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Unless you’re a full-blown professional, DSLR camera bodies and camera lenses should always be bought used — especially if you’re a newbie shopping for your first entry-level DSLR The Best Entry-Level DSLRs For New Photographers The Best Entry-Level DSLRs For New Photographers If you want to take your photography skills to the next level, or you know someone else who does, then there's no better way than to enter the world of DSLR cameras. Read More or a hobbyist replacing your first DSLR From Beginner To Enthusiast: Replacing Your First Digital SLR From Beginner To Enthusiast: Replacing Your First Digital SLR If you want to upgrade your digital SLR, then you should. But there may be a few things you need to consider before you part with your cash... Read More .

The truth is, there are few tangible benefits between a used and a new DSLR camera, and the few benefits that do exist are pretty much negligible to everyone but the most advanced or specialized.

So in my eyes, the decision between used and new is one of the most important decisions you could when buying your next camera 8 Tips You Should Know Before Buying Your Next Digital Camera 8 Tips You Should Know Before Buying Your Next Digital Camera Regardless of what you have been told, there is no such thing as a "do-it-all" camera. If there was a "do-it-all" camera, competition in the industry would suffer, seedy patents would be made, one company... Read More . I’m here to convince you that used is better. Here’s why.

DSLR Cameras Have Insane Lifespans

When it comes to electronic devices, the usual stigma is that “used” means “diminished in quality, reliability, or lifespan”. This may be true in the general case because many electronics are built with poor craftsmanship, but it isn’t true for modern cameras.

In fact, cameras are so robust that their lifespans aren’t measured in time; rather, life expectancy is measured by something called shutter count. Left alone and undisturbed, a modern DSLR’s lifespan would likely be indefinite — limited only by the availability of a working battery.

used-dslr-camera-canon-shutter

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The shutter count is a running total of how many shots have been taken by the camera. (Every time a photo is snapped, the camera’s shutter has to actuate. It’s impossible to take a photo without actuating the shutter.) So if you’ve taken 1,000 photos, then your camera’s shutter count would be 1,000.

The rule of thumb is as follows:

  • Entry-level DSLRs typically last at least 50,000 shots.
  • Mid-level DSLRs typically last at least 100,000 shots.
  • Professional DSLRs typically last at least 200,000 shots.

Let’s say you take 10 photos every day for the rest of your life. That comes out to 3,650 shots every year. Even on an average entry-level camera, you can expect the device to last over 13 years. With a professional camera, the expected lifetime would be somewhere in the ballpark of 55 years.

The moral of the story? There’s nothing wrong with buying a used camera because there’s a good chance it will still survive for quite a while.

The good news is that there are tools available to check a camera’s shutter count, which would give you a rough estimate of how much life it has remaining. Warning: These tools aren’t super accurate, but they’re still nice as a gauge.

The Savings Are Phenomenal

Despite the fact that DSLRs have long lifespans, the value of a used camera tends to depreciate quickly. Mainstream camera brands, like Canon and Nikon, put out new camera models at least once every year and this drives down the value of older models.

This means that buying a used camera is noticeably cheaper than a new camera of the same model, and buying a used camera of an older model is drastically cheaper than a new camera of a current model.

That was a mouthful, so allow me to illustrate. Let’s look at two entry-level Nikon DSLRs — the D3300 and the D3100 — and compare the prices of new and used versions of both variants.

Nikon D3300 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR with Auto Focus-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II Zoom Lens (Black) Nikon D3300 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR with Auto Focus-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II Zoom Lens (Black) 24.2 MP CMOS DX-format sensor Buy Now At Amazon $446.95

First we have a new Nikon D3300, the latest in Nikon’s line of entry-level DSLRs. This model was released at the start of 2014 and is still the latest model in this camera line even now in late 2015. Buying brand new from Nikon through Amazon means shelling out $500.

