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10 Tips for Buying Second Hand Lenses

Caleb Ward
By Caleb Ward
By Caleb Ward

Used lenses provide a cost-effective way to get quality equipment, but know what to look out for before you buy.

Many artists and new filmmakers don’t have a lot of money to spend on equipment. Between camera bodies, lenses, accessories, tripods, and gear bags it can be impossibly expensive for some aspiring filmmakers to purchase new equipment. Thankfully you can save some money by purchasing used lenses…but how do you know if a used lens is a good or bad?

In the following video, photography master Karl Taylor gives 10 useful tips for purchasing used lenses. If you’re more into reading than watching, we’ve outlined each of the 10 lens buying tips below.

10 Tips for Buying Used Lenses

1. Look at the Focal Length

The focal length can easily be found on the front ring of a lens. Lenses are broken up into two categories, prime & zoom. Prime lenses don’t zoom ‘in and out’ but typically let in more light than zoom lenses. They have a fixed focal length.

Can the lens shoot wide shots? Will it shoot close-ups from across a wedding chapel? The focal length will tell you.

2. Check the Aperture Number

An aperture reading is measured in f-stops. The lower the f-stop number the more light the lens lets in. Prime lenses normally have lower f-stop readings than zoom lenses. And on that note, zoom lenses can sometimes have apertures that change based on your focal length. A good rule of thumb is: the lower the f-stop number the ‘better’ the lens.

3. Check the General Condition

Does the lens has dents or scratches? Are there visible signs of use? It isn’t a perfect way to tell if a lens shoots great but it will let you know if the previous owner took care of the lens.

4. Shake the Lens

On any lens you will hear a little noise when you shake it, but do you hear anything that sounds extra loose? Listen for screws or broken plastic pieces on the inside as these might be indicators of an unseen problem.

5. Shine a Flashlight Through the Back

Make sure the front and back glass elements are clean and shine a flashlight through the back. Can you see any dust or scratches? If so you will probably have to send in your lens to get repaired which can get really expensive.

6. Does the Focus and Zoom Wheel Turn Smoothly?

Having the ability to quickly change focus points is crucial for any lens destined for filmmaking or professional photography. Difficulty zooming or focusing can mean the gears on the inside of your lens are messed up…and there isn’t a lot you can do about that.

7. Are the Aperture Blades Closing Correctly?

You will need to connect the lens to a camera to test the aperture blades. It is imperative that they are in good working order. Do they all form a perfectly symmetrical shape when closed? Do they open up all the way?

8. Try the Lens!

Most camera shops will allow you to test a lens on your own personal camera. Put the lens on and shoot some pictures. Zoom into the image and check for vignetting or chromatic aberrations. Try examining images at different f-stops. What is the minimal focus distance? Does it focus to infinity? Check the autofocus, does it focus well? Is it fast?

9. Ask about a Warranty and Return Policy

Most camera stores and online retailers allow for lens returns on used lenses if they aren’t in working order. Be careful when buying on an online auction site like eBay. Lenses sold “as-is” should signal a big red flag.

10. Know the Seller

Tried and true retailers are the best companies to purchase used lenses from. Not only will they likely have a great return policy but they probably won’t sell sketchy lenses. Look for seller ratings on eBay – they are a good indicator of a company’s track record.

For more info we recommend checking out our previous post on cheap cine-lenses.

This video was first shared by Karl Taylor on his Youtube Channel. Thanks for sharing Karl!

Know of any other useful tips when buying used lenses? Know of any great places to buy them? Share in the comments below.