Let’s start straight with an important question.
Should I buy brand new equipment or should I go for a second hand camera and lens?
A great question which requires some analysis
Table of Contents
If you are running on a real budget, buying a second hand camera can be the solution to go. The present market has some good deals that should not be missed.
I have organised this post into two parts.
At first I go through some of the things you should check with used cameras and lenses
And later I focus on the top deals I have found on the net.
Why buying 2nd hand camera gear
I must be honest with you.
The first hand is always the best.
I would just probably avoid buying straight into a newly announced product.
I usually leave a month before committing.
I read the first comments and I see if there is any first release issue. It does happen.
So, why buying used photography gear?
To save some money is the main answer unless you are into collectable equipment.
But be aware that, like with anything you buy 2nd hand, there is a risk
Where to buy
As I said, there is always a risk in buying pre-loved equipment. So, my only suggestion here is to at least try to minimise it.
How do you do that?
Go through known and trusty camera stores, especially online, where most of the time you get better deals, just because they have a wider market. Also, local shops work great, if you know them or they have a good reputation.
One of the online shops I would suggest is KEH.com.
I know, I have not discovered anything new here. KEH is a leader in providing second-hand equipment.
The main reason is that they have a bunch of engineers they actually check the equipment they receive, they inspect it and they put it back in the market with a 180 days warranty
They also give a rating to all the equipment they sell, which is great. At least we know, as buyers, what to expect.
They also offer a price match guarantee, although on used gear it is really hard to compare.
Another shop I go to is Amazon. I check the used section of the camera gear and I see what is available. You can also filter on products or brands.
Amazon offers the same usual guarantee which gives peace of mind. However, they do not go through an investigation process as KEH.com.
In Amazon, there is also a link to refurbished gear. We will talk more about it later.
KEH is based in the US however they deliver to other countries. From time to time they do provide free delivery in the US
If you are in Australia I also suggest a shop in Sydney called European Camera Specialist. They do have an online shop too.
The alternative is to try to buy directly from the seller, which usually it will save you more money, however, it will increase the risk.
You can try these classified advertisements websites for used cameras for sale:
- Ebay, available everywhere and it gives some guarantees. I bought on it, but only using few well-rated resellers
- Craiglist, originally only in the USA but now operating in over 70 countries
- Gumtree, popular with photography equipment in the UK and Australia. I have used it for some light equipment and I had a small issue that I was not able to resolve with the seller. Basically no warranties or guarantees. It’s a bit of a risky business, especially if you can’t see the gear before you pay.
How to buy used camera equipment
This is a list of tips that I like to give based on my experience. Feel free to add any comment in case you have more suggestions and I will update this guide.
There are few easy checks and others that are more complicated.
You may be able to return the 2nd hand camera, or lens, within a number of days (it depends on which country you buy, Australia is 7 days) if not happy with the gear.
Packaging and invoice
This is the first thing I ask if I buy directly from a private.
It is not for a cosmetic purpose.
It is to avoid any gear from the black market. This does not mean that someone selling a camera or a lens without invoice or receipt or boxes is selling a stolen item.
To me, it is a bit suspicious. The seller should have at least the receipt, for the own warranty purpose.
I may be a bit narrow-minded here, however, I just don’t want to take the risk.
Besides being illegal I would just hate to buy someone else stolen property.
Sometimes meeting the seller helps to decide, sometimes it does not
Be aware that having the invoice does not assure you that the manufacturer warranty, if any, will continue with you.
This really changes from country to country and you should read the “very” small letters
If you are buying online, ask the vendor to send you a scan of the invoice.
Verify the shutter count
That is an easy check that can be done by you or the seller. There are few software and websites that can do this easy job:
- MyShutterCount: this is the best solution. If buying online you can ask the seller to send you a new photo and you upload it to this website. MyShutterCount will verify the EXIF info and check the shutter count. As easy as that. Unfortunately, it works only for Nikon and Pentax
- CameraShutterCount is another similar website with even more camera options, including Canon and others
- Sony Count can be checked on this website. A similar process, you need to upload a file
- EosInfo is a Canon-only alternative, although it is a software you need to install and it does not work on Mac. It’s a bit old but it does work. In this case, you need to trust the seller and ask to send you a print-screen with the count
Olympus and Panasonic have an on-camera field to see the count (check the manual to verify where to go on the menu)
Now we have this shutter count. What do we do with it?
