5 Questions to Ask Before Buying Used Camera Gear

The post 5 Questions to Ask Before Buying Used Camera Gear appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

Questions to Ask Before Buying Used Camera Gear

I’ve bought a lot of used gear over the last decade.




And more.


A lot of those purchases turned out great. Some of them I still use to this day.

But a large chunk of the used purchases I made?


In fact, in my more naive years, I was forced to return over 50% of the gear that I purchased. There were just so many problems: sand in focusing rings, stains on the front element, shutter buttons that couldn’t communicate with the shutter. (Oh, and my least favorite: Fungus inside the lens. Doesn’t that just make you shiver?)

And here’s the kicker:

I bought all of this gear through respectable buyers, who described the equipment as in “excellent condition,” “flawless,” “perfect,” “like new,” – you name it.

It got so bad that I considered leaving the used market entirely and just buying new. But I resisted.


Used camera gear is a real bargain – if you buy carefully. This is why I took all of my negative gear-buying experiences and turned them into a process for making sure I purchased good used gear.

At the core of that process is a series of questions. Questions that I’m going to share with you today. Some of the questions are for you, the buyer. Others should be posed to the seller before you put any cash down.

Are you ready to discover how to buy used gear effectively?

Let’s get started!


Question 1: Are you buying from a reputable seller with a money-back guarantee?

This is the number one most important thing that you should do when buying used gear.

Purchase from a seller that you trust – and that gives you an enforceable money-back guarantee. You don’t want to purchase a camera online, only to find that it’s full of water damage and sports a cracked LCD.

This means that buying used through Amazon is fine. All of their products are backed by Amazon month-long guarantees.

Buying used through eBay is also fine. Ebay’s buyer protection ensures that you’re not going to get ripped off in such an obvious fashion.

5 Questions to Ask Before Buying Used Camera Gear

But this makes most forums (if not all forums) off-limits. If the forum doesn’t have a serious money-back guarantee that’s honored by the site itself, then stay away.

This also makes in-person sales off-limits, such as those done through Craigslist. Sure, you can inspect the item upon receipt, but what are you going to do when you get home, put that lens under a light, and realize it’s filled with an army of fungus?

It’ll be too late, and your seller may not be so receptive to a return.

So just don’t do it. Instead, use sites like Amazon, eBay, B&H, or KEH, which all have clear money-back guarantees.

Question 2: Does the seller include actual pictures of the gear?

Sellers not including pictures is a big warning sign, especially on a website like eBay, where pictures are the norm. It should make you ask: Why doesn’t the seller want to show off their “excellent condition” item? Is there something they’re trying to hide?

Another red flag is only showing a stock photo. These are easy to spot; they look way better than anything that a casual, eBay-selling photographer would have taken, and there tends to be only one or two of them.

5 Questions to Ask Before Buying Used Camera Gear

If you like the price and everything else checks out, then go ahead and shoot the seller an email, asking for in-depth pictures of the item. If the seller refuses, then it’s time to look elsewhere.

You might come across some sellers who are offering many units of the same item (e.g., five Canon 7D Mark II’s). In this case, they likely have shown a stock photo, or a photo of one item, because they don’t want to go through the effort of photographing each piece of kit.

In such cases, you should message the seller and ask for pictures of the exact item that you’ll be purchasing. It’s too easy, especially with these big sellers, to end up with an item that you’ll have to send back.

Question 3: How many shutter actuations has the camera fired?

(Note: This section is for buying cameras.)

First things first: A shutter actuation refers to a single shot taken with a camera.

Every camera has a number of actuations its shutter is rated for. Once the shutter has reached around that point, it just…fails. While you can get the shutter replaced, it generally costs enough that you’re probably better off buying a new camera body.

5 Questions to Ask Before Buying Used Camera Gear

If you want to know the shutter actuation rating of any particular camera, you can look it up through a quick Google search.

Of course, the shutter rating isn’t a hard and fast rule. There are some cameras that go far beyond their predicted shutter count, and there are some cameras that fail far sooner. The shutter count is just an average.

Now, when you look at camera listings online, you’ll see that shutter actuations are reported about fifty percent of the time.

But the other fifty percent of the time, there will be no mention of them.

