Tips on Buying Second Hand Camera & Equipment in Singapore
Second hand items, also known as refurbished items, are used items that owners want to sell off in order to get some cash back.
For photography, your skill may be restricted to your equipment. Some people may claim that creativeness matters most. Yes, you can come out with creative props, poses and composition, but there are too many things you cannot do without proper equipment. If you want better quality images (smooth, sharp etc), you have to do with a full frame DSLR camera and not a cropped body DSLR. If you want to capture clear details of small items such as insects or food, you will need a macro camera lens. If you want good bokeh effect, you have to use a camera lens with big aperture.
As you know that I come from a poor family, I have to consider purchasing second hand camera equipment due to the lower prices. This gives me some experience in dealing with second hand camera sellers. Even though I'm a very careful user who have been taking very good care of my camera equipment, I'm open to buying second hand items that does not look good physically, as long as it is functioning well and is cheap. After I start to earn more money through photography, I will then purchase new camera equipment.
What are the pros and cons of purchasing second hand camera equipment?
Cheaper definitely! They can cost just half the original price, depending on various factors such as age and condition.
Price doesn't depreciate too much
Once you get a new camera or equipment, the value drops immediately. For second hand items, the prices will not fluctuate too much.
Lifespan for second hand equipment may be generally lower. Equipment such as speedlite (flash) and battery are likely to degrade faster. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to find out how often the seller has been using them.
Second hand items may be defective. You can do a thorough check on the spot but you will probably miss out some damages if you are not an experienced user. Even an expert may be careless. For example, there may be some dust particulars trapped inside the used camera lens that can be only viewed from certain angles.
Second hand items are usually lousier in cosmetic. There are probably scratches or even dents on the items. If you are a person who is careful, you will probably despise second hand equipment.
Areas to note:
Local or export (gray or overseas) set?
Some equipment are sold at different prices in different countries. Most of the time, export sets are cheaper. More buyers are interested in purchasing local sets. This is important if you are looking for an item that is still covered under warranty - export items normally do not come with (local) warranty.
Brand (manufacturer) or shop warranty?
Brand warranty means that if there is any problem with the equipment, you can send it directly to the brand's service centre for repair. For shop warranty, it means that the warranty is covered under the shop and you have to send the equipment back to the shop to fix any problem. Whereas, the shop may get external technician to fix the equipment or ship it (export set) to the overseas service centre and it will usually take longer for you to get back your equipment compared to local service centre. Items covered under shop warranty are usually cheaper and the salesman may even offer you a longer warranty period.
Be sure to know what you want (cheaper with less or no local warranty VS more expensive with local warranty) and clarify before you purchase the camera or equipment from the seller.
Without the receipt, the seller can easily claim the equipment has a younger age. Although equipment like camera lenses may have the year of manufacture indicated as a code, the buyer may claim that it is a unsold set bought directly from the shop. If you are sending the equipment to the service centre, you will need the equipment's warranty to be registered and you will need the receipt if it has not.
Condition of the equipment? Mint?
Sellers may indicate a rating out of 10 for the condition of the equipment. However, do note that there is no guideline for the rating and most sellers are likely to over-declare the condition. Do not believe completely if the seller says the equipment has mint condition. Check thoroughly!
If the seller can send you photos of the equipment before meeting up with you, it will be more ideal. You will be able to tell the cosmetic (physical looks) of the equipment and not risk wasting the trip down.
Of course, you cannot trust the photos completely. There are also some lower IQ sellers who may send you the manufacturer's photos, which have nothing to do with the actual condition of the piece of equipment you are going to purchase from him. Note that you need to ask if the photos are taken recently. You may also need to look at both sides of the equipment, which means you have to receive at least two photos. For camera lenses, you may even need to see the through-the-lens photo.
Do note that sellers who are trying to hide the bad cosmetic condition of the equipment are likely not going to send you any photo in the name of "troublesome" or whatever reason. These sellers are likely to declare a much better condition so that you are more likely to go down to meet him. Buyers who have spent effort to make their ways down to meet the sellers are likely to accept a lousier condition as described.
Reason for selling?
Always ask the seller for the reason for selling the equipment. If the seller is not hiding anything from you, he will probably be able to reply you almost immediately. Of course, the seller can easily create a false story but the more lies he tells, the greater chance he will be exposed.
The most common reasons for selling the equipment are:
- the seller has changed or is changing his system, such as from a brand to another brand, from cropped body to full frame or from normal DSLR to mirrorless system (smaller and lighter)
- the seller needs to finance another equipment
- the equipment has been left on the shelf for too long and not using it
- the seller has given up on photography
Filter/screen protector on since first day?
This is very important, especially for camera lenses.
The primary objective of the lens filter is to protect the front glass of the camera lens from being scratched. Normally, owners will purchase at least an UV filter to do the job. Camera lenses used without protection may suffer scratches easier. Once a camera lens has scratches, it may affect the quality of the photos, which may not be easily told, unless an expert places the photo taken by the camera lens and another clean one side by side.
