Disclosure: I tested Panchrome Project’s Shipping and Warehousing service pre-launch, with a package that I bought at www.buyee.jp. I paid for all the items, duties and levies, and all shipping charges myself. Panchrome project waived their processing fees as the transaction was a pre-launch test. Given the value of my package (~INR 23,000), the processing fee would have amounted to INR 3,000. I have since brought in three more shipments, paying all applicable charges.

I am putting up this article because I feel this service is valuable to the Analog community. I have neither received nor have been offered goods, services, or anything of value by Panchrome Project or their representatives to post this article or take a directional stance.

UPDATE: February 2023:

I have brought in two more packages, this time, shipping them directly to the Panchrome Project’s Bombay address. As with the previous transaction, it was smooth and cost effective. henceforth, I shall be using the Bombay address for Buyee and my usual dealers, and the NY address for sellers who will not ship to India due to their adverse experiences in the past.

Update ends

Since 2019, I have been buying vintage lenses and film cameras from Japan, Germany, and Ukraine. I have used DHL, Fedex, UPS, and Postal Services. My experience with them has been mixed, and I have faced issues such as exorbitant customs demands (from India Post and DHL), poor customer service (DHL, UPS) and destroyed packages (Fedex). These risks have made buying gear from overseas a very stressful process. In the most recent case, a mint condition Nikon F that came through by Japan Post EMS was repacked without protective materials during the customs assessment resulting in a battered camera. Earlier, In 2020, DHL accomplished the unnatural feat of irreparably destroying a Nikomat FTN and a first generation Nippon Kogaku S – Auto 50 mm F1.4 lens.

Buying a vintage camera or lens is not just a financial transaction. In many cases, the item you’re getting is a historical artifact (like the lens mentioned above) or is incredibly difficult to replace (Hands up if you have a Nikon F without the slightest crinkle on the shutter). Obviously, there has to be a better solution for bringing these in. When Vishal Kullarwar from the Panchrome project reached out about his proposal to offer a shipping service via New York, I was sceptical. But still grieving for my battered Nikon F, I decided to give this a try. I had a package at buyee.jp that contained a Nikomat EL with a lens; an AF Nikkor 50 mm F1.4D lens; a scallop grip Nikkor H 28 mm F3.5 (factory AI converted); and two Canon 270 EX II strobes.  

The process is simple:

You ship your package to The Panchrome Project’s warehouse in New York. Concurrently, you provide information on the package – value of goods plus the shipping cost to the Panchrome Warehousing team via a simple web form. Once the package arrives at the NY warehouse, Panchrome redirects it to Bombay and puts it through the customs process. The Customs duty assessed on the package is communicated to you along with the shipping costs from NY to Bombay and from Bombay to your location. 

My package shipped from Japan by UPS on 14 December, and arrived at Panchrome’s NY warehouse on 16 December. After redirection to Bombay, the item cleared customs and was ready for shipping to me in Hyderabad on December 21. After I reimbursed Panchrome for the customs dues and shipping charges, the shipment cleared and after a slight delay with the courier company over the Christmas weekend, was ultimately delivered to me on 29 December. The duty levied was a pleasant surprise. In the case of my package, the customs duty assessed was a very reasonable 30%, a far cry from the 42% to 78% duty + GST levy typically imposed on my packages that come through DHL, Fedex, or India Post. Also, the package was unopened, and came to me with Buyee’s “protective packaging” absolutely intact.

In sum, this was a great transaction for me for the below reasons:

First – my package contained two uncommon items – a Nikomat EL with a functioning light meter, and the 28 mm lens that was factory AI converted. Just to enhance the chance of getting these to my door in one piece is fully worth the service charge proposed by Panchrome.

Second – the entire process was straightforward – there was no 52-email chain with DHL reps, no struggling with KYC documents, and no screaming at Delhivery for updating false package statuses on Fedex shipments. The Panchrome team communicated proactively with me about anticipated delays, and for not one minute was I stewing in suspense.

So what are the key cautions here?

First: price – since you’re shipping the package to NY and having it reshipped to Bombay and then your location, you’re paying for three legs of shipping instead of just one. Now if you’re buying a high-value item, this may work for you, but if it is an inexpensive item, you may find that the shipping costs and service charges may exceed the value of the item. Thus, if the item is reasonably robust, one of the other services such as Fedex, DHL, or UPS may work better for you. Shipping to the Bombay address reduces the cost somewhat.

Second: all item values must be declared accurately, and you must have the paperwork to back them up. Panchrome does not encourage under-declaring the value of the shipment, as it has consequences for logistics company that is supporting this service. 

For me, this transaction worked out really well financially, as the customs duty was assessed at a much lower rate than in the past. That itself offset the extra expenses on shipping. I have been eyeing some uncommon rangefinder cameras and specialized lenses that would need extra care and handling, and I wouldn’t want to subject them to the sorry fate of my Nikon F, so I will likely be using Panchrome Project’s services again within a few weeks.

So if you’re OK paying for a longer shipping route, Panchrome’s Service charges, and the customs duty that you rightfully owe in return for complete peace of mind, then by all means, go with Panchrome. 

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