Photographers are always in short of finances. We always have a list of dream gear and even after buying the most sought-after gear, something else replaces the list.
I receive a lot of questions on should we go for second hand stuff. If we should, how to decide? This article summarizes how I choose my gear for myself. This might not be an exhaustive list but might help you.
Why buy second hand stuff?
Well, many a times, it happens that the gear you are looking for is a bit beyond your stretched budget. That is when we think of acquiring second hand equipment.
Is it a good idea? Well my answer would definitely be a YES! Most of my photography gear is second hand and till now I did not have any bad experience. I’m always lucky you know 🙂
Following are some of the things I keep in mind while buying an used equipment.
Credibility of the Seller
Almost all the time I bought something, it was from an unknown person. I try to find out if there are any common friends and talk to them.
For example, I bought my Nikor 85mm 1.8 lens from a seller in Kolkata. Using Facebook, I came to know that we had a common friend who had an experience on buying something from the same person. He recommended, and I went ahead with the deal.
Many a times, it happens that you don’t have common friends. In those cases, talking to them gives me some credibility. I prefer to choose stuff which has warranty.
Bill and Warranty
I always prefer getting used stuff (especially from unknown sellers) with warranty. This means that even if there is something wrong, I can get it repaired or rectified free of cost.
Even if the product is not under warranty, I ask for the bill. The bill testifies the age of the product. If a product is bought from US, the seller should have an online bill which is saved in the account from which the shopping is done. So, if a seller says that the product is bought from US online and does not have any bill, there might be something fishy.
For Canon products you can go here and enter the equipment details. This will tell you if the serial no. is valid or not. (for products Imported and Marketed by Canon India Pvt Ltd or for Digital Cameras and Digital Camcorders sold by Canon Singapore authorised sales network with valid Singapore-India Warranty Card).
When my friend, John bought a lens, the buyer told that the balance warranty was one month. He checked the serial number and found that it was valid. Since he had not registered the product, he went online and registered it. To his pleasnt surprise, he found that Canon had extended the warranty for another year!
Check the Shutter Count (Shutter Actuation)
For camera bodies, this is one of the most critical factors.
The life of a camera is measured in terms of shutter counts. For most cameras, the number is 100 thousand to 200 thousand. This is generally mentioned in the company websites for each model.
Note: This is just an indicative number. The actual life of a camera can be much more (or sometimes less) than this number.
Shutter counts for some cameras:
Nikon D800/D800E: 200,000
Nikon D700, Nikon D600: 150,000
Nikon D7000, D300s, D300: 150,000
Canon 1000D / XS: 1,00,000
Canon 5D Mk II: 1,50.000
How to find the shutter count? Opanda IEXIF is a great freeware for this. There are numerous websites like My Shutter Count.com or Camera Shutter Count .
If the image is available in flickr, you can go to show EXIF and check for the Image Number.
Though this is not the most critical factor but is sure important.
The quickest way to find dust on your sensor is to take a picture of a clear sky at a very high f number (like f/22) and view the picture at 100% magnification on a monitor. In the picture below, you can clearly make out the dust on the sensor. If you get a camera with something like this, you can negotiate further to get a better deal. You can always get it cleaned professionally at the manufacturer’s service centre.
The Cosmetic condition:
If you talk about a camera body, I don’t really pay a lot of attention to this. Getting minor scratches on the body of a camera or a lens doesn’t mean that the camera is not capable of taking flawless pictures.
However, if there are scratches on the lens elements (either sides), then that might be a cause of concern. Though minor scratches do not show up on your pictures, this might help you get a better price. To check for scratches and fungus, I generally take it in bright daylight (most of them might not be visible indoors). Hence, it is very important to inspect the item during the day, and not in the evening or later.
Scratches on the viewfinder and LCD screen:
Getting scratch on the viewfinder is not quite common, most of the time it might be dirty and this can be cleaned.
If there are lots of scratches on the LCD screen, it might become difficult to review the pictures. Most cameras have an LCD protector that can be replaced if you find many scratches.
Fungus on a lens: Fungus are organisms that grow in any lens if you keep them in humid or in dark places. They generally don’t show up in pictures and they can be easily cleaned in any camera store. More information on fungus here. For some fungus pictures see here.
For a lens, it is critical to focus correctly. Some lenses might have front and back focusing issues. When you buy a lens, it is very important to take some pictures at widest open apertures (like f/1.8 or whatever is the least in the lens) and see if the focusing is as intended. Taking an portrait with the eye in focus and then verifying it by zooming-in on the LCD should confirm this.
The camera comes with some accessories and you need to check if you are getting them with the camera.
Things like the camera battery charger, box, body cap, instruction manual CD (not really important as you can get them online), video cable, might be of consideration. Sometimes, charger of an old camera is not available for sale.
If a seller is selling only the body without any accessories, there might be chances that it’s a stolen camera.
