Buying used lenses, and all major bits of photography equipment for that matter, is a great way of getting the top end gear for less than the cost of brand new mediocre kit, and there are great savings to be had. The problems with buying used lenses are the potential risks.
Used and second hand lenses may have been abused by the previous owner and have some serious damage to them. Cracked glass, glass mould, broken/faulty lens mounts, dinks and dents, broken filter threads and dust problems are very likely, and over the years I have seen some seriously dodgy second hand lenses for sale all of which should have been binned.
Modern day lenses are full of technology and in addition to the potential issues above other things to look out for is broken image stabilisation, broken/faulty internal motors, broken/faulty contacts on the camera mount…… the list goes on and one.
As you can see there are a lot of issues that can affect camera lenses and before you part with your hard earned money you need to thoroughly check the lens and make sure it does everything it is supposed to, otherwise you are going to lose out.
Look on any auction site and you will see many different types of used camera lenses for sale, a lot of which are very reasonably priced and we all love a bargain, right? If the damage to the lens is internal, such as a broken motor, broken image stabilisation, faulty contacts etc. the photo of the used lens is not going to show this damage, and even if the lens is in pristine condition other than this it is worthless and you shouldn’t bother bidding or buying it. The problem is there is no way of telling whether the internal parts of the lens are damaged unless the seller owns up to it, but there are many dishonest sellers out there, and it is all too easy to get ripped off and become a victim. It has happened to me in the past, and I vowed it would never happen again.
These auction sites have the buyer protection schemes in place, so you may be tempted to take a punt and run your luck but will that buyer protection scheme actually compensate you for the total cost (price and postage) of the lens? Will the buyer protection scheme compensate you for the time, hassle, inconvenience and stress of getting your money back? Food for thought there.
In my experience, and my opinion buying used lenses from any auction site is not a good idea. In fact, buying used lenses from any private seller is not a good idea. Okay, there are honest sellers out there and the lenses they sell will be in full working order with little dust etc. but then there are also dishonest sellers out there. Dust is a big issue with lenses, it is a fact of photography, and there is little you can do about it. All lenses have dust in them, it’s the amount that varies and considering dust can ruin a photo, I is something that should not be taken lightly.
The only place I would buy used lenses from is an actual camera shop, and I would only ever use a local one at that. Camera stores will thoroughly check and test every single used lens they sell on, and when I say “test” I mean test. When I traded in my old lenses the camera shop spent an hour on each lens and they checked the overall condition of the lens and then put it on specialist machinery to check the levels of dust in the lens, check the motor was working, check the image stabilisation is working and also check the contacts were sound and still communicated to a camera as it should. I look after my lenses and I knew there was nothing wrong with them yet they were still rigorously tested. I was shocked by the level of testing, but also impressed that the camera went to such lengths.
I now know from my experience trading in lenses that any used or second hand lens I buy from that camera store will have undergone the same checks and rigorous tests, and that if I buy it I can be one hundred percent comfortable everything will work the way it should, even if the lens looks well used on the outside.
I only ever buy used camera lenses from local camera shops because I get to see the lens and take a few test shots before I buy it, and this is something I can’t do if buying a lens from form a camera shop the other end of the country through their online store. I know other camera shops test the used and second hand lenses they sell on, so I have no worries about the lenses being faulty, it’s just that I like to see the cosmetic condition of the lens and take some test shots for my own peace of mind. The other thing about using a local camera shop is that if, for whatever reason, there are any issues with the lens after purchase I can personally go back and get the issue sorted quickly, with minimum fuss and without having to deal with the couriers or the postal service, and hence add even more costs.
Buying used lenses from camera shops are obviously more expensive than buying the same lens from a private individual but knowing the lens is in full working order, knowing the lens has been rigorously tested and knowing I have rights should anything go wrong, as well as the peace of mind is well worth the additional cost in my opinion.
Even though camera shops charge more for used lenses the additional isn’t usually that much more than a private seller. For example, I bought a used Canon 28-300L for six hundred bucks less than new and it was immaculate. I have to admit that I was stunned just how mint the lens was – it didn’t look like it had ever been put on a camera before. After I bought the lens (for two thirds of a new Canon 28-300L) I decided to have a look and see how much they fetch privately out of interest. I found several available to buy and one that looked as mint as the one I had just purchased (although I couldn’t confirm this of course) was only fifty bucks less than what I paid. For the sake of fifty bucks I am glad I bought from my local camera shop because of the testing procedures, after sales service etc.
If you want to save some money on a camera lens buy used, you will save yourself a packet, but make sure you buy from a local camera shop for peace of mind.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.