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Expanding your photography equipment gear bag is likely on your mind as you continue to grow in your skills and enjoyment of photography and videography. You already get great images with whatever lens or lenses you purchased as your first kit and you want to try out other lenses but have concerns about the costs.
Or you’ve been doing this craft for quite a while and know what you would like to get next, but have questions such as are used lenses worth it and what to look for in a used lens. Well, we’re here to help!
Used Lens Bargains
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Used photography gear is usually a bargain compared to new, even when the lens in question is still available brand new. Sometimes, though, you can run into some problems with used lenses.
For our modern digital cameras, the camera lens features can be internally complex so you do well to have some sort of safety net when purchasing used. Knowing where to buy used lenses helps take care of avoiding getting a lemon.
While you might find a super low price on an auction site or social media, buying from a reputable source can give peace of mind with return privileges and limited warranties.
Whatever source you use, in person, online, from a private seller, or a used photography gear store, here are some ideas of what to look for in a used lens.
Mount and Format
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One of the most common mistakes made when shopping for used photography gear and lenses is not matching the exact lens mount and camera format we’re using. Just because a lens can physically fit on our camera doesn’t mean it will function properly.
Here are a couple of examples: Nikon lenses and Canon lenses.
Nikon AF lenses. The Nikon F lens mount has stayed basically the same since it was introduced in 1959. “Basically the same” is the key phrase.
From 1959 through to the 1980s, Nikon cameras and lenses communicated metering information and actuated lens diaphragm mechanically. There was a minor mechanical change in 1977 to AI lenses and in 1983 to AI-S. Nikon autofocus lenses (beginning in 1986) added electronic chips for some information and control plus focusing gears driven by a motor in the camera body.
AF-D and AF-S lenses added more capability in the 1990s and current Nikon lenses with a G or an E designation can only be used on newer Nikon cameras with all electronic control and input and some newer AF lenses won’t autofocus on certain Nikon camera models.
Confusing, right? And that’s a condensed version that doesn’t include their newest Z mount!
Canon completely changed their mechanical lens mount (FD/FL) in the 1980s to the EF (now also EF-S for crop format cameras) mount which is all electronically controlled and is also radically different mechanically.
Pentax, Olympus, Fuji, Minolta (now Sony), Hasselblad, and Leica lens mounts also went through minor and radical adjustments from the 1950s and 60s on up to the present day. Accurate descriptions of exactly what the lens mount is thus becomes absolutely necessary when considering a used lens.
Additionally, since the crop formats of APS-C and MFT have come out for digital cameras, camera manufacturers have designed some lenses to only cover those smaller formats. Using a lens made for APS-C on a Full Frame format camera won’t cover the entire film frame.
Many online used lens sellers will put in the item description what camera and format the lens fits. If you know what to look for in a used lens for your camera, you can usually figure out that major stuff yourself, but it really helps for the sellers to simply give the information up front.
Scratches and Dust
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While every camera lens I’ve ever inspected has some internal dust, a large amount of dust will lower contrast (and possibly sharpness) and could be indicative of other damage such as loose fittings.
We don’t need to freak out if we hold the lens up to a bright light and see some small amounts of dust, though. This is completely normal and you can find dust in brand new lenses, too. When it looks like our car windshield after a wilderness photo trek, that’s when we may want to give that lens a pass.
Same with scratches. Minor scratches or marks on the front element can also be a clue as to how hard the lens was used, which might mean there is other damage to the internal electronics or mechanisms.
Slight wear on the front element usually won’t affect picture quality, though if you can take some test shots or have a return window then you may not have to worry too much. Deep scratches on the front element should raise flags and any scratches on the rear element of the lens will likely be problematic.
Buy from a Reputable Source
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All of these thoughts of what to look for in a used lens is why shopping from a reputable and well established used photography gear dealer is often a very good idea and usually my first choice of where to buy used lenses.
You can find used lenses and all sorts of used photography gear at MPB, an online international (USA and European Union) used camera equipment dealer.
First off, MPB.com was founded and is run by trained camera experts and seasoned photographers and videographers, so they know what to look for in a used lens themselves. Second, MPB.com offers returns and a 6 month limited warranty on the used photography gear they sell.
Here is their Used Lenses section. They have lenses for various brands, mounts, and formats including Sony, Canon, Olympus, Nikon, Hasselblad, Panasonic, Fujifilm, and Leica lenses.
They inspect and rate every piece of gear they buy used or allow as a trade in. Detailed descriptions are listed for each individual piece and the ratings range from Like New, to Excellent, Good, Well Used, and Heavily Used. That way, you know exactly what you’re getting. In fact, their inspection process is better than what most of us know to look for in a used lens.
Used photography gear is a great way to expand our personal gear kit. Knowing what to look for in a used lens, including buying from a reputable dealer, will allow us to get quality used lenses for a good price and with peace of mind.