Friday, July 5, 2013

Buying used equipment from

I recently read an article on buying used lenses. I have always shied away from buying something so complicated and expensive from a complete stranger, given that you really have only a short amount of time to test it.  You really don't know the condition of something until you've put it through a considerable amount of rigor.  By that time, it is unlikely that you'll have any recourse if it turns out the lens is defective.  So this article particularly interested me.

Not to downplay the advice given in the article -- all of it makes perfect sense and there are some points to remember even when buying new equipment.  But it was one of the comments in response to the article that began a journey culminating in the authoring of this post:

Andy Says:
"Or you could just go to"

Andy, whoever you are, you have changed my life.

First, a little more background.  I used to own a Canon 20D dSLR.  Somewhat frequently I would use it for long exposure night photography.  By long exposure, I mean shutter speeds measured in minutes.  Here is an example of a 2 minute exposure of the hotel I stayed at in Thailand:

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The image is silky smooth.  There is absolutely no noise present at all.  With my 20D I could easily shoot 4 and 5 minute exposures and get stunning results without the need to apply any noise reduction whatsoever, either in camera, or in post.

When my 20D died, I upgraded to a 50D.  Folks let me tell you, if you ever needed proof that more megapixels is not necessarily better, here it is:

This was an 8-minuite exposure shot with my 50D. Ok, it's not horrible.  But if you click on it to view it larger you'll see that the image is very soft as a result of the aggressive noise reduction I've applied just to get something acceptable.  And it's still VERY noisy!  Right out of camera, this was a mess of hot pixels, luminance noise, and blotchy colour artifacts -- this was shot at ISO 100!!!!  My biggest disappointment with the 50D's image quality is how noisy the images are.  Even shots at ISO 100 shots in broad daylight show some amount of noise.  Cramming all those pixels into an APS-C sensor has the serious tradeoff of significant thermal noise.  Both of these shots were in very hot and humid conditions, by the way, which only amplifies the problem.  So you can see how much better of a performer the 20D is in this respect.

Ever since I processed this image, I've been looking for a good price for a used 20D.  Since I wanted it specifically for night photography and not much else, I didn't want to spend a lot of money.  Henry's has an inventory of used equipment, but the best price I've found has been around $350.  Given that the 60D is the current model in the series, with the 70D just announced, I thought that was a pretty steep price for a camera 5 generations old.

Which brings me back to  I casually perused the site, not expecting fantastic deals -- after all, photography is a lucrative business these days.  Boy was I surprised!  I found three 20Ds for sale in varying conditions -- two in EX+ condition ("Excellent Plus") for $139 and one in what's known as their "Bargain" condition for $99 -- all including a battery and charger.

Now, I am skeptical by nature, and I immediately thought that this was too god to be true.  So I did some research.  I came across post after post of photographers gushing about how much they love this site and buy gear from them all the time.  I learned the following:
  • has been in business since the 1970's starting as a brick-and-mortar outfit dealing in used equipment.  So they are not one of the numerous companies that have popped up in recent years just looking to cash in on the current photography craze.
  • Their rating system is quite conservative.  The EX+ rating would be anyone else's "Like New" condition; their "Bargain" rating would be anyone else's "Good" to "Excellent."
  • Their service is unbelievable.  I came across a number of stories of buyers not getting the quality (or in some cases the product) that they had ordered, and in every case the problem was cleared up quickly and without hassle.  In one case, the owner of the store himself posted in the user forum offering to help a particular buyer.
  • They offer a 6-month warranty on their products, and a 15-day no-questions-asked return policy.
Armed with this new knowledge, decided to try it out.  I probably would have been fine ordering the "Bargain" rated unit, but for only an extra $40 I went with the EX+.  I ordered it on Friday, and it arrived the following Wednesday, including a one-day customs delay at the border.  I also ordered a lens hood for my 15-85mm zoom lens for $20 in "Like New" condition.  It is the genuine canon version, which retails brand new for $75 for some reason.  I had bought cheap knock-offs in the past, but they break far to easily an don't fit quite as snug as the genuine Canon ones.  So I thought $20 was more than fair.  Shipping for the whole lot was a bit expensive at $59, but was promoting free shipping at the time for any orders within the U.S., and a $10 discount for international orders.  Finally I was dinged $33 import tax.  So for $240 all in, I got my used 20D plus the lens hood for my 15-85mm.  Not bad at all!

As for the quality, my research was correct.  The camera arrived in pristine condition.  There is a little bit of visible scuffing on the rubber cover for the USB port and on one of the metal loops for the strap, but that's it.  By the time my first 20D died, it was in nowhere near such condition.  Everything was well packaged.  Each item was sealed individually in a zip-lock bag, then wrapped in bubble wrap.  Then even bigger bubble wrap was used in the box to ensure nothing rattled around.  The lens hood arrived in all of its original packaging, making me suspect it was actually "New" instead of "Like New."

I'll definitely use again to buy gear.  I'll likely even try buying items marked "Bargain" condition as well, given everything I've read and experienced.  If you're looking for used gear, I can't recommend them enough!  The only negative part of the whole experience was the rather expensive shipping fee to get it here to Canada.  Of course, that is not a problem specific to -- for some reason shipping anything from the U.S. to Canada is particularly expensive.  So to mitigate this, I suggest you order a bunch of things together and only pay for shipping once.

Happy shopping!
 - jc

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