I'm looking at buying my first DSLR (Canon). It's a bit expensive in store (I've already picked the model) so I started looking on Ebay. Some people are selling still in box with warranty and some are selling used, but with a macro lens included.

What should I be aware of when buying photo equipment off of Ebay? What should I look for and ask of the seller?

7 Answers 7


Used gear is a very cost effective way to purchase high quality gear for the fraction of the price. I have bought and sold camera gear on ebay and have had a good time, but I also practice due dillegence. These are some tips that have helped me. Many of these apply to other items on ebay, while others are specific to camera gear.

  • Check feedback. Just having a high feedback isn't good enough. If the seller only sells $10 knick-knacks and this is their first high-value item, beware. Ebay accounts are often hacked, and reputable sellers can be used as fronts for fake auctions.

  • Insist on Paypal. If the seller does not accept paypal, don't purchase from them. When using paypal, pay with a credit card. Paypal does have buyer protection, but it pales to what your credit card company offers. If there is a problem with the transaction, notify your credit card company and they will refund the purchase price.

  • There is no such thing as a free lunch. If the price of the used/new body is way off from what you see else where, then it's a scam. Check prices for used gear on various buy and sell forums. That will give you a good idea.

  • Double check the fine-print. Make sure it's not some dumbass selling you a "picture of a Canon Dslr" or something stupid like that.

  • What is the return policy?

Some questions to ask:

  • If this isn't an ebay merchant store (ie a private party), is the seller the original owner.

  • Does the camera come from a non-smoking home?

  • What is the datecode on the lens? (You can look up the date code and find out the real age of the lens.

  • Are there pictures of the lens and body? Make sure there isn't any fungus on the lens, and not major dings and knicks on the body and lens housing.

  • If the body is used, find out approximately what is the shutter count.

  • Is the gear US or "Grey Market" As @chuqui has pointed out, grey market gear is not eligible for US warranty service.

  • If the seller claims mint, then the body should be in mint. Do not budge from this. Any and all cosmetic defects should be explained in the body of the ad.

If your gut tells you something is up, then something probably is, and you should walk away. Also, have you considered looking at Buy and Sell forums on various sites? I can personally vouch for DGrin and FredMiranda.

  • 1
    Thanks!! Great info :D! But one last question: how would smoke affect the camera?
    – avacariu
    Aug 14, 2010 at 2:57
  • 1
    Over time the pollutants that are in cigarette smoke can get inside your lens. Not enough to compromise optical quality, but that grime can affect mechanical function.
    – Alan
    Aug 14, 2010 at 3:27
  • 3
    Not to mention the residual smell... you'll smell it every time you look through the viewfinder :-(
    – ysap
    Aug 14, 2010 at 19:15
  • Good answer with everything except Paypal... Paypal is a fraud and they regularly screw users for their own interests. I avoid using it at all costs, I did before but I got my turn on the wrong end of the stick. Maybe the don't do that in the US, I don't know but I regularly here terrible experiences with them here in Canada.
    – Itai
    Dec 13, 2010 at 3:36
  • @Itai: paypal is kind of like the best in the worst situation. Paypal sucks, but they do accept creditcards, which have very string consumer protection policies. I advocate using Paypal, because that is usually the only way to pay for an auction via creditcard.
    – Alan
    Dec 13, 2010 at 18:14

I have been buying and selling cameras and lenses on eBay, it's been fine.

This is how I decide if I will buy an item:

  • The seller must have at least 99.5% positive feedback
    (Also note the number of feedbacks, 100% positive out of only 10 feedbacks may not be very reliable.)

  • Read the feedbacks, especially the negatives and make sure there is nothing seriously wrong (eg. fake products).
    This is a good but slow website for checking negative feedbacks: http://toolhaus.org/cgi-bin/negs

  • Search for similar items and compare the description. There might be something that is normally included but not included on the one you are buying.
    (I use eBay Australia and I sometimes have to use the Advanced Search to find all items available to Australia - not only the ones on eBay Australia)

  • Check or ask the shutter count, and check the expected life of the Canon body you are buying (although this number might not be reliable - I mean if it says the lifespan is approx 100,000 shutters, it may still be ok until 500,000)

  • For the accessories, if it is not a popular brand, try googling about it or ask for sample pictures taken with it (if applicable), or ask them questions about your doubts. I once bought a wide angle filter, not satisfied with it and got partial refund because I have asked detailed questions about it and it turned out to contradict their own answer.

