All photographers at some point find themselves in the market for ‘new’ camera gear. Whether it’s a new release that sparks your attention, an upgrade, or even a downgrade.
I have bought and sold a lot of camera gear, and I have learned that there are multiple ways to go about it. So, I put this article together so as to help those out there considering what to do with their used gear, or perhaps wondering where to buy new gear.
I have done almost everything possible in terms of buying and selling. I have bought new, refurbished, used and I have used many methods, from reputable websites to Craigslist. I have also sold tons of used gears through mediums of all types as well.
In this article, I’ll compare some of the buying and selling avenues and I will also lay out the pros and cons of each method. My goal for every purchase or sale is that I maximize the value of the respective piece of gear. If I am buying, that also means maximizing value while ensuring the quality and condition of the gear I am purchasing.
In my opinion, the value of buying used or refurbished gear is immense. I know some like to buy new and buy right when a near camera or lens might be released, there is no problem with that. However, many of us are on a tight budget and we want a usable and reliable piece of equipment, but we also want the best deal. Outside of the Nikon Z series camera and lenses that I purchased recently, I have exclusively bought used or refurbished items. And I have saved a ton. There are many reputable used dealers out there where you can get a great deal (and a limited warranty), there are also less reputable sources where you can save even more, but obviously, there are trade-offs. The same can be said of selling equipment, lots of different avenues. Let’s get into it, and there will be some overlap between buying and selling sources.
Adorama or B&H
I like Adorama and B&H a lot for buying used gear. It’s not all good, but the two companies remain two of the best places to shop for used gear. They have an excellent rating system. My experience has been that they are very conservative with ratings, and the gear I have purchased has exceeded the respective rating. Both offer good warranties too. Adorama offers a 180-day warranty or 90-day warranty depending on the rating, and B&H offers a 90-day warranty. I like using these two options because of that extra level of security. Most used gear will not come attached with a warranty if you buy from other sources. These are the two most reputable dealers in terms of photography gear too, you know you can trust them. You have to do your research though, they sell a lot of gear that has been used and abused (i.e. cameras with shutter counts at 150k). It’s up to you to sift through, but if you do, you can find some savings. The only true downside is you pay more for the warranty and the credibility of Adorama and B&H, so both are a good place to save, but not necessarily the place to go for THE best deal. Depending on what dealer you choose, you might end up paying sales tax as well.
Pros: Good rating system, very reputable source, lots of items, return policy
Cons: Gear can be heavily used, probably not the best deal if you’re looking to save the most money
KEH is in the same tier as Adorama and B&H. KEH.com specializes in selling used camera gear, they do not sell any new items. I love KEH.com. The rating system is the best out of any other site. I have received lower-rated items that have shown up looking like they just came out of the box. The condition of their used gear is impeccable. However, premium new gear might be tough to find, as inventory can be an issue. They also boast a great return policy as well as an industry-leading 180-day warranty on all used gear. I have purchased a lot of gear from KEH.com and definitely recommend them.
Pros: 180-day warranty, excellent rating system, very reputable for used gear
Cons: Hard to find gear
LensAuthority.com is my favorite place to shop for used gear. The warranty and inventory options might not be industry leading, but they are solid. They are also lesser known than the options listed above. The site serves as an offloading site for a popular photography rental company. I have found incredible deals on the site. The only downside is since most of the gear has previously been rental equipment, it can have heavy used. But, the rating system is true and you can always get more details on specific items from customer service. I once bought a Nikon 80-400mm lens from them in great shape for $850, when I think the lens was retailing for about $1,300 on other sites (used).
Pros: 90-day warranty, great savings, lesser known source
Cons: Low inventory, heavily used gear
Honorable Mention: eBay and Facebook
I usually stick to buying used gear from reputable sites. But, I have had instances where I have purchased gear through eBay and Facebook. I will provide some more info on eBay and Facebook below in the selling section. A lot of the info below also can be applied to buying.
Just like above, these are the most reputable sources. You can trade-in your used gear for quick cash with any of these websites (and many others). You can fill out a quick form about the condition of your gear and you can get paid very quickly. The downside is these companies will devalue your gear so they can still make a profit when they sell it. Hence, these options are the easiest for selling, but you will 100% see the lowest return on your used gear. I steer clear of these options. Although quick and easy, I don’t mind waiting it out with some of the other options below to make a little more money.
Pros: Quick and easy
Cons: Lowest return on used gear
Facebook and Instagram can be a great place to sell your used gear, especially if you have a lot of photographer friends. I have sold used gear using both platforms. You can avoid selling fees and oftentimes, you are selling to people you know and trust. I have also sold gear through Facebook groups before. Sometimes I will sell to people I do not know through social media. I always process those transactions through PayPal. Although there is a 3% fee on the sale, PayPal allows you to create an invoice that offers buyer and seller protection. Think of the 3% fee as a useful insurance policy in case anything goes wrong during the sale. I think overall, selling on Facebook and Instagram is my favorite method. The market is limited to people who see your post, but it is fairly easy and offers great returns on your gear.
Pros: High return on gear, can avoid 3rd party selling fees, sell to people you know
Cons: Limited market
Many photography forums out there also offer a For Sale/Wanted thread. The most notable are those on Fred Miranda, DPReview.com, and Photo.net. This is another great option to sell and avoid larger selling fees. I always use PayPal for the protections listed above though so there is a 3% fee. You can tap a great market on these forums because the photographers on the thread are actively searching for gear. The downside is you will be selling to people you don’t know, but that is why I use PayPal.
Pros: Lots of gear, buy from photographers
Cons: No warranty, more unknown
I sell a lot of gear on eBay. The fees hurt (10% + 3% PayPal fee), but you can tap such a huge market through eBay. I usually wait until eBay is running a promo where selling fees are discounted, and if you can take advantage of a deal like that, eBay is my favorite place to sell. You are protected as a buyer and a seller, the market is huge, and you will make more money versus trading in your gear. I buy from eBay too, but you need to really do your research and make sure you are buying from a reputable dealer, there are a lot of grey market items floating around.
Pros: Great auction deals
Cons: Grey market items, not reputable, can be risky
I live in a smaller city in Wisconsin and my local market is pretty limited. However, I have sold gear through Craigslist and other avenues (direct contact with local photographers). Selling local can take time (waiting 2-3 months), you have to take time to meet, and people might try to scam you. If your careful though, you can avoid fees altogether. We have all heard the Craigslist nightmare stories so you have to be careful, but just this week I actually sold a lens through Craigslist.
Pros: Great deals, buy locally, avoid all selling fees
Cons: Scam potential, not reputable
Matt Meisenheimer is a photographer based in Wisconsin. His artistry revolves around finding unique compositions and exploring locations that few have seen. He strives to capture those brief moments of dramatic light and weather, which make our grand landscapes so special. Matt loves the process of photography – from planning trips and scouting locations, taking the shot in-field, to post-processing the final image. Matt is an active adventurer and wildlife enthusiast as well. He graduated with a degree in wildlife ecology and worked in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier National Park as a biologist. He also spent 6 months working in the deserts of Namibia before finding his path in photography. Matt’s passion for the wilderness has taken him to many beautiful places around the world. As a former university teaching assistant, Matt is passionate about instruction. It is his goal to give his students the technical and creative knowledge they need to achieve their own photographic vision. He truly enjoys working with photographers on a personal level and helping them reach their goals. You can see Matt’s work and portfolio on his webpage at www.meisphotography.com