Not all that doesn’t glitter isn’t gold. For non-professionals and professionals alike, a second-hand camera or lens is often a cheap way to upgrade one’s own photographic toolbox. Here, you find some tips for making a good bargain.
Second-Hand Gear in Photography
Let’s face the truth: Photography is one of the most expensive hobbies in the world. Especially, when you constantly long for the latest gear, the best software, and the most suitable accessories. As you'll find in this article, you’re probably one of us! Welcome to the GAS-club. GAS stands for Gear Acquisition Syndrome and is a photographer’s justification to buy new gear (mostly needed in family discussions about current spending, as far as I got it).
Reducing the expenses of gear isn’t easy, because most photographers aim at gear which is better than their current camera body, tripod, or lens. When your beloved but unstabilized 70-200mm tele lens doesn’t allow you to improve your wildlife pictures, the 600mm f/4 lens might burst your budget – it’s ten times the price.
While you can’t help yourself but save a lot of money in some cases, there are occasions when you can make a good deal. A lot of second-hand camera gear can be found online and in photography shops. One good characteristic of photography gear is that most of it is quite enduring. There are only a few parts which can break in a camera. Of course, the surface might look a little worn, but in photography, the qualities inside matter most.
Besides all the ongoing updates and brand new camera models, you’re still able to shoot great photographs with 10-year-old gear. Especially old glass is great if you want to try a new focal length or want to experiment with a certain look.
Where to Buy Second Hand Photography Gear
If you’re looking for a certain lens or a camera body of a specific type, sometimes it means waiting and watching. Many local camera stores offer pre-owned gear and it’s always worth casting an eye on your local dealer’s shop window. Too often, your thirst for new toys will be stronger than your patience. Time to use the web!
Professional Shops Online
If you like to be on the safe side and don’t mind spending a little more on your gear for guaranteed quality, you can find a lot of second-hand gear in photography online stores. The advantage is that most professional stores check your gear and offer you a certain warranty on the products. Read the policies carefully, though. The big players usually offer a trustworthy service. Of course, in most cases the service of checking and updating gear will cost a few dollars extra.
Depending on your location, there are different options for buying gear. Some shops already offer photography-related products in different countries all around the globe. Here are some shops which help you buy used camera gear without risk:
- KEH has a huge stock of photography gear, from large format film cameras to the latest mirrorless bodies. KEH offers used gear in different categories: From Excellent Plus to Ugly. They also offer a 180 day warranty.
- MPB U.S. also offers photography gear of all kinds and has a huge portfolio in stock. They offer a 6months warranty on their gear.
- Don’t forget about B&H if you’re located in the States. B&H is not only a great shop for new gear, but they also offer good bargains on used gear. You can filter your search as you’re used to with regular online shopping trips and find suitable deals. B&H offers a 30-day-return policy along with a 90-day parts and labor warranty.
No risk, no fun? Are you in search of the best deal and love to bargain in person? Then you should visit a marketplace, where private persons can offer their used products. In Germany, the biggest marketplace is currently run as a sub-brand of eBay, an enterprise which is probably known worldwide. In other countries, you might find your second-hand gear on websites like Kijiji.com (also belongs to eBay) or your local Craiglist.
The advantages of these marketplaces are generally lower prices. Private sellers can’t promise you a warranty and don’t offer the services which professional stores do. Fewer services translate into lower costs. Why would you choose a private offer when you can get the same gear for the same price from B&H including warranty and return?
On the other hand, there are some insecurities left: Does the camera work as promised? Is the lens sharp? Does it suffer from back focus?
Can I Trust a Private Seller Online?
Let me summarize it in a little story: I often sold some of my gear online. Most of the lenses ended up in a package that was send to the buyer without prior personal inspection. Yet, there was never a complaint, because everything was in a good condition and I believe it’s the case for most deals. Why? Because most people feel bad when they betray someone.
But most people doesn’t include everyone. I once bought a 70-200mm lens on eBay, which turned out to be broken. The focus engine didn’t work. I needed to get it repaired, which almost made the lens as costly as a new one. Where was my mistake? I blindly trusted the seller. I didn’t check the lens in person and couldn’t get my money back. While I sent a bunch of complaint messages, it turned out that the person was totally aware of the condition of the lens. His arguments were defensive and nonsense. He definitely was a crook with his back against the wall.
In the end, he even reported me to the police as a fraud. Luckily, the police just had a good laugh about the long email correspondence, because it inevitably conveyed what happened and who was right. Yet, it’s senseless to sue someone for $400 in Germany. And yes, it was only $400! I should have been more than skeptical about such a great deal. Lesson learned.
Although I believe in the good side of people and have not been let down in 99% of the cases, this 1% cost me a little money, happiness, and a lot of time. Today, I always check a lens on location. If it’s too far away, I neglect even the best offers. Better: I neglect the best offers in particular.
Can I Negotiate on Price With Second-Hand Photography Gear?
The question about how much bargaining is acceptable is culturally dependent. But, yes, you should! Bargaining about a lens or camera body is one of the best ways to get a good deal. It can be fun, too. Even in Germany, where bargaining isn’t really a thing in everyday life, the second-hand market is full of it. Whenever you sell your pieces, you better not put the price too close to the bone. People will negotiate. Often, even before they saw a product in person.
Whenever I find gear, which is a little worn out, my heart starts to jump a little. I love lenses that look worse than they are. In your sales conversation, it gives you a better position. A little scratch on the surface of the front lens? No problem for me, but it might be worth $100 if I mention it. Only watch out for serious faults which affect the quality of your photographs. As long as my gear works, I don’t care how it looks.
But what about you? Do you have any tips, websites, or experience with second-hand gear? If so, feel free to let me know, my GAS is currently pushing me into buying a fresh lens. Most probably a pre-owned one.