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Buying Used Lens Online

It is relatively safe to buy used lenses at a camera shop because you can personally inspect them before buying. However, the lure of online auctions cannot be denied. Online auctions or sales open up a huge number and variety of lenses to you. You will no longer be restricted to the limited number as well as quality of used lenses available at your local camera shops.

Of course, while there's a much wider range of used lenses to choose from online, they also come in a wide variety of conditions. For example, if you are looking for the popular Nikkor AF-S 80-200mm ED-IF lens, you will find quite a few being sold in eBay at any one time. However, they are not all the same. If you check each auction out, you will see that they range from brand-new lenses to broken lenses that can only be used as spare parts.

Therefore, you must be careful in reading the listing of each auction. Good sellers will often provide copious details as well as pictures of the lens. This makes it easier for you to evaluate its condition and determine how much you are willing to pay for it.

But if the seller did not leave much details or even a picture, then he/she is either inexperienced or may be trying to hide something. You should contact the seller and ask him/her to describe the lens in greater detail. Personally, whenever I'm interested in an online auction, I would ask the following questions about the lens :

  • Are there any scratches or blemishes on the front or rear lens elements?
  • Is there any oil on the aperture blades? Do they snap quickly in place?
  • Is there any fungus or dust inside the lens?
  • Does the lens come with the hood, both lens caps, manual and box?

If the seller is evasive about answering your questions, you should be wary about buying the lens. You can persist with your questioning or turn elsewhere. The good thing about buying lenses online is that there is always an influx of good lenses for sale. So, you can always wait for a better deal.

If the lens comes with a certain flaw, you should request more details about the flaw. If possible, get a close-up picture of the flaw. This allows you to make a better decision about the lens. Again, you should be 100% confident about the item before you bid for it. Remember - you can always wait for a better deal.

Now, before you plunge gleefully into the online auction world, please remember to do some research before you bid!

More often than not, there are individuals and even shops who will try to sell you lenses (either used or new) for more than they are really worth. If you check Amazon or PriceGrabber, you will probably find new lenses being sold for less than what these scammers are selling their used lenses!

I have seen people paying ridiculous prices for used lenses in questionable condition. Many of these buyers were probably influenced by over-enthusiastic or exaggerated reviews. So, it pays to do a little market research before actually bidding. You can often find good deals on new lenses using Amazon or PriceGrabber.

Finally, make sure you take the shipping costs into consideration. Sometimes, the seller will charge ridiculously high prices to ship the lens to you. For example, one disreputable seller wanted to charge US$50 to ship a single lens to any state in the US using USPS Priority Mail. The actual shipping cost would not cost more than US$10. This was merely his way of getting you to pay more for his lens.


Avoiding Fraud

The biggest problem with buying lenses online is fraud. Many people have gotten ripped off by professional scam artists operating in online auction sites like eBay.

No matter what eBay does to prevent fraud, people still get hit by fraudsters. Therefore, if you want to buy anything online, you should be well-prepared to deal with such people.

Below are some MAJOR red flags to look for when looking for potential fraud cases :

  • The seller offers the item at ridiculously low prices. For example, if he wants to sell a new Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L USM for only US$100.

  • The seller offers free or ridiculously cheap shipping from distant countries. For example, if he offers to send the super-large Nikkor AF-S 600mm f/4D IF-ED from Hong Kong to the US for free. You should be particularly suspicious if he offers to use expensive courier services like FedEx or UPS.

  • The seller states he is from the US but claims that the item will be shipped from another country (usually an Eastern European country like Romania or Russia). You should be especially wary if he offers to ship it for free.

  • The seller noticed you bidding on an item and offers to sell you a similar item for far less outside auction sites like eBay.

  • The auction page shows the seller's country to be in the US but the location (state or city) listed is of another country.

  • The seller states he is from the US but a quick look at his e-mail address reveals that he is really from another country. For example, an e-mail address like [email protected] should send up a red flag.

  • The seller insists on payment methods like Western Union, wire transfer, money orders; or alternative services like e-gold. These payment methods are highly favoured by scammers because they cannot be traced or cancelled.

  • The seller offers the item only to pre-approved bidders. In this case, the seller will offer to sell the item to you at a fixed price outside of eBay and often via Western Union, wire transfer or money order.

  • You receive a Second Chance Offer from the seller. Make sure you confirm that it's the same seller. I once received such an offer and on contacting the actual seller, discovered that the person who e-mailed me someone else pretending to be the seller.

  • The seller refuses to use a reputable escrow service for whatever reason.

  • The seller insists on using alternative escrow services that are not approved by eBay. You can check the list of approved escrow services here.

Here are some MINOR red flags that may or may not suggest a potential fraud case :

  • There is no actual photo of the lens, or just a generic photo of it.

  • The seller is unable to provide additional details on the lens.

  • The seller states he is from the US but he can't respond in proper English.

  • The seller refuses to allow a local pickup, even if the both of you are in the same city!

  • The seller has negative feedbacks or no feedback at all.

  • The seller has positive feedbacks but none or few are from other buyers.

  • The seller has a lot of positive feedback, but none are related to photographic equipment. (Possible hijacked account)

If your transaction involves even a single MAJOR red flag, please be very wary about proceeding further. Minor red flags offer you additional clues about the validity of the auction. If you get three or more minor red flags, you should be wary even if there are no major red flags.


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Introduction, Pros & Cons
Tackling The Issues, Missing Parts


Damaged Filter Rings, Loose Switches,
Dust Inside The Rings, Tight / Gritty Rings,
Loose Zoom Action, Damaged Zoom Action,
Damaged Focusing Helicoid


Damaged Lens Motor, Malfunctioning IS,
Oily Aperture Blades, Sticky Aperture Blades


Eroded Lens Coatings, Scratched Elements,
Chipped Elements


Separated Elements, Loose Elements
Damaged Contacts, Lens Fungus


Buying Used Lens Online, Avoiding Fraud



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