Does It Make More Sense to Buy Used Camera Gear?

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I still have my father’s antique camera and all the incredible photos he took with it. I guess that’s why the whole concept of used camera gear makes sense to me. It’s easy for me to see the many benefits that come with buying and selling second-hand gear. 

In addition to the nostalgia that I expressed earlier, I admit that I also try to be a smart shopper. And like many of my fellow photographers, I like to stay up-to-date with new tech, without breaking the bank. 

Back in the day, the used camera gear market was limited and inaccessible to most photographers. But this has changed dramatically in recent years, and the used devices are available in many dependable online outlets. The wide variety on display and reliable logistics certainly help as well. 

Does buying used camera gear make more sense than buying brand new devices? And if so, how can you tell that the equipment you’re buying is of good quality? 

We’ll cover all that in the coming sections. Plus, our recommendations for the best places to buy used camera gear, so read-on!  

Table of Contents

Why Is the Used Camera Gear Market Booming Nowadays?

Several of the used camera gear mega-traders started out as a one-man operation from a dorm room. It’s worth noting that only in a few years, their business grew exponentially into a global corp. This is huge! And there are some very good reasons for it.

1. Budget-Limitations 

New Cameras are out-of-budget for many photographers. That’s why purchasing mildly used gear often seems like a good idea. New-comers usually have one foot in and one foot out. This uncertainty makes them feel guilty about spending outrageous amounts of money on fancy equipment. After all, they might decide after some trials that this is not their thing. And then, they’d be throwing away good cash for no good reason. Photographers who have crossed that threshold, and know that they’re fully in, have different needs. They need the latest and the finest stuff, but they don’t yet have the business revenues to justify that spending. In that case, used camera gear becomes the perfect solution to buy incredible equipment, within budget. Building a studio is another big budgetary limitation. There are a thousand and one items that need ready cash. Investing all the money in capital equipment could strain the budget too much. Again, used gear presents itself as a wise choice. It also lets the aspiring photographer allocate the savings to higher-priority points. Renting a larger studio, or one in a buzzing neighborhood might be a better investment. The rich and famous pros might seem like the least probable candidates to browse used stuff. But you’d be surprised how many of them seek moderately priced gems. Also, if they’re going on potentially tough trips, they might be reluctant to use their glamorous new cams. Locations where there’s too much sand, humidity, or bumping around, aren’t the best places for an expensive camera. Buying used camera gear is certainly a smart move, and, relief for budgets.

2. Keeping Up With New Tech

The manufacturers are spewing new tech every year, and everybody wants to keep up. The hobbyists are always itching to try out the newest advancements. They’d be literally dazzled by a higher resolution, shutter speed, video recording quality, sensor size, and tens of other details. There are two ways to acquire these technologies: pay exorbitant amounts of money to buy new, or wait for a few months to buy used. Most photographers like the second option a bit more. Especially, as the outcome of the new tech isn’t always what users have in mind. The 4k resolution, for example, isn’t exactly what some users were hoping for. While others rave about it. Tech also comes with hardware demands that not everyone is anticipating. A less costly trial is much better than erring on the expensive side. And if the purchased equipment doesn’t fulfill the exact needs of a photographer, it can find its way to the used gear market again. There’s a highly dynamic scene of manufacturing new tech, then buying, then selling. Which means that there’s constantly a fresh supply of used equipment. And it’s updated every time something new hits the markets.

3. Demands on Image Quality

The media puts certain demands on image quality, so photographers constantly upgrade.

A ‘good photo’ isn’t just the one with a perfect composition or proportions. The resolution, color intensity, and overall image quality mark the amateur from the pros. No matter what type of photography you choose to focus on, there are some universal criteria that apply across the board.

Smartphones with fancy cameras are in every hand, and people do take some incredible shots with them. However, they don’t even come close to what you can get with a good DSLR, proper lens, and suitable lighting.

New tech becomes the new norm in a matter of months. And keeping up doesn’t necessarily have to be a painful expenditure every 6 months for new gear. Used gear can provide the needed updates, without shelling out a fortune.

