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The advent of digital imaging has brought photography into the mainstream. In the days of film photography, SLR cameras were generally the preserve of advanced enthusiasts who had spent years honing their craft. Someone wanting to get into photography would have a steep learning curve and one that was expensive too. That expense came not only from purchasing the equipment, but also from paying to process and print the film that you shot. You effectively had to pay to find out where you had made mistakes and of course the only way to learn, is to make mistakes.
In the earlier days of digital photography, much was said about how much cheaper it would be compared to film based photography. In many respects they were right, no longer do we need to print to see our images, no longer do we need to buy different films for different shoots. We are free to shoot as much as we want whenever we want. The idea that digital photography is cheap though, is a fallacy.
Relatively speaking, new DSLRs are more expensive than their older film based equivalents, even taking in to consideration inflation. The need to buy film has been replaced by the need to buy hard drives and upgrade computers. The growth of the digital market has led to huge range of amazing accessories that we can add to our camera bags. In short, photography is still expensive.
So how can we practice our chosen art if we are on a tight budget?
The answer is simple – buy used equipment.
Does Used Equipment Jeopardize the Quality of Your Photography?
Many of us would have no qualms buying a used car. The reliability of modern, used cars is astounding. The same is very much true of modern camera equipment, yet many of us fail to consider buying a used camera or lens. Some of this comes from peer pressure, some from the marketing of the manufacturers that lead us to believe that new is the only way. The thing is though, its not. Will the guys and girls at your local camera club know that camera hanging around your neck is used? Chances are not. It's not where the equipment came from that is important, it's how you use it.
You can take award winning images on a camera that has been previously owned by several other people. Its just a tool, a way to create.
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The almost exponential rise in people practicing photography has had many positive impacts. One of those is the creation of a vibrant, busy and financially rewarding used equipment market. Auction sites like eBay and online used equipment specialists like KEH Camera have made not only buying used equipment a safe and reliable upgrade path but also given us the ability to sell on our own older or less used equipment. How many of you have great equipment gathering dust on a shelf because you have since upgraded? Many of us don’t realise the value in that older equipment. So let’s take a look at our options for buy and selling used equipment.
What Are the Best Options for Used Camera Gear?
Online Auction Sites – We will start with the obvious one, eBay. eBay perhaps kicked off the massive market in used photographic goods. It gave seller access to a global network of buyers looking for bargains. You could also bag great deals on used cameras and lenses. In its early days, eBay was a great way to trade photographic equipment but its success has become part of its downfall. There are increasingly less people selling used equipment on eBay, primarily because the market is flooded by grey imports. While you might get a great price on a new, grey market product, there are a number of risks that you will take. Firstly, you never truly know who you are dealing with. There are a great number of reputable vendors on eBay but there are also rogues. More importantly grey imports often are not covered by a warranty. That said if your are an experienced eBay user, there are some great used deals to be found and it is still a great way to buy used too.
Local Classifieds – Another of the internet based options are listing based sites like Craigslist and Gumtree. These often have the advantage of being more local, so you can complete the transaction face to face and see the goods for real before committing to purchase. By their very nature though, listings sites tend not to be highly regulated so you are very much on your own. The quality of listings can also be quite hit and miss.
Used Camera Equipment Retailers – The “third way” is, ironically the oldest and perhaps still the best way to trade your camera gear – photographic retailers. While there has been a decline in the bricks and mortar, Main Street stores, some have adapted to the digital market place very well. Before the advent of the internet, you could walk into your local camera store with a used camera or lens and know that they would give you a sensible price for it. You also knew that you could buy a piece of used equipment and get not only the expertise of the retailer but also a form of warranty on your purchase.
You might think that that type of specialist, personal service has disappeared but it hasn’t. It just went online. There are now a number of specialist sites such as KEH Camera in the United States and FFjords Photographic in the UK that specialise in the used market. These companies use a standard system to grade your equipment with. For example “Like New” or “Mint” being the highest grade. They will then give you an online quote based on your analysis of its condition. Some will offer free mailing as part of the quote. They will use the same grade system for selling used gear but unlike on eBay, these companies will have professional technicians check over the equipment before grading and sale.
Exploring the Used Camera Retailer Option
You might be thinking that given the plethora of online stores selling new equipment for great prices, buying used is not going to give you great savings, but you would be wrong. Not everything is going to be a bargain, that’s true. However, if you are a savvy buyer you can get some amazing deals.
