Ever since I became a photographer, most of the cameras and lenses I have purchased have been used. Most cameras and lenses only come with one-year warranties (though there are exceptions), and since some used gear sellers offer 6-month warranties, that extra half-year is often not worth the difference (to me). And, of course, some items — like vintage or discontinued cameras and lenses — are only available used.
Updated 7/28/2021 by Matt Williams: Added LensAuthority.
Also, if I want to try a camera out to see how it works for me, I look for an open-box item — I am not a fan of returning brand new cameras because of purely personal preference.
I have had experience with all the below-mentioned companies, some much more than the others.
So, without further delay, here is our list of the top six (in alphabetical order) places to look at when seeking out your next piece of gear. Obviously, all these places offer gear well beyond just cameras and lenses too!
- B&H Photo
- Robert’s Camera (Used Photo Pro)
Adorama is my absolute favorite supplier of photo and video products. After hundreds (if not thousands) of items purchased and tens of thousands of dollars spent with them, I can safely say I have quite a lot of experience — including returns and dealing with its amazing customer service team.
As far as digital cameras and lenses, its used department is my favorite of anyone on this list. Adorama has tons of used gear available at any given time, with new gear being added every day. Best of all, it has very, very good prices with some unbeatable deals popping up now and then.
Items are rated from X (for parts only) to F (fair, which means it has certain malfunctions) to E+ (Excellent Plus). I have had nothing but great experiences with items from G (Good, just above Fair) to E+, with the lone exception of a thirteen-year-old Sigma DP1. Since returns to Adorama are so utterly seamless, it was not even a bother.
One of the best features of Adorama — not just its used department but the site as a whole — is its VIP360 program. It costs $49.99 per year, but if you order a decent amount of photography or video equipment, it is well worth it. The primary benefits are: free 2-day shipping on thousands of new items, 60 day return period instead of the normal 30, 1-year “drops and spills” protection (applies to new items only, with some exclusions), dedicated customer service, and early-bird access to discounts and sales. Oh, and shipping for returns is free with VIP360 too — so even if you simply change your mind but the product is not defective, you still pay nothing for return shipping.
All of Adorama’s used photo products come with a six-month warranty for G grade or higher and a 30-day return window. Used video and lighting gear carries a 90-day warranty with a 30 day return period.
We likely all know B&H. It is almost certainly the largest photo and video retailer in the United States, if not the world. While most of its seemingly endless options of products and brands are new stock, it does have a decent used department.
Based out of New York City, B&H sits less than two miles from its nearest competitor (both literally and figuratively) — Adorama. The retailer has a massive superstore that thousands of people visit every day. Should you be lucky enough to do so, you can browse its used equipment in person. You can also drop off returns and pick up online orders at its physical store, often same-day.
Unlike Adorama, the used department is not nearly as robust, nor are its prices as competitive. B&H’s inventory does not rotate over as much, and its rating system is more opaque. It does often include a note alongside the numbered rating (which ranges from 7 to 10), e.g. “Moderate Wear,” “Well Used,” or “Little to No Signs of Wear.”
Like purchasing new items from B&H, used gear will still come with the same quality customer service and free expedited delivery over $49. Used equipment may be returned for any reason within 30 days and carries a three-month parts and labor warranty.
I am sure everyone is familiar with eBay, so not a lot needs to be said about how it works. It is probably the most controversial option on this list — some hate it and will never use it and others (like me) find it to be a great source for a variety of different situations.
eBay is where you stand to get the best possible price and have the largest variety of options at any given time for any given item. For some items, namely vintage lenses, cameras, and accessories as well as rare or niche items, eBay may be the only place where you stand a chance to find what you are looking for.
A lot of the apprehension regarding eBay is the potential for scams or dubious sellers. This is a completely valid concern; however, it is far, far less something to worry about as a buyer. eBay has an incredibly robust protection system in place for buyers — to the point that I feel the site is riskier for sellers and not the other way around. The retailer will side with the buyer in almost every situation.
If there are any issues with your item, you can simply file a claim and eBay will refund your money whether the seller accepts the return or ignores your claim. You should, however, thoroughly read any description and look at all available photos before purchasing. From my extensive experience of over fifteen years on the site as both a buyer and seller, I have zero reservations as a purchaser.
Unlike every other company on this list, eBay items, in general, have no warranty — however, some sellers on the site (including several on this list who also sell on eBay) do offer warranties on items sold via eBay. Again, you should thoroughly read the listing and/or contact the seller if you are unsure about the terms. eBay itself has a 30-day window to file a claim should your purchase be not as described, not arrive, etc.
It is worth noting that eBay, along with the below-mentioned MPB, is the only company on this list that is NOT an authorized dealer for Nikon, Canon, Sony, etc. This can be important if you are, for example, an NPS (Nikon Professional Services) member — it also may affect the ability to get repairs from the manufacturer, since any camera or lens not purchased from an authorized retailer is considered gray market.
KEH Camera — the largest pre-owned camera store in the United States — is based just outside of Atlanta and is one of the most popular and highly regarded sites for used photography (and some video) gear. With great prices, fantastic customer service, warranties, and a huge catalog of used equipment, it is one of my go-to sites when I am looking for my next piece of gear. From 35mm to large format cameras and lenses, DSLRs, mirrorless, and tons of accessory gear, there is not much it doesn’t have.
