Should you buy a new or used camera body?
The short answer: if you want a risk free purchase and don’t mind spending the extra cash, I’d say buy new. But if you’re looking for more bang for your buck, I would say used.
That said, deciding whether to buy a new or used camera body is often more complicated than the risk to price ratio.
So, to help you decide, I did some research and data analysis viewing both sides of the issue. Below are my findings.
Why Buy Used Camera Body
1. Enjoy Cheaper Prices
The most evident benefit of buying a used camera body is that you will spend significantly less money. The cost savings of used camera equipment is higher than most used products. This means that you can save anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars when buying the used camera body.
For example, a new sony a7iii cost $2,000 while you can find a used one for $1750, a total savings of $250.
Purchasing used camera body is incredibly thrifty; it will leave you with extra cash to invest in more equipment or even an additional photography trip.
2. An Easy Option for Back-Up Camera
If this is your first major camera purchase, saving money might be a good enough reason to stick with a used camera. However, if you are a professional and established photographer, it might be worthwhile to invest in used backup camera bodies and lenses.
By going with a used camera rather than a new camera you can save a significant amount of money. Especially, if the camera will only be used during emergencies or used lightly when two cameras are needed.
3. Camera Prices Drop Quickly
In the chart above are the prices of several cameras compared between brand new and used models.
For this table, I used amazon as my database and gathered over 300 price points for used cameras beings sold on Amazon. I narrowed my research to only include used models rates “Like New”, “Very Good”, and “Good”, the top three condition ratings a camera can receive.
I found that, on average, used “Like New” cameras are 12% cheaper, which results in an average savings of $272.
Also, I found that used “Very Good” and “Good” cameras are on average 27% cheaper, which results in an average savings of $556.
Another easy way to save money is by buying older camera models instead of the newer models.
Let’s say you want the latest Sony A7iii. Rather than purchasing A7iii, you can buy the A7 for a much lower price while getting most of the same features.
If you buy a used A7iii instead of a new one, you’ll save 9.6% of the original price. However, if you opt for a used A7ii instead, you’ll save 21% of the original price.
By purchasing a used A7 rather than a brand new A7iii, you save 45% or nearly $700.
This is not only the case for Sony Cameras. Most large camera companies such as Nikon and Canon release new cameras every year. This benefits photographer because it drives down the prices of older camera models.
Beyond cost savings, older models will also have much more online reviews and tutorials, which make it easier to make a camera choice.
For these reasons, whether new or used, it’s often more prudent to buy the previous model of the camera body.
4. Camera Quality Remains Good.
Many people tend to assume that used camera body has diminished quality, reliability, and/ or lifespan. But this is often not the case for most modern cameras. Here’s why:
Quality & Reliability
If you purchase a used camera from a reputable seller they will have a condition rating for all their products.
If you choose a used camera that has a high condition rating, chances are you can count on its quality and reliability.
That said, keep in mind the higher the condition rating the less of a discount you will get compared to a new camera.
Modern cameras lifespan is not measured in years, but rather in shutter count.
The camera’s shutter count represents a running total of the times the shutter of a camera has been used. You can think of it as the number of photos taken with a camera.
Every camera will have a shutter lifespan. The shutter lifespan is the average number of shutter accusations that the camera can handle before the shutter breaks.
Entry-level DSLRs typically last at least 50,000 shots, while professional DSLRs typically last to at least 200,000. So, it’s not unlikely that you will find a used camera with enough shutter actuation remaining to last several years.
Before purchasing a used camera, it’s good to have an idea of what the shutter count of the camera is.
To determine the shutter lifespan of a camera, perform a Google search with” [Camera Name] Shutter lifespan”. Typically, camera manufacturers will provide the shutter lifespan for all their camera models.
There are a few things you can do to determine the shutter count of a used camera.
One way is to ask the seller to disclose the shutter count before you purchase it. If the seller can’t provide the shutter count information you can take advantage of your seller’s return policy.
Purchase the camera and test the shutter count yourself. To do so you can use camerashuttercount.com or any other shutter count software. If you feel the shutter count is too high for the price of the camera you can simply return it.
5. Shutters Can Be Replaced
A shutter only costs around $200 to $300 to repair. Which means, even if the shutter breaks, having it repaired is much cheaper than buying a new camera.
6. Newer DSLR Models Aren’t Worth the Price
Camera models that are only two or three generations apart have minimal differences. If you are looking to buy a specific camera model, consider purchasing the previous model to save money.
Nikon New vs. Used
To illustrate this point, let’s take a look at the chart below comparing three generations of Nikon cameras: Nikon D800, D810, and D850 models.
When you compare the three models of the Nikon D8 series, it becomes clear that there are only a few differences between them.
The most significant differences between the D810 and D850 (highlighted in yellow) are megapixels, ISO, and Dynamic AF Modes.
Now if you compare the difference between D800 and D810, there is only one difference. The D810 has a higher ISO while every other feature is of the D810 is identical to the D850.
The progression of features from the D800 to the D850 show that the advances from one model to the next are often very subtle.
This is not only the case with Nikon cameras. If we compare the progression of Sony and Canon models we come to the same conclusion.
New models are released at a much higher price while only making small improvements on features such as ISO range, megapixels, and shooting speed.
Sony New vs. Used
Canon New vs. Used
7. Recoup Purchasing Costs If You Resell
A camera loses value as soon as you use it. This means the minute you use your new camera, you are foregoing the possibility of ever getting your money back.
On the other hand, if you buy a used camera body and decide to resell, your more likely to recoup what you paid for and in some cases make a profit.