I think PayPal offers warranty on items above $25 or something, so if you have problems with a dodgy seller you can complaint to PayPal. It is a painful process though so you still need to be careful.

Alan's comment is also very good.

  • Thanks! I'll look at the shutter life of my model. I've found a utility that checks current shutter count and I might use that if I decide to buy off craigslist.
    – avacariu
    Aug 15, 2010 at 16:35

Consider buying from a reputable used camera dealer like KEH instead of eBay. You might pay a bit more, but you will also get a warranty, a no-questions-asked return period, and gear which is graded on a reliable and respected condition scale.

  • Good recommendation. B&H and Adorama also sell used gear.
    – jfklein13
    Aug 14, 2010 at 19:15

also be aware that in many cases, these are "unauthorized" imports (aka grey market), and you may buy something that the manufacturer won't accept the warranty on. grey market is not necessaryily bad (b+H and others sell international units, too), but make sure you get all the details about the unit including it's source. No fun to get something with japanese language manuals you can't read and a warranty you can't use if something goes wrong.

  • 1
    It's even worse when you buy a US market gear, and still can't read the manuals, because the engrish is so bad.
    – Alan
    Aug 14, 2010 at 2:31
  • Note that Nikon won't work on gray market gear at all, whether for warranty work or not.
    – Reid
    Aug 14, 2010 at 15:39

I am in the exact same situation now, I live in Australia and have been considering buying a brand new 5d mark 2. On ebay the prices range from 2.3k upwards, in stores the cheapest I can find is 3k.

As others have said, there are no free lunches.

These "cheap" cameras are actually overseas stock, usually shipped from Hong Kong, this mean all warranty repairs must be shipped to HK, which means it will take longer. Some of these sellers offer a "free" warranty repair pick up service, which can help a bit, still, do you trust they will be around when you need the repair?

The big reason I am opting against buying this off ebay now is the tax implications, all the sellers I contacted are not willing to provide me with a "tax invoice" that means that as a business you can not claim GST back and as an individual you can not claim it as a deduction that easily.

  • This is because they are not paying GST. Hence the 10% cheaper price for cameras bought in HK.
    – fmark
    Jan 21, 2011 at 1:24

I would ask the seller if it has been dropped - whether in box or out. Also ask why the seller is selling the camera, ie, an upgrade, or it is a lemon, or whatever. Also look closely at the camera, to see signs of scratches or dings and such, it will show how much the seller has taken care of the camera, and ask if the seller used a case...


For a 1st (used) Canon DSLR, I would go to Craigslist first. Buy local is your best guaranty for used equipment. People nowadays offer past models for great prices and you can really find bargains if you live in or next to a metro area. Also, Craigslist sellers who sell due to upgrading their equipment often sell it as "kits". That is, you get that Rebel with the 18-55 and maybe 75-300 in a good shape for a better price than what you'll find in stores and usually in eBay.

If you're unlucky with CL, I'll check one if the big photo stores (Adorama, B&H, Beach Camera, etc.). They have a used equipment department and they give you some warranty with the purchase. Another alternative to used is refurbished which you can also find in these stores. Your local store may be selling used equipment two. Worth checking.

It may be just me, but I buy on eBay only from reputable stores and names. Never bought expensive gear from private sellers on eBay. But did great business with Beach and Adorama on eBay. Also for cheap accessories I have no problem ordering from the many Hong-Kong resellers.

Good luck, and have fun with your first DSLR!

  • Thanks. I looked on craigslist a few days and no one was selling that model. The next day there are 7 people selling so I'll look into that. And thanks for the photo store names. I'm in Canada so I'll have to look at the transportation too, so I'll look at local stores as well. I don't know why I never though of used camera stores :P
    – avacariu
    Aug 15, 2010 at 16:31

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