Have a look at the Oleg Kikin website with your camera model. It will find for you the typical shutter life, giving an indication of the average number of activations after which the shutter possibly dies.
Again, this is an average number. I would stay at least 50% off, if you plan to take your camera for travelling or weekend away quite often.
Check the sensor
You may want to do a generic test and a dust test.
- For a generic test, remove the lens and check the sensor. If it looks clean move to the next point (I would not expect much of an issue here unless really damaged)
- set the camera to the smallest possible aperture (F/22 or F/20) and take a photo up in the clear sky or on a full white surface. Shoot a second one, just a meter away. Now zoom into the photo, on the camera’s LCD monitor, to check if there is any issue like dust (you can alternatively do this on a computer). If you see something that may be dust check the second photo and check it in the same place. Usually, but do not take it as a rule, you find more dust on the corners (when I say dust I mean white points).
What if you find dust?
You can ask to clean it or you can ask a discount (if I remember well the sensor cleaning is around $50-$75 but it all depends on countries, shops etc, just to have an idea, you can also do it yourself with a bit of experience).
I personally would ask to clean it because it may be not dust. It may be a problem with the sensor itself. I guess you can ask for even more discount and take the risk (I would not).
If you buy online, you can ask the seller to take a photo at f/20-f/22.
The raw file is better so you are sure there was no spot removal from the vendor.
To read the raw file use Lightroom or any manufacturer software that is usually provided for free.
Does it autofocus correctly
I never heard of any autofocus problems on sold parts however it’s worth a check anyway.
As soon as you receive the used camera install a lens and make sure that it mounts correctly and firmly
Set the camera to autofocus and see how it works.
It would be difficult to understand if autofocus is as quick as expected, not having another similar camera to compare to. The most important thing is that it does not keep hunting.
This is not something you can previously test when buying online.
How does the camera look like?
Is there any big scratch on the LCD monitor or the viewfinder?
As a rule of thumb, a camera in a mean condition probably is not well looked after.
It may be not always the case, however, this is a risk you need to count.
On the LCD you may also want to check if there is any dead pixel. Again, take a photo of a blue sky or uniform colour surface
You can also check if there is any stuck or hot pixel, although they may disappear over time.
If you want to investigate more on dead, stuck or hot pixel and how they affect the sensor and the LCD have a read to this quick and very interesting post.
If buying private online you can ask to take photos of camera details here and there however the reality check is when you will receive the camera.
Used camera lenses
If you buy a second-hand lens you should not expect any scratch, unless stated by the seller in the description.
In saying that, a minor one should not affect the photo quality. I do have a lens with a scratch and I can’t see it in any photo.
Just think of your mobile camera. Probably the lens has a few scratches (being in contact with keys etc) but you do not see them on your photos, not even at 100% zoom in.
Check if there is any sign of fungus. If you see them, then I really suggest leaving the “special” deal as the cleaning process can be expensive.
Again the general condition is a good sign of the overall status. Check the borders around the external lens to see if there is any bump (this may also prevent you to install a filter)
You can then check the autofocus motor. This is something that possibly may not work correctly if the lens has been dropped.
At last, verify that the zoom operates smoothly through the complete focal range (unless it is a prime of course). Same for the manual focus.
Unfortunately, if buying online, there is almost nothing you can check prior to the deal
Laptop yes, laptop no
You can do most of the checks without a laptop however it is not a bad idea to take it with you and check few photos on 1:1
With the laptop, you get more confidence that you are making a good deal.
Sometimes it is hard to say if the camera and lens are focusing correctly on a camera’s LCD monitor.
This is valid if you meet your seller obviously. I suggest you mention him/her that you take the computer for a few checks.
In this way, he/she can allocate more time for the deal and he/she is aware you will check thoroughly the equipment.
Refurbished cameras and lenses
What are they?
This is, for example, equipment that was previously in a demo, or returned because the buyer was not satisfied (the gear worked but the buyer was not anyway happy). Another possibility is that the box is broken or damaged, however, the equipment is fine.
I bought two refurbished lenses at an incredibly good price, no problems at all. I just had the box a bit smashed, not a big deal to me.
I find the Amazon market very good for it. Some of the manufacturers directly sell refurbished gear on this page.
The good part of the refurbished equipment is that it is offered with a warranty and sometimes, using your credit card, you can extend it to 1 or 2 years, basically like a new product.
Refurbished equipment usually goes through a few checkpoints, similar to what KEH does for second-hand equipment, before going back to the market.
