How to Buy and Sell Camera Gear Online
Who doesn't love buying new gear? Building up your collection of photography equipment is a terribly expensive habit. If you're used to buying items new, the world of buying used from strangers on the internet can be a bit intimidating.
If you're savvy, patient, and know where to look, you can save hundreds by buying used gear online. Buying used items from third parties online comes with an additional assumed risk, but I'd like to give you some tips on where to look, how to ask a fair price, and how to safely buy and sell items.
What kind of deals can you expect from buying used instead of new? Currently a brand new Canon 6D is $1,499 on B&H. In a 20 second search, I found one 6D with a 1.5k shutter count, like new condition for $995, and another with a 18k shutter count for $835. Sound worth it yet?
I'll teach you how to save hundreds of dollars on new cameras and lenses that you can instead use for groceries, rent, bills, or even more camera equipment.
1. best places to buy and sell camera gear online
The Fred Miranda forums have been a popular spot for professional photographers to buy and sell used gear for many years. It's free to make an account and buy items, but by requiring sellers to purchase a $9/month membership, scammers are rare. A feedback system for repeat buyers and sellers also lends credibility to users who have experience on the site, and can be reassuring when making a big transaction.
I've found that the crowd that buys and sells on the FM forums are generally professionals and dedicated hobbyists who take very good care of their gear. Sellers post photos and follow a strict information format that makes it very easy to find their asking price, preferred payment method, condition, and shipping information. Most users are based in the US.
The forum itself is organized and easy to navigate. You can see recently posted items, a useful search function (if you have an account), and items that are sold are marked accordingly.
I view it as very safe to buy and sell on.
Instead of requiring a paid subscription, POTN requires a user's account to have 30 posts and 30 days of membership to deter scammers. I haven't seen any shady activity on POTN, and the audience is a similar professional and hobbyist mix that often takes good care of their gear. Most POTN users are based in the US.
The forum's navigation is similar to the Fred Miranda classifieds, but without a set informational template, and no buyer/seller feedback system. But you can see user accounts that have hundreds or thousands of posts over the years, and you can view their post history to verify their identity and help reassure that it's a legitimate posting.
I view it as relatively safe to buy and sell on.
Reddit's /r/photomarket is a fairly active subreddit with postings for all sorts of camera, lens, film gear, and accessories.
The userbase is likely more young than FM or POTN classifieds, and you can find simple beginner gear to expensive high end used cameras and lenses, all in varying conditions.
Reddit's account system is anonymous, and has no feedback system so verifying the identities of people you may want to transact with is tricky unless you ask them for proof outright. There's also no paywall or time delay to make a listing on /r/photomarket, so if a scammer wanted to take some fake pics and make a post on the subreddit, they'd be free to do so.
I view it as a relatively safe if you are careful and get verification place to buy and sell on.
There are a number of popular Facebook groups for buying and selling camera gear. Everyone uses Facebook these days, so these groups are often very active with constant new listings.
Nearly all of these groups require approval from a moderator or a current group member in order to join. This theoretically helps prevent scammers but ultimately they are more prevalent in these Facebook groups than any of the other sites I've listed. I'd guess this is because there are more inexperienced buyers and sellers on Facebook, so they see these places as ripe for scamming those who don't know how to protect themselves.
With all users posting under their personal Facebook accounts, in theory it would be easy to verify someone's identity, but even with verification that a person is who they say they are, there's nothing stopping them from taking your money and blocking you.
One thing you should do on these groups is search for a user's other postings to see if they've completed transactions in the past that have gone smoothly. You won't always find something, but sometimes it can be useful.
Be sure to read the rules carefully in any group you're a part of before you comment or make a post, and be respectful of the moderators who take their own valuable time to try to keep a safe marketplace.
I view buying and selling on Facebook as questionably safe. Take extra steps to verify someone's identity, and use safe transaction methods (mentioned later) to protect yourself.
Canon Equipment: Buy and Sell (46k members)
This group focuses on Canon or Canon mount third-party equipment (ex. Sigma, Tamron, etc.).
Camera Gear (29k members)
"Camera Gear" is another popular group that is home to listings for all types of photo equipment. Everything from DSLRs to old film cameras can be found here. This group requires that you have something photography related publicly viewable on your profile.
Used Camera & Photography Gear (USA & Can only) (42k members)
Another very active group that allows all brands and types of camera gear to be sold. This another of the most popular groups found on Facebook.
eBay gets a bad reputation for sketchy or shady listings, especially when buying expensive things, but it's safer than you may think. The company has an extensive Money Back Guarantee that protects buyers who don't receive items, or receive items that don't match the description — something that none of these other services have.
It's important to notice that some items, especially cameras and lenses, sold on eBay can be broken, damaged, or grey market so you have to read the item listing very carefully. Sometimes this information is strategically hidden.
eBay's feedback system can also give you some reassurance. Though you can't necessarily verify the identity of a buyer or seller, good feedback can indicate that you'll have a smooth transaction.
One thing I really enjoy about eBay is the ability to follow searches, and receive notifications for newly posted items. You can get a good sense of how much an item is worth, though in my opinion items sold on eBay often go for a slightly higher price than some other sites listed here. So if you're a seller, eBay isn't the worst place to go if you don't mind waiting a week or more for your auction to be complete.
I view buying and selling on eBay as very safe, if you have decent reading comprehension.
KEH is a bit different than any of the other sites listed here. The company buys used gear, repairs it if needed, then re-sells it on their website. For this reason, used gear you'll find here is often more expensive. Sometimes the deals are good, sometimes not so much.