4. Used Camera Gear Is Often in Very Good Shape

Trading in used camera gear used to be limited to beaten up equipment, whose friends gave up on it completely. Scams were abundant, and it was customary to buy a camera only to find it full of defects. Many of which were unfixable and the seller would disappear into thin air.

This grim picture is now history. And if you browse through used camera gear websites, you’d see many selections in very good condition. The occasional scratch in the outer frame doesn’t really count as a major defect, but it gets you a bargain price easily.

There’s a quality control process in most trading websites. And they only accept products that they test thoroughly. The products are then classified according to their condition. On top of that, there are usually customer reviews to enlighten potential buyers.

5. Widespread Used Camera Gear Outlets

There’s a noticeable increase in the availability of used camera gear. One wouldn’t search too much for online and physical outlets that sell a wide range of reliable gear. This high accessibility certainly helped in boosting this business.

E-commerce is naturally a major player here. And the easy transactions, whether in selling or buying, help a lot.

6. Availability of Service Outlets

A huge problem that often faced people who bought used cameras, was finding a place to repair them. And even when they did find a clever handyman who could fix these sensitive devices, there was the issue of spare parts. This was the case until a few years ago. Currently, there are far more service outlets that help in repairing and restoring used gear. Even the spare parts are now much easier to locate. Naturally, the ease of servicing equipment encouraged many more users to try out used gear. Amateurs especially rushed in after watching this reassuring aftersales service. They were the ones least acquainted with the locations of good repair shops.

7. The Element of Trust

Purchasing anything from an unknown source holds huge risks. Back in the day, when people bought used gear person-to-person there were too many glitches. Money was sidetracked, devices weren’t as expected, and items were lost/damaged in cheap shipping. Amateurs had no way of inspecting the items they purchased online. And the prospect of meeting a total stranger didn’t sit well with most. Even when buyers could see what they were about to pay for, they still didn’t have the expertise or resources for testing it. Nowadays, there are trusted ratings and reviews for almost every seller and device. This added element of trust surely had an effect on solidifying this market. As well as adding more customers every day.

8. Dependable Logistics

The shipping, payment, and refund services are simple and dependable. Purchasing anything, especially online, is rarely just about placing an order. First of all, you have to be sure that the links you’re using are secure, so your data wouldn’t be exposed. Then, the shipping service should be a professional one, where your sensitive gear would come ‘in one-piece’. Once the package is delivered, it’s best to have a way of returning defective, wrong, or damaged items. A refund policy is always a plus in such transactions. And if there’s a warranty on the sold items, that’s even better. In addition to the automated services, there are always people you could communicate with for various reasons. Inquiries about a product, assistance in selecting the right gear, or coordination when something doesn’t go as planned. Having a professional in the house to facilitate business dealings is definitely a huge perk. One-person businesses and small companies aren’t always able to do that. But luckily, there are many websites that provide this premium service. It’s best to deal with a trusted seller, of course. In exceptional cases, if there’s a unique piece you spot in a less fancy site, you could still buy it. Just make sure to do some due diligence in inspecting that item. And try to get the best possible bargain!

9. The Quality Control for Used Camera Gear

The traders have thorough quality control processes in place for gear selection. This means that you can choose the pieces you want, with relative certainty that it’ll be in good shape. Part of the appeal of big used equipment websites is their inspection and classification of devices. They often hire professionals whose only job is to make sure no defective gear leaks into their inventory. And if by accident such a thing happens, they have policies that correct that fluke. They find ways to keep their customers happy. Some websites offer products that aren’t in top shape, but they state that clearly. And the prices of these items are invariably low. Some people buy these pieces and repair them, or utilize them in other creative endeavors. The process is often transparent and buyers are fully aware of what they’re purchasing.

10. The Large Inventory

There’s often a huge inventory of camera gear to choose from. The mega trading sites for used stuff are almost as extensive as the suppliers of brand new equipment. A wide selection to choose from is definitely an incentive. This comes in sharp comparison with the state of that market a few years ago. At the time, used gear would take up a tiny little space in a back rack of a shop. And in online shopping, a mere page in a website. It was pretty much like a potluck! When users are confident that they’ll find what they came for, at a good price, the market for used gear certainly booms and flourishes.

