Top 10 Tips on buying photo gear on eBay

By Dimitrios Zavos

Post 10-1Post 10-1 As anyone who has ever gotten seriously involved with photography can testify; it is a very expensive hobby to take up! It can set you back from anything between a few hundred to several thousand of your hard-earned. But does this really mean that unless you are loaded with cash you can only hang your head in disappointment and move on to something different?

Of course not! There is another way which can save you tons of money if you are patient, careful and methodical. It is arguably one of the best kept secrets and it involves a website probably no one’s ever heard of, called... eBay.

But is it as easy as that? Can you simply just choose a dirt cheap specimen of a camera or lens of your liking listed on eBay and walk away with a fantastic bargain?

No, not really. There are hidden gems to be unearthed alongside useless pieces of junk not worth your time (let alone your cash...) and there are honest, top quality sellers alongside crooks who will try to take advantage of unsuspecting buyers.

I can proudly admit that I have purchased most of my professional grade gear through eBay auctions and so far I have been delighted with my purchases. Buying a top of the range lens in “as new” condition for 60% of its retail price will make you feel like a winner regardless of how wealthy you are!

So, without further ado, here are my Top 10 Tips on how to discover, examine, bid for and minimize your risk when buying photography gear on eBay:

Tip No. 1: Be smart in your search

Always use the shortest description possible when searching for items on eBay. Let’s assume you are looking for the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens. In an ideal world all sellers would be using the above official Canon name to list this item, but this is very rarely the case. This means that if you search for the full name you will miss out on a number of items offered for sale which have been listed using different wording. Try searching for “Canon 24-70 2.8 II” instead and you will get many more hits guaranteed. All you have to do then is filter out the entries that do not interest you and keep the ones that do. Take the look at the following example:

This is a screenshot for a search for "Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM" which yielded only 26 results:

Search for "Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM" yields 26 results only

And following is another screenshot for a search for "Canon 24-70 2.8 II" which yielded 33 results; almost double the number of the previous search!

Search for "Canon 24-70 2.8 II" yields 33 results

Just imagine how many more opportunities you can discover by gaining access to a plethora of items on sale that will remain hidden to the majority of users just through smart keyword selection. The difference in the purchase price you can achieve against the usual average price can be astonishing.

Tip No. 2: Save your searches

If the item you are looking for is not being offered at the time you perform your search do not forget to click on the “Follow this search” option and then select to be notified when new items matching your description appear. This way you make sure you won’t miss out on an item offered for sale when you’re not looking.

Tip No. 3: Don't limit yourself to Auctions

Always make sure you do not limit yourself to looking at the “Auctions” section only. Sometimes the real opportunities are hidden in the “Buy It Now” section. Pro buyers always look for a good bargain item available to buy immediately and this is why good products priced for a quick sell rarely remain available for more than a few hours. But if you are lucky enough to discover the item before the pros do then you might score yourself an amazing purchase.

Tip No. 4: Get the Mobile App

Make sure to download and install the eBay mobile application on your cell phone or tablet. As soon as you log in to your account you will be able to perform new searches, access all your saved searches, check items you are watching etc. It's a shame to waste a good opportunity just because you didn't have access to your desktop or laptop at the right time.

Tip No. 5: Buy from a trustworthy seller

Before deciding whether to bid on an item always check the seller's feedback rating. You will find that 99% of the sellers on eBay have very high ratings, but that does not mean that they are all trustworthy. I never buy from sellers with feedback lower than 99.5% and whenever I decide that an item is worth taking the risk I always read plenty of the seller’s reviews to check whether the negative ones bear any significance or they could safely be disregarded.

Tip No. 6: Talk to the seller

In case you have read the seller’s item description and you are not entirely satisfied with the provided level of information or detail you should always contact the seller and ask for clarifications and/or additional info. This should ensure that you are purchasing an item you’ll be happy with and that you don’t have false expectations. Moreover, it makes it easier for you to claim a full refund in the rare occasion that the seller has provided false information. Finally, good communications are usually an indication the seller is trustworthy.

