Yes, you can get bargains in the pre-owned market. But you can also end up with a lemon that doesn’t work or quickly falls apart. There’s nothing worse than wasting your money on something that won’t last. Instead of crossing your fingers and hoping for the best, we’ll help you navigate the pre-owned market so you can shop wisely.

It doesn’t look good

Stay away from cameras and gear that look beat up. This likely indicates the camera wasn’t treated with care by the previous owner or it may have even been in an accident. Be on the lookout for dents and excessive scratch marks.

More than wear and tear

All used equipment has a bit of wear and tear, but you have to make sure the camera and equipment aren’t completely worn out. It’s said a camera’s shutters and other mechanics are tested for 150,000 cycles. But if the camera looks worn out, it probably is worn out. Unless it’s selling for nearly free, give it a pass.

Check it out

So, how can you tell if a camera is near its end? You can check the usage, shutter cycle count and purchase date. If a camera’s shutter count rating is at 10% to 20% used, it still has a lot of life left in it — especially if it’s not more than four years old. Some cameras will display how many times they have been powered up or the flash has been fired.    

Take a deep dive

You can check the insides of the camera once you take off the lens cap. Check to see if the mirror is clear and is free from scratches or any kind of oil or dirt. If you see oil drops, the camera may be leaking lubricant. To check lenses for scratches and dirt, as well as sensor or focus issues, shoot a blank white piece of paper or a white background with the aperture set at small. Then you can open the aperture wide and see if any side of the lens has issues. If you find a camera that does not have a clear lens, don’t buy it.

Accessories are important

If you’re serious about taking up photography you also have to get gear. The most important bit of gear is a tripod. Before buying a used tripod, see if its screws tighten well, it squeaks, moves or shakes on deploying. Next, check flashes for odd color light and see whether it fires properly with no lag time.    

Thank goodness for dilettantes

You can find some of the best buys from people who showed a brief interest in photography but all the gear is now just sitting in a closet. If you make such a find, you’ll get what they call gently used equipment. In these situations, you don’t want to be too aggressive while bargaining. Ask them how much they paid for the camera and gear and make an offer in a reasonable price range.

Getting to know you

If you have the time, spend about an hour or so working with the camera and gear. This will help you spot any problems or issues. Talk to the previous owner and if you can bring a photographer friend along let them get familiar with the camera as well. Looking for tips on using your new camera or examples of pro-quality shots? Check out Dreamstime for some inspiration. As you know, there are bargains and then there are bargains. Some may sound great but that’s because the equipment isn’t in great shape. Consider your own experience because other pre-owned cameras may not be close to new but still have quite a bit of life to them and are working properly. That may be just what you need for the present.