Used Gear Is A Cheap Way To Get Into Photography

Used Photography Equipment

As Mirrorless cameras begin dominating the market, us DSLR shooters are ultimately going to face the choice of switching gear or keeping our DSLR kits. That means that those manufacturers currently selling DSLR cameras and lenses will eventually be dropping DSLR stuff from their catalogs and us DSLR folks will have to rely more on used camera equipment. At this time, I think Nikon and Pentax are the only two camera makers still committed to the DSLR for the future.

As the world of digital photography marches onward into the future, some of us will be holding our ground. Mirrorless is now outselling DSLR’s, but just barely. The same is true of the used gear markets. But, a dose of reality. Mirrorless cameras aren’t giving you better results. Mirrorless is just a different choice, not a better choice. At the moment. So, while all the free spending consumers buy their new Mirrorless camera gear, they’ll be looking to dump the DSLR equipment they have. Simple supply and demand says, when the availability goes up, the price goes down. Used gear is cheap now, but the prices will be dropping as more good quality used gear hits the market.

Of course, if you are one of those getting on the Mirrorless bandwagon, you can find good deals on used equipment too. This song repeats itself over time and Mirrorless will eventually be in the same situation.

I’ve been wheeling & dealing in used camera gear since I started my business in 2006. While I’ve bought and sold my share of new equipment over time, there probably isn’t a year that goes by that I don’t end up acquiring a used lens or two or a camera body. You can keep shooting with your DSLR and find lenses at better than half the price of what you would pay new and the images you get will be just as good. I’m a proponent of the DSLR and not consumer marketing.

For those who can afford it, buying the latest/greatest camera or lens is always exciting, but not everyone can afford to plunk down the money to satiate their photographic obsessions’. But, if you’re looking to get into photography on a budget or filling gaps in your existing kit, I’ll give you some pointers on what to look for and where to look. If you are planning on sticking with DSLR’s for the foreseeable future, things are about to get even better.

I do most of my used camera gear hunting on eBay. eBay may be the best place to find the kind of deal you are looking for. Over the past 15 years, most of my used equipment was found there. There are a few tricks I use to get the best deals.

I’ve done some dealing on my local Craig’s List too, but most of the gear I’ve found on Craig’s List is over priced and often times consumer grade junk. I only go there if I’m looking for something I can’t find elsewhere. Still, it’s not a bad idea to cruise the listings. You never know what will pop up. The good stuff at a good price doesn’t last long.

There is also KEH Camera, an online used gear outlet. I’ve browsed their listing from time to time. In my experience they don’t have the best selection and their prices seem to be a little too high. Still, it’s worth checking them out. You never know what’s going to show up.

My first stop though is almost always eBay.

I seldom use auctions to buy something I’m interested in. Most frequently I look for gear with a “Buy It Now” listing. Not that all “Buy It Now” prices are going to be cheaper, but by watching for them I can often find items that are dirt cheap. The buy it now option allows you to buy it now rather than wait for an auction to end. Often, some bidders will outbid the available buy it now options because they aren’t paying attention. Also, many of the buy it now offers will allow you to make an offer to the seller if you don’t like their price. You may be able to make a lower offer and get the lens at your price.

Always check the seller’s rating too. I normally stick to buying from a seller that has a 99% or higher eBay rating. Problems can occur from time to time, reneging on a sale or purchase does happen on rare occasions, but having done dozens of transactions on eBay over time nearly all of my transactions have been problem free.

If I am going to bid on a lens or camera, I’ve found it best to put the item on my watch list and wait to bid until the bidding is close to the end. If I feel that the current bids are below my threshold for costing too much, I place my bid with about 5-6 seconds left on the bidding. Once you place your bid, be ready to immediately confirm it. If you get caught off guard by the confirmation, you may not get your bid in. Figure out what you are willing to pay for the used gear in advance and stick to your guns. You can often put a bid in that’s higher than the last bid and anyone else watching the auction won’t have time to squeeze in that last bid. I call it sniping. Avoid bidding early, there’s virtually no chance of your bid holding and someone else will snipe it near the end. Plus, you won’t be tipping your hand to the other bidders that you are interested in the lens. Generally, the fewer people bidding on the item means your chance of sniping it at the last second is much better. This also eliminates the psychological aspect of over bidding because you got too greedy and went over your price point.

