Things to Check Before Purchasing a Used Camera

Photograph of Moss on Roots

Photograph by Daniel Hancock

Having recently received a request for suggestions on buying a used camera, here are several things to check before you purchase. Buying a used camera can save you money, just be careful in selecting a used camera. Not everyone takes as good of care of their camera as others. Use this list to double check the functionality of a camera before purchasing. Also, for anyone buying a camera, keep in mind you will have to buy more than just the camera. You'll need at least a case, a memory card, and something to clean your lens. Also, you'll probably want extra batteries and a remote release. Ask why? Make sure that the seller doesn't have a fishy reason for selling their camera. If they do, you might want to avoid it, as the camera may have problems that aren't immediately apparent. Check the External Surfaces Take a look at the outside of the camera body or lens, and make sure there is nothing that will hinder the photographs. Also, excessive abuse on the outside frequently means abuse on the inside also. Check the Connections Make sure that all connections work, including checking the memory cards slots to check that everything is fully functional. You'll want to check the other connections also, such as those for the remote release to make sure that they are in functional shape. Check for wear on the lens mount rings and on the flash hot-shoe. Check the lens Shine a flashlight through the detached lens (if an SLR lens) and look for scratches or anything obstructing the light. Also, on most lenses, there are gold colored contact points on the back of the lens. The camera uses these to communicate with the autofocus on the lens. Make sure these are still gold, as ill-care of the lens can result in grime and grit build-up which can hinder the communication between the camera and lens. Check the sensor (and lens at the same time) Aim the camera at a preferably blank wall, defocus the lens, set the aperture as small as possible (around f/22), and then take the picture. If you have the option, view the image on a laptop at 100% to check for imperfections. If this is not available, view on the LCD screen with as much magnification as possible. A little is normal, even on new cameras. However, excessive amounts normally means hard use on the camera and lens. Check the Buttons and other Controls Make sure the buttons, dials, and controls on the camera and lens work smoothly, and that the buttons do not stick. Check the Flash If you plan to use the pop-up camera flash, make sure it is operable, as sometimes they will stop working (I know from experience...). Autofocus Make sure that the autofocus works smoothly – that it produces images in sharp focus. Though, if you do get blur, make sure it is not a result of poor manual focus or camera shake.

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