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After Unwittingly Buying Expensive 'Gray Market' Camera That's Now Broken, Couple Left With '$800 Paperweight'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A picture is worth a thousand words, and thousand bucks is about how much a west suburban photographer's camera cost, but the equipment is worthless now, and no one will fix it.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Lauren Victory takes us behind the lens of something called the "gray market."

Lisa Gaylord loves looking for birds in Glen Ellyn's woods. These days, she's also looking for an explanation. The nature lover wants to make peace with a broken camera that apparently no one will fix.

"I saw on some of the forums that this is a fairly common problem," said Bruce Gaylord, who bought a Nikon COOLPIX P1000 for $799.99 for his wife in September 2019.

Her problems began just before migration season this year.

"You should be able to see through the viewfinder and it only shows black," said Mrs. Gaylord, demonstrating the issue for CBS2. "When I press the on/off button, the lens should extend. I turn it on and nothing."

Every Nikon battery Lisa tried had the same result.

"I'm like, there's no way they could all be dead. I didn't use them all. And I have a lot of batteries, because I don't want to ever miss shot," the birdwatcher said.

Her beautiful action pictures came to halt. Not only was the year-and-a-half old camera not under warranty, but Nikon also refused to repair it.

"They're [Nikon] like, 'We think it's a gray market' which I had no clue what it was," Mrs. Gaylord said.

A "Gray Market Warning" is on Nikon's website.

Camera maker Canon has an alert too.

It's about all equipment that's imported. The companies say they'll only service cameras sold by authorized dealers in the United States.

But it's not like the Gaylords bought their Nikon on some random website. They purchased it through Walmart.

"They should have a good explanation that's impossible to miss," said Mr. Gaylord.

Turns out the listing on Walmart did have the abbreviation for international in its title, though no description of what "int'l model" means.

Though a few products explicitly said "no warranty," CBS 2 found several other international items without a gray market warning.

Walmart told the Gaylords that the camera in question was shipped and sold by a third-party company.

A spokesperson for the retail giant told CBS 2 it is common for those sellers to offer their own warranties, and in this case the one-year warranty was expired. The Gaylords' refund window is also expired.

They're willing to pay to fix the equipment, but the camera needs a Nikon part. Repair shops would lose their Nikon authorization if they fix a gray market camera, according to the suburban couple.

"We at least want people to know to be careful," said Mrs. Gaylord, who shared her story hoping to educate others.

The birds will always relax her, but the situation with the camera is frustrating. Their nickname for it: $800 paperweight.

CBS 2 asked Walmart if international product descriptions will be updated with more details about the gray market. We did not hear back about that question.

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