Top tips for buying DSLR camera lenses on Ebay | Digital Photography Tutorial
Like many photographers using a DSLR, I have a constant desire to buy better lenses for my camera. I’m often drawn to the back of photography magazines and manufacturer websites to look at the prices of the latest and more expensive professional grade lenses.
Unfortunately, my pockets aren’t that deep, so buying a pro-grade lens for my DSLR direct from a shop isn’t really possible, so my alternative source for these lenses is the second hand market and sites such as eBay. However, it can be a minefield trying to buy a lens second hand, so here are some tips to help you avoid some of the pitfalls.
1. Know the lenses you want to buy.
The first step in buying a lens on eBay (or any other auction website,) is to know what type of lens it is you want to buy. You don’t neccessarily need to know the exact model, but a shortlist of lenses in a particular focal length will help narrow down your search. You may want to look at all manufacturers, or you may want to stick to your camera brand, either way write out a list of lenses that you are potentially interested in.
If you go onto eBay and just randomly start searching, you are in danger of getting side tracked and not buying what you need.
For instance, I want a medium length zoom in the 70/80 to 200mm range, which gives me a couple of nice options – Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VR (expensive,) Nikon 80-200 f2.8 (slightly more reasonable,) Sigma 70-200 f2.8 (similar to the 80-200 Nikon lens.)
Once you have an idea of the lenses you would consider buying, make sure you have read plenty of reviews to make sure the lenses will do the job you need them to do, and rate each one in order of preference. Also research how old each model is, and whether there are multiple revisions of the model – many Nikon lenses are revised throughout their life span, so a 1986 80-400mm lens is a different beast to an 1998 80-400mm lens.
2. Know the retail price of the lenses you want to buy.
This is important – make sure you know what the current retail price is of the lenses you are considering. This will give you an idea of what you can pick the lens up for new, and help decide your bidding limit. I have been keeping track of some of the popular DSLR lenses on eBay to see what prices they go for compared to new, and you would be surprised at how close some go to their actual retail price.
For instance, the Sigma 10-20mm HSM model retails at Jessops for £315, and on eBay used models are fetching £285, which to me is too much for a second hand lens.
3. Set your price limit before bidding.
Before you even start searching for a lens on eBay, put down a figure that you are willing to pay for each lens. If it retails for £700, work out how much less it needs to be as a second hand purchase for you to consider buying it. While you may need to revise this figure, it helps to know your budget before getting hooked on finding lenses and becoming obsessed with having to buy it.
4. Search and track each lens.
While its hard to resist jumping straight in and bidding on the first lens you find that meets your criteria, try and show a little restraint. There are generally two or three lenses a week that crop up for sale that fit my own current criteria, so don’t feel obliged to try and grab the first one you see.
Often its better to put items in your watch list, follow the bidding in the last hour of the auction and save the final sale price (plus the post and packing costs) for reference. If you build up a history of prices you can work out roughly what the current going rate is and remove the potential issue of over bidding.
Note: you can also use the advanced search on eBay to look at finished listings to see the last 60 days of sales, so can guage previous action prices to work out the average going rate.
5. Read the listing details carefully.
If you have found a lens you want to buy, make sure you read the listing details carefully.
1. Is the lens suitable for your make of camera, especially if the lens is made by Tamron, Sigma or Tokina?
2. Will the lens auto-focus?
3. Is the lens the latest model or older?
4. Is the photo of the actual lens or a stock photo?
5. Does the seller have some sample photos to show?
Point 3 is an important one – if the seller is not showing you a photo of the actual lens, it can be tricky to work out if the lens is the very latest model or an older less capable model. IF the seller doesn’t show a photo of the actual lens, you can always email them and ask for specifics about the lens age etc if its not detailed in the listing blurb.
6. When to bid.
So you’ve decided this is the lens for you, and you know your maximum bid that you are willing to pay for the lens. When do you bid? eBay suggest bidding early but I’ve always found that it simply pushes the price up. I personally wait until the last few seconds before bidding my maximum – if it isn’t a high enough bid to win it stops me getting drawn into a bidding war. Bid early and you may find that the prices rockets up and before you know it, you’ve put a bigger bid in than you wanted to.
You may lose mopre than you win with this method, but its important to remain focused on that maximum you are willing to pay – don’t go over it and end up paying more for a lens that isn;t worth that much to you.
7. Sniping software.
There are a number of online sniping websites that will place a bid for you remotely, without needing to have you PC turned on or even be near a computer. I’ve had no experience of these so cannot say whether they work or not. I personally prefer to be in control of what I’m bidding on, and be actually involved hands on in getting the win. I can however see the benefit of using one if the auction ends at a strange time or you have to be away from your computer.