I’m a DSLR shooter, so I’m not too interested in what is happening in the Mirrorless used market, so I don’t follow that gear much. But, you can still probably find great deals on used Mirrorless too. The same bidding/buying concepts apply.

So what are the good deals on used DSLR cameras and lenses?  Things to look for, or ask questions about.

Shutter Count. Cameras have an average shutter life expectancy, so get as low a shutter count as you can. No camera stops working at the rated shutter count, it’s just an average life expectancy. I’ve had cameras with shutter ratings of 150,000 shots that have worked well up to twice that rating. The lower shutter count cameras are going to cost a little more on average.

General condition. I look for “like new” or “excellent” condition cameras. A camera with a low shutter count in like new condition is what I’m looking for. If you aren’t worried about wear and tear, a camera in good condition with some signs of wear will take as good a photo as a brand new camera. The issue is trusting the camera to last you a while, and obviously a camera that has been heavily used and shows signs of abuse may present a maintenance issue before something in better condition.

Seller’s location. I stick to gear being sold from North America, meaning Canada, US or Mexico. You’re less likely to have a purchase get lost or delayed in shipping from North America (assuming you live in North America) than something from Japan, Europe or Asia. Plus, you have a lot more accountability with somebody in Arkansas than you will with buying something from someone in Japan.

Seller rating. Buy from someone who has a good track record as a seller on eBay.

I’ll highlight a few of the mainstream Canon & Nikon enthusiast level cameras and what their used market value is at the moment. This information may also prove useful if you are selling off some gear to upgrade your kit.

Used cameras. 20 megapixels or more. All of these camera bodies are well built and sturdy. Nothing junky about any of them.

Canon EOS 6D (Full Frame) $460 – $550 (used)

Good all around basic full frame camera. Great image quality. Slow shooter at 5 fps. Basic autofocus.

Canon EOS 6D Mk II (Full Frame) $900 – $1,000 (used)

Good all around basic full frame camera a solid step up from the original 6D. Great image quality. Much improved autofocus over the 6D.

Canon EOS 7D Mk II (APS-C) $650 – $800 (used)

Crop sensor body but good resolution and image quality. Excellent budget wildlife camera with solid autofocus and shooting speed. This may be the last version of this body Canon ever releases.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II (Full Frame) $500-$600 (used)

Excellent image quality, basic autofocus and mediocre frames per second.

Canon EOS 5D Mk III (Full Frame) $750-$850 (used)

Excellent image quality, autofocus is much improved over Mk II, decent fps. A solid performing camera. Good bang for the buck.

Canon EOS 5D Mk IV (Full Frame) $1,300 -$1,400 (used)

Still a current model but aging. Great autofocus, great resolution and image quality, good fps. An all around solid performer.

Nikon D7200 (APS-C) $500 – $700 (used)

Solid camera with excellent image quality and resolution. Decent autofocus and fps. An excellent budget buy and great bang for the buck.

Nikon D500 (APS-C) $950 – $1,100 (used)

Probably the best APS-C DSLR ever made. Excellent image quality, excellent autofocus, excellent fps. I still use mine for wildlife and it’s never let me down. Even used D500’s still command a premium price, and for good reason. I’d buy a new one before I bought one used though. There’s not much price differential between new and used, plus you get all the accessories and a warranty when you buy new.

Nikon D610 (Full Frame) $500 – $600 (used)

Excellent image quality, mediocre autofocus, mediocre fps. Still, if your needs aren’t too demanding, this camera will take a great photo.

Nikon D750 (Full Frame) $600 – $900 (used)

An excellent camera with very good image quality, very good autofocus and decent fps. I still own one and it’s been a workhorse for me. At the current used prices, this camera is a very good choice.

Nikon D810 (Full Frame) $800 – $1,200 (used)

An outstanding full frame body with professional build. Exceptionally good autofocus, image quality and average fps. Another great bang for the buck choice. I still use my D810 every time I go out. Maybe the best all around camera on the used market.

Nikon D850 (Full Frame) $1,850 – $2,500 (used)

The update to the D810 and still current on the market. Outperforms the D810 in every regard, but the price differential between a used body and new body makes it less appealing to me. I’d buy a new one before I picked up a used body. The used price on this camera, which may be the best DSLR on the market, will continue to drop as it’s getting long in the tooth market-wise.

My picks.  Canon EOS 7D Mk II & 5D Mk III and the Nikon D750 & D810.

