3.10 Buying Lenses Used

New lenses—especially those powerful and bright enough to be useful for quality bird photography—are, almost universally, obscenely expensive.  Depending on the state of your financial resources (or how skilled you are at robbing banks), a good used lens might be a more practical alternative.  Here we consider several issues related to buying used versus buying new lenses.
    First, there is obviously some risk involved in buying used equipment.  If someone else wants to get rid of it, then there’s a fair chance that it’s defective in some way.  Paying for repairs to a used lens that you’ve already paid for can be rather unpleasant, to say the least.  On the other hand, new lenses are very often defective as well, since most major lens and camera manufacturers have poor QA (quality assurance) procedures in place.  Although a new lens would be covered by warranty, shipping a defective (new) lens back to the manufacturer may incur some additional costs, and the potential time lost while waiting for the product to be repaired is an additional
cost to be considered.
    A good way to buy a used lens is to find a reputable merchant that deals in used equipment and that has a generous return policy.  Two such merchants that I highly recommend are B&H Photo and Adorama.  In my experience, reputable merchants such as these will readily provide a full refund for used equipment that was found not to perform as expected.  I once returned a used 300mm f/2.8 lens to Adorama, who quickly refunded me and even paid for return shipping.  Although I’ve found the two aforementioned companies to provide outstanding service, many New York City camera dealers are far less accommodating.
    One problem with buying used is that the exact lens model that you want may not be available when you want it.  Small, local camera shops (or even pawn shops) that sell used equipment rarely carry the large-focal-length lenses that birders most desperately crave.  That’s where the internet comes in handy.  A number of internet forum sites (such as FredMiranda.com) have dedicated buy/sell boards where registered members can post advertisements for used camera equipment they’d like to sell (possibly with a fee).  What’s special about these sites is that when established members offer their equipment for sale, you often have a chance to research both the person selling the equipment and the equipment itself.  If, for example, some prolific poster on site XYZ.com announces that he (or she) is selling his ABC model lens, then readers have a chance to search through his previous posts to see what kind of images he’s obtained through that lens.
    A very popular web destination for those seeking used equipment is, of course, eBay.  Though I’ve rarely purchased photographic equipment there, I’ve sold a number of cameras and lenses through eBay, and I can say with great certainty that even selling camera gear on eBay is fraught with peril due to scammers.  The Nigerian scammers in particular have become very aggressive on eBay.  Given that selling is supposed to be less risky than buying on sites like eBay, I feel nothing but pity for those trying to buy tech gear on these sites.  A somewhat safer option would be your local Craig’s List.  At least with Craig’s List you can meet the seller in person and test out the equipment before buying it.  Unfortunately, it’s still possible to be scammed on Craig’s List, and some people have even been robbed at gunpoint by criminals posing as sellers, so beware.
    One final issue to consider is that of value retention.  Name-brand lenses tend, very strongly, to retain their value over time, so that used name-brand lenses in good working order routinely fetch prices approaching those of the same lenses when new.  Third-party lenses don’t seem to fare quite as well.