The ‘Lingo’ of Used Camera Gear

There are a few interesting words that you’d come across frequently as you browse through used gear. Descriptions like ‘as new’ or ‘well used’ mean specific things related to the condition of an item. It’s essential to what each one of these expressions means before making a purchase. Here are the most important ones, which also happen to be the most commonly used.

Refurbished

Refurbished items are finely repaired devices. Often the manufacturer takes on these repairs, and puts the equipment back on sale with a serial number that indicates that. Refurb. equipment usually pass through thorough quality control before being resold, and the buyer can get a certificate indicating that. Their warranty period is usually much less than that of the new ones, but that’s to be expected.

Like New

This is a piece of equipment that’s very close to the brand new sparkly stuff. It wouldn’t have any scratches, collected dust, grease, or loose parts. Lenses and sensors marked as ‘like new’ should perform optimally, without any discernible decrease in quality. The rubber grips wouldn’t show any wear and tear, the parts wouldn’t clink and clank as they’re mounted, and the dials would turn smoothly without hassle. Usually. These items are used briefly, then sold. Getting an upgrade is often the reason behind the short ownership period. As we mentioned above, many reasons motivate users to replace their gear constantly with newer tech.

Excellent

This often means that there are a few scratches on the body of an item. But that’s it. The evidence of having been used takes down the quality, and price, of an item a few notches. Creative people usually appreciate aesthetics. And these visible defects could sometimes put them off the deal. For these folks, it’s best to stick with the ‘like new’ category. Buying gear on a budget shouldn’t mean compromising one’s values to that point. If however, looks don’t rank up too high, and functionality is king, then these items would be a true budget-buy. The defects are superficial only, and not to the extent that reveals heavy or rough usage.

Well Used

These are items that have seen better days. The models are 5+ years old, and their exteriors often look worn out and tired. Some would say they’re outright ugly! But we prefer using the more common name, ‘well used’. As long as the buyers know how these items earned that rank, then they’ll be fine. Expectations should match reality to avoid any disappointments. The appearance of these pieces isn’t the only thing under the weather. Devices that have been used for that long, are usually less efficient than ‘fresher’ ones. They’d also be more prone to operational issues. Everything has a shelf life from cheese, to devices, to humans.

How to Choose and Inspect Used Camera Gear?

Whether you’re buying used gear from individuals, classifieds, forums, or from a reputable online trader, it’s important to inspect the equipment properly.

Think of it as a mental checklist. Once you go through all the tests on the list, you’d be much more comfortable with buying and using that gear. The inspection steps are simple and intuitive, that most beginners can do them with ease.

Choose used camera gear that hasn’t been overused, roughed up, dropped, or stored in humid places. You’d know from the initial checks whether a device has potential, or if it’s seen all the wear and tear it can handle already.

Always start with the external frame, then move on to the internal details. Whether that’s a camera, lens, or any other photography gear you might be considering as your next purchase.

Inspecting Cameras

There are a few checks you could do in ten minutes, that’ll sum up the general condition of the camera.

  1. A Visual Check
    Inspection of anything starts with a visual check. A camera with a shabby exterior would most probably have a problematic interior. If not from the bumps and rough treatment, then from the mere passing of time. Mechanical, optical, and electrical performance is bound to suffer as a device ages. Sometimes repairs are possible. And a clever technician might be able to restore some of the camera’s old prowess. But this is not the norm. Unless you can verify the efficiency of the repairs, then you’d probably be better off with a better-looking camera. And even then, a fine body is not a guarantee that all is well inside. There are still some checks you should perform.

  2. Check the Lens Mounting
    Always bring a spare lens with you. You’d need it for the next tests, and the seller might not provide one, so it’s better to come prepared. First of all, check the mount. The lens should lock into place easily and securely. If this is too loose or too difficult to do, then it holds a risk of damaging your lenses. Not worth it at all. 

  3. Check the Focusing
    If this checks out nicely, then proceed, and look at other functions as the focus. Both manual and autofocus should be impeccable. We can settle for scratches in the body of the camera, but never in something as fundamental as this. 

  4. Internal Checks
    Several users think that this is as far as they should go in camera inspection, but there’s more. Open up the cap on the camera body and take a look inside. If there’s any dust, tiny particles, or oil, then this camera has leaks and mechanical defects. Better move on to another one.