New model announcements! – The rush to upgrade becomes a stampede whenever a new camera or lens model is announced. This is particularly true at the higher or professional end of the market. When Nikon or Canon announce their latest pro model, the used market becomes saturated with the previous model. It becomes a buyer's market. Often it’s not just professionals that sell but also enthusiasts that have to have the latest and greatest. Either way it's often a win-win situation for the used buyer.
Professionally used cameras may have a high shutter count but they will usually have been well looked after and maintained.
Enthusiast cameras often have had very low usage and are in a nearly new condition.
Used Might Mean a More Advanced Model is Affordable for You – Another advantage to buying used is that you can purchase a more advanced camera than if your were buying from new. This is particularly useful for enthusiasts that have learnt a lot about photography and want to advance their knowledge and abilities using a higher end camera, one that they possibly could not afford new. Taking the Nikon D810 for an example, new you would pay in the region of $3300 for a new model from a reputable store. Using KEH Camera’s search option, you could get an excellent plus copy for $2500. An $800 saving on a pro level current model camera.
Lenses: A Good Way to Expand Your Shooting Options – One often overlooked advantage to buying used is with lenses. Whilst the technology in cameras advances at a rapid rate, lenses have not moved so quickly. Of course camera companies release new lenses frequently but the advantages are not often so great over those a generation or two older. Buying older lenses is a great way to increase your photographic options without spending a small fortune. If you are comfortable shooting manually you can even buy old, classic optics with a different lens mount and mount it to your camera using an adapter.
So What About Selling Your Camera Gear?
Consider the Depreciation of Camera Gear – One of the big advantages of buying pre-owned is that the depreciation is significantly less than that of a new camera making selling and trading up used equipment a financially advantageous route. Like buying used, there are product cycles to watch out for. Keep an eye on the rumour sites such as Nikon Rumours and if there is a sense of a newer version of your camera on the horizon, get yours on the market early. Professional camera productions cycles are around 4 years with incremental upgrades every two. Armed with this you can time your sale to get the best value.
What About the Condition?Make sure your camera is in excellent condition, clean and fully operational. If you have original manuals, CDs and chargers make sure you include them. Companies like KEH Camera will pay more if you can provide sundries that came with the original camera. Make sure any lenses you wish to sell are free from blemishes and more importantly free from mold. Having used a skylight filter to protect the lens when you used it can add a small but significant sum to its used value.
Even camera gear that is broken might have value. Very often we think that because of the complexity of modern electronic equipment, repair is not a viable option. However it very much is. Sometimes what you might think is a complex and expensive repair is actually quite simple. A quick Google in your local area will often reveal a number of companies specialising in repairing photographic equipment. There is is a good chance that once repaired, the value of your used equipment will exceed the cost of the repair itself.
Why I Trade My Own Cameras
The used camera market is huge, and if you are on a tight budget, it is the perfect way not only to upgrade your equipment but to maintain a good level of equipment without spending a fortune. One example might be the often trod upgrade path of APS sensor to full frame. Whilst full frame camera have dropped in price they are still significantly more expensive than the APS sized siblings. By going used, you could pick up a Canon EOS 5D MkII for around $900. That’s a 21mp full frame, video enabled pro camera for less than the price of a mid level new APS DSLR.
Many of you know that I have been writing for Light Stalking for five years. Even in that time I have bought and sold several pre-owned items. As a freelance photographer I have to make my income work well and as such my camera equipment is an asset. My most recent trade was to sell my beloved Fuji x100S to finance a path into 4K Video. Much as I loved the Fuji, I now make more money with my 4K enabled stills camera.
In previous years my heart's desire was for the Nikon “holy trinity” of lenses for my D3s. Budget only allowed me to get the 14-24mm and 24-70mm 2.8 so I opted for an older 80-200 2.8 D lens that I bought for about 1/4 the price of the then current 70-200mm 2.8. When my cat kicked the 24-70mm off my office desk, I though that was it. Yet a little research led to a good and inexpensive repair and when I came to resell it I made nearly as much as I would have done if the lens had not needed repair.
The conclusion then is the used market is a great place to be. Not only can you get to purchase cameras that new would be way out of your price range, but also you can realise the value in old unused gear. I for one, will continue to buy and sell used for the foreseeable future.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of KEH Camera. The opinions and text are all mine.