Getting great cameras for cheap: Buying used

When you are a photographer, you get asked this a lot: “I want to do photography like you do. But I don’t have a lot of money.”

I don’t either. That’s why I purchase used equipment. Camera equipment can get expensive in a hurry. 

Milky Way with rocky arch.
Milky way night photo with rockiy arch. Photographed with a Nikon D750 purchased used.

Older camera equipment is often still really great

Nikon D750
You can purchase a Nikon D750, a great camera, at a fraction of the price of a new body.

A lot of older camera equipment produces fantastic image quality and has great features. It’s just simply older. Look at this way: Photographers were producing mind-blowing images for National Geographic 10 or 15 years ago with the cameras at the time.

A 10-year-old camera is still great enough that if you cannot produce superb images, it’s not the camera. I do night photography. Despite this field pushing cameras’ capabilities to their limits, I can still produce high-quality images with older cameras.

Purchasing professional equipment for less than a budget camera

You can also purchase professional-quality cameras and lenses for a fraction of the cost. I purchased a 36-megapixel Pentax K-1 full frame camera for $900. This camera still rivals some of the finest image quality of any current camera, whether mirrorless or DSLR. And it has a feature set that many other cameras still do not have, including Astrotracer and Pixel Shift for even more detailed images.

Pentax camera equipment
A Pentax K-1 and a Pentax 15-30mm lens. Both are great values brand new. But used? Utterly fantastic.

Sure, sometimes the megapixel count on older cameras may be a little lower. But it’s still high enough. Even a camera as old as the classic 12.1-megapixel Nikon D700 from 2008 can still be a great purchase. These cameras once sold for thousands of dollars, and can now sell for under $400. Photographers made fantastic photos with this camera, and still do to this day. Other manufacturers such as Pentax, Canon, Leica and others have five or 10-year-old cameras that are very high quality.

ghost town photographed with Pentax
Night image photographed with a Pentax K-1 and Pentax 28-105mm lens.

Legacy lenses

Many camera manufacturers have kit lenses that don’t cost that much. But many of them also have slightly older lenses that are high quality. When updated lenses are released, the previous versions will sometimes drop in value. And sometimes, the only difference between the two are a slightly updated nano-coating on the front element or a slightly improved or quieter focus motor.

Macro photo with used lens.

Most camera manufacturers, such as Nikon, Pentax, Canon and more have a long history of what people call “legacy” lenses. Many of these lenses are still rather high quality. And many of them sell for next to nothing on the used market. For instance, I purchased two Pentax K-mount macro lenses for $20 each, and they produce strong sharp images.

Fender guitar with macro lens
Using a used Sigma Pentax K-mount macro lens to photograph a guitar. I purchased this for free used, only paying $15 for shipping.

Easier to recoup money if you purchase used

Let’s say that you are not totally sure how serious you are about photography. However, you want to make sure that the experience of photography is a solid one. In other words, you don’t want to use a lousy camera. 

Purchasing used professional equipment is an excellent strategy in this situation. You would get to use high-quality equipment to maximize the possibility of you enjoying the experience. If you find yourself not fully immersed by photography, you can always sell it and recoup most if not all of your money. 

Joshua Tree National Park.
Night photo with light painting … on a budget. Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

Or better, if you find that you love photography and want to upgrade some of the equipment, you can sell that, recoup your cost, and put it toward newer or different equipment.

Purchase used through reputable dealers

You don’t have to purchase through Craigslist or eBay. You could purchase through a reputable dealer of camera equipment, like KEH or MPB. Many have warranties or some other level of coverage as well as return policies. I wrote an article listing some of the reputable places where I purchase used equipment.

I purchase used lenses, cameras, backpacks, computers and more. I do not purchase SD cards or hard drives used. But almost anything else, sure. I’ve mentioned the brands above because I am not as familiar with the older equipment for Sony, Olympus, Panasonic and others. But certainly if they have great equipment from a few years ago, the same strategy holds. If we can save hundreds or thousands of dollars and be able to use high-quality equipment, then why not?