The ultimate second-hand buying guide for photographers

Get everything you need to know about buying second-hand lenses and cameras right here!

Second-hand lenses and cameras can be a cost-effective way of building up your collection of photography equipment. We all know that buying your kit from brand new can get very expensive, very quickly. Unless you’re a professional photographer, you might not be able to justify the cost of a new set of lenses. But before you go and snap up that great bargain you’ve found online, we’ll provide you with some hints and tips on what you should be looking out for when buying used and second-hand photography equipment.

1) Know your market

So, you know exactly what lens you want. You know just what you want to use it for and lo and behold, you’ve found exactly the right one for a fraction of the retail price! Now it may be worth holding fire for now. Sometimes when buying used photography equipment, things really can be too good to be true.

A brand-new telephoto lens can set you back thousands of pounds, so if you find one for a relative pittance it could be a sign that the lens is in poor condition – or worse.

Know the going-rate for the lens you want and what it retails at. A Hasselblad XCD lens is marketed for professional photographers and therefore you’ll unlikely find a new one for less than £2,500 and even less unlikely that a good-quality second-hand lens at a fraction of that price.

2) Ask the seller for more images

If you’re shopping online, then you may want to steer clear of products that display generic images. One way to be sure that the second-hand camera that you’ve found is the real deal is to see it in action. See if the seller has any pictures of themselves using the camera and pay close attention to ensure that the make and model matches up. The last thing you want is to fork out for what can be a considerable outlay and end up empty-handed.

3) Find someone you can trust

If you’re a student photographer, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to afford high-end lenses and photography equipment straight away. Don’t worry though, because you can find some fantastic deals on the kind of kit that you need.

Many retailers specialise in selling second-hand photography equipment, so you can find big name brands at discounted prices.

4) Don't dismiss mirrorless

Of course, many a budding photographer will want to add a DSLR to their collection as soon as possible. The distinctive DSLR’s are favoured by a range of photographers and are well-suited to a range of different environments; from portraits in the studio to adventurous landscapes.

However, DSLR’s aren’t the only camera you can use to capture perfect scenery. If you’re on a budget, you might want to take a look at mirrorless cameras. Compact cameras differ from DSLR’s in the sense that they don’t contain a mirror inside the camera body to reflect light in order to see what you’re shooting.

However, compact cameras can be a great alternative! They often have much greater battery-life than a DSLR and later editions of mirrorless cameras can rival their mirrored counterparts when it comes to autofocus. There are plenty of mirrorless cameras on the market today that have built-in autofocus and eye-detection capability for a much cheaper price than a DSLR.

5) Check the shutter count

One of the most important things to check on any second-hand or used camera is the shutter count. If your second-hand DSLR that you’ve just bought suffers a shutter jam then the consequences can be dire. The shutter on your DSLR controls just how much light hits the sensor when you’re taking a picture. Without it, you’re in big trouble.

To help avoid this ghastly scenario, you’ll need to check the shutter count. This relies on you having access to the camera physically, or if this isn’t possible, access to photographs taken by the camera. The shutter count number is most likely embedded in the EXIF data, so you can upload an image to one of the many free websites available to examine the EXIF data and report on what the shutter count is likely to be.

Think of the shutter count like the mileage on a car, you don’t want the count to be too high as this means that the camera could be well-used and at risk of breaking!