I bought most of my cameras and lenses on ebay.com, sometimes through auctions, sometimes at “buy it now” prices. I never had a bad experience so far.
If you buy on eBay, you will face three types of sellers:
- on-line stores specialized in photographic equipment, new or second hand.
That’s the low risk option. Some stores limit their inventory to a few brands, and only carry high quality, very nice to pristine cameras. Others are less restrictive, and also have cameras which have lived a more difficult life. If your intention is to really use the camera you’re purchasing, buying a comestically challenged camera may be a good option, as long as it’s in good mechanical condition. Specialized stores are supposed to know what they sell, and will not plead ignorance if the product does not work or is not completely similar to the published description. They will arrange for a free return, and a refund.
A word of caution, though: the products are evaluated before being listed, and the obvious lemons don’t pass, but the tests are not always as thorough as one would wish: a lens may have looked OK when tested on a particular type of body, but will fail to operate on another one, which is in theory 100% compatible but is interacting with the lens differently. Always test the equipment you purchased as soon as you receive it, and contact the seller if there is any issue. Reputable stores will listen to you, and they have a good return policy.
- Stores not specialized in photography
That’s the riskiest option, in my opinion. The store could be anything, from a pawn shop to an antique dealer, the worst being a dollar store or a shady repair shops buying broken electronic equipment in bulk and making one sellable camera out of 3 broken ones. Even if they know a few things about the products they’re selling, they will generally plead ignorance, and will offer little or no support if there is an issue with the equipment. I never had a really bad experience on eBay, but it’s with this type of seller that I came the closest to being seriously disapointed. Buyer beware.
- Low volume and non professional sellers
Low volume sellers belong to multiple sub categories. You will see items sold by a person who pretends he got the equipment he’s selling from a friend but that he knows nothing about it, and you will find the passionate amateur photographer who bought his equipment new 20 years ago, used it day in day out and took great care of it; he will take pride in providing a honest and accurate description of his equipment, and that’s the person you want to be buying from.
Because of the way the auctions work, the prices tend to be highly variable and very unpredictable. Professional sellers tend to protect themselves with a “buy-it-now” price, and if the item does not sell this time, they just list it again. Non professional sellers tend to use the auction system more than professionals. With the number of people watching eBay listings every day, it’s difficult to find a real bargain, but some sellers (lazy or inexperienced) still publish unappealing listings (blurry pictures, ambiguous descriptions) that a trained bargain hunter will be able to interpret to his advantage: I bought my Nikon F3 this way, at 30% of what the action would have reached if the listing had been professionally layed out.
As always, do your homework and try and understand the market first (ads in magazines, completed items list on eBay). Set a limit for the price of the equipment you want to buy second hand. In any case, read the ads very carefully, ask questions, and only place a bid if you feel confident enough.
Other reputable sources
- keh.com –
I never had the opportunity to buy second hand equipment from keh, but good friends did. keh has the reputation of being very conservative in the way they describe the equipment they’re selling (if they say it’s in good condition, then it’s very very good). They only sell over the phone or on the Internet – no walk-ins.
- bhphotovideo.com –
B&H is a big photo video mail to order company, with a huge brick and mortar store in New York. I bought new equipment from them on multiple occasions. A very pleasant experience. I never had the opportunity to buy second hand equipment from them, though.
Feel free to share your comments and experiences. Thank you.