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Top 5 – Tips for buying second hand equipment

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I looove buying second hand gear. This is because the price of things like camera gear in Australia are rip offs. Seriously, I’m looking at getting a D7000. The price in Australia? $1,550. The price in America? $1,100. Why? It’s the same camera except they are manufactured right above us, so really it should be MORE expensive in America because it has to spend a week on a boat! /rant.

Since I’m going to be doing weekly “Bargains!!!” posts Now seemed like a good time for my “Top 5 Tips for Buying Second-Hand Equipment”. In my “Bargains!!!” posts I always include a list of questions to ask before buying second-hand equipment and most of these tips will just be expanding on the most important of those questions.

1. Check the feedback!!! Oh my god, especially on eBay where it’s so easy to make sure you are buying from a reputable seller. You’d be amazed at the amount of people who just look at the score and go “well, that’s good enough for me!”. It’s not really good enough if they have stacked up a bunch of great feedback selling oodles of old Beanie Babies and then got a bunch of old cameras and thought “Bet I could sell these!”. Thanks to eBay you can learn from other peoples mistakes! Read the comments people have left.

2. Ask if there was any kind of UV/protective filter on the lens. If you have read my “Filters Are Our Friends” Post then you would know that UV filters have a double purpose. Not only do they filter out UV light which doesn’t REALLY do all that much, but they protect your lens from being scratched. Since they don’t add much of an effect at all to photos photographer love to use these because it’s much easier on your wallet to replace a $40 filter than an $800 lens. After wiping and rubbing and cleaning a filter for a year, it’s going to have tiny little scratches and marks in it that you might not be able to see. Replace the filter and it’s like having a brand new lens all over again! This is also a good indication of how well they treat their gear overall. If they care enough to put filters on their lenses as soon as they get them then it’s a safe bet they are the kind of person who would store the rest of their gear in a safe, dry place. So ask if there is a filter and ask if it has always been on the lens.

3.Is there any mould in/on the lens? Fungal spores are everywhere, but they need two things to flourish into the lovely little lens killer that they want to be;

Image from jsherman999

  1. Darkness
  2. Moisture

Unfortunately if someone is selling a lens it’s usually because they just don’t use it enough which means it’s probably been sitting in a dark cupboard somewhere. This isn’t terrible if they cupboard is somewhere dry and ventilated. It’s when it’s just been sitting in a dark cupboard in a humid area that the fungus flourishes.

So what does mould/fungus do? Well, best case scenario it makes your images a little bit less sharp, worst-case scenario it eats away at the glass, making it useless.

Is there anything I can do about it? Well most fungus is vulnerable to UV light. So remember that UV filter I was telling you that you need on the front of your lens? Take it off! This is also why some companies like Hoya make “protection filters” which don’t do anything except protect the front of your lens with special glass that can be up to 100 times stronger than regular glass. Once the filter is off, leave your lens in a sunny, well lit dry are for a period of time. There isn’t a set time that will work and there is no guarantee that this will work, but at this point you’re desperate!

The other option is take the lens in to be disassembled and cleaned. This can be very expensive, so you might want to weigh it up against the price of a brand new lens. Would I do this with my 18-55mm kit lens? Hells no, just buy a new one. Would I do this with the 70-200mm f2.8 VRII Nikon lens that I owned in my dream last night? Oooh yeah. But then again if I had a lens like that in real life, I wouldn’t be storing it anywhere dark and musty, I’d probably keep it on display above my TV or maybe keep it in bed next to me (sorry Violet).

4. Can you give an estimation on how many shutter actuations have there been? Many people think “Hey hey, it’s digital! I can take as many pictures as I want and not have to worry about it, take THAT film!” But your shutter does actually have a lifespan on it. This is known as “Shutter Actuations”, “Shutter Cycles” and your cameras “Schmoogly doogly”. (I’m trying to make that last one a thing, hoping it will catch on). So how long is the lifespan (schmoogly doogly) of a shutter? Well that depends on what professional level the camera is. I usually hate  putting labels like “amateur” and “professional” on cameras, but in this case we have to.

Top of the line professional cameras like the D3 and D3s have shutter lives of about 300,000. Midrange cameras like the D300s and the D700 have shutter ratings of about 150,000 and entry level cameras like the D60, D3001, D5000 have a shutter life of just 50,000. Before you freak out and start counting every picture, keep in mind that;

  •  50,000 is a LOT. Even if you took 480 photos a week, it would still take you 2 years to get to 50,000.
  •  Just because you get to 50,000 it doesn’t mean that your camera will die at 50,001. It just means don’t bank on it.

You can get shutters replaced, but again it’s a case of “Do I want to replace the shutter or buy a new camera”.

I got sightly off topic again, didn’t I? Ask for shutter actuations because that will give you a rough idea of how old the camera is (as trust worthy as eBay sellers often are…brand new my ass) or how serious the previous owner was about photography. While a camera might look nice and new on the outside, if it’s a d700 at 149,000 shutter actuations, look elsewhere or build the cost of replacing it into what you want to pay.

5. Receipts!!! If they say they have receipts, ask for scanned pictures or photos, if they don’t say anything about receipts, ask if they have them. Most sales are “as is” so if you don’t ask and it breaks, you are boned. Equipment with a warrantee is always going to be more valuable than gear that doesn’t. This might be blindingly obvious, but just ask, ok? They might say In the description “I have receipts for everything” make sure you ask if it’s still under warrantee because otherwise you’re just buying very expensive pieces of paper.


And that about covers it! Always be safe and if you want a list of other questions, here is the top 10 I always put at the bottom of my “Bargain!!!” posts:

  1. Is the lens scratched?
  2. Did you have any kind of UV/protective filter on the lens?
  3. Is there any mould in/on the lens?
  4. Is the sensor functioning properly?
  5. When was the last time the Camera/Lens was serviced?
  6. Can you give an estimation on how many photos have been taken since the last service?
  7. Did you clean the Lens/Sensor regularly?
  8. Do you have receipts to prove everything?
  9. Is anything not working/damaged?
  10. Would you like to give it to me for free? (hey, you never know!)

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