What to Check When Buying a Used Camera

What to Check When Buying a Used Camera

Buying a used camera can be an excellent way to get high-quality equipment at a fraction of the cost of a new model. However, it requires careful consideration and inspection to ensure you get a good deal and avoid potential pitfalls. Here are the key factors to consider when purchasing a used camera:

1. Research the Model and Market Price

Before you even start looking at specific used cameras, thoroughly research the model you’re interested in. Read reviews, check specifications, and understand the typical market price for new and used versions. Websites like eBay, Amazon, and dedicated camera forums can provide valuable insights into the current market value. Knowing the average price will help you spot a good deal and avoid overpaying.

2. Check the Shutter Count

The shutter count is akin to the mileage on a car; it indicates how much the camera has been used. Each camera model has a different expected shutter lifespan, so look up this information for the specific model you’re considering. Generally, a shutter count under 10,000 is considered low for most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Tools like CameraShutterCount.com can help you check this number if the seller hasn’t provided it.

3. Inspect the Camera Body

Thoroughly inspect the camera body for any signs of damage, such as dents, cracks, or excessive wear. Pay special attention to the following areas:

  • Lens mount: Ensure it’s not loose or damaged.
  • Battery compartment: Look for any signs of corrosion or damage.
  • Buttons and dials: Test all buttons and dials to ensure they are functional and responsive.
  • LCD screen: Check for scratches, dead pixels, or discoloration.

4. Examine the Lens

If you’re buying a camera with a lens, inspect the lens carefully. Here’s what to look for:

  • Scratches: Hold the lens up to the light to check for any scratches on the glass.
  • Fungus or mold: Look through the lens at a bright light source to check for any signs of fungus or mold, which can appear as small, web-like structures.
  • Focus ring and zoom: Test the focus and zoom rings to ensure they move smoothly without any grinding or resistance.
  • Aperture blades: Open and close the aperture to ensure the blades move smoothly and are free of oil.

5. Test the Sensor

The camera’s sensor is one of the most critical components. Take a few test shots and examine them at 100% magnification on a computer. Look for the following issues:

  • Dead or stuck pixels: These will appear as small, colored dots in the image.
  • Dust or debris: Check for any spots that may indicate dust on the sensor.

6. Verify the Firmware Version

Make sure the camera is running the latest firmware version. Firmware updates can improve performance, fix bugs, and add new features. Most manufacturers provide firmware updates on their websites, and updating is usually a straightforward process.

7. Check the Battery Life

Batteries degrade over time, so it’s essential to check the battery life. If possible, test the camera with a fully charged battery to see how long it lasts. Additionally, consider the cost and availability of replacement batteries for the specific model.

8. Test All Features and Functions

Modern cameras come with a myriad of features and functions. Test as many of these as possible to ensure everything works correctly:

  • Autofocus: Test the autofocus in various lighting conditions and with different subjects.
  • Image stabilization: If the camera or lens has image stabilization, test it by taking handheld shots at slower shutter speeds.
  • Video recording: Record a short video to ensure the camera records smoothly without any glitches.
  • Wi-Fi/Bluetooth: If the camera has wireless capabilities, test them to ensure they connect properly to your devices.

9. Inspect Accessories

Often, used cameras come with accessories such as chargers, batteries, memory cards, and straps. Inspect these accessories for any signs of wear or damage. Ensure the charger works correctly and the memory cards are free of errors.

10. Consider the Seller’s Reputation

Where you buy the used camera from is just as important as the camera itself. If purchasing online, consider the following:

  • Feedback and reviews: Check the seller’s feedback and reviews on platforms like eBay, Amazon, or photography forums.
  • Return policy: Ensure there is a return policy in case the camera doesn’t meet your expectations or has undisclosed issues.
  • Communication: Good communication with the seller can provide additional confidence in your purchase. Ask questions and request additional photos or information if needed.

11. Check for Warranties or Guarantees

Some sellers, especially reputable camera shops, may offer warranties or guarantees on used equipment. This can provide additional peace of mind and protection against unexpected issues. Understand the terms and duration of any warranties offered.

12. Perform a Field Test

If possible, take the camera out for a field test. Shoot in various lighting conditions, with different settings, and capture a range of subjects. This real-world testing can reveal any hidden issues and give you a better feel for how the camera performs.

13. Look for Signs of Water Damage

Water damage can severely impact a camera’s functionality and is often not immediately visible. Look for signs such as:

  • Corrosion: Check the battery compartment and connector ports for any signs of rust or corrosion.
  • Fogging: Inspect the viewfinder and lens elements for any fogging, which can indicate water intrusion.

14. Compare to New Models

Sometimes, the price difference between a used camera and a new one is small, especially when newer models or discounts are available. Compare the used camera’s price with new or refurbished options to ensure you’re getting the best value for your money.

15. Trust Your Instincts

Finally, trust your instincts. If something feels off or the deal seems too good to be true, it’s better to walk away. There are plenty of used cameras on the market, and it’s worth waiting for the right one rather than rushing into a questionable purchase.


Buying a used camera can be a rewarding experience, offering access to high-quality equipment at a more affordable price. By following these guidelines and conducting a thorough inspection, you can significantly reduce the risks and increase the likelihood of finding a camera that will serve you well for years to come. Remember to take your time, do your research, and don’t hesitate to ask questions or request additional information from the seller. Happy shooting!

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