Nikon USA has defended its decision to stop supplying spare parts to companies outside its authorized service network. Its intention is to deliver 'the best service experience to the customer,' says David Dentry, General Manager of Customer Relations at Nikon Inc, explaining that the complexity of modern cameras and the need for specialist analysis and calibration tools meant that repair attempts by ill-equipped retail or unauthorized repair shops could end up causing delays, increase the cost and risk voiding the camera's warranty. However, an independent service center we spoke to said its statements misrepresented the situation and is likely to mean small repairs take longer.

Nikon's Dentry says the move comes to ensure cameras are repaired properly with the right parts: 'Cameras are now far more technically advanced, and require testing equipment for a proper diagnosis and proper tools for adjustment and calibration. Years ago, you could look at a camera and diagnose a worn gear or some physical issue. Now cameras are advanced microcomputers and require skilled technicians and specialized tools to fix a camera and calibrate the focus of lenses to properly assure adherence specifications.'

Consumer benefits

'The benefits for the consumer were top of mind when implementing this policy. A consumer’s products are repaired properly in a timely fashion, often times with less waiting time and less cost to the consumer. Consumers can also have confidence in their cameras service, as authorized dealers receive factory training, tech bulletins for recent products, and possess proper tools for diagnostics and adjustments.'

Dentry suggests using independent servicing is something of a lottery: 'Often times, a retailer or unauthorized repair shop would attempt to repair a camera even though they were not able or equipped to make such repair and thereafter would have to send the camera to a Nikon authorized repair facility for proper repair, at the cost of increased wait times. Overall, this led to many delays and in the end increased the cost to the customer. Additionally, as with most consumer electronics, if there is evidence of improper repair, a camera warranty would likely be void.'

The mention of warranties is odd, an independent service center told us: 'most of our business is post-warranty work. Why should people be paying us for work if it's paid for under the warranty?'

He also dismissed the idea that damage during repair is commonplace: 'there are literally thousands of pieces of Nikon equipment being serviced by independent stores. We've been in business since the 1950's and there are plenty of businesses that have been here for 30, 40 years. 'They're lumping everyone together. Yes there are some places that are one guy working out of his house who thinks he can repair a camera, but that's not the all of us - we've had guys here working for 20 or more years. These are people who have trained at the Canon factory or the Nikon factory or the Sony factory.'

Modern DSLRs feature complex electronics as well as traditional precision engineering

'There are some tools and pieces of equipment that are too expensive for us to buy, or that we wouldn't use often enough to make it economic, and in those cases we send the cameras back to the factory. But this move means even small things will have to go back to the factory,' says the independent business.

Dentry points out that independent service shops can apply to join the 20 centers authorized to repair its DSLRs in the US, and says they can contact their local Nikon rep or the Nikon Inc. repair department for an application and Nikon tool requirement list and training information.

But the cost of becoming a Nikon authorized service center is prohibitive, the independent service center claims: 'There's an item on that list that costs $32,000. Overall you need to buy equipment costing over $160,000 and you sign a contract agreeing they could cut you out tomorrow. The cost of equipment, that only works with their products, is more than the cost of what every other manufacturer requires, put together.'

'We have a relationship with all the manufacturers - if it requires a specialist piece of equipment for the work, we send it back.'

'Independent servicing allows quicker repairs'

'It's odd to be someone's customer for 40 or 50 years and then be told 'we don't want your money anymore. The majority of businesses like ours are family owned. This takes business out of the local economy.' Ultimately, though, the option of turning to independent servicing is in the customers' interest, he says: 'Independent servicing allows small repairs to be done quickly'

'We're not sure what happens next - we haven't yet heard officially it they're completely cutting us out or if they'll allow their service centers to re-sell parts, or if some people will self-import components. We won't go down that route but I'm sure some will.'