But if you look through the list of “Used” versions on Amazon, you see that you can buy it for as low as $375 — and even though it’s technically “used”, the actual camera is rated as “Like New”. You save 25% on the price tag and lose nothing for it.

And then we have the older brother, the Nikon D3100, which was released back in 2010 but is now discontinued. Despite being the D3300’s predecessor, the D3100 is still a popular camera today and many newbies still end up buying it over the D3300 because it’s significantly cheaper. It’s available for $365 on Amazon.

Hop over to the “Used” section of Amazon and you’ll find a “Like New” version of the D3100 for just $230. How’s that for savings? Over 35% reduction in price just for going used.

Now compare the used D3100 with a new D3300: $230 vs. $500. I rest my case.

Better Models Aren’t Worth the Price

Is there a downside to buying older model cameras? If we’re just talking about one or two generations in the past, then no, there are very few — if any — downsides to buying them. In fact, I firmly believe that newbies and hobbyists shouldn’t even bother with the newest models of any camera line.

Here’s why: camera features are slow to become obsolete. We can illustrate this by comparing the latest two models in Canon’s line of entry-level cameras, the Rebel T5 and the slightly better Rebel SL1.

Canon EOS Rebel T5 Digital SLR Camera Kit with EF-S 18-55mm IS II Lens Canon EOS Rebel T5 Digital SLR Camera Kit with EF-S 18-55mm IS II Lens 18 megapixel CMOS (APS-C) sensor with DIGIC 4 image processor Buy Now At Amazon $380.00

On paper, here’s what the Canon Rebel T5 has:

  • 18 MP APS-C sensor
  • 100-12800 ISO range
  • 95% viewfinder coverage
  • 3-inch LCD screen w/ 460k dot resolution
  • Live view on LCD
  • 1080p movies at 30 FPS
  • Continuous shooting up to 3 FPS
Canon EOS Rebel SL1 Digital SLR with 18-55mm STM Lens Canon EOS Rebel SL1 Digital SLR with 18-55mm STM Lens 18 MP APS-C CMOS sensor Buy Now At Amazon $499.00

And now here’s what the Canon Rebel SL1 has:

  • 18 MP APS-C sensor
  • 100-25600 ISO range
  • 95% viewfinder coverage
  • 3-inch LCD screen w/ 1040k dot resolution (touchscreen)
  • Live view on LCD
  • 1080p movies at 30 FPS
  • Continuous shooting up to 4 FPS
  • In-camera HDR mode
  • External microphone jack

The variant features are bolded above. As you can see, the price difference is noticeable but the Rebel SL1 features aren’t much better than the Rebel T5. You should only get a newer model if it has a specific feature that you absolutely need and cannot live without. Otherwise, settle for something older.

What does this have to do with used cameras? Simple: older models are more likely to have used versions available, and they’re going to be cheaper (for the most part).

Plus, by going with an older model camera, you avoid the pitfalls of being an early adopter 5 Reasons Why Being An Early Adopter Is A Bad Idea 5 Reasons Why Being An Early Adopter Is A Bad Idea Are you the type of person who pre-orders the newest tech gadgets as soon as they’re available? Then you’re an early adopter. Is there a downside? Let's find out. Read More and you can benefit from the years of digital camera reviews 5 Reasons Why Being An Early Adopter Is A Bad Idea 5 Reasons Why Being An Early Adopter Is A Bad Idea Are you the type of person who pre-orders the newest tech gadgets as soon as they’re available? Then you’re an early adopter. Is there a downside? Let's find out. Read More that are available on the Web.

Cosmetic Defects Are Negligible

One thing that hangs people up when talking about used cameras is the potential for cosmetic defects. When you buy a new camera, you’re guaranteed that it’s going to be fresh, clean, and unmarked. No such guarantees are possible when buying used (unless you can examine the camera yourself).

Here’s the thing, though: cosmetic defects are called “cosmetic” for a reason. Scratches and marks have no impact on the function of the camera body, nor do they affect the final outcome of your photos. The discomfort of a cosmetic defect is psychological. It’s all in your head.

