Should You Buy Used Camera Equipment?

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If you’re looking to save money and don’t need the latest and greatest cameras, it’s worth considering buying used camera gear. Whether it’s for a summer vacation, a road trip or you just want something better than your phone, a great camera at a not-quite-new price is the best of all worlds.

And it’s not just the cameras themselves. Lenses and many accessories are also available second-hand. I’m not talking about eBay…or at least, not exclusively: there are a variety of ways to get used camera gear that’s been professionally tested so you know exactly what you’re getting.

Is it worth it? I thought so. I’ve purchased a variety of used camera gear over the past few years, most recently including a $1,100 lens in like-new condition at 30% off. Here’s what to consider and where to look.

Choice

A screenshot from KEH's website showing a used GoPro Hero 10 for $345.59.

Three used GoPro Hero 10 action cameras at KEH.com. For reference, the Hero 10 is brand new at $500.

CNET/KEH

If you have a local camera store, this is great so you can physically look at the camera/lens/whatever and make sure it’s working, that there’s no peanut butter spread in the battery compartment, etc. In fact, I’ve come all the way on my 10,000 mile road trip last year to visit a used camera store so I could sell my old gear and buy a new one Canon R6 and one used Sigma 50mm f1.4. However, this is not feasible for most people.

And the web then? If you’ve visited eBay in the past few years, you’ll have noticed the vast the majority of vendors are businesses peddling their wares. You can find person-to-person sales, of course, but there are far more of them. I mention eBay first because it’s probably the most important website when most people think of “buying used on the internet”. Personally, I would never buy expensive gear on eBay because you never know what you’re going to get until it arrives. The same goes for Craigslist, which offers the added bonus (the terror) of meeting the seller in person.

A screenshot from Adorama's website featuring a Sony ZV-1

A listing for the Sony ZV-1 on Adorama. For reference, the ZV-1 is $750 new.

Adorama/CNET

What is needed is a filter or intermediary who can examine the used equipment, judge its suitability and sell it. Luxury automakers call this “certified pre-owned”. Fortunately, there are several websites that do just that: examples include KEH camera, BPM and Lens Locations. Most of these sites have photos of the actual item, a description of what the reviewers found, or both. Some other companies, like Adorama and B&Hinclude used options alongside their new offerings.

Beyond the realm of camera specialty, there’s also Amazon’s dedicated Amazon renewed program. What is remarkable is a 90 Day Satisfaction Guarantee. (Keep in mind this is not for used items or third party marketplace items on Amazon, only items from the Renewed Amazon Program.)

How it works

Most sites have information about the specific item you are considering, but MPB has pictures of it, which is rare.

A screenshot of a Sony camera from the MPB website.

I had a lens that I wanted to sell because I had never used it. I had also decided to buy another lens for my current camera. (Don’t get into photography, kids. It’s expensive.) I decided to check out used camera gear sites.

First, the sale. The process is similar on each. You list the make and model of what you’re selling as well as a general rating of its condition (good, decent, coated in peanut butter, etc.). You then receive a quote/estimate of what the company will pay you for the product. (In my case, a lens.) I went with the site that gave me the best estimate, obviously, and they emailed me a label I could print for shipping. The cost of this shipping should be included in their price as there is no separate shipping charge.

After a brief transit time, I received an email saying they had received it. A few days later, I received a final quote, which I accepted; it was for a little less than the original quote, which I felt was fair based on the condition of the lens. A few days later, the money reached my PayPal. It was exceptionally easy, so it’s definitely worth seeing if any of your old gear is worth selling.

KEH scoring system.

KEH/CNET

Buying is, with one addition, like buying anything else online. This addition varies a bit with each site. This is how, and how thoroughly, they explain the condition of the equipment used. For example, KEH uses an 8-point scale, as shown in the image above. LensRentals has a 4 point scale. MPB goes all out and actually photographs the specific equipment you are considering.

The B&H rating system

B&H/CNET

I ended up choosing KEH for both because they had the highest price for the one I was selling and the lowest for the one I was buying. This price difference is going to vary depending on the equipment, so it’s definitely worth checking all the sites for the best deal.

Weigh the risks

The obvious risk is that the equipment does not perform as promised. With most websites and on most equipment there is a return policy, often a few weeks. So if it doesn’t work or doesn’t look like the description, you can return it.

Then there is the question of the longevity of equipment that has already been used, perhaps heavily. There is no way to know this risk: it is the price to pay to obtain lower prices. This is somewhat mitigated by the inspection process for which you pay these middlemen, when you could theoretically get the same equipment for less directly from someone selling it used.

There will likely be no manufacturer’s warranty. If something goes wrong, you will have to pay to fix it. Even if you get something within the manufacturer’s warranty window, since you didn’t buy it new, they probably won’t honor it. Since you didn’t buy it new from an authorized dealer, the manufacturer may not fix it even if you’re willing to pay. However, you should still be able to get it repaired at a third-party repair center.

Some sites offer their own short-term warranty on the equipment they sell to you. KEH and BPM each come with six months, while Amazon Renewed and LensRentals products have three. You can also purchase an extended warranty from the website, but read the details of what it covers.

Is it worth it?

gettyimages-592347645

If you have old cameras or lenses lying around, it’s worth seeing if they’re worth anything. This could partially or fully pay for the new gear!

GettyImages/Ozgur Donmaz

Personally, I’ve been lucky with used gear. Again, I bought lenses (and they tend to last a long time). If the price was right I would probably buy a GoPro if it was in good shape because most people use them for Disney vacations and not wingsuit through the canyons Where anything.

I would also check second-hand sites for all accessories except batteries. It is unclear how badly a battery has been treated.

Would I buy an expensive second-hand, large camera? I do not think so. I think for something that I couldn’t easily replace if damaged, I would want a warranty and peace of mind that it was all new parts…and any damage done was not than the result of my own clumsiness.

However, this is all a personal calculation. Saving tens or even hundreds of dollars against the possibility of something not lasting as long as a new one might be worth. Just enter with your eyes open. If the price seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is.


As well as covering television and other display technology, Geoff takes photographic tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000 mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all of its tours and adventures.

He wrote a bestselling science fiction novel on city-sized submarines, as well as a after. You can follow his adventures on instagram and his Youtube channel.

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