Bargain hunting: 7 tips to consider when buying used camera gear

Above: Old school Yashica edited in Lightroom using a preset from my Black and White preset collection.
Above: Old school Yashica edited in Lightroom using a preset from my Black and White preset collection.

There are many bargains available online when buying used camera gear, but always do your research before you part with your hard earned cash so you don’t end up with someone else’s junk.

 

1. Safety

Beware of shonky dealers.

Check their online rating and feedback and where possible try and meet them in person.

Trust your gut.

Ask questions like:

  • What was the camera used for?
  • Where and how was it stored?
  • Are you the first owner?
  • Why are you selling?
  • Any mould, scratches, chips on the lens or sensor?

 

2. Check under the hood.

Ask about how many actuations the camera has (this is a fancy way of saying shutter clicks). The shutter clicks (actuations) on a camera tell you how many times it has been used, much like the kms or miles a car has driven. Camera shutters have a lifespan depending on the model and the shutter is the most expensive piece of equipment to replace.

As a general rule:

  • Entry-level DSLR shutters usually last for at least 50,000 shots.
  • Mid-level DSLRs shutters usually last for at least 100,000 shots.
  • Professional DSLRs shutters usually last for at least 200,000 shots.

An entry level camera valued at $600-1000 new is not worth buying if it is close to 50,000 clicks, but a pro camera in good condition with close to 200,000 clicks might be worth buying if you can get it at a good price.

I just sold my 1DS MK111 for $950 (originally bought for $9000) and was upfront about the fact that the shutter was near the end of its life. The buyer replaced the shutter for around $400.

 

3. Check for bingles

Cosmetic wear and tear is normal. Big dints, scrapes etc are not, and are a good sign the camera has been dropped.

If the owner claims they only took it to book club on Sundays, yet the strap is threadbare and the hot shoe is worn, they are probably lying.

Take a memory card and computer with you to test out the gear. If you’re just buying a lens, bring your camera body.

Check the rubber seals are all intact.

Check the USB ports/hot shoes work.

Check the LCD for scratches.

Check for loose buttons.

Test each aperture on the lens.

Hold the lens up to a light to check for scratches and chips.

Don’t worry about little dust specs because they won’t show up in your images.

 

4. Mould is good in some cheese, not great on camera lenses

Check for fungus or mould which grows inside the lens, especially if it has been stored in damp conditions or not dried out properly after getting wet. The danger with mould is that it can eat away the coating of a lens and will affect the sharpness and contrast of the image. And who wants to buy anything that’s mouldy? Fungus is contagious so if you buy an infected lens it may spread to your other gear.

Check both auto and manual focus is working. The easiest way to do this is to focus on a sheet of newspaper. Also check zoom doesn’t “creep” or slip out of focus by pointing the lens straight down. A lens in good condition won’t move out of focus.

 

5. Checking Lenses

Zoom lenses should be smooth, no sticky bits.

Contact points and mount rings are the part of the lens that talks to the camera. If gunk gets on these, they won’t work as well. Contact points are usually gold in colour and should be clean.

Check auto focus works.

 

6. Checking the sensor

Check for excessive dust on the sensor by photographing a plain wall or blue sky at f22 100 ISO.

Excessive dust will show up as grey smudges.

 

7. Ask for all the extras

Don’t forget to ask for a copy of the camera manual, lens and body caps and camera strap, battery and charger and test them all to make sure they are working.

Happy bargain hunting!

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