That being said, there are a few defects and issues that you should be aware of when buying a used DSLR Buying A Used Digital SLR? Wait! 3 Things To Look Out For Buying A Used Digital SLR? Wait! 3 Things To Look Out For Buying a used digital SLR is a great way to save some money, but you should be aware of the risks involved in doing so. Read More .

used-dslr-camera-broken-lens

For example, scratches on the body are fine but scratches on the sensor are bad. Fungus and mold anywhere on or inside the body is bad. Sticky buttons are bad. Corroded connection ports are bad. Dented lens mounts are bad. Anything else is probably fine and worth ignoring.

Whenever possible, buy in person so you can check for these issues. But if that’s not possible, you can still buy online at places like Adorama, B&H Photo, KEH.com, and even Craigslist. Fortunately, DSLRs are one of the few things you can feel safe about buying on Craigslist 5 Used Things You Can Feel Safe About Buying On Craigslist 5 Used Things You Can Feel Safe About Buying On Craigslist Read More .

If you go the online route, make sure to heed these tips when buying used camera gear online Buying Used Camera Gear Online? Protect Yourself With These Tips Buying Used Camera Gear Online? Protect Yourself With These Tips Photography is a rewarding but expensive hobby. With the right mindset and the proper precautions, buying used photography gear online can be incredibly convenient, affordable, and safe. Read More .

A Few Warnings and Caveats

Hopefully it’s now clear that used DSLRs are the smarter way to go most of the time. But as much as I’m a proponent for buying used, I have to admit that there are a few reasons why you might not want to bite the bullet.

Used sales are often final. This means that you typically can’t return a used DSLR for any reason, which can be risky if you aren’t too knowledgeable on cameras. At least if you buy new from a place like Amazon, you always have a 30-day return policy to fall back on.

Shutter counts aren’t always accurate. Some camera brands are more truthful about shutter counts than others. Some camera models track shutter counts better than others. Some shutter-counting programs are more accurate than others. So while shutter counts can theoretically tell you a camera’s remaining lifespan, take them with a grain of salt.

New cameras can sometimes be cheaper. If you have the time, you can usually find seasonal online promo codes and coupons How To Save Money By Couponing Online How To Save Money By Couponing Online While technology sometimes offers us entirely new options, it more commonly refines everyday life. Couponing is one example. People have been saving money with coupons for decades, but the proliferation of mobile Internet offers new... Read More from manufacturers. Or you can look through online deal websites A Simple Tip That Will Save Money With FatWallet & SlickDeals A Simple Tip That Will Save Money With FatWallet & SlickDeals After the expensive holidays, and global recession has thinned our wallets, spotting a good deal can really boost your morale. Fortunately, some money-saving websites cater to your needs. Two of the best online communities for... Read More like FatWallet and SlickDeals. Every once in a while, you’ll find a deal that’s too good to pass up.

When buying camera gear, do you prefer new or used? Are the benefits of a new DSLR worth the extra cost? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Image Credits: Modern DSLR Camera by lightpoet via Shutterstock, Broken Camera Lens by Pan Xunbin via Shutterstock

  1. Bruce Whitehill
    November 26, 2016 at 12:43 am

    Thanks for the great info. Let me throw something else into the mix: I know you can get great camera deals in the U.S., especially in my home town of New York. But I live in Germany now, where electronic stuff can be way more expensive. Is there anything special I should look out for here in the way of a used camera for a semi-pro who has done a couple of travel photo-guides? Should I still be looking at primarily the three major brands: Nikon, Canon and Sony? What about Olympus? My limited budget keeps me under the $800 range. And am I being too restrictive in looking for a camera that takes easily-rechargeable AA batteries or should I go for cameras with the new "akku" stuff and the pricey chargers? Thanks.

