Is This the Best Used Camera Your Money Can Buy?

With rapidly developing technology and new releases happening often, you can find a lot of good deals on used cameras. Today I'll introduce you to one that might just be the best your money can buy.

In this 9 minute video from the guys at The School of Photography, you're introduced to what they think is the best used camera you can get. What is it? The Canon 5D Mark II. Some of the reasons they offer include its quality magnesium alloy construction, the fact it's a full-frame camera that works well in low light, and its high quality video.

They also consider some of the possible negatives such as storage device issues and lens compatibility problems. The price they give is roughly USD $600. My searches here in Japan came up with about $700 so you should be looking in that range. However, I was unable to find a used body on popular sites such as Amazon and B&H Photo Video, so you might have to do a little bit of searching online if you want to get your hands on one.

The one thing that I agreed with the most from the video and wished I’d been told when I first started out with photography was that getting a good quality full-frame used camera at a low(ish) price is a much, much better option than getting a brand new crop sensor APS-C format camera at a similar price.

That's exactly what I did and almost all my peers did too but every single one of us then moved on to a full-frame camera because of the limitations that an APS-C format camera has. It would have been much better to buy a used full-frame camera such as the Canon 5d Mark II or similar and then kept that as a backup should anything ever go wrong with my current Canon 5D Mark IV. As it is, my original APS-C camera is currently sitting in my bedroom gathering dust and hasn't been used in years.

What do you think? Firstly, about the choice of camera and secondly, about the idea of going straight to a used full-frame camera instead of getting a brand new low-end APS-C format camera and then upgrading to full-frame down the track? Let me know in the comments below.

Iain Stanley's picture

Iain Stanley is an Associate Professor teaching photography and composition in Japan. Fstoppers is where he writes about photography, but he's also a 5x Top Writer on Medium, where he writes about his expat (mis)adventures in Japan and other things not related to photography. To view his writing, click the link above.

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I buy all my camera's used,just bought a Nikon D3's for $850 and only 18K shutter actuations works great! Grade A condition.
I have also have purchased D3,D700 used
When you buy full frame top end camera's you get all the features of that time.
I do not need current new models,

Enjoy,I do

Very wise, I wish I’d done the same. As I now live in Japan I’m happy to have the outstanding Map Camera on my doorstep for incredible deals on used gear

I think this would be my strategy going forward, especially as I never sell them, too emotionally attached... yeah, I know it's just gear, maybe I should stop giving them names.

For bodies, the best deal in photography hands down is the Nikon D800. It’s a beast of a camera and can be easily had for less than $1000 with low clicks. I picked up mine for $900 with 5k actuations. When the d810 came out, many offloaded their d800s with really low mileage.

That is a great deal. Canon 5D MkII for $600-700 or a D800 for $900. If you’ve got the extra couple hundred floating round then get the D800 for sure.

Might possibly be the best VALUE used camera your money can buy, but it's definitely not the best used camera your money can buy given the fact that you can buy just about any camera including current models used.

Yeah I guess there’s an implication in there that what you’re getting for $600(ish) is hard to beat.

My first digital full frame was the Canon 5D MKII, and it is great. I now shoot the 5DSR and the MKII is my backup. I was in Iceland in June and one of the other photographers dropped his Sony A7 R iii in the water and boom! Ruined camera. The big deal is that he had sold all of his Nikon equipment and he had no backup. Since the film days, I have never traveled without a backup. It gives me piece of mind that 5D MKII as a backup still uses all of my EF lenses. If I go mirrorless, it will be a supplement to and not a replacement for my fine quality DSLR gear. Finding a used MKII for anyone is a good idea.

Perfect example of my thoughts. As I shoot a lot of sports and surfing my 2nd camera is now the 7D MKII. I always bring it along with me but if my FF were to crash and burn, I’d be stuck with a APS-C format camera.

Speaking of Backup.... Privately I shoot film a lot, and once in a while I regretted not having a Film SLR on location when I did a shoot. Recently I bought a near mint original EOS1 for a steal and the awesome thing is, that I can switch to film back and forth with almost no hassle because I just have to bring a second or third body. That´s the great thing about the EOS ecosystem.

You are making me jealous. I sold most of my film equipment to finance digital. Lately, I have been going back and scanning my old film negatives and slides and making nice prints. It has a look that is just different than digital. I still have my canon T90 and a 24 to 105 lens. I think I am going to take it out and experiment. Film equipment will never be obsolete.

