Getting Value Out of Your Old Gear: How to Sell and Buy So You Don’t Lose

Getting Value Out of Your Old Gear: How to Sell and Buy So You Don’t Lose

With the number of times I’ve switched from Canon to Nikon and back again, you’d think I have a case of G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome). You’d also probably think I took a bath financially each time I did it, but that’s not the case. With some clever shopping and some careful selling, I was able to keep my losses to a minimum and in some cases, actually made money on gear that increased in value. Here are a few tips to make sure that you don’t take a huge financial hit when buying and selling your gear.

Be Patient

Do you need that camera now? No? Then wait. This applies on whether a camera is the newest model or a generation or two back. Camera prices fluctuate year round. There’s a few reasons for this, but one of the biggest is the yen-to-dollar ratio, at least for the Japanese camera companies. The strength of each currency determines if a camera will sell close to MSRP or if it’s going to be significantly discounted with an instant rebate. This explains why cameras are on rebate for most of the year and you’ll almost never pay the MSRP, unless you choose the short period between rebates to buy. It also explains why you’ll sometimes see huge screaming text about a rebate only to notice the camera is the same price as the week before. Manufacturers need something to crow about in advertising, and rebates are as good a thing as any.

For instance, 2017’s Black Friday deal, Nikon was offering the D810 for $2,799.95 with a battery grip. The year before it offered the same package for $2,499.95. Perhaps Nikons age like fine wine?

There are a few sites to track prices of items, but one I like the best is camelcamelcamel. You can track prices for popular sites such as Amazon.com here and see when and what the lowest prices were for the particular camera you are eyeing. If it’s not at its lowest point, don’t buy it.

Holiday Bundles Are Actually a Good Deal

It’s commonplace to see manufacturers throw everything and the kitchen sink to entice buyers for the holidays. In November, Canon was offering the 6D Mark II, a camera that isn’t even six months old for $1,349 after a mail-in rebate. That package included a (excellent) PIXMA Pro-100 Printer, a battery grip, 50 sheets of 13x19-inch paper, and an extra Canon-branded battery through B&H Photo. Now, you’ll pay $1,899 for the body alone. Even if you didn't want the extras, selling the gear a few months later when there aren't any rebates will net you more cash, bringing the price of the new 6D down to the price of a used version of the old one. Not bad.

Don’t Fear Refurbished Gear

I’ve heard many people say they wouldn't buy refurbished gear for fear that it’s been manhandled or broken and then repaired. It probably hasn't. Chances are that someone in the corporate office secret shopped the camera to test a dealer, or it was gray market, or an overstock. It’s possible it’s never even been shot with. But it’s definitely been checked out and brought to factory spec, at least if you buy from an authorized dealer or Canon or Nikon directly. It’s likely been more rigorously checked than a new model.

I’ve bought tons of refurbished gear from both Canon and Nikon, and I’ve never had a problem. The warranty on Canon’s refurbished gear is the same as new, so there really is no difference aside from the packaging. With Nikon, you get a shorter 90 days, but again, I’ve never had a problem with anything I’ve bought from them refurbished. Think of it like buying a certified used car, but newer, and with less dents. When it comes time to sell, you’ll have spent less in the first place, but get about the same value on the sale as someone who bought the camera new.

By the same token, used gear is also a good bet, but I’ve had some issues with some gear in the past. Buy from a reputable place such as B&H Photo or KEH and between good customer service and decent return policies, you’ll be covered. For what it’s worth, most gear that I’ve brought that was labeled as “used” did look used (but worked fine), while refurbished gear looked like brand new.

Tips for Selling

Unless you’re in an immediate need for cash, don’t sell by walking into a store or selling on a site. That goes even for the aforementioned B&H or KEH. While they take the hassle out of selling, a little effort can net you more cash. I’ve used Amazon Seller Central and Craigslist with good success.

One of the ways you’ll get more buyers is by posting a detailed description with good photos. A typical photo for one of my listings will look like this:

A typical picture I use to sell a lens, showing the barrel and the glass.

A typical picture I use to sell a lens, showing the barrel and the glass.

Sometimes I’ll photograph on white as well with flashes to show more details. Saving all of the original packaging and accessories helps too.

The key with selling is the same with buying: be patient. Set a price, and don’t accept the first low offer that comes your way. As long as you are honest about your gear and fair about your price, someone will pay it. While you’re waiting, be open to the idea of trading as well. Oftentimes the buyer will be switching systems, the same as you, and there’s nothing wrong with their gear.

