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Photo Tip Thursday: Buying Used Cameras

Lately, I’ve been asked a whole lot of questions about buying used camera equipment.  There’s kind of a weird misconception that when people list their used gear for sale online that it’s because something is wrong or defective with item/items in question.  99.9% of the time however, this is entirely untrue.  With camera manufacturers churning out newer and better models of cameras and lenses every year, you’ll find photographers listing their older models for sell so that they can upgrade to the newest and best models.  This is really good for us because we can get a really good deal on many tried and true camera models and lenses without having to pay full price.  Let’s be perfectly clear, “used” is by no means a bad thing.  So, for this week’s {as well as next week’s} Photo Tip Thursday, I’ll be talking solely on the subject of buying used gear, telling you what to look for and also what to avoid.

This first post will cover cameras only, then next week I’ll go over buying used lenses.  When buying a used camera, there’s several criteria that must be met to ensure what you’re buying is in good, working condition.

1. Make sure there is no structural damage.  Minor scratches and wear really don’t matter, unless you want it to look aesthetically perfect.  Those are just cosmetic imperfections.  It’s the huge dents and loose, shaky parts that should really be a red flag.  These often indicate that the camera has been dropped rather severely.
2. Make sure all of the contact points are clean, unbent and undamaged.  Check ALL of these.  These are the gold colored metal pieces you’ll see in the battery compartment, in the memory card compartment and on the lens mount.  If these are dirty/damaged, your camera might not be able to power on, your images might not save properly to your memory card and your lenses might not function properly or even work at all when attached.
3. Make sure that the lens mount and its contact points are undamaged.  This is a huge one.  The lens mount is the metal ring on the front of the camera where you attach the lens.  If the mount is dented or warped, you might not be able to attach a lens, and what good is a camera without a lens?
4. Make sure the camera powers on and that the camera autofocuses properly.  This is really important because a camera that can’t accurately focus is worthless.  Check the focus accuracy for all the focus points.
5. Make sure that the camera can properly save images to the memory card.  Self explanatory. 
6. If possible, determine the number of shutter actuations.  Shutter actuations refer to how many times the shutter has been opened and closed.  Determining this number is important because the shutter is rated to last only so many actuations before it {and its tiny motor} wears out and needs replacing.  Most shutters are rated for over 150,000-200,000 actuations.  If the used camera you’re looking at has between 5,000-10,000 actuations, then this is still a good camera as you can get many more photos out of it.  If the number of actuations is really high though, it’s best to steer clear.  You can check the number of shutter actuations by uploading an image taken by the camera in question to certain websites.
7. If you’re buying online, make sure the camera comes with a money back guarantee, a return policy, and if at all possible, an extended warranty.  This is the real kicker.  Buying online often means that you can’t physically look over the camera beforehand which isn’t the most reassuring thing.  The seller might include pictures but that’s no substitute for a physical inspection.  Many websites use a rating system from 1-10, a ten being almost new, and a one being…well lets just say that you shouldn’t be buying a one {in fact, don’t buy anything rated lower than an eight}. Ebay, B&H, Adorama and Amazon all use rating scales like this, and most also give you an extended warranty for your used camera, and all have a return policy.  Check the product description.  The only thing wrong with used gear should be cosmetic wear, everything else should be working properly.  Try and get as much of the seller’s info as you can, including full name, number and email address in case you need to get ahold of or return the camera.  Also, check their seller feedback. If the reviews are overwhelmingly negative, don’t purchase from this seller.  Whatever you do, DO NOT get a used camera without a return policy!
8. If you’re buying from Craigslist, be safe and be smart.  The one nice thing about deals like this is that you can see the camera beforehand.  The bad part however is that you’re meeting a complete stranger.  Have the seller email you some pictures of the camera first, and if it looks good, then pick a very public place to meet.  The reason for this should be blatantly obvious.  Settle on a price before you meet, and don’t leave any room for negotiation when you get there. They either accept your offer or they don’t.  When you get to the sale, check the camera for all of the things that I mentioned above, and if everything is working properly, then you should be good to go.

I hope this guide helps!  Remember, just be thorough.  Check everything over before you buy if you can, and if you can’t, make sure that the camera has a return policy before you buy it, so that if something is wrong with it when it arrives, you can return it to the seller and get your money back.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Your post are always helpful!

    Show your socks like Michael on
    lb-lc | IT fashion and lifestyle blog

  2. Jen L says:

    Thank you so much for answering my question! Just ordered a used nikon d610. Going to check out the contact points as soon as it arrives.


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