I sometimes hear from workshop students and others in the photographic community that they would never buy a used camera or lens because they think it must be defective due to wear and tear. The truth is that many reputable online and store dealers have excellent used camera and lens inventories with warranties and trial periods.

Photographers rarely sell or trade their used cameras or lenses because of age or operating issues. Most sell to purchase new equipment as soon as it becomes available, to change systems, or a given camera or lens no longer fits their workflow.  The equipment that they have traded in or sold gives other photographers a chance to purchase useful, previous-generation gear with like-new quality standards and save up to 45% off new.

For example, I just bought a 50mm Canon f1.2 lens in excellent condition with a one-year parts and labor warranty from Samy’s preowned (Samys.com) and saved 35% from new.

Is it Used or Preowned?

I like to think of used cameras and lenses as preowned for the same reason high-end car dealers no longer sell used cars. They promote the sale of late model low mileage cars as pre-owned because they are in good operating condition. The only difference between a preowned vehicle and a new one is that the newer model has some desired technology advancements, a unique style, or a few lifestyle trinkets not available on a previous model and a factory warranty.  The preowned vehicle is an excellent deal for someone who does not want to pay full price for new and experience an immediate depreciation drop in the first year, and it may have some warranty life as well.

The preowned camera and lens market are quite similar. Camera equipment has a long-life cycle, and when we purchase a pre-owned camera or lens, we are supporting sustainability and usability at a fraction of the cost of new gear. Preowned entry-level DSLRs, such as the Canon Rebel, are inexpensive and are a great learning tool with professional results. Moreover, adding a preowned gear to our equipment inventory gives us the freedom to expand our creative range and explore image-making at the next level.

8 Pre-Owned Points to Examine

If you were to buy a preowned car, you would do a test drive and a detailed examination of the vehicle. You may even pay a mechanic to help with inspecting critical components. Buying a used camera is similar. While you do not need a camera mechanic in most cases, there are several essential points to examine when checking out preowned camera bodies.

1. Check the Shutter Count

Shutter counts are like the odometer on a car. The number of times a shutter clicks roughly depicts the mileage on the camera. Camera manufacturers rate their cameras for 50, 100, 150, or 300 thousand shots. For example, Canon rates my Canon 5D Mark IV for 150,000 shutter actuations, and while that is not a guaranteed number, I would expect it to live up to that rate. You should check the shutter count of the preowned camera you plan to buy. There are several methods but here are two easy resources: http://www.freeshuttercount.com/ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fec5A8T1RXA

2. Check for Scratches and Minor Dents—

If a pro is selling or buying a camera, cosmetic condition means little. However, deep scratches and visible dents can indicate that the camera has been dropped, and I would avoid this purchase even at an attractive price.

3. Look at the CF Card Slots—

If the camera you’re buying uses CF cards, none of the pin connectors inside the card mount should be bent or damaged in any way. If you see bent pins, you have the potential to short-circuit your cards, and memory card compartment repairs are pricey.

4. Grip Wear —

Wear in this area is expected, but if you see significant peeling, the camera may have been working in moist conditions. Still, it can be repaired at a professional service center. This should not be a ‘deal killer’ but as part of the price value.

5. Examine the LCD Screen—

A scratched LCD screen is a red flag and can be quite expensive to replace. If that is the case, negotiate the price for replacement expense.

6. Check the Lens Mount—

This is a critical component, and it should be in excellent condition, even on an older camera. Make sure there are no dents, and the contacts should be clean. Dents or bends are indicators of a dropped camera.

7. Fit and Finish—

Relatively new DSLR or Mirrorless cameras, built in the last 5-6 years should feel rigid or sturdy. If not, this is a red flag and indicator that this camera has seen some hard use. Another issue to check is buttons and switches should be firm and stable. If not, your price should reflect the need for possible repairs in this area.

8. Check the Autofocus System—

Autofocus is one of the areas that have significantly improved over recent years, and if you are looking at a preowned camera manufactured in the last 3-5 years. The simple check is to put a lens on the camera and see if it focuses, and while doing an in-depth test with things like the Lens Calibration guide is desirable, a visual check will provide valuable information. If focus issues appear, you may want to walk away from this camera.

Should I buy from a Used Camera Dealer or an Individual?

The answer is to buy from a trustworthy source. That source could be an individual on eBay, someone you know, or from a reputable dealer who is active in the preowned camera market such as Samy’s Camera, and many others. However, there some key differences to consider between the two purchase methods.

Individual Sellers

If you are buying on eBay or other public bid forums doing price and condition, research is necessary. I recommend using the Bokeh Market app http://bokehmarket.com, which will give you real-time price averages, or you can check out the  Fred Miranda forums dedicated to buying/selling gear. This information would apply to buying online or when buying in person.

When buying from an individual, make sure you have their contact information. If possible, having a choice to return the camera is especially useful, so check if there’s a return policy in place.

When buying from an unknown individual, meet with them in a public place, during daylight and don’t pay upfront. Bring someone with you and use common sense to stay safe.

 Buying Pre-Owned from a Camera Dealer or Store

When you buy from a reputable, active, pre-owned camera dealer, you gain several advantages that eliminate many of the transactional hazards and guesswork. In turn, you may pay a bit more than when buying from and individual, but in my view, the peace of mind is worth the minor difference in costs.

 

 Two Ways to Buy

 

Instore—

You may visit the dealer’s place of business, which gives you the advantage of immediately holding the camera in your hands. Most will let you do in-depth testing of the camera or will rent the unit to you for a day while you check it out. As recommended above, be sure and apply the 8 inspection points to determine if the camera is for you and before you arrive at a price.

Most camera stores or dealers also offer a limited warranty on the camera and, in many cases, the opportunity to buy an extended warranty at reasonable costs.

The disadvantage of buying from a store is that most dealers have a small inventory from which to choose. Moreover, you may have to visit several to find what you are looking for or wait for your ideal model to show up in the preowned camera department.

Online—

Most large camera dealers have Used Cameras or Pre-owned Camera and Lenses sections within their website, such as this example from www.SamysCamera.com with a large inventory of used equipment. Also, dealers such as KEH https://www.keh.com/ sell used equipment online exclusively. And you will find many others with a simple Google search.

Sales, Return, and Warranty, and Exchange Policies—

Online Dealers have return policies, usually, 30 days, which gives you time to verify and test what you bought. They also rate the equipment so that you can determine before you buy what to expect and to judge the camera value or make the best offer if that option is available. Rating Systems vary somewhat from dealer to dealer with a range from nearly new to well used.

Online Dealers usually provide a six-month warranty with the possibility of purchasing an extended warranty. Samy’s camera online offers one-year parts and labor warranty with their preowned equipment.

Summary

Pre-Owned Cameras are a great way to stretch your budget and your imagination with equipment that will help you create exceptional work with an extended emotional range. Besides, you can apply the money you save for photo travel and education and maybe a gift for that special someone who is supporting your work.

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2 Comments
  1. John Livingston

    If you shoot Canon their refurbished equipment is also a great option to consider. They back up their refurbs with the same 1 year warranty as their new bodies and lenses, ive bought several pieces of gear this way and never been disappointed. Including my most recent purchase, an EOS R.

    I’ve had good luck with Olympus refurbs too.

  2. Ted Rigoni

    Thank you Bob for your excellent summary regarding whether to purchase used camera gear. I have purchased several lenses, in store, from Samy’s Camera, and have had first rate service and found all of the lens to be in great working condition. I still have each and every one of those lenses, and would not hesitate to return to Samy’s Camera and purchase another lens, should my needs change.

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