It is a dilemma most photographers, both professional and non-professional, face at some point in their lives: should I buy a new or used camera? And as with most dilemmas, it isn’t easily answered in a sentence or two.
On one hand, there is admittedly something wonderful about owning a camera that is fresh out of the box. On the other, a tight budget or a good deal are tempting reasons to head in the direction of the second-hand market. The truth is that Mathieu and I often buy second-hand gear. Mathieu’s old DSLR system was actually solely composed of second-hand lenses.
Our website is mostly about mirrorless cameras but it should be noted that all the rules and suggestions mentioned here can be applied to all modern digital cameras. To make things easier for you, we’ve divided the two main chapters of the article into two sub-sections – one for professionals and the other for non-professionals – as we feel that there are marginally different considerations for each.
Why Buy New?
For Professional Photographers
One reason it makes more sense to buy new as a professional photographer is that, unless you are permanently employed by a company or put on a payroll by a client, you are entitled to claim photography equipment and other work-related expenses and assets on your taxes. The rules differ from country to country but generally you can deduct a portion of your camera’s cost each year after figuring out its depreciation life (or class life) in your country of residence. (For example, in the US it is five years, whereas in Australia it is only three.)
Since professionals have the possibility to claim expenses and assets, buying a brand new camera can be seen as a long-term investment that will, in the course of the camera’s depreciation life, pay for itself and give you the best of what technology has to offer at the time of purchase.
Note: It is possible to claim used gear on your taxes as well. However, since both new and used gear are tax deductible, professionals tend to agree that it makes more sense to choose a new body than a used one.
To find out more about tax laws for photographers, visit MCP Actions.
For Non-Professional Photographers
New is Easy
One of the biggest reasons I’d recommend new over used for a non-professional (or more specifically, a neophyte photographer) is that new is easy. When you buy new, you don’t have to go through the process of making sure that the camera is in good working order because it has never been touched. What’s more, you have the advantage of a 1 or 2 year warranty depending on the brand should the camera malfunction. In short, we’re talking no fuss, no risk and peace of mind.
The only exception I’d make is if you know a photographer or advanced amateur who is willing to check the condition of the used camera for you. In that case, buying a used mirrorless camera could actually be quite advantageous as you’ll discover in the second section.
For all photographers
Unless you have money to burn, you will almost certainly want a warranty for your new mirrorless camera especially if it is being used for professional purposes. The good thing about purchasing a new mirrorless camera is that you are guaranteed a warranty as long as you buy within your own country from an authorised dealer. (Cross-border and worldwide warranties also exist but be prepared to encounter some difficulties when trying to get your gear repaired as Robert Andersen discovered.)
The same cannot be said for used cameras however. Whilst some camera stores may offer a warranty on second-hand items, many, including sellers on eBay and other second-hand websites, do not. What’s more, most major camera manufacturers will not allow you to transfer a warranty even if the camera is a recent model. This is one of the biggest reasons photographers prefer to buy new as opposed to used.
New is Safe
In contrast to the age of mechanical photography, we now live in a time when digital dominates. Our cameras are no longer just cameras but small computers, prone to software and electronic issues just as much as the laptop or tablet sitting in front of you. And as we all know, digital products simply aren’t made to last as long as their mechanical counterparts used to be.
By buying new, you have the reassurance that your camera:
- will work well throughout its entire depreciation life
- can be repaired or replaced thanks to the warranty should an issue occur
- will not have issues due to poor treatment by a previous owner
Are you a professional? Then take a moment to check out this article about the best mirrorless cameras for professional photographers.
Why buy used?
For Professional Photographers
Money, Money, Money
The answer to this is fairly obvious–professional photographers buy used camera bodies when they come across a deal they cannot refuse.
Unlike new cameras, which can only be bought from an online or offline store, used cameras can be found all over the place: auction sites like eBay, your friend’s shelf, online listings, garage sales, ads in the newspaper, and more. You’ll come across both honest sellers with a good reputation and five stars and crooks looking to make a quick dollar.
The important thing to remember when buying second-hand is that you can never be overly scrupulous. After all, this is your hard-earned money being spent on the very thing that will allow you to put bread on the table.
