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Buying new photography gear can be a heck of a sticker shock.
Depending on what you want and need, you can easily drop a couple thousand dollars on a camera body alone. Add in a lens or two, and suddenly you're in it for a month's salary.
But buying used gear can help you avoid that sticker shock and fill out your photography kit with good gear that still has a lot of life left in it.
There are some things to be aware of when buying secondhand cameras and other photography gear, though.
Figure Out What Kind of Camera You Want First, Then Look for Used Inventory
Buying a used camera is kind of like buying a used car - if you go into it without knowing what you want, the process will take longer and you very well might end up with something that's well beyond what you need.
That's why doing your due diligence ahead of time is so critical to the process of buying a used camera.
For starters, consider whether you want a DSLR or a mirrorless camera. Both have their benefits and detriments.
Secondly, think about whether a full frame or a crop sensor camera is right for you. Again, both have their pros and cons.
Additionally, it's important to consider the capabilities you need in a camera.
If you're just beginning in photography, you don't need a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV - a professional camera with all the bells and whistles.
Instead, a Canon EOS Rebel T6 - a solid mid-range camera that you can grow with over time - might be a more appropriate choice.
The point here is that you don't want to overspend. Sure, it would be nice to get a great deal on a Nikon D800 full frame professional DSLR, but if you aren't a professional, you probably don't need such a high-end camera!
So, do some research about cameras, consider the features you need to accomplish your photography goals now and in the near-term, and narrow your list down to a few models that will suit your needs, then set about finding a quality, used version of what you want.
Look for Damage to Camera Bodies
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I realize that actually physically inspecting a camera before buying it is a little easier said than done.
But even when buying online, the seller should provide you with all the photos of the camera in question that you need to make your decision.
When looking at the camera, pay particular attention to major damage to the body - dents and gashes come immediately to mind.
Look at the bottom of the camera to ensure the tripod mount isn't stripped or otherwise damaged. Check the hot-shoe mount on top of the camera as well.
Don't be turned off by a few scratches and scuff marks, either. Just because a used camera shows some wear doesn't mean it isn't still a great camera.
Bonus Tip: Ask about the shutter count on any camera you consider buying. Low-end and entry-level cameras might have an expected life of 150,000 shutter cycles. High-end cameras might last well over 500,000 shutter cycles.
Buying Used Lenses: Features to Consider
When buying used lenses, the advice to do your due diligence still applies.
That is, if you're a casual shooter, you don't need a 500mm super telephoto lens in your bag.
In other words, one of the first decisions you need to make is figuring out what kind of lens best suits your photography activities.
If you primarily shoot landscapes, a wide-angle zoom like the Tokina 12-24mm lens shown above might be the best way to go. If you usually shoot portraits, a 35mm lens might be ideal.
Aside from considering focal length, also think about whether you should buy a prime lens or a zoom lens.
Prime lenses have a fixed focal length and offer better sharpness and low-light performance than zooms (usually, anyway). Zooms, on the other hand, offer variable focal lengths that allow you to shoot a wide variety of subjects without changing lenses. There are plenty of other advantages and disadvantages to both types of lenses, though.
Used Lens Areas of Concern
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When buying a used camera lens, it's important to give it a thorough inspection, just as you would a used camera.
That means inspecting the lens glass to see if there are any scratches or gouges. Also look for dust behind the lens element as that will have a significant negative impact on the quality of the images you can take.
Though not as common as scratches and dust, fungus can also be present in lenses. Fungus is best detected by shining a flashlight down the lens barrel, but if you're buying online, that's not exactly possible.
In that situation, be sure to ask the seller for photos that prove there is no fungus inside the lens. If they aren't willing to do that, it's time to find a different seller!
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Another area of lenses you should look at thoroughly is the lens rubber.
The rubber on a lens barrel is actually more likely to tell the story of the lens than the lens glass.
That's because lens glass is designed to be durable, whereas the lens rubber will degrade over time.
If the rubber is loose or ill-fitting, cracked, or otherwise shows significant wear, the lens might not be a good one to buy.
Bonus Tip: The best place to buy used camera equipment is, in my opinion, MPB. Every camera and lens is inspected and graded for condition, that way you know exactly what you're getting when you buy. See their inventory here.
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Spending hundreds of dollars on a camera or lens sight unseen can be a little panic-inducing.
However, if you use the advice I've outlined above and shop at reputable retailers, you will minimize your risk and maximize how far you can stretch your dollar.
I've bought plenty of used gear over the years, and sticking to the basics of knowing what to look for and knowing where to shop has served me very well!