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What Should You Look For When Buying a Used Lens?

By Hanssie on August 18th 2014

As photographers, a majority of us all tend to have the same problem – too much gear on our wish lists and not enough money to satisfy those gear cravings. I’ve been eyeing the Canon 85mm f/1.2 for a number of years now, and cannot bring myself to purchase it because I’m on a strict budget…and I’m also eyeing the Sony A7R…and the Sigma 50mm Art…and the, well, you guys understand.

Recently, we shared an article with some useful tips on buying gear without breaking the bank and since I’m always skeptical and weary of buying second hand stuff off Craigslist (even books) or even the used department at a local camera store, I always end up going and paying full price for my stuff or having to wait for a great deal at B&H. Then I hear about how my friend got an almost brand new Canon 24mm f/3.5L TS-E II for a steal because some person sold all their gear on Craigslist to pay for college or whatever…


Now that I am *this close* to just biting the bullet and buying that 85mm, I’ve challenged myself to find and buy it used so I can stay within my budget. And since I know now where to look, what to look for so I don’t get scammed is my key focus. Enter this handy video from Karl Taylor giving some practical tips on buying second hand lenses.

The 8 minute video is full of common sense advice and things I didn’t even think doing, like shining a light through the lens to check any internal problems like mold. Definitely check this out if you’re planning on purchasing a used lens – and as always please use precaution when meeting with people off Craigslist when you’re ready to buy.

What other bits of advice can you offer someone who is looking to purchase a second hand lens?

[Via YouTube]


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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Imants Ozolins

    Is there Canon Refurb Store in Europe? Would be great if someone provide me with the link.

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  2. Phil Bautista

    Buying used lenses presents a huge opportunity for savings if you know the type of person to buy from. As a general rule, avoid getting equipment from working pros cos they have a tendency to push their equipment to the limits when on the job. They’re usually insured too so aren’t as careful as a hobbyist, who tends to treasure his equipment like they were his most prized possessions (which they usually are). The advantage of getting from a pro is that you can get them much cheaper because they are normally already fully paid for by the time they get rid of them and, cosmetics aside, will usually be in perfect working condition. If you have to get stuff from a pro, studio shooters would be the most ideal, specially if they don’t take their equipment out of the studio. The best people to target are rich enthusiasts who you may have met in camera clubs or meets. Look for them whenever new equipment comes out and find out if they plan to upgrade to the next big thing and if they intend to dump their old gear. They’ll usually give you a good deal cos they’re just looking for an excuse to upgrade and helping out a friend is just a bonus.

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  3. Ralph Hightower

    Buy from reputable dealers. I’ve bought a used Canon FD 28mm lens from B&H a few years ago and I couldn’t be happier; that has become my favorite lens if I don’t need telephoto. While I haven’t bought a lens from KEH, I have bought a Canon F-1N camera; I will buy lenses from them.

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  4. Brandon Dewey

    Great tips, thanks for sharing.

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  5. Andy Gonzales

    This was some great information thanks ..

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  6. keith craine

    To me the best compromise between new and used is the canon refurb store. With frequent 15% off sales, and 20% off 3-4 times a year you could get the 85 1.2 for ~$1500, which seems to be around the same price as a used 85mm. All refurb lenses I’ve bought (5 so far) have been indistinguishable from new. I use canonpricewatch to help get the more in-demand lenses I want as they may only be available in limited quantities. After several great experiences I wouldn’t buy a canon lens any other way!

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    • adam sanford

      Agree 1000% on the Canon Refurb Store. No muss, no fuss, and a one year warranty for near-new glass.

      Wait for a 15-20% sale and wow. You basically get a 95% new lens for about 2/3 of new price. monitors Canon’s site for you — they have auto-alerts sent to your e-mail when these sales start, b/c they often get cleaned out in *minutes* — that’s how well recognized these values are.

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    • Peter Nord

      My experience in manufacturing is that a refurbed product is better than new. A new product runs through an assembly process that is designed to have minimum labor time/cost. At a refurb station, someone has to carefully disassembly and check the parts to the spec, then reassemble using whatever new parts are required. Then final test to spec. So one averages more time and care in doing the refurb than original assembly.

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  7. Michel Andy

    Love the sound check.. That’s smart :)

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