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Tips For Buying Second Hand Photography Equipment

by Samantha Lee (follow)
Blog (395)      Articles (166)     

It’s no secret that photography equipment can be expensive to acquire, especially when you’re just starting out.

I didn’t get around to buying my first DSLR camera until I’d played around and practiced with models that I borrowed from friends. The photography equipment you will need will change as you refine your style and preferences so it’s always a good idea to think long-term use when buying equipment.

The most common reason people sell their gear is because they are upgrading their equipment, but you need to be very careful whenever you buy something that has been pre-owned. Here are some tips for buying secondhand equipment.

1. Don’t buy an entry level camera secondhand

It’s better to invest in used high end cameras than it is to buy entry level models secondhand. The reason for this is because high end models tend to have a longer lifespan and therefore end up being better investments. Models like the Nikon D700 and the Canon 5d Mark II are great examples because these are full frame steel-bodied cameras that have a higher resale value.

2. Check the equipment both inside and out before purchasing

Body: Check the camera body for signs of damage. Scratches are fine because they are part of the wear and tear of the equipment. What you should be looking out for are the dents that look like the body has been dropped. Slight defects like the rubber coming off are common in most Canon models and this indicates that the camera has been in humid conditions. This can easily be fixed by your local camera store.

Sensor: Taking a photo is the best way to check the quality of the sensor. If any specks, scratches or black rectangles appear in it, it may be dirty or there could be “dead pixels” (areas where the image doesn’t display) and these should be considered when negotiating the price.


LCD Screen: Look for scratches and dead pixels again (but dead pixels on an LCD screen won’t appear in the final image like they do when they are on the sensor). Most camera enthusiasts purchase screen protectors for their LCD screens anyway so this isn’t a very common problem.

Lens mount: Make sure that you can easily take a lens out and put it back on. Amateur camera users tend to force the lens into a mount which can causes dents and bends on the surface.

Battery: Check to make sure that the battery is the same brand as the camera and has not been replaced with a generic one.

Lenses: With lenses it’s a bit trickier because looks can be deceiving. A lens body that looks flawless can still have fungus, scratches and dust on the inside. Remember to shine some light on the lens (your smartphone flashlight should do the trick) to check for any damage before buying it. After checking them for physical defects pop the lens onto your camera and check its auto-focus capabilities. A tell-tale sign of wear and tear is when a lens isn’t able to focus well, and one that takes too long to focus has usually been dropped previously or at best, needs to be cleaned.


Flash: An external flash may not be an immediate necessity for some photographers which is why this is a really common item to buy secondhand. You should check camera compatibility, because there are a lot of external flashes that are made by non-camera brands. See if you can find the manual online and check if the flash works with your camera. The transparent glass that the light shines through should be clear and not yellow, and the battery compartment should lock well and not be showing signs of rust. Finally, the flash bulbs should be in good working order as they could be hard to replace (depending on the brand of the flash).

Film cameras: I am an avid collector of film cameras, but have experienced a lot of disappointment after buying old cameras thinking that I can easily have them restored back to working condition. It’s always better to buy cameras that actually work to save you time and money. Make sure that all the moving parts actually work because film cameras are extremely hard to repair and find replacements for. Check the lenses for damage but be more forgiving with dust and scratches especially if the camera you’re buying is really old. The vintage look that old lenses provide is part of their charm - and if you love to shoot with film, you probably like this look anyway.


3. Join camera groups in your city

The credibility of the source is really important when buying secondhand photography equipment. I am a part of a closed Facebook group called Photography Traders. This is crucial because of two aspects: the first is that the moderator vets all group members before being allowed to join (no commercial sales and advertising) and the second is that people who join these groups are photography enthusiasts and collectors, who more than likely take very good care of their equipment.

4. Be safe

Ideally, you should always ask to see equipment before you transfer or hand over any money, but always meet the seller in a public place and try to bring someone with you if possible. Don’t take cash with you. Take your time testing out the gear and don’t be pressured to have to buy it if you’re not satisfied. If it feels wrong, just walk away…there will be other deals in the future.

If you’re buying online, and see a good deal on eBay or Amazon, check the seller’s rating to see how other people who have bought from them have reviewed them, and make sure they are easily contactable if you are not satisfied with your purchase. The seller should be able to tell you the shutter count (the number of times the shutter button has been pressed), and the shutter count should be very low if the seller promises the equipment is “hardly used” or “almost brand new”. Beware of anyone with a fake looking profile or someone who wants to sell quickly and asks for cash only, as they may be trying to offload stolen equipment.

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