Getting a used lens can be a little nerve racking. I have to admit I have tried to avoid it. But when I asked if anyone had had good experiences in buying a used camera lens, our Light Stalking community on Twitter said they were surprisingly happy to flesh out their lens collections with used lenses. We put out the challenge to them to tell us how to buy a used lens without wasting our money or getting ripped off. Here is what they had to say.
Testing the Lens
Not surprisingly, the majority of Light Stalking’s Twitter buddies sent in tips about getting the lens in your own hands and testing and checking it. Their advice centred around thoroughly testing out the camera and involved a few tricks for doing that easily and well.
- Check that the focusing is smooth but not loose. Also check that the aperture stops down correctly.
- Check aperture blades for dirt or excessive oil. (Peter Dixie Photography, Twitter: @PeterDixie)
- Bring a laptop with you so you can check full scale pictures for imperfections caused by the lens. (Ilan Bresler Photography, Twitter: @IlanBr)
- Stressing that you're not a pro or only want to shoot your kids with it will usually get you a discount. ( Gutter Vomit (best site name ever?), Twitter: @helloluis)
- Don’t get a lens that has never been used as there may be problems with the the shutters freezing up. (Echos of Nicole, Twitter: @ohlawdy)
- Make sure the lens works on a body and there are no marks on the glass. And check that all the rings turn freely! (Chadwick Fowler Photography, Twitter: @chadwickfowler)
- Remember to test the focus in both manual and automatic. (Kulay Photography, Twitter: @kulayphoto)
- Examine the lens for fungus. (Hotel Yankee Foxtrot, Twitter: @YankeeFoxtrot)
- An absolute must is to actually get the lens in your hand and use it on your camera because there’s no other way to truly know if it’s good. (Eli Gray Imaging, Twitter: @eilgray)
- Avoid any lens which looks as if it may have been dropped.
- Turn the lens in the light to check for imperfections.
Perhaps the attitude of this group is best summed up by PW Richardsom who said, “Test the lens before you buy and if you can't test it, don't buy it!” (PWRichardson Imagery, Twitter: @PWRichardson) To be honest, this would more or less sum up my own bias if I were to step into the realm of used lenses, but not every photographer thinks this way. Read on!
Know the Seller
While a lot of responses stressed that they would only buy a used lens if they had tested in themselves, a few others were happy to buy second hand lenses sight unseen, provided that a few key elements were in place too. All the of the photographers who said they would or have bought second hand lenses without seeing them first stressed that they had done their research on the seller prior to parting with any money.
- A return policy is key! Be suspicious if the seller won't accept returns and use use reputable sites Amazon or Ebay which have reputation and feedback for sellers clearly displayed. (Kim Taylor Photography, Twitter: @fin4269)
- Research the seller’s reputation through forums and Google. (Jim Goldstein Photography, Twitter: @jimgoldstein)
This basically means mitigating your risk by making sure you only buy from reputable sources.
To be honest, I was a little surprised at how many people twitted back to us hailing the validity of buying second hand lenses as a way to both save money and also to expand their lens collections. I thought it would be far fewer. How wrong I was!
That being said, I think a combination of the above tips would probably help hugely. If you can see the lens for yourself, then make sure you go through the initial set of tips. If you cannot see it for yourself, then make sure that you’re at least buying from a reputable source. Once you’ve established the credibility of the source then use the first set of tips to formulate your questions regarding the lens you plan on buying. Has it been dropped? Is there dirt on the aperture rings? Is the focus smooth or loose? How much has the lens been used?
By doing this you protect yourself and give yourself the best chance at getting a quality used lens.