Getting Geared Up – part 3

How you can get build to professional photography equipment on a budget   Part 3: Shiny or slightly worn?   Written by: Adam Bevan – It’s amazing how many […]

How you can get build to professional photography equipment on a budget


Part 3: Shiny or slightly worn?

getting geared up2


Written by: Adam Bevan –

It’s amazing how many people write off the idea of buying second hand equipment without properly weighing up the pros and cons of this option. I think that this is probably because there are a lot of misconceptions about this topic, such a the notion that if the lens is used, it won’t take perfect quality pictures, or if it breaks there is no protection for you, the buyer. Whilst these things can be true in some cases, it is certainly not always the rule – and if you are willing to give up that 2-week’s shine that comes with new equipment, you can save an absolute fortune.


I’d like to start by giving you a personal experience of mine. I was absolutely desperate to get a set of professional build lenses for my camera. One such lens was the Nikon Nikkor 17-55mm AF-S f2.8G IF-ED. With a price tag of £1049.00 in a large UK photography store chain… that was never going to happen! I looked literally everywhere for equivalents that could match up to this lens, such as the Sigma “equivalent” (which comes in at roughly £300), but every reputable reviewer that I watched on YouTube or read their articles on other lenses simply did not stack up to the Nikon. Unable to compromise on quality for my needs, something had to give. I had to be inventive. I started to search for reputable sources of used lenses at this point, so I googled the lens and looked on google shopping. At this point, I found a really good website for UK photographers which provided me with the same Nikkor lens that I had been craving for a mere £449.00 – a £600 saving on the high street price for the same lens!


The website has US equivalents, too, and you get the added security of a 3 month warranty – certainly worth having in my opinion over the even cheaper price that I found for this lens on eBay (£400 delivered).


It won’t always be as clear-cut as my previous example, though – as you will see now I present you with anecdote number two. I also wanted a Nikon Nikkor 70-200mm AF-S f2.8G ED VRII lens, and I couldn’t find it for much less than £1000 anywhere… even used, so I did some research and found an older lens from Nikon, the 80-200mm f2.8 E.D, which still had the brilliant optics that I was looking for and subtle features that are important to me such as the 9 blade diaphragm for better bokeh. I got this lens for £369.00. If I hadn’t looked into this and had got a loan or something to buy the 70-200mm newer Nikon lens, as no doubt some people do, I would have paid £1579.00 on the high street.


I’ve shown you some success stories, but are there downsides to this system? Definitely. You get a far shorter warranty than you would for a new piece of equipment (whether it’s a lens or a camera body) and you also don’t get to try it out in the same way that you would in a shop. Ironically, if you buy from eBay rather than a reputable used equipment dealer, you can remove one of these disadvantages… by going to see the item. One word of warning – this can be a long way to travel and disappointing if the item is no good.


Having said that, eBay is the way that I bought my Nikon D5300 body for at least £150 less than the next online retailer and I had the assurance that the equipment was working fully because I used it for about half an hour. Even though I didn’t have the security of a warranty in that particular instance, it was a new body recently released and I was confident that I was safe enough without the warranty. So far, so good!


If you are willing to forego any security on lenses (which I personally am not!) there are even greater bargains to be had. I could have bought the 80-200mm lens from Nikon from an eBay source for just £250, but it had had fungus on the lens in the past that had eaten away at the lens coating. He had then had the lens professionally serviced. I chose not to deal with this risk as, even after a professional cleaning and despite the fact that the marks were incredibly minor, in order to remove all fungal spores from the inner workings of a lens is difficult and I would have had no guarantees if the problem had recurred.


There are forums out there to show you how to clean fungus off of lenses, too, if you’d like to have a go yourself. I know people that have got £3000 lens for a couple of hundred, covered in fungus and then cleaned them up and had a perfectly functioning lens afterward! This is because the fungus lives off of the lens coating but cannot consume enough to make a difference in the short term. For any used lens purchase from eBay or similar auction sites, I recommend that you test the lens yourself in person. There are also forums on how to test a lens when you go to view it – essentially, you flash a bright light through the lens and look for imperfections such as scratches, fungus, dust and haze. If you choose to use a reputable used equipment company, they have tested it for you and given it a rating based on a scale. I always buy either excellent or excellent + equipment myself, but there are lower grades that are still optically perfect. Why do I do that? Because I think that I can sell the lenses on for more money in the future if they are externally very tidy, too, so I’m happy to pay a little more – it’s still usually less than 50% of the new price!


I would also like to clarify that I think that my examples show that I was savvy with my money, but not a cheapskate. Don’t save pounds on filters or cleaning equipment or carry cases  – it’s probably more hassle than it’s worth. Stick to the big purchases such as the camera body itself and the lenses you will use on it. That’s all my opinion though, you have to find your own way in this game, so feel free to cheap out on everything or be more conservative than me if you choose to.


Finally, developing on from this point, there is a law of diminishing returns on this advice. If you are not looking to buy a pro lens and you simply want a good amateur or semi-professional lens, go for something like a Sigma or a Tamron and you will still get very good results if you choose wisely. Most of even the most reputable sources agree that you can get 90% of the results on these more budget lenses, it’s just that I was looking for the 100%. In those cases, it’s probably not worth going down the used route as the savings will be relatively minimal in comparison (as the prices are quite cheap to start with) and you are forfeiting a lot of the warranty and protection that you get with a new lens. My personal guideline is that if you are saving less than £50 on a lens, just buy it new unless you are on a super tight budget and need to throttle every penny!


See you in Part 4!


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