When I decided to venture into the world of photography, a friend once told me that it’s an expensive hobby. Of course, me being stubborn as I am didn’t believe until I wanted a change from the same old kit lens and decided to research the prices for a few new ones. Nonetheless, after scrolling past a few options it finally sunk in that maybe I’m a bit out of the budget in this hobby I love so much. The next best thing for me to do since I couldn’t afford the new equipment I needed was to just look into getting some used ones in good or reasonable condition. I was mindful of the risk this all came with of course but regardless I decided to give it a try and visited a few pawn shops and browsed over a few websites. Happy to say I wasn’t scammed on my first attempted but in this article, I’ll be giving you just a few tips on what to look out for when purchasing used camera bodies and lenses. Try to keep in mind that when looking for used camera gear, don’t have your expectations too high because even though they are functional doesn’t mean they’ll be pretty as new.
Our DSLR cameras are very complex machines so when purchasing a used camera body there are a few key things to look out for. The first thing you should do is take a good around the perimeter of the camera for signs of dents or scratches. These usually indicate if the Camera has been drop and often can show the severity of the damage. Camera bodies are often built to withstand some hardship but none the less it can’t hurt to look because you don’t want a camera that looks like it’s been through a hard life. The second thing to be considered when purchasing a used camera body is the Shutter Count.
What is the Shutter count? well, this is basically a number of photos the camera has taken. Similar to when you’re buying a used car, can’t forget to look on the miles right? This is important when estimating the life expectancy of the camera before you start to run into minor or major problems. When checking the shutter count this will also determine if the camera was heavily used or just used on occasions. For example, a camera with a shutter count of about 10,000 on a camera that is about 2-5 years old could be considered very low, which indicates that the camera was hardly used. However, if the count was between 30-55,000 then that could be considered the normal use and was probably owned by a beginner. When the shutter count exceeds 100,000 then it’s best to avoid buying that camera body and continue to look at others because the life expectancy on a camera with over 100,000 photos taken is very low. The shutter count is often revealed when the camera is bought second hand but if you run into a shady seller and want to know the shutter count there are a few software for that. For Canon users, I would recommend using EOS Info. It a neat little program that is indeed free and should be very helpful in revealing your shutter count. For the Nikon and Pentax users, a nifty software to use would be “My Shutter Count” where you simply upload a raw or JPEG file and the software does the rest for you.
When given the opportunity to inspect cameras in store there are a few other things that will indicate its condition. You should remove the body cap or lens depending on whichever is on the camera and then begin to inspect around the mirror, focusing screen and lens contacts. These are very fragile areas that can be easily contaminated or damaged if not taken care of properly and will pose problems in the future when taking shots. Keep your eye out for any form of damage, oil of gunk that has built up in these areas. If you see oil, that can Indicate that the internal parts of the camera are not functioning properly or it sustained a serious hit. If you have a small flashlight or by chance equipped with one on your phone then that would also be helpful in conducting your inspection so you don’t bypass anything that may be important. Also during your inspection try not hold the camera facing up to much so you prevent any further contamination to the mirror or the sensors.
When you’ve finished your inspection of the mirrors, focusing screen and lens contacts I would then recommend running a quick test but putting a lens onto the body. Speaking from the point of view of a past victim, it is very helpful to test shoot to see if there are any issues with the sensor. Mount a lens onto the front of the body and then adjust the aperture to about f/16-22 and then point it at a bright subject, having preferably a white wall or the sky in the frame. After you’ve taken a few shots, you then play back the image and zoom in on your LCD screen to look for any scratches or marks on the image. Try to look closely because they can easily be overlooked due to how small they can be. If you see anything that might look like dust particles then there’s no need to panic but if you see anything that looks like a line or scratch fragment then it is best you avoid purchasing that camera body.
You can expect general wear and tear when purchasing a new camera, some of these can be a very easy fix but others not so much. Heavy blemishes and dents may be indicated how often or the extent of the camera has been dropped. In addition, after a period of time rubber grips tend to lose their grip on the camera and start to fall off after heavy use but that should be an easy and quick fix with some crazy glue and good handling.
I personally think the most expensive part of photography can be purchasing the lenses you need for a particular job or better yet finding the ideal lens for your specialty in photography. Some lenses sometimes even cost more than your Camera body but that’s the price you have to pay for the quality images you want. Like your camera body, your lenses are a very important part in your day to day photography and should equally be inspected like the camera body was. Depending on the manufacturer lenses can be durable or fragile based on the material used to make them, so when you add years of use to that then you have to careful when purchasing second lenses.
When taking the time to inspect your lenses you want to keep an eye out for external of internal damages. Externally, try to look for any chips or dents that may affect the performance of the lens. During your inspection try and tilt the lens towards the light to give you a better observation of the optics and make sure they are in great condition. Zoom lenses often tend to show wear and tear on the zoom ring and external barrel. This is normal and should not affect the performance of the lens. However, as we move closer to the mechanics of the lens we should inspect internally for any signs of dust or mold. Dust particles are quite common when it comes to most lenses but look out for any large patches or smeared areas as these will indicate if the lens has any internal fogging or other issues.
On the end of your lens that mounts to the camera body, you will see a small lever that can be pushed to open the aperture blades. Inspect this carefully to see if they are very snappy without any signs of stickiness. If you observe where they are sticky then that could be a possibility of oil that has begun to collect within the lens. All of these things together can affect the performance of your lens and also determine if you’ve just wasted your money or not. When seeking or purchasing used camera bodies or camera gear, pretend as if you’re buying a used car and it’s important to run your checks on the engine and front end before taking it off the lot. With those checks done it will determine if you’re making a good investment or not.
I hope the tips and tricks I have given has helped you find your perfect second-hand camera gear and to a further extent made your bank accounts happy. Until next time, thank you for reading!