We’ve all been there, eyeing up the latest fast aperture zoom lens online or through a shop window,
drooling over the shiny white plastic lenses with f/2.8 apertures and the latest IS and so many
features that we think we need. We hover over the “Add to cart” button. Look at the price.
Then look again, with a sigh of dissapointment.
What I’ve described is what every teenage photographer (unless they have a job/rich parents or
grandparents) goes through once in a while. We read an article online or see an advert and think, “I
need a shiny new 400mm f/2.8 or PRO DSLR to get that shot!”
Let’s forget all about the whole problem of Gear Acquisition Syndrome, and focus on buying a lens.
**DISCLAIMER** I am Scottish (part of the UK) so all prices will be in pounds sterling (£), with
the US dollar ($) equivalent for those who don’t. However, I will be using UK shops to quote prices
at you, so it may be cheaper (or not) than what you can expect to get across the pond.
ALSO, I shoot Canon so it’ll be examples of Canon lenses, bodies, speedlights etc since I know
more about them than Nikons.
Prices will be different, but the principle remains the same. **DISCLAIMER OVER**
So, when buying most kinds of equipment – bodies, lenses, speedlights and occasionally filters –
there are 3 main “states” of buying them – new, used and refurbished. What do they mean?
Well, it’s not too hard to explain.
I’ll be using 2 product prices – a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS mk2 and a Canon 5D Mark II.
A new product has never been used before – it arrives in a sealed box (if it doesn’t, don’t touch it and
send it right back) and is generally all nice and lovely and new-smelling.
They generally cost the most – the lens will set you back about £1800 ($2853) from Amazon.co.uk,
and the body £1600 ($2536) from the same place. All in all, a hefty price tag.
Next is used. A used piece of equipment is one which has had an owner (or 3) before you. The
condition of a used piece of equipment will vary quite wildly – it depends who owned it before you.
Care has to be taken when buying used, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
It’s hard to find that particular lens used (oopsie) but the older 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM (no IS) is
about £800 ($1268) from slrhut.com and the body is about £1200 ($1902) on t’internet, if you find
one for sale.
Now, reconditioned is a weird one to explain. For all intents and purposes, a refurbished product
is new, but legally can’t be sold as such.
Basically, someone ordered a product, and when said product arrived, they changed their mind and
sent it back – maybe they found a better one, or the package was damaged. Either way, the product
has had * technically * one owner. So, the manufacturer can’t sell it as new.
So they check it – diagnostics, clean it up – repackage it and sell it on as “reconditioned” for a
slightly reduced price, but in a new box and with slightly reduced warranty.
I bought my 1000D (Rebel XS?) reconditioned from Canon’s Ebay page, and have not had a single
problem in the 11months hard use it’s taken. Over 55,000 shutter actuations and it still slugs along.
I can’t give an example price, because reconditioned stock of that calibre gets snapped up very fast,
but it is a small discount because people won’t pay tons if it isn’t new.
There is one other way you can buy a camera– ex-demo models. It’s like used, but I’d avoid it like the plague, unless I had to. Put simply, the camera you play with in Walmart or whatever will eventually get sold. Don’t buy it. You have no idea if it’s every been dropped, or had stuff spilled on it or had any number of bad things happen to it.
USED BUYING ADVICE
1) Be careful with Ebay.
Yes, it is pretty good, but it’s hard to know when they’re lying or trying to steal from you. Be sure the seller has a pretty decent amount of positive ratings, and that their rating percentage is 98% or higher. But you’ve got to careful. Signs to watch out for:
1) Stock Photo – the seller has a normal stock photo, not of the actual item. Very fishy.
2) Unbelievably low prices – Don’t press the “buy it now” button if it’s too low. Make sure it’s not “broken/for parts” or has some strange problem
3) Vagueness. Read the whole description. If the condition of the product still isn’t clear to you, don’t risk it.
Make sure you don’t get in a bidding war either. Set a firm, final price and do not deviate from it. The best times to find great auctions are during the day on weekdays.
(Justin’s Note: I bought a 5D Mark II for $1650 body only, a D300 for $550 body only, and a Canon 60D for $650 body only, with diligence and patience on eBay. It is tough to find the good deals and takes quite a bit of energy and research. But, when used effectively, eBay offers deals even better than Craigslist at times).
2) Watch out for stolen gear
You’re at a car boot sale (or the American equivalent, is that a yard sale?) and see a Canon
1DMKIV /Nikon D3S (if you’re that way inclined) and it’s only £20 ($20) ! But there’s no charger,
original box or receipt. Why? Chances are, it’s been stolen. If you buy it, you could be prosecuted.
Best idea? Check to see if someone has reported it stolen – go to your police station or Flickr
(maybe).Check serial numbers. Same thing applies to Ebay, if they refuse to tell you the serial
number, it’s a sure sign it’s been nicked at some point.
3) Use a reputable dealer.
I cannot stress this enough. Find a good (if possible, local) camera shop. Me? I go to a place
called Merchant City Cameras (in Glasgow, Google them) who’re a small outfit, but I have seen
some expensive gear pass through there. These small shops are great – maybe a wee bit more
expensive than a big place like Wex Photographic or Adorama (Is that the American equivalent?
) but definitely worth it – the aftercare is second to none, and every single item is tested and has a
year-long guarantee. I got my Tamron 70-300 for £90 ($142) last year and have never looked back.
If there’s none near you, use a bigger company like Wex Photographic or Adorama. They may
not be as personal, but they shift a lot of used gear and their reputation is for good prices on good
condition stuff. I’ve never heard a bad story about Wex or Mifsuds, and if anything goes wrong they
will fix it. Yes, you can buy unseen from them ‘cuz it will be as advertised.
Buy used. It’s cheaper, and often as good, if you know what to look for.
I’ve yet to buy a “new” item, all my gear is used (except my 50mm f/1.8, why would you buy a £90
lens used? (see my review ;D) ) .
If you can’t find new? Get refurbished. Or wait for it, chances are someone’ll eventually want to sell
Feel free to email me! If you have had an outrageously cool deal, a remark, or an interesting story to tell, please comment below!
Have a good one!
This article copyright 2012 Andrew Barclay.
All rights are reserved.
May be reproduced with permission
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