The seller may have bought the lens filter after the camera lens' glass is scratched. Do a thorough check without the lens filter on!
It takes time to test the equipment. The seller should not rush you at all. Buy the equipment only if you really feel confident.
Please bring a friend along!
Since you are the person paying for the equipment, you may be quite nervous because you know there is a chance that the equipment has hidden defects. Getting a friend along to check the equipment with you will ensure that a thorough check can be conducted. Even if your friend does not know about photography equipment, he will be able to tell better if the seller is trying to rush you to buy the equipment.
Overall, you just want to pay the amount for the condition you want.
Story 1: A wasted trip
I saw this advertisement for a Canon 580 EX-II flash and the owner, Lum, made it sound like it was a very good bargain. Indeed, for the price ($400) and extra goodies that came along with it, it was a good grab given that the owner was honest about the condition.
I arranged a meet-up with him at Vivocity. I went earlier to look at stuffs and right at the meeting time, he replied me that he was still in a meeting and could not turn up. I told him I would wait for him for some time but he did not reply. About an hour later, I had to leave since I had to buy food home for my elder brother and sister-in-law, and thus I dropped him another text politely. He did not reply me at all.
A few days later, I saw in his forum post that he had sold his flash unit away. I would expect him to drop me a polite message after his work if he was sincere. It was a basic family upbringing issue and probably, the failure of his education to not even apologise for wasting someone's time. It showed well of his irresponsibility.
Story 2: Guilty foreign seller
I was looking for a Canon 24-70mm F2.8L mark one camera lens through forum and eventually found one seller, Hua, trying to sell one at quite a good price. The seller insisted to meet at Ang Mo Kio and I made my trip all the way down, thinking it was a good bargain since he had described it as "good condition and clean".
The seller turned up earlier than the meeting time and I thought all was good. He started speaking in English and I thought he was an Indonesian Chinese who happened to be not able to speak well in the language (their first language was Bahasa). At certain points of time, I could not figure out what he was talking about. When I noticed that there was a major problem with the lens and was discussing with my friend right in front of him, he suddenly started speaking in Chinese and I realised he was a PRC Chinese.
When I looked through the camera lens at the light, there were something like bubbles. The seller continued to insist his camera lens was in good condition though. He highlighted that the external cosmetic was well taken care of after many years. It was obvious that the part where the camera lens would fit into the camera had some bubble-like things and they were obviously not dust. I tried offering him a spectacle cloth to clean it but he insisted we could only use a blower, which I did not bring along. He was also quick to try to brush off the deal, which showed his guilt.
I realised he posted a new advertisement on the same forum a couple of hours later. The differences were:
- The price was reduced from $1200 to $1100.
- "good condition and clean" description was removed.
- Rating of condition was reduced from 9/10 to 8/10.
If he was not guilty of the condition of his camera lens, he would not have made these changes. The problem on the camera lens was definitely not dust that could easily be blown and wiped off, and I suspected the camera lens was placed near high temperature object. To put it in simple, the camera lens was not even 1/10 for the condition - it could not be used at all.
I was not sure if he was out to cheat. I was glad that I had brought my friend along.
Story 3: Superb hard selling methods
When I continued to look for a Canon 24-70mm F2.8L mark one camera lens, I found another seller by the name of Darren Lau. He sounded like a gentleman and thus I thought all was fine. He insisted in meeting up at Cityhall, which was near his office. Before the meet-up, he greeted me by "bro" and told me that the condition of the lens was superb with light used marks on the hood. He assured me a few times that I would not regret buying the camera lens from him. When I requested him to clean the lens properly before the meet-up, he told me he had just sent it for servicing and thus there would not be any problem.
He came late even though his office was right above the MRT station. Knowing that I had not withdrawn my money, he brought me to the ATM machine right away. Along the way, I asked him if he was a local and he answered me yes. He also told me he was a wedding photographer and he had been using the camera lens to prove that it was in a good shape. The reason for selling the lens was he was trying to switch to Nikon. We found some seats inside Raffles City basement one where I did my checking of the lens. I was a little taken aback by the physical condition of the lens because the scratches on the lens hood was quite bad and definitely not just normal user marks. The body of the lens had scratches as well. He continued to sing praises of the lens while repeatedly asking me to test the lens on my camera and look at the result on my small LCD screen. Very soon, he started talking over the phone and pressurizing me that he was in a rush. Eventually I was too soft hearted and handed him over my money. I was not happy despite I had finally purchased my "ideal" lens and I was in a depressed mood.
Eventually I went to my favourite camera shop at Funan Centre - John 3:16. Samuel and Steven helped me to look at the camera lens and they verified that it had been badly abused before. Samuel gave it a 4/10 rating and Steven said 5/10, while the joker earlier mentioned 9/10. They showed me a second hand lens of the same model and I was devastated.
