I’ve bought a lot of used gear over the last decade.
A lot of those purchases turned out great. Some of them I still use to this day.
But a large chunk of the used purchases I made?
In fact, in my more naive years, I was forced to return over 50% of the gear that I purchased. There were just so many problems: sand in focusing rings, stains on the front element, shutter buttons that couldn’t communicate with the shutter. (Oh, and my least favorite: Fungus inside the lens. Doesn’t that just make you shiver?)
And here’s the kicker:
I bought all of this gear through respectable buyers, who described the equipment as in “excellent condition,” “flawless,” “perfect,” “like new,” – you name it.
It got so bad that I considered leaving the used market entirely and just buying new. But I resisted.
Used camera gear is a real bargain – if you buy carefully. This is why I took all of my negative gear-buying experiences and turned them into a process for making sure I purchased good used gear.
At the core of that process is a series of questions. Questions that I’m going to share with you today. Some of the questions are for you, the buyer. Others should be posed to the seller before you put any cash down.
Are you ready to discover how to buy used gear effectively?
Let’s get started!
Question 1: Are you buying from a reputable seller with a money-back guarantee?
This is the number one most important thing that you should do when buying used gear.
Purchase from a seller that you trust – and that gives you an enforceable money-back guarantee. You don’t want to purchase a camera online, only to find that it’s full of water damage and sports a cracked LCD.
This means that buying used through Amazon is fine. All of their products are backed by Amazon month-long guarantees.
Buying used through eBay is also fine. Ebay’s buyer protection ensures that you’re not going to get ripped off in such an obvious fashion.
But this makes most forums (if not all forums) off-limits. If the forum doesn’t have a serious money-back guarantee that’s honored by the site itself, then stay away.
This also makes in-person sales off-limits, such as those done through Craigslist. Sure, you can inspect the item upon receipt, but what are you going to do when you get home, put that lens under a light, and realize it’s filled with an army of fungus?
It’ll be too late, and your seller may not be so receptive to a return.
So just don’t do it. Instead, use sites like Amazon, eBay, KEH, which all have clear money-back guarantees., or
Question 2: Does the seller include actual pictures of the gear?
Sellers not including pictures is a big warning sign, especially on a website like eBay, where pictures are the norm. It should make you ask: Why doesn’t the seller want to show off their “excellent condition” item? Is there something they’re trying to hide?
Another red flag is only showing a stock photo. These are easy to spot; they look way better than anything that a casual, eBay-selling photographer would have taken, and there tends to be only one or two of them.
If you like the price and everything else checks out, then go ahead and shoot the seller an email, asking for in-depth pictures of the item. If the seller refuses, then it’s time to look elsewhere.
You might come across some sellers who are offering many units of the same item (e.g., five Canon 7D Mark II’s). In this case, they likely have shown a stock photo, or a photo of one item, because they don’t want to go through the effort of photographing each piece of kit.
In such cases, you should message the seller and ask for pictures of the exact item that you’ll be purchasing. It’s too easy, especially with these big sellers, to end up with an item that you’ll have to send back.
Question 3: How many shutter actuations has the camera fired?
(Note: This section is for buying cameras.)
First things first: A shutter actuation refers to a single shot taken with a camera.
Every camera has a number of actuations its shutter is rated for. Once the shutter has reached around that point, it just…fails. While you can get the shutter replaced, it generally costs enough that you’re probably better off buying a new camera body.
If you want to know the shutter actuation rating of any particular camera, you can look it up through a quick Google search.
Of course, the shutter rating isn’t a hard and fast rule. There are some cameras that go far beyond their predicted shutter count, and there are some cameras that fail far sooner. The shutter count is just an average.
Now, when you look at camera listings online, you’ll see that shutter actuations are reported about fifty percent of the time.
But the other fifty percent of the time, there will be no mention of them.
This is for three possible reasons:
- The seller doesn’t know about the importance of shutter actuations.
- The seller can’t figure out how to determine the shutter actuations for their camera.
- The seller doesn’t wish to share the shutter count because it won’t help the sale.
I would never buy a camera without knowing its shutter count. Therefore, I recommend reaching out to the seller and asking.
If the seller refuses to share the count, then let the camera go. If the seller claims they don’t know how to view the shutter count, explain that they should be able to find it easily, either within the camera itself or through a website such as https://www.camerashuttercount.com/.
If they still won’t give you the count, then don’t buy. It’s not worth risking it.
Question Four: Does the lens have any blemishes on the glass, fungus, scratches, haze, or problems with the focusing ring?
(Note that this is for purchasing lenses.)
This is a question to ask the seller, and I suggest you do it every single time you make a purchase.
Yes, the seller may be annoyed by your specific question. But this is a transaction; it’s not about being nice to the seller! And I’ve never had someone refuse to sell to me because I annoyed them with questions.
In fact, what makes this question so valuable is that it often forces sellers to actually consider the equipment they’re selling. Up until this point, the seller may not have really thought about some of these things. So it can act as a bit of a wake-up call and make the seller describe the item beyond “excellent condition.”
When you ask this question, make it clear that you want a detailed description. You genuinely want the seller to check for scratches on the glass, fungus in the lens, problems with the focusing ring, and more. You don’t want a perfunctory examination.
Unfortunately, there will still be some people who don’t do a serious examination, or who lie in the hopes that you won’t notice the issues (or be bothered enough to make a return). But asking the question is the best you can do.
Question Five: Has the seller noticed any issues with the item in the past?
This is another question to ask the seller before you hit the Buy button. It’s meant as a final attempt to determine whether the item has any issues.
In this case, by asking about the item’s past.
Unfortunately, there will be sellers who have had an item break repeatedly – but, as long as it’s working at the moment they take the photos, they’ll give it the “perfect condition” label. Fortunately, many sellers will still be honest with you. If they’ve had a problem with the item, they’ll say.
So it’s definitely worth asking – just to be safe.
5 Questions to ask before buying used camera gear: Conclusion
Now that you know the five most important questions to ask before buying used camera gear, you’re well equipped to start buying gear online.
Yes, you’re still going to run into the occasional issue, but if you’re careful, and you think about these crucial questions to ask before buying used camera gear…
…the number of issues will be far, far lower.
And you’ll be able to effectively take advantage of used camera equipment!