  2. Butch
    October 3, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    As a working photographer, I need just a few things to work extremely well on my cameras: they must focus fast and accurately, track focus on moving subjects brilliantly, they must deliver pleasing images that take minimal post-processing, and the customer support must be excellent.

    This rules out many models - for example, a used model that tends to mis-focus badly on moving subjects in relatively low light. If the feature is corrected in a newer model, I'll have no choice but to buy it. DPReview tends to catch these little glitches, but not always; so, good to look at some hands-on reviews by working photographers. The Sony RX10 III, for example, while a wonderful camera, would absolutely fail in my applications, because as Austin pro photographer Kirk Tuck described in his excellent Visual Science Laboratory blog, he had 200 blurry photos out of 1000 frames shot in a stage-lit theater rehearsal. By contrast, my little "inferior" Nikon V1 might have 3 out-of-focus frames in 800 dance rehearsal shots.

    Also, some camera companies' service departments are getting worse, and some are absolute smoking black shell craters. Therefore, check the Amazon 1-star reviews and see what people are saying. Are the broken cameras disappearing into the service dept for four months? Nikon's service seems to be getting worse for non-pros, while Canon's is exceptional. (I'll never buy Panasonic; read the Amazon buyer reviews to find out why.) Sony's support is an unknown to me, but they always manage to screw up some "minor" feature (e.g., RX10 III focus errors), and their menu system is abysmal compared to Nikon's wonderful grab-and-go menus and buttons, especially on the enthusiast and pro models.

    So, there's lots to consider when buying a used camera. In general, I'm happy to buy from companies that sell on eBAY or Amazon and offer a warranty, or from BH and Adorama.

  3. Wendy
    August 25, 2016 at 7:59 am

    My budget for a DSLR is very low, so am having to consider much older ones launched around 2005. That vs a newer bridge (also used) - what would be your suggestion?

    • liz
      August 29, 2016 at 5:57 am

      I´m in the exact situation, is it a good idea to buy a 10yr old camera?

  4. Isoflex
    August 21, 2016 at 9:46 pm

    I have bought 7 used cameras over the past 8 or 9 years and all are still going strong. I always buy from B & H or Adorama and have never had issues except one time with Adorama and that eventually got worked out but took lots of effort. Also buy used lenses, battery grips, etc. and again, no problems from B & H.
    It's also a great idea to buy used for teens or kids so that when they break/lose them (not if) you haven't forked out as much $$$.
    Lastly, I bought used to get an idea what each brand had to offer. Shooters like a camera for certain "indefineable" characteristics that may not be apparent in specs on in a showroom. I finally settled on Pentax (though loved the output of Oly's) so beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I didn't spend a fortune and got an idea of most of the top brands.

  5. Rufus Ashton
    August 10, 2016 at 7:38 am

    I personally wouldn't buy a used SLR body but I'd say lenses are fine. I've had a few issues with my brand new Nikon bodies and they've had to go back for repair under warranty. If they'd be second hand I'd have had it and would've had to folk out myself.

    Plus there is always the issue of shutter accutations on second hand equipment.

    • Joel Lee
      August 19, 2016 at 7:37 pm

      Good points Rufus. Lenses are definitely safer as second-hand purchases. I'd say that unless you are doing any kind of business, the benefits of a second-hand DSLR do outweigh the potential risks though.

  6. tom
    August 6, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    opposition said ive bought about 20 used DSLR S an mirrorless in the two past years and more than 50 percent where faulty, id to return them and whithin they could not be fixed, i just got a value to buy another one, but with having patience of some months. and now im any more up to because ive got my collecion of the best: Sony A 37 Samsung NX 3000
    thers also loads of differece in the qualitiy, sony and nikon an olympus may have 2 or 3 times the lifespan than a canon panasonic or a Samsung mirorrless

  7. Zain Malik
    July 24, 2016 at 3:40 pm

    Thank you sooo much for your information @Makeuseof

    • Joel Lee
      July 29, 2016 at 7:48 pm

      No problem! Glad to be of help, Zain.

