Get informed to get the best possible deal.
Going for a used camera is a great option to save money. While buying a used camera lacks the "fresh out the box" feeling, a well-maintained DSLR will still deliver great shots and performance for a fraction of brand new model. Just like when buying any used item, there are some things you should keep in mind to make sure you're getting the best deal.
The golden rule for buying is to always get your hands on the camera before you buy. If this isn't possible, make sure the description and images are as detailed as can be. Here at Harrison Cameras, we are always detailed and honest with regards to the condition and performance of our Used DSLRs. Even better, they are individually photographed so you can see the condition for yourself.
The main benefit of buying used is the money you'll be saving by not buying brand new. However, even if you buy the latest model second hand, the price will still be steep and the saving won't be huge. The latest model on the market may be flashy and stylish, but older models can still produce breathtaking shots for a fraction of the price. A good workman never blames his tools, so never think you need a certain spec of camera to produce great shots.
Just like a car's mileage, a camera's shutter count should be considered before making a purchase. Simply put, the camera shutter is a mechanism that moves every time a photo is taken. Each time the camera takes a photo the shutter count will increase by one. A low shutter count indicates that the camera hasn't been used frequently while a high shutter count indicates the opposite. Therefore, a camera with a low shutter count SHOULD have a longer life than one with a high shutter count.
So the question is what is considered a high shutter count? Most modern DSLRs can go into the hundreds of thousands and still work perfectly. We'd say a shutter count higher than 100,000 should evoke caution and mean a closer inspection to make sure everything is in order.
Going with the car analogy again, a car with 100K miles clocked may run like a dream where as one with 20K miles may break down within a week. In the same way, a camera's shutter count shouldn't be used as a be-all and end-all. Rather, keep it in mind when inspecting other aspects of the camera's condition and performance - such as the the camera sensor.
"A shutter count higher than 100,000 should evoke caution and mean a closer inspection."
Arguably the most important component is the sensor. It determines the image resolution, size, depth of field, dynamic range, the overall size of the camera and much more. DSLR sensors are susceptible to damage since the changing of lenses can allow for dust and other elements to make contact with the sensor surface. Despite the importance of the sensor, many second hand camera buyers forget to inspect the sensor since it requires a more detailed look on the inside.
Shine a light on the sensor and look for any scratches, marks or dead pixels. Minor damage may be easily fixed or have no impact on the image quality at all, but it should still be something to keep in mind. A major red flag would be the presence of fungus on the sensor. Dealing with fungus in a camera can be a big headache, so it should always be a deal breaker - prevention is better than the cure after all.
"Fungus on the lens or sensor should be a dealbreaker."
Does the used DSLR come with a lens? If so be sure to check the condition and performance of it. Similar to inspecting the camera sensor, minor marks and scratches may not be a deal breaker but still should be kept it mind. Again, fungus on the lens is a no go and should be a deal breaker.
Consider how many lenses the seller has used. If the seller has multiple lenses that they have used with the unit, you can assume they have swapped the lenses many times which may have allowed dust and outside elements to make contact with the inside of the lens of even the camera sensor.
We picture each of our used items individually at Harrison Cameras - so you can see the condition of the camera and lens for yourself.
The body, the sensor and the lens are all in great condition and you're ready to hand over the money - but wait! DSLRs come with a number of accessories, some of which are vital to the operation of the camera. The battery and charger should be included, and therefore should be in good condition, but other accessories such as lens caps, lens hoods or battery grips may be included. Always check the condition of these to make sure they're worth a possible increase in price. A good tip is to always ask the seller if they have the original box that the camera came in.
One of the downsides of buying used is that usually the warranty has expired or been voided. However, a reputable store will still offer some protection against anything going wrong. A second advantage of going for a reputable store is that they may offer part-exchange for trading in your old equipment, further saving you money.