by Harry Flashman
Second hand: bargain or bummer
good camera is an expensive investment. However, like many expensive
purchases you can save a bundle if you look at second hand, rather than
brand new. But is it worth it with photographic gear? I say yes!
In my career with a professional studio, I have in my time bought many
expensive cameras, Hasselblads, Nikons, Canons and Cambo’s. The ‘Blads alone
were worth several thousands of dollars, but other than one camera purchased
for me overseas, the rest of them were second hand!
In fact, after a disastrous robbery in Pattaya where I lost three Nikons, I
replaced my Nikons with more second hand ones. No, I did not go to the pawn
shops, I went to the large photo dealers in MBK in Bangkok. With no worries
So here’s what to do if you decide you want to upgrade or replace. Like
buying anything, one of the biggest problems is not ascertaining the
condition, it is just making sure that you do not need asbestos gloves to
handle the merchandise. In other words, make sure it isn’t “hot”. (In
particular, one of my stolen cameras!)
If you are buying from a recognized camera shop then you are probably OK,
such as the MBK ones, but from Shady Sam’s Secondhand Store, it is caveat
emptor - let the buyer beware. If you are buying from a private owner this
is more difficult, as you need to look for some proof of ownership - a
receipt from their initial purchase, or at worst, some insurance
documentation. Most robbers don’t bother insuring the loot!
Now let’s go through what you have to do to make sure you have bought a good
secondhand one - and we’ll deal with the camera body first. Just like
looking at a second hand car, how many bumps and scrapes are there on the
case? Turn it over and look at the top, front, back, sides and bottom. Look
particularly for small dents in the case. With good cameras you have to use
a lot of force to actually dent the casing, so it probably means the camera
has been dropped. You do not want a dropped camera - they are more trouble
than they are worth, no matter how cheaply it is being offered. Cheapness
might also mean damaged goods!
Note “wear” marks on the edges of the body. Nice smooth wear areas generally
mean the camera spent most of its life in a camera case. In other words, it
has had half a chance of being looked after properly, though camera cases
are becoming rare these days.
Now look at the lens(es). Do they operate smoothly? No ‘gritty’ feeling when
rotating the focusing ring? Any marks on the outside of them? Now look at
the lens, dismounted from the camera. Check the bayonet or screw fitting and
hold the lens up to the light. Look for “spider web” traces on the glass
elements which may mean fungus. This does not mean the lens is ruined - it
just means it will need a service soon. Now look through the lens while
closing the aperture down and make sure it closes OK.
Now remove the lens and look inside. If possible, look particularly at the
shutter. Titanium shutters as used in Nikons are very fragile and should be
completely flat. Look for corrosion around the light seal edges of the
camera with the lens mounting and the grooves it fits into on the body. This
may be a sign of water damage.
Look into the body at the front and make sure the mirror is clean and works
properly when the shutter is depressed.
You have only one more check to do. Use the camera to check all the shutter
speeds, apertures and functions, and there can be many. With a private
seller, I always grill the person on just why he or she wants to sell the
camera, before money actually changes hands. With a camera shop, you will
have to rely on their guarantee - usually one month. Again, discuss this
with the shop first! Lots of luck - if you have checked everything, you will
probably have saved yourself 50 percent of the new price.
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