What is so great about a DSLR camera is that you can change lenses and (literally) expand the horizons of your photography. What is not so great is that lenses are very expensive. That’s why finding the best place to buy second-hand lenses is something to explore.
The best place to buy used lenses
The best place to buy used lenses is that which offers the best range of equipment, for affordable prices and that is thoroughly inspected and guaranteed. It is also valuable to have affordable shipping options and effective customer support and service.
Reasons to buy a new lens
Different lenses allow you to expand the range of your photography. Sometimes, a fixed wide-angle lens, at F2.8 will give you the broad images you need. Similarly, a set 500mm lens at F11, will allow you to shoot really detailed close shots from far. In other contexts, a zoom lens with a range of, say 28-270, will give you the flexibility to ‘play’ with different framing and focus.
If you work regularly in high-end photography, then buying a new lens, with a full manufacturer’s warranty, might suit you best, especially if you need a very specific lens.
You may simply be looking for a lens to supplement those you have already. You may also want to experiment slightly. Then buying second-hand lenses may be something you should think about.
Choosing to buy a second-hand/used lens
Pre-owned lenses are cheaper than new lenses and, if they are thoroughly inspected and guaranteed, they are a good option.
It may also be possible to buy two good second-hand lenses for the price of one new one.
Things to look for in a used lens
To choose the best place to buy used lenses, you will need to make sure that any lens you are interested in is not damaged and will work with your cameras.
The first step is to understand your own equipment and what you are looking for in a lens. This will help you to make the choice.
The most important thing to look for is a lens that is not damaged and will still function properly. If you buy your lens from a walk-in store, you will be able to check the lens yourself, with your camera.
If you buy the lens online, you will need to rely on the service offered by the site you choose.
Guaranteeing that a used lens is in good condition
When you buy a second-hand lens, it is essential that you make sure that it is not damaged in any way. As a used piece of equipment, if you do find anything wrong with it once you take it home and use it, it will not necessarily be easy to prove that the fault is not yours.
If you buy a second-hand lens from a walk-in store, then you should be able to check the lens yourself. If you buy the lens online, though, you will only be able to check the lens when it is actually delivered to you. By then, if there is a fault, it may be too late to try to change it.
What you need to do is to make sure that any used lens you do buy is in effective working order and has no broken pieces, or faults, however small. How you can guard against this is to look for an online store that can guarantee a complete check of any second-hand lens.
There are online stores that do a thorough check on all their second-hand products. I recommend that you look at the ratings processes and standards of these so that you will make the best purchase possible.
Types of used lenses
There are three basic types of used lenses you may find:
Second-hand/used lenses have been used for a while (it can vary from a few months to a year) and sold to the manufacturer, who refurbishes them and sells them as pre-owned lenses. The prices are cheaper than new lenses and the quality may be comparable.
Demo lenses are those that have been used by a retailer to demonstrate that particular lens to customers. These are then sold as used and may be of a higher quality than other second-hand lenses.
Open-box lenses are those that are sold new by the retailer (in the box) and then returned within a few days by the customer because they think they find a fault with the lens. The retailer then inspects the lens, finds nothing wrong, and sells it, at a discount. These lenses often have a good warranty and are virtually new.
Gray camera lenses
Don’t get mixed between a second-hand/used camera lens and a ‘gray’ camera lens. The latter are lenses that are sold as those manufactured by the original manufacturer, such as Canon but are really knock-offs of the original, branded products.
Selection of the best places to buy used lenses
Samy’s was established in 1976 and has major stores in San Francisco and Los Angeles. They deal in new and used camera equipment. Both trade-ins retired rental gear, and open box lenses are sold.
Every lens is checked thoroughly, with a numerical rating, which is quite easy to understand. The ratings run from 5 (where the lens is useful only for parts) to 10 (where the lens is as new). For the details of the rating system, visit samys.com
In addition to the thorough inspection of all second-hand lenses, Samy’s offers a warranty on the parts, a return policy, and free shipping. If the lens is directly from the manufacturer, then they will still give the manufacturer’s warranty.
Samy’s has a specific department for open box equipment, including lenses. These all come with a full warranty from the manufacturer.
