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Whether you’re looking to take up a new photography hobby, or you’re looking to make a few extra dollars by selling stock photos, knowing how to pick up a good used camera can save you potentially hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars. With little in the way of a right to a refund, or a warranty to cover vital components, it’s crucial to know how to assess a used camera to ensure you don’t end up paying more in repairs and replacements that you did for the camera initially.
DLSRs, mirrorless, and even compact cameras have tell-tale signs that you need to look out for. With that in mind, here are a few quick-fire tips that will prevent you from making any significant mistakes in your bid to pick up a bargain camera capable of shooting amazing photos.
- Avoid Buying from a Professional if Possible
This may seem like an odd tip at first, but it makes sense the more you think about it. Professional photographers view their cameras as no more than tools for the job. They notoriously treat their cameras poorly. In production settings, cameras aren’t typically treated well, with many different pairs of hands using them on any given day. What’s more, they are frequently used day in and day out religiously, wearing out key components quickly.
You’re much better served buying from sellers who are getting rid of their camera equipment through lack of use. Every aspect, including the exterior of the camera, should be in a better condition as a result. Amateur photographers are always likely to take much better care of their equipment than professionals.
- Always Check the Shutter Count
DLSRs and some mirrorless cameras have a finite number of shutter actuations, after which the shutter mechanism will need replacing. This is akin to checking the mileage on a car. The higher the mileage, the worse the condition of the vehicle is likely to be. Cameras are rated for shutter durability, with beginner to intermediate models coming in around the 150,000 shot mark, with pro models closer to 300,000.
Of course, you can ask the seller what the current count is at, but if you want to be sure, you can use third-party apps through websites such as EOSinfo (for Canon) or myshuttercount.com (for Nikon and Pentax models). Some cameras embed shutter count info in a photo’s EXIF data, so if you obtain a recent photo from the seller, you can go through the data to see if the actuation information is available there.
- Inspect the Sensor
One of the most overlooked aspects when looking to buy a used camera is the sensor, so make sure to carry out your own checks. Sometimes dust can build up, damaging the performance. In other instances, there may be scratches or imperfections. Sensors can be cleaned, but in an ideal world, you should buy a camera without any sensor problems.
There is a way you can test the sensor by taking a test shot. Take a photo of a flat subject like the daytime sky or a well-lit white wall with the aperture stopped down low to something like f/22. In most cases, this should reveal any dust specs, hairs, or fungus that could affect image quality. This is also a great way of picking up any dead pixels on the sensor, which are ‘stuck’ and unable to capture light.
- Assess the Lens
It doesn’t matter what type of camera you’re buying; you need to inspect the lens. First, check for the immediately apparent issues such as scratches and chips. Use your phone light or torch to look for internal dust and mold; small dust spots should be visible to the naked eye. Additionally, look for general signs of wear and tear. Noticeable dents, scratches, and rubbing on the zoom ring and external barrel indicate poor handling of the lens over time.
Finally, look for other issues that could affect performance, such as internal fogging or fungus. These problems are usually indicated by patches or “smeared” areas and should be easy to see when tilting the lens up to a light source. Fungus should be avoided at all costs since it’s nigh-on impossible to remove and will get worse over time. A spiderweb-like pattern appearing in any image indicates the presence of fungus.
- Physical Condition
Even those who don’t necessarily know what to look for, undertake checks of a camera’s physical condition. This is going to be the ultimate acid test of how a camera has been treated by its soon-to-be previous owner. In an ideal world, you don’t want to be able to tell that it’s used. It should still have a “brand new” feeling when getting it out of the bag.
If it has scratches or dings to the body, marks on the LCD screen or viewfinder, and the rubber grip areas are severely worn, then it’s been poorly looked after. In some cases, the damage may be an indication that it has suffered a bad drop, which could shorten its useful lifespan for you. If a camera’s exterior is all dinged up, then the internal mechanisms are likely to be bearing up even worse. Therefore, it’s wise to steer clear.
That’s it for this quick-fire guide. This is by no means an exhaustive checklist, but following this guidance will go a long way to stopping you from wasting your hard-earned money on a camera that isn’t fit for purpose. Remember to always insist on taking a few test photos with a few different settings to make sure you’re comfortable before buying.
Happy bargain hunting!