For Non-Professional Photographers
Camera manufacturers have the terrible tendency (or ‘wonderful tendency’ depending on how you look at it) of releasing too many similar entry-level camera models in close proximity to one another. With over 100 models having appeared in just six years, mirrorless camera manufacturers are especially guilty of this.
And what happens as a result of new products constantly saturating the market? It’s simple–many people feel compelled to sell their current cameras to buy the latest version, despite the upgrades usually being minimal.
The upshot of this is that you can find many second-hand mirrorless cameras at a great price. A good example is my friend who recently bought a barely-used Lumix GF5 for €150, a €300 discount off the original price. Though the camera is two years old, it is fast, has great video quality, a high-resolution LCD and a 12MP Micro Four Thirds sensor. She got all this and more at the same price she would have paid for a brand new point-and-shoot camera.
On a budget
Another very good reason to buy a second-hand mirrorless is a tight budget. This is especially true if you are about to make your first foray into photography but hesitate about spending a significant sum of money.
As always, make sure to check the reputation of the seller before you buy online, and if you meet the seller in person, have someone knowledgeable about photography accompany you so that he or she can thoroughly check the camera’s condition.
Things to check when considering a second-hand camera:
Below I’ve written up a list of things to check when you find a second-hand camera that appeals to you:
- Make sure you are buying from a reputable dealer. If you cannot meet the seller in person, make sure he has a good rating. This could mean a 5 star rating on eBay or Amazon for instance.
- Make sure that the camera is sold with the original box and supplied accessories. In general it is a good sign that the gear has been treated well. It is also less likely that the gear was stolen if the seller has the original box.
- If you want extra reassurance, you can also ask for the serial number and use Lenstag to check if someone reported that gear as being stolen.
- If you do meet the seller in person, arrange the meeting in a public place and ask a friend to accompany you for safety.
- If you meet, do as many of the following things as possible:
- Check for deep scratches on the body, as they may indicate a fall. Keep an eye out for wear and tear, especially around the LCD and EVF.
- Physically check the sensor for scratches and dust.
- Transfer an image to your laptop and check for dead pixels, scratches or dust. An image of a bright uniform subject will allow you to see any defects.
- Ask the seller for the current shutter count (actuations) or check using a program like PhotoMe. The fewer shots taken, the longer your camera should last.
- Take some test shots to check for autofocus issues.
Hey, what about lenses?
While today it is easy to find second-hand camera equipment, especially thanks to the internet, it is even easier to find used lenses. If you enter a camera store that has a good used equipment section, you’ll be likely to find more lenses than cameras on display. Of course these lenses can be of any origin: old mechanical film camera lenses, first generation autofocus lenses, and so on. Back in his DSLR days, Mathieu used to use many old AF lenses by Nikon with his Nikon D700 (the first AF-S generation lenses).
Another difference between camera bodies and lenses is that some lenses have a much longer lifespan (Leica M lenses are the best example). Whereas the average digital camera will last an average of 3-5 years before it starts to malfunction or becomes too outdated for the needs of your clients, mechanical lenses with good optics can maintain their value for years if kept in good condition.
This means two things:
- it can be safer to buy a used mechanical lens than a used camera
- mechanical lenses tend to lose their value more slowly than camera bodies
An interesting thing about dealing with used lenses is that you can trade in one lens for another without spending too much. You can also build up a eclectic collection that suits your personal needs.
Should you find an excellent deal on a mechanical lens, I’d say grab it before somebody else does. Just make sure that:
- the glass isn’t scratched
- there is no dust or mould between the lens elements
- the elements are working well
- the mount isn’t warped
- the aperture blades are free of oil
If you are interested in more recent lenses that include some sort of electronic element, either the image stabilising (IS) motor or the vibration reduction (VR) motor, make sure to check that they work properly. The autofocus should behave normally and the lens elements shouldn’t make any strange sounds when they move. Also check that your camera recognises the lens when you mount it to the camera.
Do you have any advice to share about buying new or used gear? If so, leave us a comment below!
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