Advice On Buying Used Photo Equipment

If you don’t know what you want to do with your photography, need a backup camera or an infrequently used piece of equipment, or just isn’t wanting to spend much on a light photo hobby, then buying used equipment is a great way to save you some money.

Despite the fact that most of my equipment is used, refurbished or 3rd party, I don’t feel like an expert on buying used photo equipment. Like many of you, the few local photos shops are too far for me to visit frequently, and I don’t have the time to scour all the pawn shops in the area, but I have purchased a great deal of used equipment on eBay and consider myself lucky so far. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Before you buy used:

  1. Consider avoiding the upgrade route – don’t fool yourself. Even with cheaper, older equipment, you will likely end up wanting to upgrade later. Consider saving money longer to get more capable equipment in order to save more money in the long run.
  2. Assume it has had a life and may develop quirks or fail at any time – even honest sellers may not recall it getting banged around a little, and it may not have exhibited any issues while they used it. (New isn’t free from problems either.) Modern auto focus lenses are especially prone to failing unexpectedly. That’s why you find so many auto-focus-not-working lenses on eBay.
  3. Specs don’t always tell the whole story – read reviews to see if faster/bigger/newer was better for YOUR kind of photography.

While searching:

  1. The devil is in the details – read descriptions carefully, check photos carefully, ask questions, watch for omissions.
  2. Don’t assume anything – even honest sellers may list an item incorrectly (like version II of a lens which is not version II, or not image stabilized, etc.). Ask questions.
  3. Don’t believe it until you see it – only consider items with photos of the actual item. (How else will you confirm the details?)
  4. Don’t be a sucker – if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Also require a serial number before purchase so you can check to see if it is stolen.
  5. Is it a lemon? – check online for problems with the item. There might be a reason why there are so many of a certain model for sale.
  6. Question pat phrases – Yes, it was kept in a smoke-free home or always in a camera bag, but that doesn’t mean particles from your camera bag didn’t get into the lens or that the equipment wasn’t dropped.
  7. You get what you pay for – so be careful of really cheap knock-off and overseas items. Remember, these are salespeople and what they are selling may be technically capable, but not so great in your hands.

If you are buying on eBay:

  1. When looking at past auctions, don’t assume YOU would win the item at that price – remember, if YOU were bidding on that past item, YOU would have driven the price higher.
  2. Don’t be afraid to buy a Buy-It-Now item at slightly higher than going rate – although someone got it at the going rate, you may have to bid on dozens of items before YOU win it at that price. That labor and time on your part is also part of the cost to you.
  3. Be patient – look at what has sold in the last several months to get an idea of how often the item you are looking for comes up for sale. That will give you an idea if you need some patience or lots of patience (or if the item you want is not for sale at the price you want).
  4. Don’t count on fast shipping – even if they list 2 day ship, it doesn’t mean they will get it in the mail the next day.
  5. There is no such thing as free shipping – you pay for shipping no matter what. You also pay for faster shipping (or what amounts to faster shipping) — so an item that is $5 more in the US (than from China) and gets to you in 3-5 days (vs 3-5 weeks) includes the faster shipping (or shipping and storage here until it is more quickly shipped to you).
  6. Be prepared to pay for shipping back if you want your money back – it is a reasonable request by the seller. Isn’t that what you would want if YOU were the seller?

If you are buying using Craigslist:

  • Sorry. I don’t use Craigslist, but I know of other photographer who have had good luck with it. Search Google for Craigslist buying tips.

That’s my 2 cents. Mileage may vary for you, and there is a lot of other advice online and from people you know. Good luck!


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