Unfortunately the T90 has an FD Mount. Maybe sell the T90 with the lens and reinvest the money into an EOS Film SLR Body that is perfectly compatible with all your EF Lenses. Interestingly some Lenses do react quicker on the old EOS1... For example my 85 1.2L Mk1, it a little faster when its attached to the Eos1. Don´t get me wrong, it works like a charm on my 5Ds but its a hint better on the Eos 1.

Anyway, go out, try it out and shoot film again. Recently I could pursuade my aunt who has been a full time photographer for more than 30 years to shoot on her Mamiya again that had rested on a shelf for the better part of the last decade. Film has a future, maybe not in press photography, but its a legitimate medium of choice.

Good advice. I just went on Ebay to take a look. What is the difference between the EOS-1, the EOS-1v and EOS-1hs?

Eos 1 HS is the original Eos 1 with the horizontal Speed-Booster grip. Gives you 5.5 frames per Second = 1 36exp Film in about 6 seconds. Eos 1 without the booster does around 3 frames per second. The Eos 1N is the follow up model and has better autofocus and does 6 frames per second with the respective booster. The eos 1 V is a whole other dimension of a camera: 10 frames per second, 45 AF points etc, basically a 2012 top of the line digital flagship without the digital part. What you need really depends on what you shoot: If you shoot landscapes and use a modern digital shutter release timer with N3 connection the EOS 1V is the way to go, because it has an N3 input. Also if you want E-TTL2 flash you have to go with the 1V. Basically, if you "need" a modern DSLR´s capability but with film, go with the 1V. If you do not rely on superfast autofocus (its fairly accurate and moderately fast on the 1hs) and can live with ETTL flash Metering (The connections works perfectly with all wireless triggers I have access to) then you can basically roll a dice if you want the 1HS or the 1N. An advantage of the 1HS over the 1N is that the 1HS takes regular AA Batteries instead of 2CR5s

Thanks for all of the great info...

I switched from a 1Ds MkIII (which has the same sensor as the 5D MkII) to Micro Four Thirds four years ago. The 16MP MFT cameras at that time rivaled my previous 1Ds MkII. Today's MFT cameras roughly equal the 1Ds MkIII & 5D MkII in terms of detail, dynamic range and noise. Also, my MFT lenses equal or exceed my Canon lenses, even the L zooms, particularly in terms of sharpness at the edges and freedom from vignetting when shot wide open. If 5D MkII-level IQ is what you're after, Panasonic and Olympus have a lot more to offer. For $600, I'd take a mint-condition used Panasonic GX8 over a used 5D MkII any day.

What was your original reasoning for going MFT? Any regrets?

The story of my decision to switch is here:
I liked my Canons for work, but I wanted a lightweight kit for travel & landscapes. Thought MFT would complement my Canon gear, but wound up replacing it instead. No regrets. Might buy some premium (f1.2-f1.4) primes, though, for more light gathering, as I shoot corporate events for a living.

Thanks. I look forward to giving it a thorough read

If you like that article, you might enjoy this earlier one as well.
In it, I provide links to two resources that helped cement my decision to invest in MFT:
Jordan Steele's comparison of the GX1 and 1Ds MkII
and a seminar I attended at B&H by NatGeo photog Ira Block

That's me in the front row with the pony tail.

The 5D Mark II is still a great camera. It will be a long while before I give my 3 bodies up.

They provide plenty of resolution and are a workhorse like many of the other older FF bodies. If you are setting up a studio or photography business grab two 5D II bodies and have at it, they will get a lot of work done whilst saving you money over the new bodies.

Yes I think this whole mirrorless wave has people forgetting that many DSLRs, including older iterations, are still outstanding cameras

Since I already have a5D mkiii, the best used camera for me is the 7d mkii (extra reach, better auto focus, almost identical to the 5d3 in form)... Got one for £724 a few days ago and will be taking it for a spin while covering an event tomorrow. The auto focus is lightening fast, makes my 5d seem sluggish.

Yea the 7D MKII is a fantastic camera, especially for sports and wildlife where you need that extra reach and the crop factor isn’t such a big deal. When I pair my 7D MKII with my Tamron 150-600mm it effectively becomes 900mm at 9fps. Perfect for action sports

Assuming that a person has absolutely zero currently invested in any camera system and was on the market for a camera today, I would probably suggest they get a used MILC body over a used DSLR. Buying anything DSLR related today is a bit awkward because you're buying into a technology that's on its way to being phased out over the next few years. At least if you get a used MILC, the native lenses you buy will carry over to future cameras.