  5. Check the Sensor Sensitivity
    You should also check the efficiency and sensitivity of the sensor. Take a shot at a bright clean space, the clear sky is often a good subject. Zoom in to the photo and scrutinize it for any spots, hairline intrusions, or foggy areas. All this reveals that the sensor has some issues.

Reading Shutter Count

Few things are as conclusive as the shutter count. It’s simply how many times the camera has been used.

  • Some photographers use their gear heavily. They take their cameras everywhere and are constantly clicking and taking shots. Others might be less enthusiastic, and their usage is limited to occasional trips in nature.

  • The higher count is essentially indicative of a lower quality used camera. Even if both are of the same model and date of purchase, the amount of utilization takes its toll on the camera components. And here’s the thing, replacing the shutter is quite costly.

  • Browse through the manufacturer’s website to get an idea about the life expectancy of the shutter. If that’s not available, then try to get an estimate from the photographers’ forums.

  • In general, a count of 100,000 is pretty much the max any shutter can take. Aim for lower counts in the range of 10,000-30,000. However, that’s rarely associated with pro-gear. A count of 50,000 is still great, but try to remain in that range.

  • Check the shutter count/actuation by taking a photo, then uploading it to a specialized website. Then, you’ll get the shutter count number, and decide accordingly.

Inspecting Lenses

Buying good lenses is among the most expensive aspects of being a photographer. But buying badly used lenses isn’t the answer to that predicament. Luckily, there are ways to tell whether or not used lenses are in mint condition. 

  1. Start With the Visuals

    Again, the visual inspection will let you in on the kind of life that lens has been leading. A few scratches are fine, more than that, take care! Check the optics in the light. Look for any signs of wear and tear, or even a slight fogging. There’s a nasty issue that gets some lenses, which is mold. Inappropriate storage in dark humid places usually invites fungi to take residence and settle down in the camera lens. This is extremely difficult to get rid of, as the cleaning agents could spoil the lens.

  2. Check the Moving Parts

     

    The focus and zoom rings are among the components that could lose functionality over time. Turn the rings to the right all the way, then to the left all the way. Listen carefully, and feel the movement. If it feels resistive, clanky, or inconsistent, then the ring might be defective. 

  3. Check the Aperture

    The lever that reveals the aperture blades should click open easily. And at close inspection, the blades should be clean from any dust, oil, or any sticky substances.  At this point, you can also access the lens at a deeper level, and again, check for transparency and optical wellness. 

  4. Check the Sharpness of a Photo

    The true performance of a lens will be clear when you take an actual shot. There are ready-made patterns that test the sharpness of the lens, and you’ll find several kinds online. Print one of these patterns, and take it with you. You can then check the condition of the used lens by comparing the original with the photograph. If there are any smudged or hazy parts, then you’ll know that the lens isn’t in top shape. Otherwise, go for it!   

Inspecting Mechanical Parts

Look for signs of bending, dents, chipped pieces, or even just scratches. When objects are dropped, they often leave a clear trace.

  • With camera gear, dropping is among the worst things that could happen. These external marks are often replicated internally. They could take the form of microcracks, displaced parts, loosened fixtures, and disconnected mounts.
  • Also, look for marks of oxidation, rust, pigmentation, or outright corrosion. Cosmetic repairs can fix a slightly worn-out frame. But major disintegration would be almost impossible to remedy. As a rule, when you see rust, put the item back and don’t pick it up again.
  • Mechanical checks also include turning rotating wheels, attaching movable parts, and screwing in accessories. Any parts that show resistance where smooth motion is the default, should be discarded. Threads that have become too wiped out, could easily drop the parts they should carry. Discard these too.
  • The devices could still function well, but there’s no telling for how long. Nobody wants to buy a product, only to find that it needs repairs the next day.

Inspecting Electronics

Electronic parts are a bit more difficult to check than mechanical parts. Microprocessors, memory cards, controllers, and power circuits could look intact, while they are completely dysfunctional. The best way to check electronics is by turning the device on and monitoring the different functions. A quick glance at the circuitry should do. If there’s nothing alarming, like traces of a blown up component, then things are good.