Also, consider how much the gear is worth to you. Is the cash in hand more important, or is it more worthwhile to shoot the lens? I came to this crossroads with much of my Micro Four Thirds gear. None of that system’s gear holds its value as well as Canon or Nikon equipment, and so when it came time to part with it, I simply didn't. The value of Panasonic and Olympus lenses, even the popular ones, didn't really hold up over time and so I use those cameras as my walk-around or travel cameras. In the case of Panasonic, I often use my old GH3 exclusively for video, as that feature is still current on it, even if many cameras have passed it by in the stills department. I’ve often come to the same conclusion with older cars. Sometimes, it’s simply better to keep them on the road.

Sometimes the Best Move Is No Move

I’ve had to make the switch because places I’ve worked at were one brand or the other and so it made sense to switch (and, OK, maybe I had a touch of G.A.S.), but at the end of the day, the most important thing to ask yourself is why you’re making the switch. If you’re gear isn’t holding you back from creating the images that you want, perhaps it’s better to not make the move at all.

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16 Comments

Michael B. Stuart's picture

I'm too nostalgic. All my old gear holds a place in my heart. Some solid advice though Wasim.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Some of my stuff is. Like I still keep my first DSLR, the Rebel XTi, and the camera that I used when my son was born (Panasonic GH3) but otherwise, most are just tools to me. Sad to think that unlike film cameras, digital cameras from today probably won't work well 50 years down the road.

Vincent Alongi's picture

Good point. Anything digital has a finite lifespan; software updates will cease, support, etc.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I pulled out my Mavica for some shots a couple of years ago and it was very hard to find a friend with a floppy disk drive to download the pictures.

Vincent Alongi's picture

Wow!

And I remember my first digital camera. About 16 or 17 years ago (ugh) I picked up a Minolta Dimage 7 for $1,200. It boasted just north of 5 megapixels. It wasn't a even a true DSLR. I don't have it any longer, I wish I did. lol.

The earliest consumer digital cameras are still usable today, assuming you can power them, though it wouldn't be too hard to rig up a new internal or external battery.

Wasim it is easy to find USB floppy disc drives.

There is nothing inherent about digital cameras and that would prevent them from operating 50 years from now. People have expressed similar doubts about optical media and that is now over 30 years old and just as usable today as it ever was.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I have no idea why I didn’t think about a USB floppy drive but no kidding - a bunch out there! Thanks!

Glad I could help.

So much of what I bought in 2017 was significantly cheaper during the end-of-the-year holiday sales (such as the 6D II, that I bought when it was first available). After that experience,it's going to be hard for me to buy anything during any other time of the year.

I bought my Canon 5DMKIV from B&H over the holidays as well and it came with free Canon grip, extra battery, 4K compatible SD card and camera bag all for less than the camera was selling a year ago. I've had great success with Craigslist as well. I typically sell during the holidays because people will look for "presents" for themselves and look through listings for gear.

Great article. One of my problems is that a lot of my gear looks worn out but works fine, so it won't sell for much. I've looked at the equivalent gear used, hoping to find good working but beat up looking stuff, but everything I see is in better looking shape. So far I can't find a full system swap that doesn't put me back about $10,000.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Ah that is key - I use my gear a bit, but since I have a few different brands for different purposes, the usage gets spread out so nothing gets overly beat up unless I have some sort of mishap. I also put a UV filter in front of all of my lenses the moment they come out of the box so the glass always looks good.

Great article and advice. I am considering switching from my Canon 5d mk2 and all the lenses, so this is a timely write-up.

david squire's picture

Very good article and advice! I would only second that patience is so important. I always sell my gear on CL and mostly successfully. There's been a couple of times it didn't go smoothly, but it's all good because with patience, you'll find that eventually someone's out there that's pretty interested in your gear. I've even had texts from people who say things like, "hey, it's so and so and I bought your whatever lens..."

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Yeah, there's always the stigma of Craigslist, but I just ignore the lowball offers, and then don't meet up with anyone that I get a bad gut feeling about. I always meet in public for the buyer's protection as well as mine. Some people have made some good trade offers that have worked for me through Craigslist as well. I last traded my 58mm f/1.4 for a 200-500 f/5.6 because I was getting a lot more sports things and less portraits and that worked out for both of us.

david squire's picture

HAHA! Yes, I'm so paranoid of the "hold, grab, and run" scam, that I actively plan locations to meet. For example restaurant bars so they don't have a straight path out the door- just in case I have to catch them! haha... Yeah, no I've never traded gear, and only purchased once...