What used camera equipment to buy
This section is about the best deals on the net.
My research is uniquely based on cameras and lenses for city and travel photography.
What does it mean?
It means that I am not after the super high-quality full sensor DSLR (too heavy for any trip) or special purpose cameras.
Important! Think about what brand you are embracing.
If you buy a Nikon camera with 2 lenses you can always in future use these lenses for an upgraded camera. Same with any other brand.
Once you select a family, stay with that one if you want to save some money.
There are lens adaptors but anything you add in the middle can be another potential source of problems.
Olympus and Panasonic have the same lens mount.
And finally, good deals will disappear fast…..and you need to be faster otherwise you are going to miss out
This is absolutely a fantastic deal. I love this camera. I had a fantastic time reviewing the Panasonic GX8.
Usually, this camera costs over $1K. Sometimes you find fantastic deals as this one at $950.
But this second hand GX8 at $775 is a real bargain. Rated as 97-99 out of 100…..basically as new
This is the top model of Panasonic.
If $775 is too much and you are ready to take a risk, Amazon is offering an International Model (no Warranty) at $640!! Only 4 left, and I reckon for not too long.
This is another amazing deal!! I could not believe my eyes.
First of all, I love the Sony A6000. Yes, it is 2 years old camera but still a great one. It received a Gold award by DPReview and, honestly at this price is a no-brain.
I found a certified refurbished by Sony A6000 body at only $420 or with a 16-50mm lens at $670.
With the successor, the A6300, you will have more focus points (425 instead of 179) and a better viewfinder resolution. It is environmentally sealed (the A6000 is not) and it supports 4K video.
The video may be an issue for someone, personally not to me. If on a budget I would not hesitate to go for the A6000 with a 16-50mm lens
Another great camera. As the new X-T2 is on the market the price for the old model has dropped….a lot.
You can find now a second hand Fujifilm X-T1 in excellent conditions at $670. There is also another possibility, a brand new International Version of X-T1 (no warranty) sold by Fujifilm on Amazon for just $760.
Some of the differences with the new X-T2 are a higher resolution at 24MP (instead of 16MP), a higher continuous drive at 14 fps (instead of 8fps), 4K video and higher maximum shutter speed at 1/8000 sec.
Of all of the above, for travel photography, I find only the lower resolution at 16MP to be a relevant difference. In saying that, unless you print in very large format or you tend to crop a lot, 16MP is more than enough
Once you decide on the camera you can check the lenses of the same brand.
There are a few in the market and you should choose again thinking about your available budget.
My personal suggestion. Allocate a similar budget for the lens as well as for the camera, if not more. The lens is something you will most likely mount on your new next camera.
For travel photography I would buy an all-round zoom in the range 24-100mm equivalent, if possible:
- 12-50m if MFT sensor (Panasonic or Olympus)
- 18-70mm if APS-C (Fujifilm and Sony A6000)
The quickest is the lens, the better (low value in Aperture, f/2 or lower)
Take your time in investigating your second-hand gear, however, if you find it, move quickly as good used equipment tends to disappear very very soon.
Usually, you have the best deals with private sale however you take also the bigger risk.
KEH.com is my favourite resource for used equipment however I would not hesitate to buy from trustworthy local shops if you find anything interesting.
Ask always for a warranty, a good sign that the sold gear has been thoroughly checked.
If the deal is too good to be true…. then probably is not a true deal….someone said
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6 thoughts on “How and what second hand camera to buy for your photography”
Awesome! I have read many other articles on the same topic, your article convinced me! I hope you continue to have high-quality articles and blogs like this to share with everyone!
Thanks. Really appreciated
Thanks for sharing, it makes me a lot.
RE: Autofocus. There are ribbon cables in the lenses that communicate with the camera and when they go bad, they have to be replaced. I had one go bad on a shoot with my only lens the Canon 24-105. Thankfully it still allowed me to shoot between 24-35mm and I was able to finish the shoot but immediately had to go to Canon for repair after.
at least you could finish your shooting. Good to hear that.
Indeed the ribbon cables could be damaged with the time. Or maybe just being lucky or unlucky. Hard to say.
When buying second hand there is always a risk, which I feel minor when buying from reputable shops, either on-line or not.
Though, I do not think they actually check the quality of the ribbon cables, before re-selling the lens (I could be wrong here).
The only check we can personally do is how smooth are the focusing and zooming rings.
Thanks for your feedback, really constructive. I will update the post with this info.