How to buy a used camera lens?

With new lenses getting more expensive, many photographers today are choosing to purchase second-hand equipment, realizing substantial savings. The used camera lens market is full of nuggets, especially for people on a budget. In this article, I’ll highlight the benefits of buying second-hand optics. I will also give you some tips that I hope will allow you to acquire good goals that you can keep for years to come.

Why buy used lens?

The most obvious reason is to save money, of course. Used lenses (in perfect working order) can be purchased at a much lower price than the new model. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to get a barely used lens at half its original price. This can be especially important when changing systems. New generation used optics in excellent condition will obviously be much more expensive than the old ones, but they will still be much more affordable than if you bought them new. Either way, buying used equipment is a personal choice, as not everyone is comfortable with the process. While I have personally been lucky buying used equipment, I know scams exist and you need to be vigilant.

Whether you know the seller or not, it is very important to be able to test a lens before it is purchased. Never trust the terms used in classified ads; “In perfect condition”, “little used”, “like new”. These are just words that can cover up a deception.

Here are the steps to follow when purchasing a used lens:

Where to buy a used lens?

Buying from a trusted source, where you buy is important. Besides the fact that you cannot test the equipment before buying it, if you are the victim of a scam, you will most often only have your eyes left to cry on …

As far as I’m concerned, I trust two sites:

usedphotopro.com site gathering the advertisements of the stores. The material offered for sale on this site has been tested and evaluated by professionals. When it is in perfect condition, it can benefit from a warranty.

The second site I trust is amazon.com. Advertisements can come from individuals or professionals. The interest of the site comes from the fact that the seller does not receive his money until the buyer has reported the good reception and the good quality of the product. In the event of a defect found on an optic, defect not mentioned on the classified ad, you can return the product for a refund. This greatly limits the risks.

Examine the general condition of the used lens

The exterior of a device says a lot about its career and its owner. The presence in number of marks on the bodywork, traces of blows or scratches, traces of dust in the nooks and crannies, grains of sand, but also the possible detachment of rubber. All of this suggests that the lens has been abused.

Be careful, we must also put things into perspective. Indeed, when the lens has been used a lot, finding a few minor scratches is logical and inevitable. This does not prevent the proper functioning of the lens. But this can help negotiate the price!

The micromechanics of a photo lens are very sophisticated, by dint of shaking or (small) knocks, it can be weakened. A second-hand objective with a marked outward appearance should therefore be avoided.

Lens control

You must start by observing the front and rear lenses under grazing light, you will be able to distinguish any scratches, internal dust. Then, with the flash of your phone, light the inside of the lens and see if you see the presence of dust, fungus, mold, foggy streaks. Obviously if you see their presence, go your way!

Thread check for filters

Also check if the thread for the filters is not damaged. Ideally, you can take a filter of the corresponding diameter with you with you to see if it screws on properly.

Correct operation of the zoom and focus rings

If it is a zoom it must have a zoom ring, test there by turning it back and forth. Be aware of friction, screeching that could be caused by the presence of sand, for example. Do the same with the focus ring, it should rotate smoothly and with minimal resistance.

Contact control

The second useful checkpoint is to check for the absence of an oxidation point. Look at the bayonet on the back of the lens where the contacts are and examine them carefully, oxidation problems always start there.

Checking the screws

Also check the various screws and rubber parts that are used to hold the lens. Indeed, if you notice marks, it may mean that the lens has been disassembled due to an optical or mechanical problem.

Autofocus

To check the automatic focus (autofocus) you will put the camera in aperture priority mode and open the diaphragm to the maximum. As a reminder, the number f must be as small as possible.

Then aim at a subject at an average distance and press the shutter button halfway to activate the focus. Do the same with a closer subject and then again with a more distant subject. If all goes well, it should refocus every time and the lens shouldn’t make any strange noise.

If you buy a zoom lens, perform this test on multiple focal lengths to make sure the motor is not stuck at a certain focal range.