Our Picks for the Best Used Camera Gear in the Market

Having been around the used camera gear market for a while, we found that some parts are worth serious consideration. First, because they are fundamental pieces for any photographer. And second, because they’d come at a hefty price if bought new.

Smart-shoppers also know where to procure their gear. And we’ve found two mega suppliers we can rely on. We often find at KEH Camera and Adorama the equipment we need, and the support required to make an easy purchase.

They back up their sales with customer support, after-sales service, and prime shipping. And if something goes wrong, we can always return the purchases and get a refund.

By now, you’re probably waiting for the top picks we’re raving about, right? Here’s the full scoop!

Best Used Camera Gear

Pentax KP 24MP Compact TTL Autofocus DSLR Camera with Built-In Retractable P-TTL Flash, Black

Pentax KP 24MP Compact TTL Autofocus DSLR Camera

 

This Pentax has always been on the wishlist of demi-pros. It’s compact, weatherproof, pretty, and the image quality is unbelievable.

It has a high sensitivity of about ISO 819200, a shutter speed of 1/24000, and a Pixel Shift Resolution System. The tiltable LCD display is quite informative and easy to navigate. As for the function-dial, you’ll find your fingers memorizing the simple movements as you make a selection.

It’s sold here with a cut in the price of around 30%, which amounts to approximately $300. This is a big chunk chipped off the original price, and considering the condition of the camera, this is a catch.

Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera

Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera

Canon Mark II is another huge favorite among photographers. It has a 20.2 Megapixel CMOS (APS-C) sensor and an ISO 100 16000. It employs high-speed continuous shooting of up to 10.0 fps. Plus, the highly popular 65-point all cross-type AF system.

The Camera comes with an EF-S 18-135mm IS USM Lens, in addition to a W-E1 Wi-Fi Adapter Kit. This is quite convenient and would save you hours of matching accessories. 

The dent in price is about 20%, which isn’t huge, but still substantial. This is a camera that is almost new. 

Sony a68 Digital SLR Camera

Sony a68 Digital SLR Camera

 

The Sony Camera is known for its impeccable images, vibrant colors, and sharp focus. It has remarkably high phase-detection AF points, amounting to 79. covering a wide AF range. 

It comes with an Exmor CMOS sensor, plus a  BIONZ X image processing engine. Together, they produce an exceptional photography experience.

The price of the refurbished cam is noticeably lower than the original. So, for those who were looking forward to trying Sony gear, here’s a good opportunity.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX85 Mirrorless Camera

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX85 Mirrorless Camera

This mirrorless Panasonic comes at a compact size, that’s close to half that of a regular digital camera. And yet, it provides almost twice the sensor sensitivity. There’s a clear division among photographers when it comes to using DSLR or Mirrorless Cameras. 

If you’d like to take a legit part in the discussion, then you should try both. Then decide whether one of them is really better than the other, and how? It would also be a great opportunity to develop your repertoire. The more you learn, the more you earn.   

The Panasonic has a staggering discounted price that’s down by around 40%, and it also comes with lenses and a tripod. How thoughtful! 

Nikon D610 DSLR Body

Nikon D610 DSLR Body

No camera list is ever complete without a Nikon. Photographers know that brand so well and are often wowed by its intricate features. Well, this one certainly doesn’t disappoint.

It’s a full-frame, 35-mm sensor digital cam. It’s capable of taking noise-free images, starting from ISO 100 all the way to 6400. And if more is needed, it can be boosted to 25600.

It’s also sold at a 38% discounted price, which is certainly good news for many potential buyers. But still, note that even after that courtesy the price tag is hefty. The autofocus sensors aren’t as staggering as the Sony, but 39 points are still something.

Nikon DF Digital SLR Camera Body

Nikon DF Digital SLR Camera Body

This is a modern camera in a classic body. The slim silver frame was all the rage in a series of iconic Nikons. 

It covers an ISO range from 100 to 12,800, also expandable at the lower end to 50 and on the other side to 204,800. The trademark sharp focus of the Nikon appears here with a 39-point autofocus system, and 9 highly accurate cross-type sensors. They stay accurate in various settings up to f/8.

