Filmmaking 101: Buying Used Camera Gear … What You Should Know

With new gear like full frame mirrorless cameras getting us all excited about getting a new rig to play with, comes the need to sell our old gear online to help absorb some of that cost. And that means if you’re in the market for a used camera or other production tools, you can get what you’re looking for at a great price. YOU HOPE. Here’s how you can avoid getting ripped off.

These tips come from ORMSTV, on YouTube, which says there are some important things to consider, if you’re both a buyer and a seller, when trying to list gear for sale online. And that means asking questions. LOTS of questions.

First tip is to ask for details. What is the used camera’s general condition? A key indicator is shutter count. It helps to find out what just how high it is. This won’t help for video (although some mirrorless models give you that number as well), but it is an indicator of how much use the camera has gone through.  According to ORMSTV, under 150,000 on mid-level cameras, and under 250,000 on pro level cameras indicates the camera has a good deal of time left. Over that, and it could be the end of its usable life.

Next, if the online listing doesn’t have a lot of photographs or the item, you want to ask for them. The more the better. This will give you a feel for its condition before you come to an agreement. It’s always going to be harder to return a used item, if you buy it sight unseen, which, let’s face it, is all of eBay. If you’re buying through Craigslist, or my new favorite, the Facebook marketplace, you can at least do a visual inspection. But even then, a good idea if there are scratches, dents, dust, a cracked LCD screen, or poor condition of rubber parts, can help you decide if it’s worth the price before you pay.

Lastly, the most important thing is to check the condition of the sensor itself. Open the shutter in cleaning mode and look for excessive dust, scratches, etc. A magnifying glass or even a loope will help. Also look for dead pixels by taking a picture with it.  Mirrorless cameras, by contrast, have a shutter, but it works differently. That makes it very difficult to judge how hard it’s been used. But you can know with the overall condition of the camera.  The devil is in the details.

Another important question, especially if the seller mentions that the camera is under warranty, is where did they buy it. The so-called “gray market” of cameras means a camera that was bought overseas, and therefore, does not have a US warranty. If something goes wrong, the buyer will have to ship the used camera to the country it was bought from, and that’s a royal hassle.

Then again, if you’re buying from a rental company, they may offer a limited 6 month warranty just to put your mind at ease.

It also helps to make sure you know their preferred payment method. If they are adamant for cash only, that could indicate a stolen camera. Paying through a service like PayPal, gives you the option of paying with a credit card, and that means you have protection, and some will even give you a warranty on your purchase.

Used lenses are another matter. Obviously, you want to be sure there’s no scratches on the front element. This won’t necessarily cause an issue with the scratch appearing on your images, but a deep scratch could cause a lens flare. Look through the lens at some light and look for excessive dust, condensation, and even fungus.

Manipulate the zoom and manual focus to be sure it’s both smooth and quiet. If there’s some excessive resistance, that could indicate the lens has been dropped. Also, attach to your camera and run autofocus to see if it’s still crisp. Also, check to see if the lens’ Image Stabilization is working. If there’s a huge jump, that could indicate the IS is faulty.

One last tip for getting a great deal on eBay is to search for misspelled used camera listings. These listings doesn’t always get a lot of traffic, and as such, you could get a great deal on the same kind of gear that is higher priced because it has had a lot of bids. And make sure you double check the seller’s record. If he has a lot of negative ratings, it’s best to steer clear no matter how good a deal it is.

About James DeRuvo 801 Articles
Editor in Chief at doddleNEWS. James has been a writer and editor at doddleNEWS for nearly a decade. As a producer/director/writer James won a Telly Award in 2005 for his Short Film "Searching for Inspiration. James is a recovering talk show producer from KABC in Los Angeles, and a weekly guest on the Digital Production Buzz with Larry Jordan.

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