Things to look for when buying used photo gear

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Whether you’re a hobbyist or a pro…

The price tag that comes along with purchasing new gear can be a shock to even the most dedicated photographers.

For pros, it’s just the cost of doing what they love, and making a living, but for the rest of us, it can be the root of some tough choices that need to be made.

Luckily for us, there is a huge used photo gear market for both camera bodies and lenses.

You will find that most major camera retailers will have a used department populated with well-loved equipment that has been traded in when the owner upgrades to the newest version.

One of the upsides to buying used from a reputable dealer is that you know that you can trust what they are selling. The equipment is given a thorough going over, minor repairs will be made if necessary and the products are given a complete cleaning before being offered for resale.

Vistek has a great clearance section including pre-owned, overstock and demo gear which you can find here.

Vistek Pre-Owned & Demo Gear

Of course, the other way to pick-up used gear is via a private seller. If you can pick up the gear in person, these are the things we thing you should be checking before making the purchase.

Things to look for when buying a used camera body

Buying Used Photo Gear - Cameras

  1. Exterior Condition:
    • How worn is the body? Are any of the buttons not working or sticky?
    • Is the body dented or scratched in a way that goes beyond normal wear and tear?
    • Open the battery compartment. Does the door move smoothly? Is their corrosion on the inside? Does the battery go in and come out smoothly?
    • Check the terminals for any bent pins or anything stuck in them that shouldn’t be.
    • If the camera has a pop-up flash, make sure that it opens properly, and stays shut properly
    • Check the lens mount for scratches or excessive brassing, and that the mirror box looks clean.
  2. Electronics:
    • Does the camera turn on?
    • Does the LCD screen work properly? Try increasing & decreasing the brightness level to make sure it’s not failing. You can also test it with a white & black card to look for dead pixels.
    • Check that all the modes on the dial work the way they are supposed to
    • If the camera has a live view or video mode make sure they are working properly
    • Test the hot-shoe with a flash to make sure it hasn’t burnt out
    • Look through the viewfinder and make sure that the metering is working properly in all modes.
  3. Accessories:
    • Check to make sure that the battery charger is working and able to charge properly
    • Test one (or more) of your own lenses on the camera to make sure that they work with it

Things to look for when buying used lenses

Buying Used Photo Gear - Camera Lens

  1. Condition:
    • Check the front and rear lens elements. Are there any scratches? Angle the glass towards a light and look at the reflection. Are there any marks or swirls in the lens’ coating?
    • Check the lens terminals. Make sure the pins aren’t loose or stuck in any way.
    • Mount the lens to the camera. Make sure that there’s little to no play between the camera mount and lens mount.
    • Make sure that the camera doesn’t show any kind of error messages when using the AF or other functions.
    • Check for cracks in the plastic of the focus scale and that the scale matches what the lens is doing.
    • Check that the filter threads have no flat spots and that a filter will screw into them.
    • Use manual focus and be sure it’s smooth; if it catches, there could be a problem. The same goes for the zoom; If it catches, there could be a problem.
  2. Functions:
    • Does the lens AF? Make sure it does.
    • Does the lens focus to infinity and up close through the entire zoom range.
    • Activate the autofocus, select a specific focus point and take a picture, then review the picture to make sure it’s focused properly.
    • Check the IS and other switches, to make sure they work. On most lenses, you should be able to hear the IS motor working to confirm this.
    • If the lens has a full-time manual focus override, confirm that it works.
    • Set the lens to infinity focus and focus on something up close to gauge the autofocus speed.
    • Finally, give the lens a little shake. Listen for anything rattling. If it does, try to identify where it is and what it is.