What to Look for When Buying Used Camera Lenses

Use caution when buying second-hand lenses for your DSLR

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Every photographer wants the best lenses, but we don't always have the money to buy new ones. You can find some fantastic used camera lenses for DSLR cameras if you know where to look.

While some bargains are available in the full-price market, pro-quality optics are never cheap. And there seems to be a never-ending list of lenses a photographer needs.

A solution to all this is to look into buying second-hand lenses. Buying used camera lenses for your DSLR is a far cheaper option for most photographers.

Use these tips for buying used camera lenses to have a successful buying experience.

Look for Damage

  • Don't be put off by scratches and dents on the outer casing. A sturdy professional lens can withstand light damage like this. Marks and knocks just mean that the previous owners used them liberally, and you shouldn't disregard them because of their outer appearance.
  • Examine the outside of the lens for evidence of a drop, which would produce severe dents. If the lens has a filter, take it off to see if it has any uneven edges. Take some test shots and examine them -- a dropped lens will often produce images that are entirely out of focus.
  • Move the barrel around and make sure the elements do not wiggle. Doing this is particularly important with zoom lenses because, after extended use or a drop, the inner elements of the barrel can become loose. While it may not affect your photographs today, it could impact the future.
  • Check the contacts on the lens mount for excessive wear and tear and for scratches indicating rough handling when mounting the lens.
  • Look through the lens to check for any dust or dirt on the internal elements. You can clean the dust on the outside of the lens. Dust, dirt, and even mold on the inner elements require a professional technician to remove, and unless this is a valuable lens, it is probably not worth it.
  • And finally (and most importantly), check the front and rear elements for scratches. The rear aspect is most important because any scratches on that will show up in your photos. 

Check the Focus

  • Switch the lens to manual focus and twist the focusing ring back and forth to listen for any "grinding" noises or a feeling of grittiness. If the ring does not move freely, this could cause problems for the camera to focus correctly.
  • Switch the lens to autofocus mode and listen for any strange noises coming from the motor or the mechanics of the lens. Check that the camera does not struggle to focus.

Where to Find Used Camera Lenses

Many photography shops buy and sell used camera lenses, and some will even offer a 1-year warranty or guarantee with the products.

The large camera stores have websites filled with great used equipment finds. They often use a rating system to let you know the quality of a lens and will note any issues. A reputable dealer like B&H Photo and Adorama will have trained technicians examine every piece of used equipment. Feel free to call them with any questions; they are accommodating.

Many people will look for lenses on sites such as eBay, which is fine, too, as long as the seller is reputable and will accept returns if the lens doesn't match up to its description. 

Remember these tips; you won't go wrong when buying a used camera lens for your DSLR.

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