This is for three possible reasons:

  1. The seller doesn’t know about the importance of shutter actuations.
  2. The seller can’t figure out how to determine the shutter actuations for their camera.
  3. The seller doesn’t wish to share the shutter count because it won’t help the sale.

I would never buy a camera without knowing its shutter count. Therefore, I recommend reaching out to the seller and asking.

If the seller refuses to share the count, then let the camera go. If the seller claims they don’t know how to view the shutter count, explain that they should be able to find it easily, either within the camera itself or through a website such as https://www.camerashuttercount.com/.

If they still won’t give you the count, then don’t buy. It’s not worth risking it.

Question Four: Does the lens have any blemishes on the glass, fungus, scratches, haze, or problems with the focusing ring?

(Note that this is for purchasing lenses.)

This is a question to ask the seller, and I suggest you do it every single time you make a purchase.

5 Questions to Ask Before Buying Used Camera Gear

Yes, the seller may be annoyed by your specific question. But this is a transaction; it’s not about being nice to the seller! And I’ve never had someone refuse to sell to me because I annoyed them with questions.

In fact, what makes this question so valuable is that it often forces sellers to actually consider the equipment they’re selling. Up until this point, the seller may not have really thought about some of these things. So it can act as a bit of a wake-up call and make the seller describe the item beyond “excellent condition.”

When you ask this question, make it clear that you want a detailed description. You genuinely want the seller to check for scratches on the glass, fungus in the lens, problems with the focusing ring, and more. You don’t want a perfunctory examination.

Unfortunately, there will still be some people who don’t do a serious examination, or who lie in the hopes that you won’t notice the issues (or be bothered enough to make a return). But asking the question is the best you can do.

Question Five: Has the seller noticed any issues with the item in the past?

This is another question to ask the seller before you hit the Buy button. It’s meant as a final attempt to determine whether the item has any issues.

In this case, by asking about the item’s past.

5 Questions to Ask Before Buying Used Camera Gear

Unfortunately, there will be sellers who have had an item break repeatedly – but, as long as it’s working at the moment they take the photos, they’ll give it the “perfect condition” label. Fortunately, many sellers will still be honest with you. If they’ve had a problem with the item, they’ll say.

So it’s definitely worth asking – just to be safe.

5 Questions to ask before buying used camera gear: Conclusion

Now that you know the five most important questions to ask before buying used camera gear, you’re well equipped to start buying gear online.


Yes, you’re still going to run into the occasional issue, but if you’re careful, and you think about these crucial questions to ask before buying used camera gear…

…the number of issues will be far, far lower.

And you’ll be able to effectively take advantage of used camera equipment!


The post 5 Questions to Ask Before Buying Used Camera Gear appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

Is Full Frame Still the Best?

Nikon D800

The Nikon D800, a 36.3 megapixel full frame camera.

For many years photographers have accepted that, when it comes to image quality, a full frame camera beats one with a smaller sensor every time. Let’s look at some of the reasons why.

Advantages of full frame cameras

  • Full frame camera sensors have larger pixels. This means they create images with less noise and all-round better image quality.
  • Full frame cameras usually have more megapixels. While this doesn’t matter to most photographers, it may be useful if your client demands large images or you want to make large prints.
  • There are more wide-angle primes available. If you prefer prime lenses to zooms, you have more choice at shorter focal lengths with a full frame camera.
  • Legacy lenses can be used as intended. If you own a 24mm prime lens that you used with a 35mm film camera, you can use it exactly the same way on a full frame camera. On a camera with a smaller sensor the crop factor means you are effectively using a longer focal length.
  • There is less depth-of-field at any given aperture, and focal length setting, than there is with the equivalent focal length on an APS-C camera. For example, a photo taken at f/2.8 with an 85mm lens on a full frame camera has less depth-of-field than one taken at f2.8 on with a 50mm lens on an APS-C camera even though the field-of-view of both lenses is approximately the same. This is a benefit if you like to create photos with bokeh.
  • The top cameras in a manufacturer’s range are usually full frame. Let’s say you want to buy a durable, weatherproofed, Canon EOS camera, designed to handle everything a professional photographer could possibly throw at it – then you need the EOS-1D X. An APS-C (cropped sensor) version of this camera does not exist.
Portrait taken with EOS 5D Mark II

This portrait was taken with an EOS 5D Mark II. Using a full frame camera helped obtain the out of focus background.

