5 Tips for Buying Used Camera Gear
Photography can become an expensive creative outlet. Not only are the tools you need to do your job expensive, but then they’re always a better camera body or a newer version of a lens. It can be exhausting trying to keep up with the need for the latest and greatest trends. But I’m going to let y’all in on a little secret.
It’s not the gear that makes the photographer great; it’s the person behind the gear.
Is your mind blown? I know, I know that was #CheesyAF but it’s also true! You don’t have to have top of the line everything to be successful. In fact, I started with a Canon t#i rebel and the two lenses that came with it. That was my gear. The lenses were f/4.0 and I had no idea why my photos never had that “blurred” background look all these professional photos had. Let’s be real I had not a freakin clue what I was doing. But I did know that I loved taking photos of people and making them feel good about themselves in the moment.
So if you read my blog *What it actually costs to start a photography business* and you’re overwhelmed, or you just want to take better photos for your personal memories, there’s a highly undervalued market out there that you could be utilizing to get great gear for a fraction of the cost!
Used gear is a great way to purchase quality photography equipment without breaking the bank.
When I started my business, I charged $50 for an hour session, and my first wedding was $400 for the rehearsal and 8 hours on the wedding day. I needed to build my portfolio and was just looking to make a little extra cash with something I loved doing. 6 sessions would have paid for the Canon Rebel I was using at the time.
Now, I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark III which was $2,300 when I purchased it brand new. I actually have two of them. I would have needed to book well over 30 sessions at that $50 pricing to just make that $2300 for ONE camera body. That’s not counting even paying me for the time shooting the sessions, travel for the sessions, any props I decided to purchase, park entrance fees, etc. And if you’re just starting out, you know it can be a challenge to get the word out about your business and bring in consistent bookings. I booked maybe 1 session a month when I started, sometimes 2-3 if it was fall before the holidays or graduate season. That’s like barely $100 a month in extra cash, and that won’t get me the gear I need.
What’s the solution? Used gear you guys!
I seriously dislike the general stigma that surrounds buying used gear or “off brand” lenses like Sigma or Tamron. Not everyone has the budget to drop a couple grand on one piece of gear, especially when you’re staring out! Personally, I’ve only used Sigma lenses and have nothing but rave reviews – especially when you consider the price of them!
Now the pricing of used gear varies a lot, and is usually based on a few factors. Shutter count, wear & tear, & ownership. I’m going to use the 5D Mark III as an example since that’s the camera I have and I’ve done lots of research on my cameras to make sure they’re always functioning at their best.
This is a lot like mileage on a car. The more times your camera shutter clicks, the more wear and tear the shutter experiences. The 5D Mark III is rated for 150,000 shutter actuations. To put this in perspective, I usually shoot about 400 images per family session, and about 2000 images for weddings. When I shoot weddings, I use two cameras so these are usually split between both my cameras but for the sake of these examples, let’s say I use just one camera. That means this camera, brand new, should last me 75 weddings or 375 family sessions.
I don’t know about you, but last year was my busiest year yet – I photographed 42 lifestyle/engagement sessions and 17 weddings! That’s an average of 50,000 shutter clicks. So right there you can see that my camera shutter, at this rate, will last me 3 years. It’s about $350 to replace the shutter on the 5D Mark III, but I’ve read some data on these cameras of the shutter shooting well into the 200-300K range, which doubles that life to 6 years. Plus, $350 to replace the shutter is a heck of a lot cheaper than buying brand new.
Wear & Tear
This factor can be a little subjective. Say you’re looking at 2 cameras – both the same body, roughly the same shutter count but one looks brand new while the other has some scuffs on the corners and the buttons are worn so you can hardly see the pictures. Which would you buy?
Probably the one that looks newer. But that also means it may be a little more expensive, because the owner took care of their gear. It’s like used cars; you’d choose the one with the clean title over the salvaged title. You’d want the one with the spotless interior over the dusty interior. I’d definitely pick shiny paint over the paint that might have a few chips. Those factors show you the owner cared for their car. This automatically makes you think it’s been better maintained and is therefore, a more reliable option.
Usually, a seller will tell you if they’re the original owner. I always save things like the original box, warranty paperwork and any other documents to help with resale value down the road. The more you take care of your gear, the better chance you have of selling your gear. I prefer to buy used gear from original owners so that I can at least get a sense of how it’s been taken care of.
Canon has since stopped making the 5D Mark III, but you can buy a used 5D Mark III for anywhere from $1000-1800 depending on the factors I mentioned above. When buying used gear though, take caution to avoid scams.
There’s always crappy people in the world who are just, well, crappy. So be careful of scams. I saw a Canon 50mm 1.2 for sale just the other day. The seller said it was in “mint condition”. They bought it in August of 2018 but were “quitting photography” so they were asking $450. There were about a million comments and I can see why. When I bought mine, it was $1300. This lens seemed like one heck of a deal.
Unfortunately, this lens was probably either not real as in the seller was trying to scam someone into sending them money and then not shipping anything because they never had the lens to begin with, or it could be a grey market lens. Grey market products basically aren’t guarantee by the manufacturer since they can’t trace the sales channels. They have risks, and if you want to read more about them, click here.
Making Your Purchase
Don’t let that scare you, because you can get quality gear for great prices. I’ve purchased camera bodies and lenses, and sold gear from some Buy & Sell Facebook groups and I’ve always had a great experience. Just be smart about it!
First, you should always ask for additional photos than the ones in the post. This can help you ensure that the person selling the gear actually has it. You can take it a step further and ask that they take a photo of the lens next to a paper with your name on it. This is a good idea to verify it’s not a fake image off google and a real legit listing.
Second, use a trusted payment source. Don’t go wiring money to someone or mailing a check. Personally I use PayPal business, so that my transaction is protected. PayPal friends and family assumes you know the person, so please be smart about this. It’s worth the transaction fee to protect your hard earned money.
Third, make sure the invoice on PayPal has the info on it. What are you buying? How much is it? What all is included? The invoice should also state the shipping address (yours) and the name and contact info of the seller. I also like to add the photos from the post for record keeping purposes.
Fourth, make sure that the seller includes tracking, and maybe insurance. I always do this and require it to be certified delivery so that they have to sign for. Buyers can scam too, so I keep the tracking and signature to confirm that not only did I send it, but it was delivered and they verified that.
I know it can sound a bit scary, but be smart about who you buy from and you follow proper channels. I’m a canon gal, so I use the group Canon Equipment: Buy & Sell for most of my gear sales and purchases. Used gear is a great way to get quality gear at a more reasonable price point. Especially if you’re starting your business!
Want to know more about the startup costs of a photography business?
Stay tuned on the blog coming next week!
Disclaimer: Megan Helm Photography LLC is not liable for any business decisions made by any individual or business as a result of this article.
*Cover stock image courtesy of @katemaxstock