10 Tips for Buying Camera Gear on eBay

If you’ve never been on a budget and blow money like a vuvuzela at a football game, don’t bother reading any further. If you like saving money and are on a budget, then please continue reading.

I buy used equipment constantly. It’s more a way of life than a just a financial decision. While I like being able to get things cheaper and refuse to pay full price for almost anything, I wouldn’t call myself cheap. Overly frugal maybe, but not cheap (but don’t ask my wife). All that said, getting a good deal on used equipment isn’t rocket science.

If a camera body looks overly abused it’s because it was. The thing to ask yourself is “if it breaks or is already broken, how much does it cost to fix it?”. Knowing how much something costs to repair and what the potential problems are gets you one step closer to making an informed decision. The only way to make a truly informed decision though is to do lots and lots of research*. Check eBay’s completed listings for a good idea of street value and use it as a starting point when selling and buying. You need to know how much money what you’re buying is worth before you buy it. Knowing an item’s value after the fact will barely ever work out in your favor unless it’s dirt cheap, but stupid cheap should raise some red flags as well. Possible value and condition are things that should be emblazoned on your mind when making a purchase.

Once you know exactly what you want, it’s a matter of finding it at a price that is within the range you have predetermined doing all that research I mentioned a minute ago. I’m serious about this. Even though I spend way too much time doing research, it is by doing research that I know a good deal when I see one. I probably waste too much time researching when I should be grabbing my camera and actually using it instead, but I’ve found the research itself to be really fun. All this silly research has led me to some slightly interesting ways of finding what I want fast and occasionally getting some good deals.

1. Sunday Night Auctions

Items that end on Sunday night auctions generally go for less than almost any other day of the week. This might not be true for every Sunday, but it’s been my experience that you can get it cheaper if it’s ending then.

2. Avoid “Title and Descriptions”

For quick searches, do not search by “title and descriptions” unless the words you are looking for are rare. Not searching through all the listing that have your item listed as a keyword in the description will cut through a lot of auctions you don’t care about.

3. Creative Searching

eBay’s search has gotten better about this one, but if you’re looking for a lens like a 70-200mm Canon L, try searching for just “Canon 70-200″. It used to be that if someone left of the mm after the focal length eBay wouldn’t catch it in the search and you might be able to get it cheaper.

4. Sort Sort Sort

Sort your results for faster viewing. Check for auctions ending soonest first and if there are none immediately, use the “buy-it-now” tab and sort by price. The reason is that if it’s an auction and you’ve got 30min til it ends then it won’t end any sooner, but if it’s a cheap just listed buy-it-now the first person who sees it can buy it. You have to know exactly what you’re looking for and have a set price range to get a good deal this way, but it’s always best to look first.

5. If It Looks Too Good to Be True…

If it looks too good to be true, it most likely is. The good thing is that PayPal and your credit card company have these things called charge backs and insurance to cover the instances when a seller is a liar or a crook. I’m not advocating being unnecessarily crazy and buying something even though you know it can’t be real or even though you know the seller just made an error when they were typing. What I am saying is that if the seller lists everything correctly but doesn’t put a picture up it might be worth it to buy it because if it is what you were looking for and the seller was too lazy to take a picture you may have just gotten an awesome deal.

6. Results by Category

Did I mention sorting, because that’s important. Something just as important as sorting though id breaking down your results by category. The only reason I didn’t mention it with sorting is that some very good deals come when the seller puts an item in the wrong category.

7. Buy-It-Now Items

For buy-it-now items – If it looks like a great deal, but has been listed for multiple days and no one has snatched it up make a note of it. Check for previous listings of the same items and be sure this same lens from the same person hasn’t come up before and not sold for the same price. Some times emailing the seller an offer that if they lower their price to this you’ll buy it can lead to a good deal.

8. Check the Sellers Account

If it looks way too good to be true, look for other items the seller has listed on eBay. Occasionally a persons account gets jacked and hacker will list all kinds of items (sometimes even the same items over and over) at ridiculously low prices. Many, many items at rock bottom prices should be a huge red flag to stay away.

9. Local Pick-Up Only Items

Don’t forget to sort by distance! Sometimes you can find “local pick-up only” items for great auction prices because the seller refuses to go to a UPS store.

10. Buy for Yourself

Try to remember that even though you want a good deal and you want a good resell value, you are going to be the end user. If the lens doesn’t come with a hood and it’s going for $50 cheaper and you don’t mind a buying a $5 third party Chinese hood then that’s a good deal. If you are looking for that perfect lens but have a bargain price in mind, be prepared to wait forever or just spend a little extra and buy the one you want if that’s what it takes to make you happy.

Well, those are my tips like them or not. If you do like them leave me a comment. If you don’t like any of them and you think I’m a moron then you can leave a comment too.

*research = searching online (even if it’s just eBay) and off for any information regarding a particular subject and/or product

About the author: Jon Martin is a photographer based in Williamston, South Carolina. Visit his website here.

Image credit: The almighty mouse by lastquest, M&Ms Sorted by Color by Mr. T in DC and MAGNIFYING GLASS by andercismo