Should I buy a second-hand camera or lens from eBay ?

My experiences of buying camera gear on eBay

Some context

I wanted to write a little post on some things I’ve learned about buying second-hand cameras and lenses from Ebay.
I’ve bought maybe 5 lenses and lots of other equipment from eBay and I wanted to share my experiences.
I had a Nikon d5100 that my wife and I shared, and I quickly realised that I was getting into this photography thing. After some time, I realised the kind of photography I do would benefit from a full-frame camera, and the choice of lenses was amazing.

Disclaimer: Looking back, the limitations I had weren’t with my camera, but were with the 18-270 Tamron lens in low light conditions, and my ability to understand the limitations of a variable aperture lens in low light.

I’ve since bought a nikon d810 and numerous lenses, tripods, heads, lighting, modifiers and many other accessories on ebay.

Things I look for when buying a camera on eBay

The shutter count/number of actuations

When looking at a camera, this is one thing that is likely to influence the price. Before going any further, it’s worth understanding why people obsess over it so much.

In summary, the shutter is a mechanical component that will wear out over time. It happens. It’s also the case that it’s something that’s hard (if not impossible) to replace yourself. Having said this, it actually means that the higher shutter count, the more chance there is of the shutter failing. This number will vary between cameras, and I strongly suggest you check somewhere like here (for my d810) to check what the chances of failure are at a particular shutter count.

Looking at the example of a d810, I probably wouldn’t buy one with 150’000 actuations, but I wouldn’t think twice about picking up one with 20’000 actuations.

A big caveat to this is if it’s been replaced and has supporting paperwork.

Condition of the body

Another thing when buying a second-hand body is “how well has it been treated in a previous life”?

I care because if someone has looked after the body, drying it off after it’s been in the rain, washing corrosive salt spray off the body, and repairing broken rubber grips tells me the last owner cared about it. I can make a reasonable expectation that they have probably put it in a well-padded bag, or even that it’s just been stored away and not used very much. These are things I look for.

Boxes, and paperwork

A camera that’s had a hard life isn’t always a bad thing, you can get some great deals on ex-pro equipment, and if there is good paperwork to back it up, then that is definitely worth looking at.  Loved ex-pro gear is great. If they have the boxes, that will help any resale and is pretty positive when buying.

Grey Imports

It’s worth asking if the camera/lens is a grey import, although in the UK (where I live), I  don’t consider it a real concern.
Grey imports are a big discussion, but primarily it means that because your camera/lens was bought in another country, the manufacturer will pretend you don’t exist.
This can include
  • No official in-country warranty
  • No deals/ rebates
  • Lower resale value
  • In some countries, you’ll struggle to get it repaired as “official repair shops” won’t touch it under threat from the manufacturer

In the UK, we have a wonderful company called Fixation who just repair things. Give them a call if you are unsure

Note: I have no connection with them, other than being a huge fan and a customer.

Bidding, offers and buy it now

So to keep it simple, you should know what an item is worth when you look for it.


Bidding provides the biggest chance of getting a good deal, just have a ceiling price in advance and do not go above it. The last 60 seconds is the only time that matters. Do not chase an item, ever.


Making offers has been a really good way of getting gear at a good price. You are taking the hassle and delay away from the seller, but annoying them with under par prices will get you ignored pretty quickly.

Buy it now

If an item is on at a decent price for buy it now, check very carefully why. If it’s a commercial seller, they will be making a profit somewhere. Make sure you aren’t paying too much, or that the product has some small print that says “for spares only”.

Know what it costs elsewhere

Often a new grey import is cheaper than the buy it now prices on eBay. I’ll be honest, eBay is my last option and usually based on price.
Some places I usually check in the UK
As well as your local camera shop (these guys deserve our support too).

Things I look for when buying a Lens on eBay

  1. Know exactly what you are looking for, know the age of the lens and common issues with those lenses.
  2. Look for worn lettering around the barrel (which doesn’t mean for sure, but may indicate heavy/pro usage). If this is the case, ask for some detail around servicing paperwork. Nothing wrong with a well-used lens if it’s been loved.
  3. Look for the magic words “no fungus, optically perfect”. If you see this, it means you have some recourse if that turns out not to be the case.
  4. Personally, I look for the original box and accessories because it makes resale easier if I choose to ditch it.
  5. Check the postage and understand how it’ll be transported. You want absolute clarity if it doesn’t arrive. Offer to pay for better carriage if it’s going to save you having a broken lens.
  6. Where is it being transported from? If it’s in your own country, you may be better picking it up personally.
  7. Please feel free to disagree here, but there is a lot less to go wrong with a prime, than a zoom, or something with VR.
  8. Know what a new grey market lens would cost. Second hand Nikon 24-70 f2.8 was going for £1400 on eBay, £1299 shipped from Digital rev.
  9. Know where you can get them repaired even if out of warranty/grey. In the UK we are lucky to have fixation who repair anything.
Happy hunting, I’ll update this blog as I get time to add more.
Should I buy a second-hand camera or lens from eBay ?

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