So while the used DSLR would probably provide you with the better photos and user experience in the short term, it would be a worse long-term investment for a new person just starting out.

Yeah timing is in a rather awkward position at the moment. I’m not sold on the MILC takeover but that’s a different debate altogether

For better or worse, it seems pretty clear that MILC is the direction that the market is headed and the R&D dollars of the major manufacturers will follow accordingly. It's unrealistic to expect companies to stretch themselves so thin in a shrinking market space. That leaves DSLR's to likely stagnate at or near their current levels along with the optics, accessories, etc. that support those systems.

Of course there's always the chance that one of the companies could take the Leica route and just focus on DSLR's the way Leica focuses on rangefinders, but they'd have to be willing to re-position themselves in the market for that and I'm not sure which company would be willing to do that. Maybe Pentax since they're already relatively niche?

You’re probably right but with so many people the world over having already invested in setups that have cost tens of thousands of dollars to assemble, I think they will be reluctant to switch all over again. I’m 45 and I have no intention atm of going to mirrorless - not because I am unreasonably anti, simply coz I am more than happy with the gear I have and the results it’s producing. If the time comes that repairs and services and replacements become near impossible, then I might reconsider

I have the Nikon D750. It has changed my photography life. No regrets.

I almost bought a used 5D Mark II, but found a great deal on a gently used Mark III and bought it instead. It makes for a great pairing with my 7D Mark II; their dimensions and control layouts are very similar, making it easy to switch between them. I'm very satisfied with this setup.

Yes my pairing is the 5DIV and the 7DII

Iain, the video and this post leave me wondering how much experience you and the guy in the video have with current non-full frame cameras.

Let me start by saying that I was exclusively a Canon shooter until two years ago when I got a Fuji X-T2 because the 5d4 did not deliver the value of the Fuji and it cost twice as much. I started out with Canon Rebels, then got a 5D3, which I still have, along with a shelf full of Canon L glass.

I thought I was getting the X-T2 to have something smaller to have as a fun camera. For the last two years, except for occasions where I need my 70-200, I've shot exclusively with the X-T2 and the 24-84mm equivalent lens because the X-T2 outperformed my 5D3.

When I was primarily doing event photography, the X-T2 did as well or better than my 5d3 in low-light conditions. And by low light, I mean conditions that require ISO 5000 to 6400. With my 5d3, that's as high as I was interested in going before deciding just use a flash and a lower ISO. The X-T2 allowed me to maintain those same guidelines.

The APS-C cameras that came out at the time of the 5d3 couldn't shoot at those ISO levels and maintain IQ, but the current APS-C cameras can.

As far as video quality goes, the guy in the video says you can't tell the difference between the video in the 5d2 and the 5d4. That may be true due to how much Canon hobbled the video in the 5d4, but the 5d2 does not compete with any other current generation full frame, aps-c, or m4/3 camera. I don't think anyone would argue that you can definitely tell the difference between a 4K video shot with a Panasonic GH5 and a 1080p video shot on a 5d2.

As far as "the limitations that an aps-c format camera has", again, I wonder if you've used any of the current crop sensor cameras on the market. What limitations are you talking about? My X-T2 has a feature set that surpasses the 5d4 across the board, except for sensor size. It certainly beats the hell out of a 5d2...autofocus, focus peaking, remote control via smartphone, frames per second, incredible jpeg quality (option to shoot raw and still create Fuji jpegs later by plugging the camera into the computer), tilt screen (HUGE feature...saves so much wear and tear on your body when you do low angle stuff...I can lower the camera instead of kneeling).

My X-T2 does so much stuff my 5d3 can't do, it's ridiculous. And there's nothing my 5d3 can do that my X-T2 can't, including deliver quality images within the full range of ISOs that I shoot at (6400 and below).

And I'm not saying this because I'm a Fuji snob. I use the best tool for the job, which is why I'll be getting a Sony body to use with my Canon glass and I'll probably pick up a GH5 for video, at some point, unless the forthcoming Sony a7s3 matches the GH5 with some specific features I'm looking for.

Olympus is also doing some great things with m4/3.