For a lens, an original lens hood or the lens pouch can be considered.
Don’t compare the selling price with the MRP
There are some shops which sell brand new products at much lesser than MRP. Sometimes this price might be close to the price of second hand stuff. Most sellers quote the MRP and this creates confusion for a buyer.
Check the international price
It sometimes happens that the price of a second hand stuff sold here in India is almost the same as a new one in the US. Unless, I need desperately, I would wait and request someone to get it from there.
For example, I want to buy this Benro tripod. Someone in India was selling an used one for Rs.10000/- while the online price in India is Rs.15959/- . That’s indeed a good saving. When I searched for the same product in Amazon US, the price was $154 which comes to less than Rs.10,000/- I can wait and get a new one from there.
Talking and Negotiating skills
When you call the seller and talk, you will get an idea to some extent about the veracity. Thanks to the interviewing skills training in the last company I worked for – Novartis, for developing me in this respect. I am very bad in negotiating and hence, I sometimes leave it to my brother – Sunabh who is an expert in this.
Some practical examples on my second hand purchases experience:
Nikon D90 – I purchased this from a photographer who was an acquaintance. It was out of warranty but was in a good condition.
Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 – I bought this lens at almost the same price as a new Sigma 10-20 f/4 from a known person. Rather than getting the Sigma, I went for this.
Nikon 50mm f/1.8 – I got this lens from amazon.com US in a good condition at almost half price compared to the actual price without warranty. I have shot some of my best pictures using this lens.
Tamron 17-50 f2.8 – I bought this lens from an acquaintance. There was little fungus in the lens and he reduced the price further for that. It does not affect the picture quality and hence, I did not get it cleaned.
Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 – I got this lens from Amazon.com US and got this shipped to a friend’s place in US. Another friend was kind enough to bring it for me here.
Canon 500D – I got this camera from an unknown person in Hyderabad. When I met him, I was sure about the camera body.
Nikon 85mm f/1.8 – Got this from an unknown person in Kolkata, we had a common friend who had bought something from the same person. There were a few months of warranty left. I got the deal.
Nikon 35mm f/2 – From a very reliable person in Hyderabad, no chance of any issues.
Nikon D7000 – Got this without-warranty body with low shutter count (5k) from an unknown person and finalized just on phone and transferred the amount. This was a risk but talking to him I felt better. My brother picked it from Bangalore.
Nikon D600 – Got this from an unknown person in Chennai. The shutter count was about 50k which is still more than half life of the product and it was still under warranty. I had to go for this as I could not have finances to go for a new one. My friend Arun was kind enough to pick it up for me.
Lowepro Vertex 200 AW DSLR Trekking Backpack – From an unknown person in Bangalore.
BlackRapid RSD-1BB Double (DR-1 Double Strap) (Black) – Amazon US
Nikon AF-S 20mm f/2.8D – From an unknown seller from Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh. Looked like a genuine person when I went through his FB profile and when I talked to him. The lens had a few months of warranty left.
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR Lens – This was a trade in with an unknown person in Aizawl, Mizoram. I had an almost new Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 for which I looking for buyers. This lens was within warranty Though this is not exact lens I wanted, I went for it and I’m happy I did.
Note: Except otherwise mentioned, all the stuff are bought from JJ Mehta forum
Where to buy second hand equipment from?
There are several online forums from where you can buy. The ones I use are –
When in US, I use Amazon.com. Ebay is also good (I don’t have any experience with ebay).
The good thing about buying from US is that the sellers are very particular about their reputation. One bad comment can really affect their sale. Even if I don’t know the seller, there is no problem. Just see the reviews and they will tell it all.
Once when I was in the US, I bought an used HOYA CPL filter. When I got the filter, it was of a different brand. I returned back to India and though of at least sending the seller a mail about it. He agreed his mistake and he refunded the full amount to my credit card.
One last thought
Though I bought all the above stuff, with high expectations, unfortunately, they did not make me a better photographer.
I’m still the same.
So, if you are planning to upgrade just because you are not happy with your pictures I would suggest that you upgrade your skills before you upgrade your equipment.
If you already have some awesome shots and you have clearly understood the limitation on your equipment, then it might be a good time to upgrade.
Hope this article helps you.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are based on my limited experience in buying. These are my personal views and might differ from others.
And as I say, I’m always lucky, I did not have any bad experience so far. You need to judge the situation and decide for yourself based on the factors above.
One general observation: We all adore our equipment because we are very passionate about them. I have never found people who abuse their equipment. And a camera is not like a car; a bad driver can screw up the engine, but there is nothing much you can do to a camera rather than pressing the shutter release button.
This article is written by Saurabh Chatterjee. He is a professional photographer and a photography trainer. He strives to ‘Make every Camera-owner a great Photographer’ through his Photo tours and Photography workshops.