If I was starting from scratch, I’d pick up a Nikon D810. It’s a pro grade body that is better than anything out there except the D850. It just doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the newer cameras. Image wise, you’ll be hard pressed to find any camera that has a better image quality and build quality. If you have Canon in mind, the 5D Mk III is your best bang for the buck right now.

Now for lenses. It’s a much more difficult task finding good quality inexpensive lenses but there are a few out there and some that are so good and cheap as to make you scratch your head and ask why. The best lenses are going to command the highest price, even in the used market.

The best and often most expensive new lenses hold their value more than the lesser expensive offerings and this holds for just about all camera/lens brands. I generally look at the used/new ratio price. On average you should be able to find a good condition version of any used version at about 60-70% of the full retail cost. Sometimes you can do better, sometimes not.

Canon Lenses

Here is a link to the Canon DSLR EF Mount Lens website where you can find out about the current Canon DSLR lenses and their MSRP. I always recommend you do a little advance research.

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM $350 – $450 (used)

This wide-angle zoom has been a staple professional grade “L” lens for years and it’s still currently in the Canon lineup. It normally retails for about $800 and can be found used for less than half that price. It doesn’t have image stabilization, but is sharp and built like a rock. I used one for many years and I wish Nikon had a similar offering.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM $525 – $700 (used)

A great general purpose zoom lens, built sturdy, sharp with image stabilization. Another professional grade “L” lens that is worthy of any Canon shooters kit. Still in the Canon lineup, it retails for $899.99. You can pick up a good condition used version for about 65% of the cost of buying new.

Canon EF 24–105mm f/4L IS USM $350-$450 (used)

This particular lens has been discontinued by Canon but for many years it was the standard general purpose zoom lens for the Canon DSLR’s. The newer version II is even better but more expensive as a used purchase. I shot many a wedding and event using this lens. It’s sharpness is good across the board, focuses fast, has decent image stabilization and is built like a tank. Picking one up used is a bargain hunters dream. Works great on full frame or APS-C sensor bodies.

Canon EF 70–200mm f/4L IS II & III USM $800 – $1,000 (used)

A really good lens. Sharp, light and durable with excellent image stabilization and fast focus. Right now, it retails for $1,299. If you look at the even newer version III, it’s retailing for $2,099. You can save a few bucks picking up a used copy of either but it’s not that great a savings that I would find it attractive until the used prices drop to between $700 – $800 on average. There’s a less expensive alternative… The older version of this lens.

Canon EF 70–200mm f/4L IS USM $500 – $600 (used)

Original version. Still a good lens. Sharp as heck. Lightweight. Professional build. Much cheaper used than its replacements ver’s 2  & 3 and a boat load cheaper than the latest releases. Still worthy of your camera bag. Go for this one instead of the new version II and you can find a screaming good deal. Version II of this lens didn’t update the optics in any significant way. The newer models have better image stabilization though. Wait a few years and the newer models will come down in price too. I’ve owned both version 1 and version 2 of this lens. Both are suitable lenses, but version 1 is your best deal in the used market.

Canon EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM $600-$800 (used)

For many years, this was Canon’s best general purpose super-telephoto zoom at an affordable price. Almost every wildlife photographer I knew had a copy of this lens. Today, they are dirt cheap on the used market. Optically, it wasn’t stellar, but it got the job done. The image stabilization on this lens wasn’t the most effective design either. The unique thing about this lens was that it had a push-pull zoom mechanism instead of the standard ring that turned. The newer version II of this lens is much sharper and a much better lens overall, but again, you’re paying a premium for that newer lens, used or new. I can recommend this lens only because it’s dirt cheap in the used market but you need to be aware that the push-pull zoom and friction based locking system on this lens does wear out. I’ve had to repair my version of this lens twice for that mechanism’s failure. But, if you inquire with the seller and the lens is lightly used, it should last you for a while.

Nikon Lenses

Here is a link to the Nikon DSLR F Mount Lens website, where you can find out about the current Nikon DSLR lenses and their MSRP. I always recommend you do a little advance research.

