a new one costs not much more than a used one from KEH.
I think it safe to say that when your buying Nikon equipment the issue of quality is a non issue between grey and US. The equipment is manufactured in the same facilites etc. The difference being that the US stuff is now denoted with a US before the serial # and supplied to Nikon USA. They in turn sell it with USA warranties and boxes etc. For years there was no way to tell grey market from USA by looking at the item (Bodies excluded). But Nikon USA was feeling the pinch of all the grey market equipment and in many cases they where servicing it. So they clamped down and state that they will no longer service grey market equipment either under or out of warranty. This has led to B&H etc offering warranty service and out of warranty service in support of these pieces. To make a long story short I buy grey when the price dictates. For instance check grey market 70-180 macro vs US. I would feel comfortable with Grey market with one exception Silent Wave. My gut tells me to be careful with these lens. Problems could be expensive to repair and it may be difficult to get the local guy to work on them
I cannot remember a time when Nikon USA would service gray market equipment. No, there was never a way to determine gray from USA by looking at the actual product, and I don't believe there still is (except for the N versus the F on certain models). None of my Nikon USA equipment has a serial number starting with US, including my F100 purchased six months ago (or thereabouts). I would believe that Nikon would be able to determine whether a lens is US or non-US just by the simple serial number. I'm sure they have a list of serial numbers sold in this country. When a service department performs warranty service they most likely have to obtain approval first to verify USA. I will agree that gray is as good as USA, and if the price difference is great, I'll buy gray. Especially since I would have to mail the product to out of state to be repair whether it was gray or US. I will make one note, I purchased a gray market lens six years ago from B&H, and it came with a warranty issued by B&H.
--Take only photographs, leave nothing but footprints--
No need to beat a dead horse. There's no difference unless you need warranty service. Even then, you can alway use an 'authorized Nikon Repair Station" since they aren't owned by Nikon. If the price is not real different, I'd take the nearly valueless piece of mind of an officially imported product, but you'll probably never use the warranty. If the price difference is great, then it's a classic no brainer. Keith D. Smith