  8. bd
    February 10, 2016 at 11:23 pm

    But some dslrs can shoot fast like 10 pictures a second and then the lifespan is not so long as you said it could only be one year instead of 13 years.

  9. John
    October 20, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    I think your comments are valid for entry level cameras, but once you get past the point of shooting in automatic mode and start exploring the limits of the camera you could be in trouble. I'm talking from the standpoint of a serious amateur/semi-pro.

    The latest and greatest often have improvements that someone who shoots in auto mode will never use, but make a great deal of difference when shooting in low light for example. What is the maximum ISO setting and at what point does noise become unmanageable? Sure you can shoot at 12800 or 25600 but if the noise is unacceptable at 800 what's the point? Is there a noticeable difference between 18Mpix and 20Mpix? How about 8Mpx and 20Mpx? Not if all you are doing is posting to Facebook or a website. On the other hand, if you wish to print a close up portrait of your significant other in 11x14 or 16x20 then there is quite a difference.

    Three of the current crop of Canon DSLRs selling for roughly the same price ($800-$900) use three different versions of the image processor. Each camera has something it does better than the other, so depending on the photographer's need, only one of the three is the "right" camera. Unfortunately, some of these differences are not in the short list you have above.

    There is a lot more to buying the camera than can I get almost the same thing by purchasing used? Also, it is not untypical to find semi-pro (prosumer?) or higher end cameras that have exceeded their expected shutter life as the serious amateur or pro will shoot hundreds to thousands of photos a week. Also, since for the pro, the camera is business equipment they tend to get banged around a lot more than the camera of a weekend photographer. I know my old Canon 20D looks almost pristine and still is capable of taking excellent photos when coupled with a good lens. It is a fine camera for someone entering the DSLR arena, but it is now seriously lacking in features to keep it usable for the semi-pro or professional photographer,

    To Ron - I would not purchase a used point and shoot, simply because most of them lead a hard life. They get banged around due to the nature of them being small and relatively inexpensive. I have a 14Mpix Canon Powershot that has lived in my motorcycle top box for several years now. It has some issues but still takes good snapshots and quick videos. Stick with the brand names and find one that has the features you want. Get it new (around the holidays is always a good time to purchase if you can wait) and you'll probably have a better experience.

    Just my $0.02 - YMMV

    jdg

    • Mihir Patkar
      October 20, 2015 at 7:12 pm

      Absolutely brilliant reply, jdg. Thanks for commenting, and for helping Ron out too.

    • Joel Lee
      October 22, 2015 at 7:07 pm

      Thanks John, lots of great advice in there. You're right, the proper advice does change a lot depending on who you're talking to. What goes for a newbie photographer can sometimes be the complete opposite of what goes for a semi-pro. Thanks for covering the other side!

  10. Ron Ablang
    October 20, 2015 at 4:46 am

    Hey guys. I'm wondering if the merits of this article can also apply to compact point & shoot cameras? Would buying used still be better than new?

    • Joel Lee
      October 22, 2015 at 7:06 pm

      Hey Ron. Most of my experience is with DSLRs, not much with P&S, so I might be wrong, but... I don't think there are many differences between P&S cameras. You point it and you shoot it, and many specs like zoom factor and megapixels don't really matter (at least in my opinion). So unless you really need a specific feature (e.g. 720p vs 1080p) go for the cheaper one.

      As far as buying used, you can usually save between 25% and 40% by buying a P&S used rather than new. Just make sure you buy it from a trusted seller as you don't want to be duped.

  11. Saikat Basu
    October 9, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Good one Joel. This is what I am going to apply when I go shopping for a used lens. Just to be sure, it's always better to take along someone who is more experienced than you. As an alternative, buying from actual photographers is also wise IMO..

    • Joel Lee
      October 17, 2015 at 12:36 am

      Oh definitely. Having the advice of someone who knows more than you = priceless. Good tip, I should've mentioned that!

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