B&H is a stalwart of the camera industry. Having been established in 1973, the business was built on mail-orders, which have developed into online sales. It is based in New York, where there is a large shop selling all aspects of camera equipment, including used lenses.
All used lenses, whether sold in the store or online, are checked thoroughly and rated on a system with ten different levels. To view the details of the rating system, visit B&H.com
B&H offers an in-store pickup service, as well as a range of shipping options. Free shipping is available for most orders. There are also low-cost shipping options.
Adorama was founded in 1974 and sells both new and used camera equipment. There is a large, full-service camera store and an online store.
All used lenses (and other equipment) are inspected according to 10 different equipment ratings. Adorama is understood to be one of the top used camera equipment stores, both as walk-in and online, because of the thoroughness of this check. To view the details of the rating system of second-hand lenses, visit Adorama.com
There is a dedicated site on Adorama for lenses, so your search for used lenses can be more efficient by going straight to that page. There are often opportunities to buy ‘shop-soiled’ lenses from the manufacturers.
Various shipping options are available from Adorama. There is also a comprehensive Q&A resource for customers to consult.
Gear focus is not an online store, but is a marketplace where lenses can be bought and sold privately. It is possible to grab a really good deal through the site, which handles and monitors all transactions, to protect the seller and buyer.
What Gear Focus does not offer is a rating system, so not every lens is necessarily in the best working order.
On the site, there are offerings of a varied range of lenses.
Focus Camera, established in 1966, is based in New York, with a walk-in store and a busy online market, which has been functioning since 1995.
The store continues to be focused on helping photographers develop their creativity and achieve their goals. New lenses, with well-known brand names, and used lenses are also available.
The website offers comprehensive support for its customers, including a Q&A facility and a live chat option.
A range of shipping options is offered, including in-store pickup, same-day service, and free two-day service in the continental US.
LensAuthority.com is an online site that sells lenses that have been used for rental. All the lenses are inspected, tested, and graded before being offered for sale.
Rental camera equipment can be man-handled and even damaged if it goes out to a number of users. The lenses on sale from LensAuthority have usually only been rented for a short time – and to one user. The lenses have all been tested and inspected regularly during the rental cycle.
Occasionally, a new lens may be available. This will be clearly indicated.
It is an advantage to this site that there is an inspection period of 3 days, during which the lens can be inspected by the customer and, if necessary, returned for a full refund.
KEH was founded in Georgia in 1979 and is a large on-site marketplace for second-hand lenses and other camera equipment.
There is a lot of available stock. Everything on the site is tested, closely inspected, and rated by experts. This process has a ten-step process.
All items are guaranteed to be in working order unless any known defects are indicated.
KEH offers a range of shipping options, with free shipping in the continental US, for orders over $49.00.
Hunt’s Photo & Video
Hunt’s Photo and Video were established in 1889, in New England. They offer both new and used camera equipment, through online sales and walk-in stores.
When you buy a pre-owned lens, you do need to be sure that it is incomplete working order. Hunt’s offers a guarantee of this by making sure that every item is inspected and rated, according to an 8-level system.
Hunt’s Photo and Video also offers a good after-sales service. Any order may be canceled, before shipping. There is also a returns policy, that allows the product to be returned within 30 days. However, this may not be quite as easy to effect with a second-hand lens.
What should I look for when buying a used lens?
You should look for any marks of wear and tear on the lens. Make sure that these don’t affect the readings on the lens. You should also check for any looseness in the zoom and focus rings on the lens. Make sure that there are no visible scratches or cracks on/in the lens.
How do I know if my lens is a good buy?
A lens that is a ‘good buy’ will suit the purpose it is intended for. If not, it may be worth the price.
A lens also needs to do what it is designed to do – effectively and repeatedly. If you buy a lens that suddenly cannot focus properly, or the f-stop gets stuck, or it will not ‘speak to’ the camera anymore, then it must have come with some defect and will not have been a good buy.
If the lens has been thoroughly inspected, rated, and guaranteed by a reputable camera dealer, then it is likely to be a far better buy.
Buying a lens is an investment, in the equipment and in your own creative process as a photographer. It Is not necessarily important to buy the newest lens, but you do need to be sure that any second-hand lens you buy has been thoroughly inspected and rated.
That means it is necessary to do the research and to make sure that the store or online site you choose is the best place to buy used lenses.