New lenses—especially those
powerful and bright enough to be useful for quality bird
photography—are, almost universally, obscenely
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
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
value over time, so that used name-brand lenses in good working order
fetch prices approaching those of the same lenses when new.
Third-party lenses don’t seem to fare quite as well.