Nikon 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S DX VR Nikkor $165 – $200. (used)

This is a DX body kit lens, one in a series of 18-XXXmm lenses Nikon still makes. It’s the best one of the group if you ask me. Optically, it’s quite good, as good as many lenses 2 or 3 times more expensive. It’s a consumer build with no frills but it’s solidly built, has a good focal range. It’s light and easy to handle with excellent autofocus speed & sharpness and even performance across the focal/aperture range with very good image stabilization (VR.) Anyone owning a Nikon DX (APS-C) body would do well to pick one of these lenses up. I’ve owned a couple of these lenses over the years. I sold my first copy when I got rid of my DX bodies, but when I picked up my Nikon D500, I regretted having got rid of it. I found my current copy for $150 on eBay. It stays in my D500 kit. On a crop sensor (DX) body you have an effective focal range of 27-210mm. Great general purpose and inexpensive lens.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F/4 G ED VR. $600 – $800 (used)

A very good lightweight lens for this focal range. Optically, it’s very sharp and consistent. The VR is quite good. Autofocus is fast and reliable. Easy to carry around too. These are going for about $1,400 new, so the used price is currently far less. Absolutely worth owning. Works well on full frame and crop sensor bodies.

NIKON NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4 G ED AF-S VR $300 – $400 (used)

Solidly built kit lens that often comes packaged with full frame DSLR’s. It is a true bargain at used prices. This lens lists $1,099.95 full retail but can often be found at a discount refurbished. In the used market, they are going dirt cheap. It’s a well build “gold band” lens, which indicates Nikon considers it a higher quality lens model. Great focal range, excellent VR, Very good sharpness. An all around good lens. I’ve had a copy of this lens for years and it has been a workhorse for me.

AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR $900 – $1,000 (used)

Nikon’s response to the Tamron and Sigma budget super-telephoto zooms. Optically great. Outstanding VR, solid consumer grade build quality. A little bit quirky with the zoom ring and a cheesy lens hood, but don’t be fooled by the low price of this lens. It’s quite good, despite the cost cutting Nikon did to make this lens. I have one and it’s my main wildlife lens. Full retail on this lens is $1,399.95. Used copies can be found at a reduced price, but if you notice, the price differential between the used vs new price is not that large, it’s a testimonial to how well this lens holds it’s value. People like it. If you can find a used copy in good or better condition, for under $1,000, it’s worth going after. Anything more and I’d recommend buying it new.

AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G $125 – $200 (used)

A standard 50mm prime lens with fast autofocus and good sharpness but it doesn’t have VR. They say every kit should have a 50mm prime lens and this is a good quality budget lens for full frame or crop sensor body. The lens lists for $219.95 new. A good quality used copy can be found for 60-70% of the cost of a full retail version.

Of course, I didn’t research every Nikon lens on the used market, but if you know what you are looking for, you can generally find bargains. I selected a few Nikkor lenses across the focal range that I know are optically good and can be found used at seriously lower prices.

Non OEM lenses

We’re talking about Tamron and Sigma for the most part. I’ve used a few T&S lenses over the years, and to be quite honest, I’ve only found a handful of third party lenses that I would recommend. But, both make a few decent lenses so here’s a quick list of what I know are good used deals worth exploring.

Macro Lenses. Sigma f/2.8 50mm, 75mm, 105mm EX DG Macro. $150 – $225 (used)

I recently wrote about these three lenses. You can read that article here. They are among the sharpest lenses ever made for a DSLR. Make sure and go for the versions that don’t have image stabilization, as they are optically better than their replacement OS versions, which are still decent lenses. But do you really need image stabilization for macro work. I don’t know about you, most of my macro photograph is done from a tripod using manual focus. I found all three, in excellent condition, under $200 each. I prefer the 105mm macro but the other two are just as good and make very good landscape primes.

Super-Telephoto Zooms. Tamron 150-600mm (ver’s I&II) and the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary. $700 – $900 (used)

These lenses are decent enough wildlife lenses, either model. I’ve shot with the Tamron version, I think the newer G2 version is a little better than the 011 original, but you could pick up any of these lenses and get good wildlife shots from them. They are a good bang for the buck. At one point a couple of years ago, you could find either of these lenses in the used market for around $700, but their used value has gone up a little bit since then.

I don’t have much experience with other Tamron or Sigma lenses, but if you are tempted to dip into the really cheap stuff, you’ll find that neither brand holds their value, so you can probably find screaming deals on any used lens made by both companies. They do have some sleeper lenses that can do well, but they also have some dogs. Do your research.

I hope you find my primer for buying used camera gear of use. The alternative is to dump your DSLR gear and buy into Mirrorless, at a higher cost with no actual photographic benefit. The DSLR will be around for a few more years and the used market will become saturated with used gear. This is where I’ll be buying my equipment, until I die or find something that is actually better.

Your mileage may vary.