Why now is a great time to buy second-hand cameras

By Geoff Harris

Cameras are still a relatively expensive purchase, and this isn’t happening by accident.

With camera makers facing pressures from the relentless rise of smartphones and the effects of the pandemic on global economies, they are increasingly following the ‘premium quality, premium price’ model. It’s a similar story with lenses.

So why not consider buying second hand? While buying a used camera or lens might seem risky – they contain delicate optics and technology and some people chuck their gear around – in fact, it’s a very sensible option if you buy from a trusted supplier.

Second hand is now big business. While there is always been a market for used gear, it’s become a major money spinner for specialist companies such as MPB, Park Cameras or Wex Photo Video.

Used specialist MPB has become one of the biggest camera retailers in the UK

They’ve invested massively in technology to give camera sellers a quick quote, collect the item by courier, check it, and make the payment. Business is booming in these economically uncertain times and as a result, the best used retailers have a lot of used cameras for sale.

All used items from MPB, for example, carry a six-month warranty, apart from accidental damage and misuse, and other used retailers offer a similar arrangement. There are no guarantees in life, but it’s not in the interests of used retailers to sell on duff gear that hasn’t been checked properly.

There are some particularly good deals on DSLRs at the moment, as mirrorless cameras become increasingly popular. Examples include the Nikon D810, a powerhouse full-frame DSLR which you can now get for around £800. Further down the mirrorless scale, the excellent Olympus OM-D E-M10 II, which takes a huge range of Micro Four Thirds lenses, can be snaffled for around £200.

The compact and flexible Olympus OM-D series is a particularly good used mirrorless buy

For real bargain hunters, meanwhile, the very capable Canon PowerShot G9 compact goes for under £80 if you shop around. This would make an ideal back-up, or a gift.

Decent used compact cameras, such as the Canon PowerShot G9, can make ideal back ups.

Even when buying from a used supplier, however, there are things you need to be aware of. First, check the product description carefully – they won’t describe a camera as ‘tatty’ but it will be called ‘well or heavily used.’ You get what you pay for.

Second, check that the camera can still be repaired after the warranty expires. The Nikon D3s, for example, is a very powerful and versatile pro-spec DSLR which you can get second-hand for a very reasonable £560 – BUT it is now difficult to get spare parts for. So it’s worth checking long-term ease of repair before taking the plunge.

Another important consideration is shutter count. Modern cameras record the number of shutter activations, and as with car mileage, the lower the figure, the better. If you can find a camera with a low shutter count, it’s worth paying the extra, as shutter replacement can be expensive.

When it comes to buying used lenses from a supplier, it’s generally a painless process. Any used retailer worth their salt will carefully check a lens for deal-breakers like broken focussing or aperture rings, dodgy camera-body connections or fungus/mould, and they usually come with lens caps (although you might not get the original box).

On higher-spec lenses, it’s worth getting them professionally calibrated, as even a minor knock from the previous owner can affect the AF performance.

So what about buying from a private individual? This is a more challenging process as you don’t normally get any kind of warranty if you buy from eBay or Gumtree. Yes, prices are usually lower, but it’s a risk – and even more so as it’s become very difficult to meet the vendor and check out the gear owing to the lockdown.

If you do decide to take a punt, you need to see the camera before purchasing and make sure all the buttons and dials work, along with autofocus – take along one of your lenses if you are buying an interchangeable lens device. Try and see some test images too, if possible.

With older cameras, look for fungus or mould inside the camera as this can spread at an alarming rate and cause problems for your lenses (the same goes for buying mouldy lenses too).

Avoid mouldy camera bodies and lenses like the plague

Make sure it’s an original battery if possible, as cheap third-party ones might not be so reliable. Again, try and find out the shutter count on the camera, too. Last but not least, think about how you will pay; if the seller is able to accept PayPal, you might get some buyer protection if buying from a website. Or you might be able to pay by credit card, which again, offers some protection. Bank transfers and cash are a lot riskier.

It’s worth phoning the seller up and having a chat – a dodgy seller may give themselves away, or be shifty about their address. If your gut tell you something is wrong, listen to it.

You can take legal action as a last resort, but it can be expensive and time consuming – you can see why specialist used retailers are doing so well at the moment, as they offer much more peace of mind. Happy second-hand shopping!

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) - http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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