8. Prices Are Negotiable
One of the most exciting parts of buying any used item is negotiating the price. Sellers are often willing to lower their prices to guarantee the sale.
For example, recently a local camera store owner offered me an additional $200 off a used Nikon lens if I purchased it that day.
For greater flexibility in price, you may want to look into craigslist, local stores, Facebook, or private sellers, instead of large sellers such as B&H or Adorama.
9. Cosmetic Defects Are Negligible
Cosmetic defects such as dents and scratches do not affect the quality or performance of a camera. They are “cosmetic,” which means they only affect the cameras appearance and nothing else.
Plus, cameras with cosmetic damage often offer the best opportunities to save money.
Put it this way would you accept a few scratches on your camera to save several hundred dollars?
For me, the question is pretty straightforward. As long as the camera performs at a high level, then I don’t have an issue with cosmetic damages.
With that said, there are a few red flags to look out for when buying a used camera.
First, verify that any cosmetic damages are purely cosmetic. To do so, test out the camera, take a few photos, adjust the settings, press the buttons to make sure it performs as it should.
One of the most important things to look out for when purchasing a used camera is making sure the sensor is in good condition. Remember, a damaged sensor is a worthless sensor.
Also, be sure to check the camera for fungus, mold, and rust. If a used camera has any of these characteristics, avoid buying it.
Finally, check to ensure that the moving parts of the camera operate smoothly. Press the button to ensure they do not get stuck, move the lens mount, activate the flash, and open all the ports to make sure there is no corrosion.
The best way to confirm the condition of a used camera is to inspect it in person.
If you purchase a used camera online try to stick with reputable sellers who have a return policy such as Adorama, B&H Photo, and KEH. If you opt to purchase from Craigslist, Facebook, or another forum try to meet up with your seller before you buy the camera.
Benefits of New Camera Body
1. New Camera Sales Aren’t Final
A major benefit of purchasing a new camera is that nearly every seller has a return policy. The return policy may vary, if you follow the requirements, you shouldn’t have a problem returning your camera.
On the other hand, it’s much harder to find sellers who offer return policies for their used cameras. And, if you are buying a used camera from a private seller, it is almost unheard of for someone to accept a return.
As a result, buying used cameras can be risky, especially if you can’t inspect your camera in person or if you don’t know much about cameras.
2. No Bad Apples
We’ve discussed the practicality of buying a used camera, and some general guidelines for determining their worth and remaining life.
However, it is certainly possible that you could follow all the right steps and end up with a faulty product.
This is especially true if you are buying a used camera online. You may not have all the information about the camera, and the seller may take advantage of you.
You can avoid this risk by buying a new camera rather than a used one.
3. Used Cameras Might Not Have a Warranty
When purchasing a new camera, most stores offer a warranty or insurance plan to protect your camera against unfortunate events.
Although reputable sellers ( Adorama, and B&H) offer a warranty for used cameras, this is often not the case if you buy directly from another person or a smaller dealer. Again, you can avoid this uncertainty and risk by simply buying the camera new.
4. No Hidden Issues
There is always the possibility (especially if you are looking to buy from a private seller) that the camera has hidden issues or does not work at all. Even if you try to take sample photos, the resultant pictures may not tell the whole story.
Certain issues can lie dormant in a camera and only become apparent after extended use. It’s similar to buying a house, you don’t realize you have squeaky floor until you have been walking on them every day.
5. It’s Possible to Save More Money When Buying New
As much as you inspect a camera beforehand, certain issues only arise after you use a camera for some time.
As a result, there is the possibility that you may end up needing to spend a significant amount of money on repairs and maintenance. In such cases, any “savings” you initially thought you had will diminish or disappear altogether.
6. Shutter Counts Aren’t Always Everything
The shutter count will not always be accurate in the case of a used camera. It’s not uncommon for vendors to reset the shutter count when trying to sell used cameras.
Bonus: New vs Used Lenses
Buying used lenses is much riskier than buying a used camera.
This is because it is much more challenging to determine if a lens has a problem. Sellers can easily polish and mask any issues visible to the naked eye.
To ensure the quality of a used lens your purchasing, try to buy it in person. This allows you to inspect a lens before buying it thoroughly.
Remember to bring your camera body to test the lens. Make sure the lens can focus properly at a variety of different distances. Also, ensure that the moving parts of the lens operate smoothly without friction from dirt or dust.
Further, keep an eye out for dust, mold, or scratches on or inside the lens. If there are any scratches or dents on the lens, be wary.
Although they may look minor on the outside, the impact that causes dents can result in severe internal damage to the lens.
Keep in mind, it’s difficult to guarantee the quality of a used lens, even if you examine it yourself in person.
Try to use new lenses and used cameras. If you decide to do otherwise follow the guidelines I provided to ensure you get the best bang for your buck.
New or Used—Which Is Better?
You’ve read all the facts, but what’s the final verdict? Should you buy a used camera for your next investment, or choose the peace of mind that comes with buying new?
Personally, I recommend a mix of the two. I buy most of my camera bodies used to save money, and I am always careful about who I buy the camera from.
However, I am willing to invest more money in buying new lenses as it is much more difficult and expensive to fix a problem with a lens than it is to fix a camera body.
I mix my purchases to make sure I’m always getting the best deal. Your decision to buy a new or used will mostly depend on which factors are most important to you.
If you’re ready to buy a used camera, I created a comprehensive guide to help you make the best purchase: The Ultimate Guide to Buying Used Camera Gear.