The camera can be purchased with a Nikkor 50mm F/1.8 G AF-S Special Edition Autofocus Lens. This is highly recommended, and the total price would still be appealing. 

Canon EOS 5D MARK IV Digital SLR Camera Body

Canon EOS 5D MARK IV Digital SLR Camera Body

Canon cameras have a way of catching the eye and exciting the imagination. They’re somehow more accessible than other brands, and at the same time, just as capable.

The Mark IV comes with a 30.4 Megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor. Its ISO range starts at 100 and covers a wide span till 32000. It’s expandable till up to 50-102400 at both ends, which is grand.

It provides Full HD up to 60p, and HD up to 120p, which is quite sufficient for decent videos. As for the focus, that’s a whole other story. Also, 4K Motion JPEG video.

Read this twice: 61 AF points with expanded vertical coverage. If you’d like, extra precision comes with 41 cross-points. The AF is available at all of the 61 AF points, with many lens + extender combinations, all of which are valid at f/8.

The ‘Like new’ and ‘Excellent’ models sell at approximately $2000, including the battery and charger. This is about $300-$500 less than the new ones. 

Canon 200-400 mm F/4 L IS USM EF Mount Lens

Canon 200-400 mm F/4 L IS USM EF Mount Lens

This motorized 400-mm telephoto/long original lens isn’t among the typical gear for regular photographers. Mainly, because of its extremely high price tag. 

The sleek look is among its many attractions, in addition to the sturdy mounting, and lightweight. It’s an essential lens for event photographers, and a wonderful addition if you want to learn something new.  

The used lens is offered in an ‘Excellent Plus’ condition, and it sells at a price that’s quite accessible to the semi-pro. It comes with its original caps, case, and hood.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-400 mm F/4 AF Lens

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-400 mm F/4 AF Lens

This is a similar telephoto lens for Nikon cameras. It’s great for sports photography, nature shots, as well as documenting festivals and raves.

It’s available in ‘Like new’ and ‘Excellent plus’ models. Both coming at affordable price points, and also come with the typical package of caps, case, and hood.

Panasonic LEICA LUMIX 50-200 mm AF Lens For Micro Four Thirds System

Panasonic LEICA LUMIX 50-200 mm AF Lens For Micro Four Thirds System

The Micro Four Thirds is the standard coined for mirrorless camera lenses, and it contains some of the best optics around. This Panasonic lens is compact and powerful. It comes equipped with a 67 mm filter, and with the 50-200 mm range, it’s remarkably versatile and practical.   

The price is often much more reasonable than the new lenses. And this definitely invites several timid photographers to give mirrorless cameras and lenses a try. It’s available in ‘Like new’ condition, and it comes with a case and hood.

Photoflex Northstar Lite LED LIGHT (100W)

Photoflex Northstar Lite LED LIGHT (100W) 

Lighting equipment is easier to acquire in the used condition. More so than the more sophisticated cameras or the more sensitive lenses. 

These LED lights are must-haves for all those times when natural light isn’t sufficient. The Photoflex Northstar is among the smartest choices on display. It’s adjustable, sturdy, powerful, and its heat output isn’t noticeable. 

PAUL C. BUFF ALIEN BEES B800 Monolight

PAUL C. BUFF ALIEN BEES B800 Monolight

This classic light isn’t a common fixture in studios nowadays. It’s a bit retro, and it’s lighting style fits that mood. But, it can easily double as a modern source for most types of photography.  

It comes with a power cord, a sync cord, in addition to a tube cover, and a reflector. That certainly sweetens the deal.

A Few More Things

Making the decision to buy used camera gear is the right move for many photographers. However, having a few skills in inspecting gear, and cherry-picking the best items available, is necessary. The market has some reliable used camera gear traders, so keep your business transactions with them, as much as you can. They often offer the highest quality equipment in the market. Plus, they make the selection, purchasing, and service a breeze. Finally, give the gear you buy good care and attention. Maintain it well and use it prudently. This way, you’ll truly make the best out of your investment. You’ll have more fun photographing as a hobby, and make more money if you’re a pro. Experiment with new gear, get the latest tech, or build a studio. Above all, explore the limits of your creativity.