APS-C is no longer low-end and full frame is no longer an upgrade anymore than medium format is an upgrade. When you go from aps-c to full frame, you get a bigger sensor and lose features. When you go from full frame to medium format, you get a bigger sensor and lose features. If you need a bigger sensor for a particular kind of photography, that's why you go with a bigger sensor, but sensor technology has advanced to the point that full frame is no longer better just because.

I'm going to upgrade to an X-T3 as soon as I can because Fuji put everything and the kitchen sink into that camera. It has a feature set that surpasses every Canon and Nikon full frame camera, including their new mirrorless releases. If you objectively go feature by feature and put a total score at the end, the X-T3 wins.

So a used 5d2 is not a better purchase than even a used current generation aps-c camera, in my opinion. It's definitely not a better purchase than a newly released aps-c camera. A used Fuji X-T2 is a superior camera to a used 5d2 or even a 5d3, unless you work for National Geographic and you need to subject your camera to the antarctic, the desert, and the jungle. Fuji is not built like Canon or Nikon, but for most people, a sport-utility vehicle is sufficient and a humvee is unnecessary.

The only way I can understand the perspective offered by you and the guy in the video is if you haven't spent time with the current generation aps-c and m4/3 cameras. When I started using my X-T2, I had no idea all the stuff I'd been missing out on because all I'd ever used was my 5d3. I'm not talking about bells and whistles, I mean features that had a substantive impact on my creative process. I lost nothing by using a smaller sensor and I've gained a ton of benefits.

And given how Canon insists on being dead freaking last when it comes to innovation, I don't know how you can recommend that someone just starting out go with Canon. Whether you buy used or brand new, you get old tech from Canon. I suspect most Canon shooters would not recommend Canon to someone just getting into photography. Innovation comes from everywhere, except Canon.

Depends somewhat on your company of choice. Fuji makes excellent APS-C lenses because they don't have a full frame system. For most of the companies doing both APS-C and full frame, choosing APS-C also means getting lower quality optics than their full-frame counterparts because those companies tend to view APS-C as a consumer format.

I generally agree about the ISO issue, though. Today's APS-C sensors perform so well that it's really a non-issue unless you're running around regularly shooting in extremely low light situations handheld.

Great post full of highly valuable info. Of course everything is subjective depending on the type of photography you do. My 2 main earners are sports/surfing and landscapes. Low light and the crop factor were issues for me. I still have my Rebels, my 7DII and my 5D IV. I use my 7D for surfing only when the light is good. At sunrise/sunset and in-water, it’s not the best. Especially, for example, when you pair it with the Tokina 10-20mm fisheye in dark, early morning waves

It would be interesting to see what your experience would be from a week of using an X-T3 and the 12-24, 24-84, and 70-200 equivalent lenses that Fuji offers. They’re all weather sealed. The 12-24 is rectilinear, though. I don’t know if Fuji offers a fisheye.

I’d love to give that setup a try. I’m always open to new avenues and opportunities but money and a mortgage dictate I remain loyal to Canon for the time being! As for fisheyes, they’re only really useful for inside waves and closeup underwater shots. Needless to say, often low light so I need a camera that handles that well

Thank you!

Nice review and nice camera, but isn't it a little bit too old? For the same price you can find a used 6D, or even a new one for 900 bucks ( at least in Japan in the online shop you can find it). I know the series 5 it's awesome but the original 6d too wasn't so bad...

I don’t have a lot of experience with the 6D but many of my friends love the original

Used camera comes with history and associated risks. I'd rather go for a new camera but an aged model, like Canon 6D. Also sensor technology in new APS-C cameras has improved greatly that somewhat negates advantages of used old model full frame. Recently released Nikon D5300, with no low pass filter, is a great starter at very affordable price.

That’s also an option but I guess the ballpark figure has to be in the $600-700 range. That’s one premise of the video here. Not sure you can get a new 6D at that price?

I bought a used 5D mkii with 20k clicks for $650. I've been able to produce really nice images with it, but the auto focus is garbage on wheels.
I tried using it for photojournalism. I walked away with almost nothing every time.

Why is the AF crap do you think? Are you using BBF?

I bought a Canon 5ds at 50% of the selling price on last year. It had around a year, 10.000 counter actuations and was pristine. A stunning camera, excellent build quality, amazing detail. Many dislike this model though in reality is far better then some may think.
So it was no brainer to me. I simply would not pay the double for a 5d mk IV. It retain most of the value and has been one of my workhorses since then.

Excellent deal. They produce fantastic images and at 50% off, that’s a no-brainer. Great find!