There was a black particle, which was much larger than normal dust, inside the glasses that was not easy to be seen without being guided by experienced users - I took a few minutes to spot it after being specifically told about its location a few tunes. Apart from that, there were many normal dust particulars inside. There were countless tiny scratch marks on the front of the lens. At the back of the camera lens where it was supposed to be connected to the camera body, there was fungus. The turning of the zoom ring was unusually rough at certain focus distance. The external body was quite badly scratched as well - I didn't mind the ugliness but I recalled that he told me the condition was 9/10, which made me feel very cheated (I was too soft at first). Anyway, he told me he had just sent the lens to Malaysia's Canon for servicing and thus there should not be any problem with the dark particle, dust and especially fungus. Unfortunately, the result (photo) due to these problems would not be easily visible, unless by professional or being put under a test with the exact same model of lens.
To put it simple, the camera lens that was sold to me at the price of $1180 could probably worth $600 or less. It required servicing from the manufacturer - Canon. The front glass with countless of tiny scratches would cost hundreds of dollars to be replaced. Overall, the scratches on the external part made the camera lens unappealing and it would definitely cost more than a hundred dollars to replace it. The lifespan of the camera lens would definitely be shorter than others'.
After being persuaded by the two heroes, I tried hard to refund the lens. I spoke to the seller professionally over phone and told him that I looked up to him as an honest seller and I was not able to do a thorough checking because he was in a rush. During the various conversations through both SMS and phone, he kept saying that his friend who had done the servicing of the lens insisted there was no problem.
Eventually, I took the pain to go to his house at Liang's Court from Funan Centre during the evening. When I was on the way, he called and offered me a deal. He said he had another camera lens of the exact same model and said I would just have to top up $50 to exchange for it. He also said he had spent the $1180 I had passed to him and thus I had to wait for another day for him to return me the money, refusing to tell me what he had spent with the big amount of money. When I reached his place, he answered me that he was staying in the service apartment because he was a Malaysian and was just working over here. He told me he was just working as a second wedding photographer when I tried to tell him that I would introduce assignments to him in future. He claimed that he had bought five or six same camera lenses years ago to sell at Malaysia. He showed me the second camera lens he owned and it was actually bought two years ago according to the code but there was also dust particulars inside, which showed that he had been using the lens often. I did not to take up the new offer even though the physical condition was much better. Meanwhile, he also tested the first lens and showed me the result on his MacBook, which I knew I would not be able to tell if there was any degrade of quality. He also told me I could check out the condition of the lens with the second hand store inside Penisular Plaza that he bought it from. I had to meet him up on the next day to get back my money but I was glad enough that I managed to get it back after the hassle. In fact, he had posted another forum thread on the same night with a 8/10 condition rating and even reduced the price of his terribly used camera lens, showing his guiltiness of the condition. I checked his forum profile history and realised he had been trying to buy a lens hood for it.
Throughout the process, I managed to spot many suspicious acts and realised the seller was a seasoned salesman.
- He sounded too polite and greeted me by "bro", and also reassured me of the condition of the lens various times.
- When he told me he had sent the camera lens for servicing, he actually admitted that he sent it to Malaysia's Canon. Then, it turned out that the person who had serviced the camera lens was his friend (he could be working in Malaysia's Canon though). There was no receipt to prove anything.
- If he had sent the camera lens for servicing, the big black dust particular should have been obvious to the expert and be taken care of. There were countless smaller dust particulars inside and even though nobody could expect "zero" dust after servicing, it would definitely be much cleaner after servicing.
- The fugus at the back of the glass nearest to the camera body was an obvious evidence that he had not sent the camera lens for any servicing.
- He arrived late so that I could withdraw money from ATM machine first, even though I didn't. It could also be a tactic to create an impression that he was in a rush to pressure me to rush through my checking.
- He brought me to the ATM machine immediately instead of checking the camera lens first. By withdrawing the money, it would definitely increase the chance of me to use it (buy the camera lens).
- He answered me that he was a local when he was a Malaysian. He had probably done it because buyers usually trust locals more.
- He repeated that he was a professional wedding photographer to gain trust from me by creating the impression that he was reputable. However, he eventually admitted that he was just a second wedding photographer.
- The physical condition of the lens was far worse from what he had described - 9/10.
- He kept rushing me to check the lens by taking photos with it on my camera. It was actually difficult for most photographers to tell the actual degrade of quality of the camera lens due to problems on the glasses. The first procedure should be checking the physical conditions.
- He told me it was his main camera lens for photography but he actually owned a cleaner one that was also seemed to be used regularly. Which one was the actual camera lens he had been using.
- By telling me that he had bought lenses to sell over at Malaysia, it showed that he was actually trying to make money through buying and selling second hand camera equipment. I had this feeling that he was trying to do it again this time.
- He asked me to check the condition of the camera lens with the second hand shop that he had bought the lens from and it directly proved that the camera lens was a second hand camera lens and was never his "main camera lens" for photography, which he was so "sure" and "proud" of the condition.