Could there be a better time to buy used digital cameras and lenses?

Martin Burke in "Fully Committed" at Zachary Scott Theatre.

I shot the image above with a Panasonic GH2 and an old Olympus Pen lens, the 60mm 1.5. Last year the GH2 was a stand out camera. It had arguably the best video/movie mode and video controls of any camera on the market and it's resolution is still top of the class for m4:3rd cameras but now prices of used ones are dropping like rocks.    Along with the recently obsoleted models from Canon, Olympus, Sony and Nikon. (That's because of the rapidly solidifying rumors of an imminent, new model, the GH3). It's part of the natural process of the market, there will always be people who want or need the very latest stuff and are willing to take a loss on recently purchased equipment in order to have what they would consider to be the best available in the moment.

I just came back from my favorite camera store, Precision Camera.  They take trade-ins on popular cameras and, for special customers, they will accept consignments. They are literally awash in recent model used cameras.  The very cameras we salivated over last year and a few years ago.  In some cases just a few months ago.

I found a shelf filled with Canon 5D mk2 cameras. They've been rendered useless by the Mark 3. ( sarcasm alert for the differently configured: Kirk is being facetious. The cameras are still very, very good performers ).  Likewise, the arrival of the Nikon D800 has led to a deluge of D300s, D700, D3 and even D3x cameras.  And if you are willing to go down market or down years the range of cameras on offer is incredible.  All at bargain prices.  Many used only by amateurs and sitting there in mint condition with fewer actuations on the shutters than you might believe.

The "on again/off again" rumors of the Olympus 4:3 E system's demise means that there are ample recent e cameras and lenses at fire sale prices as well.

Everywhere I look the Olympus OMD EM5 camera has radically displaced the EP2.  You can buy new EP2's for around $275 and only 18 months ago they were scratching $1,000.  Will it take long for the EP3's to follow?

What does this really mean to you? Say you are a young photographer who is just starting out in this business.  You have the opportunity, during this almost unprecedented surge cycle to put together a really decent system for less cash. If you can do without 36 megapixels and you want to shoot Nikon it's time to snap up something like a used D700 or a D7000 and some of the lenses that have been cast out by the newer G series versions.  The new lenses might have some small advantages over the previous models but remember that the old models were capable of making images for professionals that sold and sold well just a few months ago.  We may crave the new but  your clients won't see the difference.  And you probably won't either.

If you shoot Canon you can walk into bigger stores and look through a sea of bodies and lenses. The 1DX is pushing used prices of the 1Dmk4 down and the prices on 1DS2's has never been lower.

Can you imagine if the car market was like the camera market?  We'd be changing cars every eighteen months!  The average length of ownership, in the United States, of new cars is now 71 months.  Just a month shy of six years. Thing is that the cars last that long and deliver good service, for the most part, during that time frame.  But then so do cameras. 

I would venture to say that you could go out for most jobs equipped with the original Canon 5D or the Nikon D2X and a few older generation lenses and do most of the jobs that fall to photojournalists (are there any left?) and most local commercial photographers. Especially if the images are heading to the world wide web.

If you separate the business side of photography from the pleasure side of photography there's not a lot more we can do with the latest raft of cameras and lenses that we could not have done with the previous generation of same for most of our work.  Especially if the new stuff is seeing most of its action handheld and bumpy.

Just a suggestion, if there was a camera or lens that you really liked but which has been discontinued you might find that it's still a really good shooting camera and it's probably available on the used market at a great savings. Check out the good, local camera stores and see what you can find.  And if the price seems to be a bit high don't be afraid to offer less.  Most of the cameras that come in on trade have a pretty healthy margin and a shelf life like milk.  Shoot a little bolder and older and keep some money in your pockets for the adventure.

Silly me.  I'm still buying up $125 Nikon F2's and $500 Hasselblads.  Do you know what these cost new???


  1. The gear jockeys don't want to hear it, and neither do the newbs busy sucking up all the pablum served up to them on the forums.

    I just picked up a medium format Mamiya setup for my cousin for $251. This included body, lens, finder, 120 film back. He wants to learn to shoot film, so might as well give him the best head start.

