Lets be honest, most photographers are equipment junkies. We view lenses and camera widgets like a crack addict views crack, cant get enough and no matter how much we do get, we want more. To aid you in this endeavor, I want to offer up some tips I have used over the years to at the least, lower the acquisition cost of new toys.
One of the biggest expenses is good, fast and heavy glass.. primes or zooms, they cost a mint to buy new. For example, I wanted a Nikon 17-55m F2.8 for shooting weddings and events. It’s heavy, temperamental focusing but when it’s on, it is VERY good. The damn thing also costs 1,600 bucks new even at a discount. So what is a poor boy to do? Can you say “Ebay”? But, you say, the lenses on ebay are abused, no warranty, grey market, stolen etc. All true to be sure but with some careful shopping and planning, you can pull the deal of the year. Here is how I got mine at less than half the new price.
The economy tanking has driven down the prices somewhat on good glass but it really has brought alot more on the market. Some of the glass are what I call “trophy” pieces, bought when times were good and the person had too much money in their pocket. Now times are tough and cash is needed so the trophies go on the auction block. These are what to look for and careful reading of the ads can help as can a bit of luck. Even a high milage wedding lens IF at a GOOD price will work for this tip. Even a damaged lens so long as the glass is good. I found my lens from a seller with good marks (200 plus postives), good price as a “buy now or best offer” AND I had an Ebay coupon that was 10% off the price. So the 800 price came with free shipping (20 bucks), 80 bucks off with the coupon and another 25 bucks off due to my best offer. Total saved was 125 so the lens cost me 675 delivered.
But, it is still a used lens and when I got it, I noticed the zoom was stiff in the middle. Here is where the second part of my plan came into being. I specifically found a lens with good glass and no apparent damage but I had already planned on sending the lens to Nikon’s repair shop for a “tune up and alignment”. So opened the box, looked at the lens, closed it back up and shipped it to Nikon. Three weeks later I got my lens back completely rebuilt and repaired from an apparent drop onto something hard. Cost was 190 dollars but after the savings adjustment of the purchase, my out of pocket expense was 65 dollars for basically a new lens. I also pursued the seller for not telling the truth about the lens and got some wedding album templates for my troubles. He really should have known better but hard times caused him to make a poor judgement. His karma, not mine.
In the end, the lens cost me 865 total and it’s new on the inside. A brand new lens is 1600 plus tax of 130 plus shipping of 20 for a total of 1750. So my price is just a touch less than 50% of new. Yes it cost me in time with a week or so for the seller to get me the lens and another three in repair but I think it was worth it.
My second lens was a 12-24mm F4 which cost me about 60% of new from eBay and cam to me looking and working like brand new.
So deals on ebay can be had with some patience and luck. Another way to save is look at refurbished bodies. My D300 was 400 less than new as a refurb and there was absolutely nothing on it or in how it worked to tell me it was a used camera. The warranty is a bit different than new but Square Trade or in some case, the seller like Adorama offer extra warranties if you feel the need. In my case, I have insurance through PPA that covers all my equipment from theft and damage.
Craiglist is another potential gold mine of cheaper equipment. I found a very nice Nikon D70s (electronic shutter so sync speeds are upwards of 1/4000 with flash) for a cheap price locally. I also picked up a fourth SB800 flash for about 2/3s of new, it was well used but still very serviceable.