The site is easy to navigate and browse, with everything broken down into clear and specific categories, plus plenty of search filters along the left-hand side of the page. Its ratings range from “Like New” to “Ugly” — there is also an “As Is” rating, which essentially means “for parts only.” And its rating system is one of the strictest out there — “bargain” grade, which is just above “ugly” is often equivalent to what many eBay sellers would list as “Excellent++” or “Near Mint.” I have even bought dozens of “ugly” lenses — most of which simply had cosmetic issues but were optically good or excellent.
Unfortunately, KEH’s site does not have photos of each item, so you can only judge its items based on the rating system.
KEH offers a 180-day warranty and 21-day return window on bargain grade or higher items and free shipping for orders over $49.
LensAuthority is a perhaps less heard of source for used gear compared to most places on this list, but it absolutely shouldn’t be. Many of us have heard of, or rented gear from, topdeblogs.com — and anyone who knows LensRentals is almost certainly aware of the vast amount of expertise, knowledge, and the high standards of everyone who works there. If you rent something from them, you know it has been rigorously tested and maintained in between every rental and you can be completely confident in both its quality and working condition.
LensAuthority should be considered with the same positivity because it is run by the same people. In fact, almost all of what it sells are prior rental items, which I am told are retired once they are they are no longer considered to be in “like new” condition or after about two years in circulation. Every piece of equipment at LensRentals goes through a multi-point inspection, cleaning, and provision program after each loan, which allows the company to achieve what it says is the lowest failure rate in the rental business. Equipment for sale at LensAuthority goes through the same proprietary inspection process.
In addition to overall ratings like “excellent” or “good,” LensAuthority listings include sub-ratings for cosmetic issues, performance, or glass (obviously depending on the item) and often include additional details within those subcategories. “Exposed!” listings (marked with a green badge) will provide photos of the actual gear (and any flaws).
Beyond the fact that the LensRentals/LensAuthority team is one of the most knowledgeable and thorough groups of folks you can find anywhere, LensAuthority does provide some other very nice perks that you don’t see elsewhere. Chief among them is the incredibly affordable extended warranty options — these vary depending on the product and its value and not all items have the option, but most cameras and lenses seem to. For example, as of publication, you can get a one-year extended warranty on a Sony Alpha 7R IV for an additional $25. A two-year extended warranty on a Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM is $14 while the same warranty on a Rokinon AF 50mm f/1.4 runs a mere $9.
Lastly, if you rent an item from LensRentals, you can opt to purchase it after your rental and they credit 100% of the rental fees for up to seven days toward the purchase — if the rental exceeded 7 days, the company will credit you for the 7 days plus 30% of the remaining rental fees after that.
MPB is probably the least well-known on this list, but it has grown quite a lot during the COVID-19 era and are absolutely worth a look. Not unlike the others on this list (except eBay), MPB purchases and resells used camera gear after thoroughly inspecting and testing the equipment. With two offices in the UK and one in Brooklyn, New York, MPB serves even more markets than several others on this list, and in April of this year, it acquired Series D funding of $69 million to expand to other markets.
The two best things about MPB are its massive catalog of available products and its very good prices. For example, at the time of writing there are twenty Nikon Z6 (starting at $1059), thirty-four Canon 5D Mark IV (starting at $1959), and twenty-seven Sony a7R Mark III (starting at $1889) cameras available to purchase. I do not know of anywhere else, except eBay, with that kind of inventory.
The company offers a 7-day return window with a six-month warranty on all the retailer’s products.
As mentioned above for eBay, MPB is not an authorized dealer for Nikon, Canon, Sony, etc.
Robert’s Camera (Used Photo Pro)
Robert’s Camera (hereafter referred to as Used Photo Pro), based out of Indianapolis is one of the largest suppliers of both new and used gear in the United States. Its used department, which exists on a separate website and with its own customer service line, is one of the best in the country.
Over the years, I have purchased thousands of items from Robert’s, visited its store dozens of times, and it has been nothing but the kindest, most helpful company I have ever dealt with. Customer service resolves issues with lightning speed and without hassle.
Used Photo Pro sells everything from modern digital cameras and lenses to vintage 35mm, medium format, and large format cameras and lenses — as well as the expected accessories like tripods, camera bags, etc.
While its inventory is not as extensive as KEH, the prices are just as competitive and, unlike KEH, each item on the site has photos of the actual product.
Grades range from Inoperable to Mint. The description of what each grade means is listed on every item’s page and, as mentioned, photos are available for you to inspect. The retailer is as transparent as it gets as far as what you are buying — in fact, out of the thousands of items I purchased from them, only one had an issue and the return was seamless.
Used Photo Pro offers a six-month warranty on all items, except for those graded “poor” or “inoperable.” Free shipping is offered on all items except those graded Inoperable, Poor, or Fair.
If there is one niggle with Used Photo Pro, it is that ever since its redesign, the website is achingly slow to load each page — it is borderline unacceptably slow. But, have patience because it is a wonderful resource. I do hope the retailer fixes that issue, though — it would make it a lot more pleasant for me, as I check it several times a day.
Full disclosure: Adorama has been a long-time PetaPixel sponsor, but the camera store was not involved in the creation of this article.
Image credits: Header photo licensed from Depositphotos