Photography is one hell of an expensive hobby. If you want to get a beginner kit to start brewing beer, it may cost you $99. Want to learn to cook? You just need to pay for the supplies, Fishing costs a permit, rod & reel, and some bait so less than $60. Sure as you get more into these hobbies the price and start to add up but photography? If you want to use something more than the cell phone in your pocket and get a DSLR, entry level cameras start at more than $700.
So… Why not buy used gear? I hear you, what if the previous owner treated their gear poorly? A used camera doesn't come with a warranty. What if there is a scratch on the lens that I couldn’t see in the ebay listing? What if the lens looks fine but the autofocus is broken? Newer cameras have 5x more megapixels! What if I get it and it doesn't work? I don’t want to get ripped off!
I understand. With how much used gear can cost it can still be a scary investment but when done right you can save a ton of money that you can put towards more gear! So here are my tips to picking the right used gear so you don’t get burned and can save a ton of money.
Where to buy? I’ll be honest. I have personally spend close to $12,000 on used gear on ebay that I have used in my own personal wedding photography business and have never had a problem. But I was diligent and followed a few rules. I knew what I wanted, I knew what to look out for, and I knew that if it looked too good to be true, just pass it up. No matter the savings the headache is not worth it if the equipment is bad. So should you eBay? I’d say no. Not if you’re making your first used camera decision I HIGHLY recommend you go to a local camera store to put your hands on a camera or lens before you buy.
A local camera store's reputation is on the line and if the camera does not meet your standard or expectations, or it fails you should be able to return it with no issues. In person will always be the best place to buy used gear if possible. But weather you're looking online or in person, here are my tips to buying used gear.
Know the camera before making a decision.
The difference between a Nikon d3200 and a Canon 1Dx mkii is more than just $4000. They are completely different cameras designed to do two completely different tasks. The 1Dx mkii can survive arctic temperatures, sudden downpours, and over a half million shutter actuations. The nikon d3200 on the other hand would struggle to make it to 100,000 shutter actuations. So when looking at a used camera with 200,000 shutter actuations, the camera could be the difference between moments away from death and years of life left in it. This is why knowing the camera is so important.
Scratches and scuffs.
When I bought my first used camera I would skip right over any camera with a scratch or a scuff. I thought it must have fell or been hit but after owning many cameras I know that my flash rubbing against the camera in my padded protected camera bag can cause wear. This does not mean the camera is trash. If you can get a good look at the area. Determine if its a simple wear or something worse. Around the top of the camera where the flash is mounted, the bottom of the camera where it is connected to a tripod, on the side where the camera may rest on a camera belt are all super common places for wear that should not be a concern. As long as there are no gashes I would say the camera should be just fine.
Lack or warranty.
This is one of the biggest concerns, if something goes wrong what do you do? If you buy from a local camera store or a reputable online retailer like KEH the odds are, they will take care of the issue. But when buying from an auction site like ebay or even in person from craigslist if something goes wrong you will have a much harder time getting the issue fixed. This is where the price of the camera and your willingness pay a repair shop to get the issue fixed comes in. It’s just a choice you will have to make for yourself.
The rubber will tell a better story than the glass.
The quality of a used lens is more than just the glass it shoots through. On higher end lenses the glass is extremely strong and is not likely to scratch. Meaning a lens may have been abused but because the glass is so good you may have no idea. The rubber on a lens is a much better indicator of a lenses use. It’s much more pliable than glass. Look for loose fitting or stretched rubber. How much play is in the zoom ring? The rubber should all be nice and tight. Sure the rubber could be replaced but the actual rubber is not on trial here. The rubber is just an indicator of how the rest of the lens was treated. So replacing the rubber may only solve a very small issue with the lens.
Scratches, dust, and fungus!?
You don’t want to see a lenses glass with scratches, and you don’t want to look through it and see dust or fungus. These can be bad signs. I would honestly stay away from a lens where the glass is scratched or you can visibly see dust and fungus inside. However if you are on a tight budget and need a specific lens, and the one you can afford has a tiny scratch on the glass. I might not be turned off. You would be surprised how much of a scratch it would take on a lens to affect your picture quality. Honestly. So try and mount the lens on a camera body. Take a few photos and look at them on a computer. Then determine for yourself if you can notice if the scratch shows up on the image. If not… well you might just save yourself a heap of cash.
Remember that scratches are different than normal wear on a lens.
Where a lens mounts on your camera or on larger lenses where it mounts to a tripod or a paint scuff are not things I would worry about too much. When people spend a lot of money on a camera or a lens they typically try to take really good care of it. So follow these tips to buying used gear and your fear of getting burned or wasting money should be gone!
But after all of this, the camera will not make you a great photographer. It can only do what you tell it. You might get the same results from a $400 used camera as you would a $4000 new camera. If you want to grow your skills as a photographer you need education. If you liked this blog and want more helpful information to growing your skills as a photographer even if you just have the cell phone in your pocket be sure to sign up for our free 14 day video course “Photography Basics for Beginners: 14 Days to Better Photos” It’s totally free and a new video is delivered to your inbox every day!