Smart Shopping for Used Digital Cameras
By: Guest Writer Jon Sienkiewicz
The only thing better than owning the latest and greatest digital camera is owning the camera of your dreams – the one you longed for but could never afford – and buying it at a bargain-basement price because it’s discontinued. Think about this: Today's "Dave’s Picks" will someday soon be yesterday’s news because they have been replaced by a newer model. That’s how it works in the world of digital cameras. But they’ll still be high quality, full featured cameras that can provide years of first-rate imaging.
Cameras that sold for six or seven hundred dollars a couple of years ago can be found today for much less than half of that amount. But this is about more than just saving a few bucks. Many of the camera models that have been replaced with newer versions are true classics – products to be enjoyed and even revered. Use some common sense, act fast when you find a bargain, and you’ll be able to latch on to some fabulous picture-takers that you’ll be proud to own – and you’ll own them at a price that will allow you to own more than one.
Care must be taken, of course, and there are some basic dos and don’ts that must be considered, but buying a second-hand camera can be an extraordinarily rewarding experience. Cameras seldom “wear out” in the sense that automobiles do. If they're going to fail at all, solid state electronics have a tendency to fail early in their performance cycle, which means that if they have worked for several months, they’re likely to continue working for several years.
Used? Or Refurbished?
What does “refurbished” mean, anyway? Be sure to read the fine print, because different retailers apply the term differently. Generally speaking though, “refurbished” is a label used by many manufacturers to identify cameras that have been returned by resellers and cannot be sold again as new. In most cases the cameras were sold by the reseller to a consumer, and the consumer returned the camera to the reseller for any number of reasons. These cameras typically are in perfect working order, but cannot be sold as new because of consumer protection laws. Factory-trained technicians thoroughly inspect the cameras, making any necessary repairs, and the manufacturer wholesales it to be sold as refurbished – at a substantially lower price compared to a new product. They are a bargain, and have already had all of the bugs worked out.
You’ll usually find only recent camera models being sold as “refurbs,” however. Older models are generally not refurbished by the manufacturers for the simple reason that they’re not being retuned by resellers in large numbers. If you’ve been following a certain camera model that you’ve had a hankering for – a Sony V1 for example – snap it up quickly when you see it available as a refurbished product. If you don’t, the window of availability may close for good.
Used digital cameras are a different matter. In most cases they have not been factory inspected or serviced. Often they have been treated with tender loving care and are in like-new condition. And then again, some look like they were dragged behind a tractor-trailer down a hundred miles of Interstate. Many come with the original box, software and documentation, but of course, circumstances vary widely. If you’re buying from an individual, there’s usually not much of a warranty, although you may be able to negotiate a short-term money-back guarantee. If you’re buying from a retail store, you’ll often get a warranty that ranges anywhere from 30 days to six months. By the way – thirty days is really long enough. If the camera works for a month, it should continue working for a long, long time.
What to check before you buy
Warranty term, included accessories, availability of owner’s manual and other documentation, and of course, the price of the same or comparable camera in brand new condition. Also, be sure check what storage media it uses, and the capacity of the media that is included with the camera.
Go to the camera manufacturer’s website and download all of the pertinent documentation you can find. Make 100% sure that the camera is 100% compatible with the computer and operating system you use. This is seldom a problem, but sometimes is.
If you have a multi-format USB card reader, you won’t have to worry much about whether or not there’s a cable included – you won’t use it, anyway.
What to watch for
Missing accessories, missing or outdated software, cameras that show visible signs of abuse (dents, scratches), or make funny noises – these are sure indications that the camera may not end up being much of a bargain, after all. If you’re buying from an individual, ask if the camera has been dropped (dropping is usually lethal) or has ever gotten even just a little bit wet (always lethal).
Remember that impact sufficient to create a visible crack or dent in the body cover of a camera has, by the laws of physics, transferred significant shock to the innards of the camera – and that’s never a good thing.
What to do if you’re really tempted but still not sure
Ask if the camera is returnable if it turns out to be a lemon. Often, retailers will give you full credit toward a new or different used camera provided that the one you return is in the same condition as when you purchased it.
Check Dave’s review of the camera on this site. If his conclusion was “Highly Recommended” and the camera is at a super-savings price, either buy it or call me so I can.
Check the manufacturer’s website for specifications and features. You
may be able to download the owner’s manual before you take the plunge.
Talk to a friend who knows a lot about digital cameras. Do your homework.
Odds are the used digital camera you purchase will work exactly as it was built to work – but be warned that it may be lacking some of the improvements and advanced technology that newer models offer. It may start up slower, and the click-to-click time may be longer. The zoom lens may seem to take forever to extend, and the movie recording feature may be severely limited. But the most important aspect, image quality, should be every bit as good as cameras currently on the market with the same number of megapixels. Sometimes – even better.
Where to find used and refurbished cameras
There are several camera shops that do a brisk business in used digital cameras. Two that come to mind, because of their strong web presence and sterling reputations for honest dealings are B&H Photo (www.bhphotovideo.com) and KEH (www.keh.com). Both of these retailers have a “grading system” for used cameras that provides a reasonably objective method for comparisons. For example, if B&H describes a camera’s condition as being 9+ on a scale that stops at 10, you know it’s in superb condition. For refurbished cameras, visit auction websites Ubid and ebay, for example – just be very careful to read all of the fine print.
Several companies dealing in used digital camera equipment have sprung up around the electronic marketplace created by eBay. An example of one of these is the eBay sales arm of www.usedcamerabuyer.com (an Imaging Resource advertiser), going by the eBay name "shutterbladestore." The eBay Seller Feedback system provides a powerful incentive for businesses operating on eBay to conduct their business dealings ethically. Companies like UsedCameraBuyer.com live or die based on their eBay feedback rating, so they're generally pretty motivated to keep their customers happy. When you shop for used digital camera equipment on eBay, look for sellers with high feedback scores and highly positive comments from purchasers as assurance that you'll be treated fairly.
Which cameras to consider – some personal favorites are as follows
From Canon, the Powershot S230 is a 2X zoom, 3.2 megapixel beauty that slips in your pocket but never lets you forget you have a real camera because of its solid stainless steel construction. You can find them second-hand for less than $200.Another Minolta that I suspect will soon find its way into this category – the original DiMAGE X. It’s a 2-megapixel beauty that’s smaller a deck of cards and weighs less than a double cheeseburger.
Also from Canon, anything in the G series. Take a look at the G3 if you’re looking for a modern day classic 4.0 megapixel with a 4X zoom. These can be found for less than $300.
From Minolta, the DiMAGE 7, the first 5 megapixel camera from any manufacturer to reach the consumer market, can be purchased in the $400 range and, in addition to having a 7X optical zoom, it lacks an IR cut-off filter – which means you can shoot infrared, something that can be said about only a couple of cameras.
From Sony, one model stands above all others: the DSC-S85. It’s a 4X, 4 megapixel marvel that produces incredibly sharp images. Yes, it’s a trifle slow and is not compatible with the newer versions of Sony’s Memory Stick®, but it’s still a great picture-taker. I recently purchased one in perfect condition, in its original box, from KEH for the amazingly low sum of $275. Quite a bargain for a camera that sold for eight hundred dollars a couple of years ago.
There are other good brands out there at bargain prices. An Olympus C4000 recently sold for $211 on ubid.com, and I saw a Nikon Coolpix 5000 at B&H for less than $400. Bookmark your favorite sites and visit them frequently. Do your homework, and when you see something that you want, order it at once. Classic cameras are joining the collections of people like me who appreciate a fine camera despite its age, and once they’re gone, they’re gone for good.