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7 Things to Consider When Buying a Second-Hand Camera Lens

Do you think that a $300 zoom lens would be perfect for your holiday – if only you could afford it? Photography is an expensive habit, and the lens routinely costs hundreds of dollars apiece. A brand-new lens is a lovely thing, but you might consider buying second-hand.

The market for used camera lenses is lively, and as long as you find the right dealer, buying a second-hand lens can make sense. To make sure you’re not wasting your money, you should keep a few things in mind as you shop.

second hand camera lens can be a great way to get great shots

1. Is it Compatible With Your Camera?

New lenses and old cameras do not always go together, even if the same manufacturer made them both. Brands change electrical contacts and chips as they update, and older lenses may need additional equipment to fit in recently released cameras.

Some old lenses may work with a limited number of camera models. Old Nikon non-AI lenses, for example, can only be used in the new Nikon DF. A quick search online will tell you if the lens you are considering will fit in your camera. Do not waste your savings on a lens you cannot use.

2. Check For Scratches and Dents on the Body

Examine the camera's exterior. Take a close look at the rubber pieces and screws that hold the lens together. Marks on these parts can mean that the lens has been taken apart and reassembled, which could mean the seller repaired a fault. If the listing mentions a professional technician fixed the lens, make sure the seller provides a receipt. If they can’t, you might want to stay away.

Dents on the lens are usually not a good sign. The camera may have been dropped or mistreated. You need to carefully examine such cameras to make sure there has been no damage to the lens. If you see a lens online with what looks like a dent, do not buy it - or at the very least, ask the seller about it.

3. Are the Test Shots Okay?

When you receive the lens, take some test shots. Bring your camera for a trial, and ask if you can mount their lens on it. If they do not allow it they may be hiding something, and you should stay away.

Try out how the camera feels. Are the images too soft? Soft images could indicate the elements are out of line. Testing the lens will allow you to check if it has hidden mechanical or electrical problems.

If you are purchasing a lens online, test it as soon as it arrives. If you find any issues, contact the seller immediately.

4. Does it Have Optical Blemishes, Scratches, or Other Defects?

The glass of the lens can have several problems. Look for these by shining a light on it. Even the LED torch on your smartphone will do. It shouldn't have severe scratches on the front and rear elements - a few might not matter too much but make sure the price reflects these defects. Also remember that second-hand pro lenses might have a lot of wear and tear on the outside, such as loss of paint or rubber. This is usually all right since pro lenses are built to be rugged.

Examine the internal elements for dust, fungus, and blemishes. Poor storage can cause fungus to grow on the lens, and this is not good as it can damage the multicoating of the lens element. Cleaning might not reverse the damage already done.

On a side note, storing your lens in a cool, dry place, along with regular maintenance, is the way to avoid fungus.

The lens should be free of dust, though a few specks will not make much difference to image quality. If you do buy a dusty lens, do not try to remove the dust by dismantling the lens. It is usually impossible to put it back together as it was.

In a nutshell, beware of cloudy lens elements, fungus and damage to the coating of the lens. These are signs to avoid the purchase. If you are buying online and cannot check the lens before you buy, you must rely on photographs. Write to the seller in case you are unsure.

5. Make Sure the Aperture Blades Are Healthy

Always test the aperture on a new lens. Before you mount the lens, check the aperture blades from the back and the front of the lens. Some lenses have a lever to open and close the aperture. Move the lever and see if all is okay. Do you find oil stains on the blades?

6. Test the Focus

Check the focus and zoom rings. Neither should be wobbly. They should offer some resistance, even on older lenses that have seen quite a lot of use. Listen for grinding sounds when you turn the rings - there shouldn't be any. Such sounds could indicate dust trapped inside. A dent on either of the rings is not a good sign either, as it could affect precision.

Do a detailed test of the focus. Mount the lens and set your camera to single shot focusing. Take some shots. Repeat this for Predictive or Continuous focus.

7. Payment

In the end, buying a camera lens without testing it can be risky. If you do buy a second-hand camera online, consider using a third-party escrow service such as An escrow service is designed to provide complete safety to buyers when paying for high-value transactions such as horses. No money changes hands between the two parties until all terms and conditions of the sale have been met meaning that there is no risk to the buyer of not receiving their item.

This means if you are buying a camera lens online, you get a chance to try it out before the payment is released to the seller and if it is not up to scratch, you can send it back to the seller and get your money back.

All in all, there are plenty of good reasons to buy a used lens. You can get an old lens at a fraction of the market price. It is also useful when you are switching from one system to another. When you sell your old lens for less than you paid for it, it is a lot less painful when your new (used) lens does not pinch your pocket too hard.