Blurry

The development is well done on “Photogenic”

Now that you’ve checked the autofocus, you need to check if the subject is in focus. To do this, repeat the previous operations, but this time taking pictures. Aim at a subject at an average distance and shoot, paying close attention to the exact spot where the camera has chosen to focus.

Then switch to playback mode and greatly magnify the image on the area where the focus was taken. If the area in question is the clearest in the photo, then all is well! Repeat the same operation with different focal lengths.

Be careful, autofocus problems can come from the lens, but also from the camera used. For this I recommend that you test the used lens with your own device. So you can be sure that if there is a problem, it can only come from the lens to buy.

The diaphragm

Now that you have checked the focus, you need to check the correct operation of the diaphragm. As a reminder, the diaphragm is a device of small blades located in the lens. This mechanism adjusts the amount of light that will pass through the camera lens when the shutter is released. If you want more information, I invite you to read or re-read the article “Understanding the concept of aperture and diaphragm”.

To check that it works correctly, leave your case in aperture priority mode. And depending on your lens, if it has a preview depth of field command (I invite you to read your camera manual), you can put it in front of you and by pressing the command you should see the diaphragm move into position. Vary the aperture of the diaphragm, and repeat the operation, you should see the aperture of the diaphragm change with each value change. And that’s a good sign!

You can also put your camera in manual mode and set your ISO value. Then all you have to do is take a series of photos, always of the same scene, by varying only the value of the diaphragm. If the lens iris is working well, you should detect differences in exposure between each photo.

Optical stabilization

Presence of scratches, dust or fungus: the front lens must be completely free of scratches. The interior of the optic must not show any dust, otherwise its seal could be compromised. Finally, the presence of fungi inside the lens would indicate storage in a very humid environment. In this case do not buy. The best way to detect these faults is to illuminate the inside of the lens with a flashlight or the led light on your smartphone.

For this test, you must flirt with the minimum safe speed to avoid motion blur. I can give you an example, but it’s far from a generality. Let’s take a 100mm focal length with a full frame camera, put it in shutter priority mode, and set the shutter speed to 1 / 80s. Take a picture with stabilization and a second without stabilization, then compare the results. If the two photos are out of focus, repeat the operation, slightly increasing the shutter speed to 1 / 100s. And if both photos are clear, repeat the operation, slightly lowering the shutter speed to 1 / 60s.

If you can’t find any difference in sharpness on the same series, stabilization is certainly not effective anymore!

Quick tests with your camera

The reason it is important to test a lens on a camera is that you will be able to quickly see if there is a problem with the lens. An optic may be perfectly normal on the outside, but it can have mechanical, electronic and other problems that can only be identified if it is mounted on a properly functioning housing. It is also beneficial to bring your own camera, as some lenses may work well on some cameras and not so well on others.

Once you’ve mounted the lens on your camera, turn it on, put it in aperture priority mode, and take a photo. The first test is to verify that the lens is working. A quick photo should reveal any serious problem. If the lens has an autofocus motor, be sure to test its focus reliability by focusing on a near object, then on a distant object. If you are testing a zoom lens, do the same for all focal lengths to make sure that the autofocus does not get stuck at any focal length.

If the lens has an electronic diaphragm or a mechanical diaphragm controlled by the camera, be sure to test it at different apertures. I prefer to take at least two images – one at wide aperture and another at f / 16 or f / 22. Inspect the images and make sure they appear to be on display. If the images are very bright or very dark, the iris may not be working properly.

If the lens you are interested in has image stabilization / vibration reduction, be sure to subject it to a thorough test. Turn on image stabilization (usually a switch on the side of the lens) and try taking photos at slow speed while working hand-held.

Request the invoice

Do not hesitate to ask for the original invoice, this allows you to know the origin of the photo lens, its purchase price and its purchase date. Also asking for the box of the equipment as well as the instructions is for me a sign that shows that the seller takes care of his equipment and keeps all the elements.

If you think you don’t have the skills to complete the tests mentioned in this article, buy your lenses from the two sites I recommended: usedphotopro.com or amazon.com.

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