About once a year I like to write a short little post about this subject because no matter how much time passes, I get lots of questions like this – Should I buy used gear?
The answer is a resounding yes – if the gear in question meets your needs. There’s little advantage in buying new most of the time. There are exceptions which I’ll cover in a minute, but for the most part, buying used is just a great way to save money and let someone else pay for the initial depreciation.
Whether or not you should buy used depends on three primary factors:
1. Is there a significant price difference between new and used and is that savings worth the risk of used gear?
2. Is the seller of the gear trustworthy? Do they have a solid reputation?
3. Is the gear in good working order and is it likely to remain that way?
If you have satisfactory answers to these three questions, it’s almost always safe to buy used. Here’s the exception. In my experience light meters, zoom lenses (particularly push – pull zooms and older zooms) touchy lenses like the Canon 85 f/1.2 and critical gear like scientific bellows should only be purchased new. Super telephoto lenses are also probably less safe to buy used unless the seller is well-known to you.
When you buy used, always try to get as detailed a description as possible. If possible buy gear that has a return policy in case it doesn’t ship as described. This is less significant if you really trust the seller.
Sticking with trusted sellers is always your safest bet. Starting with the big names – I trust Adorama Used, and KEH. Both are very reliable. You can count on them sticking with their promises and their descriptions are going to generally be very accurate. Buying from someone you know personally or who has a large audience is usually safe too. If you buy from a place like Ebay look at the seller’s longevity AND ratings. A perfect Ebay rating isn’t necessarily an endorsement you should trust if the seller has only been online for a few months. Likewise, a less than perfect score from someone with a very long track record might be acceptable given the fact that many times, buyers have unrealistic expectations.
In closing, try to find out what kind of photographer you’re buying your used gear from. An outdoor photographer who shoots lots of extreme sports may be a bit harder on gear than a photographer who exclusively works in a studio. And lastly, remember the old saying – let the buyer beware. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.