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Quick Tip: Buying a Pre-Owned Lens on eBay

This post is part of a series called Lenses.
The Magic of Wide Apertures: Technique, Lenses & Settings
Exploring How Focal Length Affects Images

Buying anything pre owned is often a lot cheaper than purchasing it brand new, and this rule can almost always be applied to camera lenses. This guide gives you 7 useful tips to consider when purchasing a lens from an online auction site such as eBay. Do your research, bid at the right time, be careful, and you could end up with a great deal!


I am writing about my own experiences and therefore when writing about my own examples I will be talking about my home currency - British Sterling (GBP). My main source of buying pre-owned lenses is eBay UK but these tips are useful for all auction style websites!

Tip 1 : Research

Research should always come first and foremost. Find out how much a brand new lens would cost you. You don't want to pay more for a pre owned lens than a brand new one, just because you didn't take a good look beforehand!

Secondly, check how much a pre owned lens will cost you, I would advise you do this on more than one site. For example eBay might be selling on average for £500 whereas another pre-owned site might be selling it cheaper by £50.

Once you have found the average amount they sell for, take off 10% to find a target to bid for. Aim low and you are bound to win at some point.

Last but not least, check out Fat Fingers. It searches eBay (you select which country) and then detects spelling mistakes. For example a Canon 70-200mm might have been misspent as Canom 70-200mm. Because of this simple mis-spelling, the item can go for hundreds cheaper than the actual price it is worth.

Tip 2: Check the Photos

Have a good look at the photos taken by the seller, specifically those showing the optics of the camera. Look for scratches or marks which would affect the performance of the lens

Personally I don't mind to much damage on the outside of a lens but do look hard as often the damage might give clues to whether or not the lens has been dropped (which can damage the glass inside).

If you are not satisfied with the images, email the seller and ask them to send you another! Most sellers are happy to help you out.

Tip 3: Any Extras?

When I purchased my 50-500 Sigma lens I was lucky, and when it arrived there sat a 86mm UV filter saving me £70 ($110). The advantage of having a UV lens on the lens also indicates to you that it is less likely they have scratched or damaged the original glass.

Often written in the description they will state if they come with a filter attached to them. They often end up going for around the same price anyway so just have a good look around.

Tip 4: Check the Description Carefully

Different companies have different names for things. For example Canon lenses have IS (image stablising) whereas Sigma have OS (Optical Stabilization), both of which are the same.

Often there are two versions of a lens or more, be careful you are getting the correct features for the right amount of money. For example you often might pay an extra £250 for IS in the Canon L Series range.

Also look to see if the lens has a fault at all. The description will contain all this information, just make sure you read it a few times over before you purchase.

Tip 5: Check the Seller Out

eBay, as you might know, has a great feedback system. Each time a user makes a sale or purchases an item they can then leave feedback as well as receive it. It is preferable to purchase from a user with the highest positive score possible as these users have more experience and are less likely to be con-men (or con-ladies).

Have a good look at their items sold to see if they have any experience at selling camera gear or lenses. If they have a decent amount of experience, it's usually safe to assume that what they have written about the item is 100% correct.

Also look to see if the seller offers a refund policy. Some companies offer at least a week or sometimes even a month.

Tip 6: Bid in the Early Hours

Items that finish in the middle of the night often sell for a lot less. If you can wait up till 3-4am in the morning you might be able to pick yourself up a lens that everyone else has forgotten about.

Unfortunately, sellers are now more aware of this. For that reason you will often find that most lenses, if not all of them, finish between 7-11pm in the evening.

Tip 7: Keep to Your Budget

It is easy to keep bidding until you win and before you know it you might have spent much more than the lens is worth. Stick to your budget and don't worry about losing out, another lens tends to appear shortly after anyway.

Also check out those items local to you. Postage is expensive for heavy items, if you are able to collect the item from the seller then this allows you a perfect opportunity to try the lens just before making the payment.

Happy eBaying!

Remember to be careful when purchasing online. If something seems fishy then avoid it like the plague. Personally I believe it is a brilliant resource and, as long as you are careful, you can pick up a range of fantastic camera equipment bargains!

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