But the real benefit is you absolutely will not get scammed. KEH is a legitimate company and you can buy with complete peace of mind. I understandably view buying and selling on KEH as 100% safe.
Among many terrible deals, you can also find great ones on Craigslist. Especially if you're in the market for old film cameras and lenses, or strobes and stands that aren't as easy to ship. If you are looking for modern professional camera gear, it's usually not your best bet.
When you do find current gear, it's often from people who aren't aware of the market for used items and overprice them. Sometimes you can find good deals, but they're rare.
Being able to meet up in person with the seller is a great way to do a physical inspection of an item before you buy it. Use common sense when meeting up with people and do it in a public place! You can also do CL meetups at police stations, which is pretty comforting.
We all know this is the first place thieves seem to go to dump off stolen gear, so be extra careful of posts that have crappy pictures (we're photographers, if we're selling something the picture damn well better be decent), and little or vague information.
I view buying and selling gear via Craigslist as very safe if you take the proper precautions.
2. Safe Transactions online
I'm the type of person to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I'm generally trusting of strangers... but not when it comes to dealing on the internet. Absolutely not. It's too easy to be a scammer online, and big ticket items worth hundreds or thousands of dollars are ripe for scammers.
Some tips for a safe transaction:
- Ask for photos of the item with a piece of paper stating the person's name or username, website where they're posting, and date on it. If it lacks any of that information, it's not enough to fully verify. But even if you can verify that they have the item, that's not enough to prove they're a legitimate seller.
- Only use insured payment methods. PayPal is the most common, and check below for a detailed look into what methods to use or avoid.
Use PayPal or insured payment methods
PayPal is the most popular method of payment for any camera gear classifieds forum, website, or group. Nearly everyone has PayPal, and it's easy to set up an account if you don't. You can pay with your PayPal wallet or connect your account to your other financial accounts to pay.
If you complete a transaction through PayPal, there is a 2.9% + $0.30 fee paid to PayPal. This can add up when purchasing expensive items, but PayPal provides purchase protection in case the item never arrives, or if it arrives but is significantly different than described.
You may find some people try to push you to use PayPal gift because the fees are waived (and they are charged to the seller). They may be completely trustworthy people, but if you pay with the gift method you receive no buyer protection.
Some credit cards provide buyer protection, and if you have an insured credit card that is another method of making a secure payment. Speak with your credit card company to make sure you're protected for purchases like this before you make one.
Do not use
Western Union, wire transfer, money order, Venmo, Square Cash, or any other uninsured transfer methods, simply because they do not have buyer protection. Some of these services are great for a large number of things, but not for sending money to strangers on the internet. If you send your money with one of these methods and get a bag of trash in the mail, you're just plain out of luck.
3. Getting the right price
With a little bit of work and patience, you'll be able to easily spot a great deal when you see one.
I keep an spread that I update once every week or so by searching ended eBay auctions and new classifieds posts on some of my preferred sites. I note the listed price, condition, shutter count (if listed), and a link to the source so I can reference it to a seller if I'm negotiating price later.
I then average the price, and note the lowest I see it for. When I'm ready to purchase an item, I'll know exactly how much to expect to pay for a camera or lens in a certain condition.
Below is a sheet I made while preparing to buy a Sony A7SII. When I had a good number of data points, I got my money ready and patiently waited for something to pop up. With my price chart in hand, when a perfect condition A7SII was listed for $2,200 I had no hesitation in snapping it up. And with the camera in great condition, if I decide I don't like it, I'm confident I can re-sell it for as much as I bought it for.
Example price chart table: Sony a7sii
Free price chart template for camera & lens price tracking
Here's a link to a couple recent price charts I made, free to download.
You can get it in the format you want by going to "File" -> "Download As".
4. Other Important tips
Research the product heavily
Some cameras and lenses suffer from common problems that you should know about before buying. Certain production batches of cameras can suffer from faulty shutters or other parts. Even if the item is working now, it's better to avoid a ticking time-bomb. With just a little research you can avoid the problem entirely.
Here's an example; one of my favorite walkaround cameras, the Fujifilm X100 suffered from a "sticky aperture blade" issue in a few of the first models that shipped. By searching online, you can find a list of what serial numbers could potentially be affected, and then ask the seller for the applicable serial digits. But even among the affected cameras, only 2% suffer from the issue, so you are still most likely safe buying an X100 from those production batches. But maybe you'd prefer to buy a different X100 from a later production to not assume the extra risk.
Use Lenstag to help prevent sales of stolen gear
Lenstag is a free service and app that allows you to input the serial numbers of your equipment and report it stolen. The more photographers that register their gear on Lenstag, the larger the network to help prevent stolen equipment, so you should really sign up!
I register all my new purchases on Lenstag and make sure that nothing I buy has been reported stolen on the service.
Log the serial numbers as soon as you buy a new item
If your gear ever gets stolen you'll want to have the serial numbers to give to the police to help them recover it. And if the item has any unique identifiers, like dents, scratches, etc. it can be helpful to take pictures and log them too.
Good luck and happy deal hunting! I've been buying all of my cameras and lenses used for years now and the savings have helped a ton in affording even more gear.
Hopefully these tips can also help you be a better seller when it's time to part with your beloved gear. The more every photographer knows about where and how to sell their well-loved equipment, the better off everyone else is in their search.
If you have some free time, I'd love for you to check out some of my other posts!