So, you need a new lens, but don't have the budget for a new one.
Buy used, that's what!
If you're like me, you take exceptional care of your gear, and I'm willing to bet that most photographers are the same way.
That means there's an abundance of great used lenses out there. It's just a matter of knowing what to look for and where to buy.
In this guide, I offer up some advice on how to find great used lenses so you can stretch your budget and maybe even buy two lenses for the price of one!
First and Foremost, Buy From a Reputable Seller
Before you plunk down any money, be sure you're buying used lenses from a seller that's got a solid reputation.
So, in other words, that means avoiding things like Craigslist at all costs...
Craigslist doesn't offer you any protections, so if you end up with non-functioning gear, you really have no recourse.
Instead, buy from an outfit that specializes in photography gear, like MPB.
MPB has an incredible selection of used lenses (and cameras, too!), so you're sure to find what you want for the camera system you shoot with.
Better still, you can buy a new-to-you lens by either paying for it directly or by trading in your current gear. MPB will even ship your newly purchased gear within one working day so you don't have to wait forever to test out your new toy.
There's a 6-month warranty on all purchases, too.
You can even become a seller on MPB. Just fill out a simple form telling them what gear you have and its condition, they'll give you a competitive price quote, and if you agree, they'll arrange for courier pickup for your gear, too.
In other words, MPB is safe, secure, and fast, and offers gear at incredible prices. What's not to like?
Check Its Physical Condition
As we all know, lenses are delicate pieces of equipment, so you want to ensure that its physical condition is such that you get quality images that are nice and sharp.
But don't just inspect the lens housing for dings, dents, and scratches...
Look at the lens glass on both ends to identify any pits or scratches that could degrade its quality.
Also mount the lens to a camera if at all possible so you can inspect the movement of the aperture blades as you change the aperture setting on your camera.
The movement should be smooth and there should be no indication of oil on the blades.
Look for Dust
Higher end lenses like those in the Canon L series (like the 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM shown above) are built tough and have excellent seals that keep dirt, dust, and other debris from getting inside the lens.
But not all lenses are built the same, so it's necessary to look for dust particles inside the lens housing.
To do this, simply shine a flashlight through one end of the lens, and use that light to look for debris behind the glass on the other end.
Minor dust won't be a huge issue, but if there's big chunks of debris, that's another story and one that will cost you an expensive cleaning fee.
Look Closely at Filter Threads
If you've ever dropped a lens, you know that it always seems to land on its end, right where you find the filter threads.
Even a light impact can bend the end of the lens, making it difficult (if not impossible) to mount a filter.
What's more, these threads can get cross-threaded, which renders mounting a filter an impossible task as well.
By taking a good look at the end of the lens, you can avoid getting glass that is useless with a filter.
Be sure the filter threads are solid and that there is no visible sign of damage - like on the Sony FE 28-70 f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens shown above. It's near pristine condition is an indication of a lens that has been well cared for.
How's the Mount Ring?
As they age and experience a lot of use, the mount ring on a lens can get damaged.
That means that it won't make a nice, tight seal with the camera body, which can lead to light leaks.
If you want a lens that produces the best results, ask yourself how the mount ring looks.
And while you're at it, check out the contact points of the lens.
These gold-plated points are what's used to transmit information from the lens to the camera, so you want to ensure they are free of dirt and grime and that they are in prime physical condition, too.
The lens you purchase should have a mount ring and contact points like those pictured on the Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4G shown above - nice, clean, and free of damage.
Check the Zoom and Focus
If it's a zoom lens you're after, be sure to mount the lens to your camera and check that the motion of changing the focal length is smooth and quiet. If it's tough to zoom or you hear strange noises, buyer beware.
Additionally, while the lens is mounted to your camera, ensure that its autofocus system works smoothly and accurately.
Focusing should be crisp - both in autofocus and in manual focus modes.
If you notice anything in the way of blurriness, leave the lens and move on to something else.
Get Around All These Issues...
As I noted earlier, a major part of buying a used lens is considering the source from which you buy it.
If you're buying from someone in person - even if it's a good friend - be sure to run through each of the steps outlined above so you know you're getting the quality of lens you expect.
If you're not buying in person, you need to be extra careful that what the seller is telling you about the lens is true.
That's why it's so easy to trust a company like MPB.
They rate every single piece of gear they have for sale so you know what condition it's in - there's no surprises!
And, as I mentioned above, MPB gives you a 6-month warranty for additional peace of mind.
Don't roll the dice by buying used lenses from places like Craigslist or eBay. Go instead with a company whose mission is to buy and sell quality used gear. Go with MPB!