Disadvantages of full frame cameras

Full frame cameras have some disadvantages too:

  • They cost more money than cropped sensor cameras. Larger sensors are more expensive to manufacture, therefore full frame cameras will always cost more than similar models with smaller sensors.
  • Size and weight. Full frame cameras are larger and heavier – they have to be to fit the larger sensor. However, the new Sony A7 and A7R cameras go against this trend.

The EOS-1D X – Canon’s largest and most expensive full frame camera, designed for professional use. It’s an amazing, high precision camera for the most demanding photographer. But it also shows the main disadvantages of full frame cameras: size, weight and expense.

The rise of the mirrorless camera

If you’re an aspiring pro, you may feel that you need a full frame camera to be taken seriously. In fact, this has never been completely true. There are plenty of professional photographers who use crop sensor cameras. The quality is more than good enough, and if you’re a sports or wildlife photographer you may also appreciate the extra reach that an APS-C camera gives you with telephoto lenses.

So far most of these points apply mainly to digital SLR cameras. But over the last few years we have seen the rise in popularity of mirrorless camera systems (sometimes called compact camera systems). It is easy to see why these are popular. Their small size and unobtrusive design means they are easy to carry while travelling, and less likely to draw attention if you in an area where the locals are sensitive to photographers. Mitchell Kanashkevich has written an excellent article on this topic: Istanbul and My Review of Fuji X100S as has our own Valerie Jardin using the same camera.

Furthermore, the new Fujifilm cameras such as the X-Pro 1 and X100S have garnered a lot of praise for their high image quality, with some reviewers saying it is on a par with that of full frame digital SLR cameras (there is more information on the science behind it here).

Fujifilm X100S

The Fujifilm X100S. This camera has had some very positive reviews. Some photographers are moving away from full frame digital SLRs and towards smaller, mirrorless camera systems.

A new question

It seems to me the question has shifted. We used to ask ‘what camera gives you the best image quality?’ and the answer was inevitably – full frame. Now the question has become ‘which camera is best for me?’ Image quality is only part of the equation, and has become less important as the gap between full frame and crop sensor cameras has narrowed. So if you’re in the market for a new camera here are the things you might want to consider before making a purchase:

  • Budget – this is important for fairly obvious reasons. Don’t be afraid to buy a crop sensor camera if your budget doesn’t stretch to full frame.
  • Existing lens compatibility – If you’re staying within the same camera system, how do your current lenses work with the new camera? Some lenses are designed for crop sensor cameras and won’t work with full frame. Does upgrading to full frame mean that you will also have to spend money on new lenses?
  • Total cost with accessories -  If you’re moving to a new camera system, how much will you need to spend on lenses and other accessories? For example, there are a lot of photographers praising the merits of Fujifilm cameras and writing about making the switch from their current system. But bear in mind these guys make a living from photography and expect to spend a certain amount on camera gear each year. Cameras are tax deductible expenses and this is effectively a discount on new equipment that hobbyists don’t receive.
  • Size and weight - These are important factors if you like to travel with your cameras, but maybe not so important if you take most of your photos locally. Despite the advances in mirrorless cameras the digital SLR design is still the best for most types of photography. The trade-off is size and weight, as digital SLRs are bigger and heavier than other types of camera.
  • Alternative lens options - Do you want to use lenses from other manufacturers or old lenses on your camera? If you’d like to experiment in this area then think about a mirrorless camera system, as most of them have lens adapters that let you use them with a variety of different lenses. This can be a lot of fun and source of experimentation in itself.
Sony A7

The Sony A7 (pictured) and A7R are the world’s smallest full frame digital cameras with interchangeable lenses.

What do you think?

What are your thoughts on the full frame versus crop sensor debate? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

More reading on this topic here:

Mastering Photography

Mastering Photography ebook

My ebook Mastering Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Using Digital Cameras introduces you to photography and helps you make the most out of your digital camera, no matter which one you own. It covers concepts such as lighting and composition as well as the camera settings you need to take beautiful photos like the one in this article.

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