Photography is a rewarding but expensive hobby. If you plan on doing it professionally, you can call your purchases an “investment” with the hope that you’ll earn more money than you spent. Hobbyists don’t always have that option, but here’s the good news: used camera gear can be as good as new for half the price.
As we’ll see later on, cameras and camera lenses are best bought face-to-face because you really want to test the quality of it hands-on. That doesn’t mean you should avoid buying cameras online, though. With the right mindset and the proper precautions, buying used gear online can be incredibly convenient, affordable, and safe.
Note: These tips are specific to camera bodies, camera lenses, and camera tripods, but they can be extrapolated and applied to other camera-related equipment.
Know What You Want Beforehand
The very first thing you should do is research what you want to buy. Saving money isn’t just about finding the steepest discounts. Determine what exactly you want to accomplish (e.g., portrait shots, landscape shots, travel-weight tripod, photo and video, etc.) and search through various products for the one that best matches your criteria (image quality, build quality, versatility, etc.).
As part of this research, you should visit a local shop and test live. You’ll rarely get an opportunity to test a used product when buying online, and since old camera gear is similar to if it were brand new, you’ll benefit greatly from testing out the brand new version. The key is to figure out if the product is what you expect it to be.
Once you know what you’re looking for, that’s when you start shopping for used alternatives. If you just browse through used bargain bins and online auction sites, you might find something that you like, but often you’ll just end up settling for something that’s “good enough” which will have to be replaced again later anyway. That’s a waste of money.
Find A Reputable Seller
The secret to buying any kind of used product, including cameras and camera gear, is to only buy from sellers of good reputation. Down below you’ll find a list of reputable sites where you can buy used camera equipment, but even if the sites are reputable, the users may not be.
For example, eBay is one of the most popular sites for this sort of business. Hopefully it goes without saying, but you should never buy from someone who has a history of negative feedback. Sellers rarely have 100% approval, though, so sift through their bad feedback to get an idea of their flaws (e.g., late shipping is more forgivable than deceptive product condition).
When possible, choose a seller that specializes in camera-related goods. Camera specialists tend to know more about camera conditions, lens conditions, when an item is defective, etc. In addition, they’re more likely to care about photography and their passion bleeds through into their business, often resulting in better service.
Lastly, ask questions and keep records. Ask for their return policy. Ask for more photos if their gallery is lacking. Ask why the given piece of gear is being sold. Document everything in case they try to pull a scam or deceive you.
Meet the Seller In Person
If you’re buying through Craigslist or a community exchange, it might be possible for you to meet up with the seller in person before you commit to the purchase. Never pass up this opportunity if it’s available.
When meeting, give a thorough examination of the product with your own eyes and hands. Be wary for signs of rough handling, abuse, and wear and tear. External and cosmetic scuffs are fine, but anything that interferes with or degrades the mechanical functions should be a red flag.
Specifically, check for…
- Fungus and mold anywhere on camera bodies and lenses.
- Lens scratches.
- Sticky aperture blades.
- Weird noises when zooming or focusing.
- Poor image quality when taking a photo.
Watch Out For Scams
For the most part, buying old camera gear is safe and you won’t have to worry as long as you understand the basics of secure online shopping. However, scammers have come to realize that camera gear shoppers are profitable targets. All it takes is one mistake to find yourself in a deficit of a few hundred dollars and no camera to show for it.
Watch out for defective gear. This really points back to Tip #2: always buy from a reputable seller with a history of healthy feedback. Someone who has invested the time necessary to build up a good reputation likely won’t throw it all away on a few scams. A high feedback rating (98% or higher) is a good sign.
Watch out for stolen gear. Sometimes you’ll see a camera for sale without a charger or a battery; a lens without any lens caps; or any camera-related item sold at a HUGE discount. These could be warning signs that indicate stolen goods. You don’t want to get caught up in any legal storms, so never buy any used item that looks even slightly dodgy.
Where To Buy Camera Gear Online?
The first places I would look are eBay and Craigslist. The wide selection and competitive pricing make eBay one of the cheapest sources for used stuff as long as you stick to reputable sellers. Shipping may cost more than you think, however, so prices may not be optimal. Craigslist is better for shopping online but buying locally, especially because you can meet up and examine the gear before purchase.
Another great place is Amazon. The convenience factor of being able to search and explore new camera gear and immediately purchasing a used version through a third-party seller is unmatched. It’s even better if you can find an item that qualifies for Amazon Prime — free shipping and faster delivery. Remember to check the seller’s reputation.
If you’re a Canon user, you can even check the Canon Store for refurbished cameras, refurbished lenses, and even refurbished flashes. The prices may not be the lowest of the low, but these products are refurbished to Canon standards so you won’t have to worry about deceptive sellers and scammers.
Buying used camera gear online doesn’t have to be any more stressful than buying anything else. Just be wary of malicious sellers and make sure the product is working correctly and you’ll be good to go.
Have you bought used camera gear online? How did it go? Which sites or communities did you use for your purchase(s)? Share with us in the comments below!