    Funny, my D700 stopped working the day the D800 was announced. I did get it to fire but all of the pictures are terrible! Seemed like it happened overnight! -snicker-

  2. I picked up an EP-2, kit lens, Panny 14mm, all in for less than $500. When I looked at this camera new it was near $1000 with taxes.

    I "bought" and Olympus OM10 with the 50mm 1.4, a small Oly flash that works great with the EP-2 as well, a Yashica TL with a 50mm 1.7 from a friend. I bought him lunch and he brought the gear, just wanted to get rid of it really. That 50mm 1.4 is a gem of a lens, makes beautiful images on either the film or digital body. It's my fav lens at the moment.

    I love used camera gear and I love using some of the older tech, it is still very capable. I'm happy to let everyone else pay $1200 for the new Oly or the Sony Nex 7. I love leftovers.

  3. Thats how I got my E-P3 to supplement my E-P1 where it was lacking, the AF-field. For a very low and affordable price, praise the gear-jockeys!

  4. $500 Hasselblads?

    I've been looking to get a used 500C/M, and they're all pushing $1000AU! Where are you looking?!?!

    1. I was going to post the same Jared. In the UK a 500 C/M with finder, back & 80mm starts at about £750 and upwards.

    2. Kirk, we want to know the secret source of the cheap Hasselblads. Help us out here!

    3. Just bought an E-PL3 for $420. Already have a slew of m4/3 lenses plus the all-important VF-2 viewfinder.

      I'll wait till the Olympus OMD EM5 is where the E-PL1 is today (pricewise, that is) before buying one. Way overpriced when you compare them to the Sony a57 body and great array of Alpha lenses. Have ordered the FDA-A1AM Angle Finder for the a57 so I can shoot from ground level.

      I'm sold on Sony. It's the only way I can afford topflight gear. Thanks, Kirk.

    4. The Hasselblads are all over the place. Well used but still fully functional versions show up on the used shelves of bricks and mortar camera stores (which I haunt or call) as well as on Craigslist and other community sell sites. If you are looking at KEH or one of the big web stores you'll pay as close to the high end as they can muster...

    5. I think it definitely depends on where you are. In the NYC area, at least, Hasselblads aren't so cheap.

      Mamiya RB/RZ stuff, OTOH, is amazingly cheap even from the big dealers.

  5. You left off the best reason to shoot old gear. No upgrade fears. Nikon will never come out with a better F4 or FE than what I'm shooting right now. Mamiya will never bring out a model that obseletes my M645 Pro because it already is. And the Crown Graphic? Well, that was obselete before I was born. Funny how it shoots the best and most popular pictures on my Flickr stream...

    Thank you digital. Thank you equipment hounds. Thank you magic bullet chasers!

    Now, can you just buy a little film with that extra money you seem to have? I want to keep those guys in business!


  6. Looking at current and many last generation cameras, I think we've got to a point where new models no longer offer substantial IQ gains for most users. Instead of replacing cameras within a system, I anticipate adding additional systems better suited to particular uses (if need be) or offering a different shooting experience (like MF film). If others insist on replacing their gear frequently, I'll pocket the savings with no complaint!

  7. This "latest model" crazyness always reminds me of the furore a few years ago, with folks selling "analog" SLR lenses for a song while replacing them with the latest "digital" models. Apparently "digital" lenses "bent" light better for APS-C...
    You know the sharpest lens for my EPL1? A Zeiss Sonnar 180/2.8 with a Pentacon mount, attached to a Nikon adapter "glued" to a N/M43 one. It is incredibly sharp and contrasty wide open. A WWII design...
    Funny enough, all my "analog" lenses all still work as well with film AND digital cameras!
    Man, I love the "digital" craze! Yes, please: keep replacing all your gear with the latest whitest and brightest! ;)

  8. Recently bought a "like new" Olympus E-series body. I had been using several of the E-series lenses with my micro 4/3 bodies and I was impressed with the quality. I figured they would perform even better on the dSLR bodies. They do. The lenses are outstanding and were bargains. The camera body was less than $300 and hardly used. Although I'm pretty much invested in Canon dSLR equipment and Olympus micro 4/3, the "obsolete" Olympus dSLR is fun to use and the results are just as impressive.


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