I have always been fearful of buying used photography equipment.
I’ve had these dreams of being out in the wilderness on a landscape art photography assignment, and just when I needed some piece of gear to work, it would fail. Then there was this nightmare where I have to pack up the gear, ship it back, and hassle for a refund. Without a new equipment warranty, the risk would be all mine, and who needs that.
Besides the hazards of financial loss and reimbursement stresses, I did not want to miss the new gear ‘unboxing’ experience. There is nothing more exciting than lifting a new camera or lens from its box and discovering its image-making capabilities for the first time.
Admittedly I have also been a bit of a ‘gear snob’ and had to be the first to twirl the main dial and look through a spotless viewfinder. In my mind, I believed that new and first owner status was the only way to go— but I now know that nothing could be further from the truth.
Recently I had the opportunity to write some Preowned and Used Camera content for the Samy’s Camera website- www.samy’s.com, and discovered the amazing world of Preowned and Open Box camera equipment. Buying new is great, but there are some excellent opportunities to save money and support the development and growth of other photographers with used gear too.
Where do used cameras and lenses come from?
Photographers do not sell or trade their used cameras or lenses because it is old, defective, or malfunctioning. They sell their used cameras and lenses to purchase new DSLR equipment as soon as it becomes available, to change systems, or a given camera or lens no longer fits their workflow. Perhaps they are changing genres, and their current gear is not the right gear, or they may be converting from a DSLR to Mirrorless and thus trading for the newer technology.
Used Camera Retailers often sponsor “Used Buying Days” events. They invite photographers to bring in used equipment to a retail store or other location. They will appraise and buy the equipment on-site, and it’s a great way to sell your unneeded gear quickly and in person. They will then resell the gear after testing, cleaning, and evaluating its market position.
Estate Sales are another resource. Quite often, when a photographer dies, a trust or estate administrator will seek out appraisals and then offer the equipment for sale. One can also find Preowned and Open Box photography equipment at great prices when a camera store closes its doors and liquidates its inventory.
Each of these used touchpoints contributes to a large pool of preowned equipment that has generally been well cared for with lots of reliable service life remaining.
Preowned and Open Box
There are two types of Used Photography Equipment, Preowned, and Open Box. Preowned equipment has been used by a photographer, and while still operable and reliable, it will show some wear and tear. Preowned or Used Camera dealers grade the equipment based upon the condition, age, model features, and secondary market demand. These attributes determine the price in the Preowned or Used Photography Equipment Market. Dealers usually warranty this equipment for six months with a 30-day return policy. Here is a sample ad from Samy’s Camera for Preowned D800 with a one-year repair and replacement warranty. (https://www.samys.com/Pre-Owned)
Open Box equipment has not been in service by an owner but may have been a demonstration unit or bought by a photographer and then immediately returned because he/she changed their mind. Open Box is essentially new equipment and has a full factory warranty and all the accessories one would expect to find in the original camera box. Here is a sample ad from Samy’s Camera for a D610 Open Box Camera with a factory warranty. (https://www.samys.com/Open-Box)
The number one benefit or upside of buying a used camera or lens is to save money. Preowned equipment sells for a fraction of new, and buyers can save 30 to 50% of the original retail price. Savings on Open Box Equipment can also be substantial depending upon the make, model, and age.
Equipment sustainability is another upside because Preowned and Open Box equipment gives other photographers a chance to purchase useful, previous-generation gear with like-new quality.
Niche filling is also a great reason to consider Preowned or Open Box. Quite often, we need a backup camera or a specialty lens that we will only use in certain situations. In these cases, we may not need the latest and greatest camera or the newest lens, and to fill that niche, a preowned item will often do nicely.
The availability of used, high-quality equipment is the number one downside. Quite often, what you want, or need may not be available in the Preowned Market in the condition or price point desired. Patience and persistence are the order of the day, and often you will need to frequently check various sales resources or stay in touch with your favorite camera dealer. Many of the reputable outlets will usually take your request, and when your camera, lens, or accessory comes in, they will reserve the piece and contact you.
A short dealer warranty period can be a downside, and your purchase may fail just after the warranty ends. However, most reputable dealers/sellers provide a 30-day return period after purchase, and you should use this time to inspect and operate your recent purchase carefully. (See my Samy’s blogs for tips on inspecting used cameras and lenses: https://blog.samys.com/used-lenses).
Many digital slr cameras in the preowned market are one generation behind the current models. You will not get the latest bells and whistles, but the changes between models are often minimal.
Purchase prices for used gear fluctuate, so there is no guarantee that the price you paid will be the same in the market the next day, week, or month. Values vary with availability and condition.
Where to Buy
You can Google Used Photography Equipment, and several big-name reputable dealers will appear. Here are a few of the leading resources for Open Box and Preowned Photography Equipment.
- Samy’s Camera Online at https://www.samys.com/pre-owned has a wide variety of Preowned, Collectables, and Open Box Equipment. Currently, their 1-year warranty is the industry leader for used equipment. In addition to cameras and lenses, they have used and open box accessories such as lights, video gear, and much more.
- KEH Camera at https://www.keh.com/ is an excellent resource with one of the largest preowned inventories in North America. They provide reliable online and phone buy and sell quotes as well as appraisal services.
- B&H Camera and Video at http://bhpho.to/2Tqdveo is an active participant in the Used Camera and Lens market with an excellent service and support reputation.
- Adorama Camera at https://www.adorama.com/Used has a wide variety of preowned equipment with excellent online communications and support systems.
- MPB at https://www.mpb.com/en-us/ provides a wide range of used gear with excellent online service and support.
- e-Bay at https://ebay.to/31HmJrd probably has more inventory on any given day than most dealers who specialize in Preowned and Open Box Sales. Thus, you can find what you want at a wide variety of prices and quality levels. However, unlike specialty and retail camera dealers, there are no inspection services, cameras are not graded, and the seller states the purchase quality. No doubt, e-bay is a reputable auction resource with many safeguards, but purchases made here are without warranty or service support in most cases.
Fear not! If you are looking for a camera or a lens to fill a particular need in your camera bag and want to control your budget, you should consider Preowned and Open Box opportunities. There are many warranty safeguards, a large market of multiple vendors to choose from, and when you make a purchase, you are extending the useful life of the equipment. I believe you will be satisfied with the process, and your wallet will enjoy the break too.