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How and Why to Buy a Used Camera or Lens

Written by Daven Mathies

It’s no secret that camera gear is expensive. There are certainly those willing to pay any premium for the latest and greatest, but most of us have to work within a limited budget. Purchasing a used camera or lens can be great, but there are some important things to consider if you’re thinking about going that route.

Buying used can save you money or get more bang for your buck over new items. It is often possible to find a great deal on a previous-generation camera that has been replaced by a new model. For entry-level DSLRs, this happens every year. This means you could pick up a camera that is less than a year old at a significant discount over its new price. Be aware of manufacturer rebates, however, that can sometimes bring the price of a new camera so low that it simply doesn’t make sense to buy it used. These rebates are generally the highest during the holiday shopping season. So if you’re looking for a great deal on a good camera, always be sure to check out the rebates on new items first.

Higher-end cameras tend to hold their value a little longer, mainly due to the fact that they are not replaced every year. However, when they are replaced, their value drops significantly as the used market is flooded with cameras from professionals upgrading to new models. This year we’ve seen the introduction of multiple pro cameras from both Canon and Nikon, making it a good time to find used, previous-generation models. One thing to watch out for, however: while this gear is made to withstand a high level of wear and tear, used pro cameras have generally been used a lot. Shutter actuations may be in the hundreds of thousands, and cosmetic damage like scratches or rubber grips peeling away are common. Still, the savings may be enough that even if you need to replace the shutter assembly in a year, it could be worth it.

A common question is whether you should buy a new lower-end camera, or a used higher-end one. This depends entirely on the type of shooting you want to do. If you demand ruggedness and weather sealing, high burst rates, or more direct-access controls, a used enthusiast or pro camera body is probably the way to go. Additionally, full-frame cameras simply aren’t made in an entry-level variant, so it’s not a bad idea to check out used options if that’s what you are looking for. For more casual photographers, however, I would lean toward buying a new, lower-end body. In many cases, a new consumer-oriented DSLR will actually have a better imaging sensor than an older, higher-end model thanks to the trickle-down of technology.

As for lenses, buying used is a great way to save money. It’s generally easier to check the condition of a used lens compared to a camera body, as well. There are some specific things you should look for. First, everyone always checks the front element for scratches. This is not a bad idea, but it’s not as important as people think. A front element can usually take a surprising amount of damage before it shows up in your photos. It’s the rear element that is actually more important in this regard, so make sure you look at the back of the lens. Also test the focus and zoom rings. Do they turn smoothly? Are there any points that grab or stick? If you don’t know what you’re looking for, ask to compare the used lens to a new one. I always check the aperture blades, as well. On Nikon lenses, you can manually test the aperture by pushing on the aperture control tab on the rear of the lens. Pushing the tab will open the aperture, and it should snap back immediately when you release it. With Canon lenses you will have to mount the lens to a body to test the aperture. This is a good idea with any brand, really. Take a few shots at different aperture settings to make sure the aperture is actually stopping down and affecting exposure correctly. Lenses are made to last, so if you find a used one in good condition, there is a strong chance that it will continue being a great lens for some time to come. Especially for filmmakers shooting video on DSLRs, there are some great old manual focus lenses that can be had for a steal.

At Pro Photo Supply, everything we put out for sale has been tested to work, but it’s never a bad idea to test used equipment yourself to make sure there isn’t a problem that we didn’t catch. While used sales are considered final, we do provide a 10 day warranty on used items just in case there is an issue that crops up after the sale. Used items do not come with a manufacturer’s warranty, nor are they eligible for extended protection plans, so we want to make sure you are satisfied with your purchase. A used camera or lens may be just what you’re looking for at a price you can afford.

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