Tip No. 7: Ask the right questions

So what should your checklist look like when deciding to bid on camera gear on eBay? Here’s my list:


  • Does the lens have any scratches on the front or rear elements? Minor scratches are normally no reason for concern, but the price should reflect this imperfection.

  • Does the lens show any signs of fungus internally? This is quite important since it usually has a significant impact on image quality and is very hard to clean. If the seller’s answer is “yes” steer clear of this item.

  • Does the lens show reduced sharpness on one side or overall? Severe de-centering or existence of dents are usually signs that the lens has been dropped or has suffered heavy impact.

  • Do the focus and zoom rings operate smoothly? They should not be rotating freely and should provide some resistance when rotated. The opposite is an indication of overuse and can affect accuracy and sharpness.

  • Are filter threads crossed? If they are it will be very difficult (or even impossible) to screw filters on.

  • Does autofocus operate as intended? It should be sensibly fast and quiet (especially on ultra-sonic technology lenses) and should be able to lock on a subject in reasonable lighting conditions.


  • Does the sensor suffer from any dead pixels? 4-5 are acceptable, but any more than this would make me worry there’s something wrong with the sensor.

  • Does the sensor have any scratches or marks that would require professional cleaning or even replacement? If yes, make sure to factor this in the price you are prepared to pay.

  • What is the shutter count? Find out for how many shutter actuations the manufacturer has rated this particular camera model and compare it with the current shutter count. Stay away from cameras that are approaching this limit as the mechanism might fail and need to be replaced soon.

  • Does the camera body have any scratches or dents? Again, the impact of the existence of dents and/or scratches might extend beyond the cosmetic factor and indicate that the camera has suffered falls on hard surfaces.

  • Does the lens mount show any signs of wear or damage? It is very important that there is no damage, dents or misshaping to the lens mount or contact pins. Steer clear if the answer is positive.

Tip No. 8: Beware of potential import tax

As you are going through your search results you might come across some really low prices for brand new items. You will find that these are usually shipped from Far Eastern countries and they do not include import taxes. Make sure you factor this in when deciding who to purchase from. You wouldn’t want to be hit with a huge import tax bill on top of what you have already paid. Some sellers advertise that they assume responsibility for any additional tax-related expenses from your side, but this is a rare occasion and I don’t even know if they actually fulfil their promise.

Tip No. 9: Bid Smart

The bidding process on eBay is arguably the most significant factor of your purchasing effort. If you follow the simple rules below you are guaranteed to taste victory far more often than defeat and never overspend:

  1. Before you place a bid you should have established the absolute highest price you are prepared to pay for the item. This should be a price that you will not raise no matter what and that will not make you feel unhappy if you are outbid, even by a few dollars.

  2. Enter your maximum amount 30 seconds before the end of the auction and click “Place bid”. This will take you to another window to review and confirm the amount. Make sure you are logged-in!

  3. NEVER, EVER BID EARLY! Prepare yourself to place a bid in the last 2-3 seconds of the auction. This is absolutely crucial if you want to pay the lowest price possible since the other bidders will not have time to react to your bid.

Only inexperienced buyers bid early on eBay as this prompts even more beginners to try to outbid them, regardless of the fact that the auction might still have days left to run. This results in raising the price for them and everyone else who might be interested in the item. Happy days for the seller of course...

Also keep in mind that early bids obligate you to purchase the item if your bid eventually wins. This means that if a better or cheaper item appears a few hours later you will not be able to bid for it (unless you don’t mind the risk of paying twice...).

Enjoy your new item! By the way, you will very rarely pay a price close to your maximum amount. The auction mechanism of eBay will automatically place a bid a few dollars higher than the current highest bidder's maximum bet and it will stop as soon as your maximum has been reached.

Tip No. 10: If it looks too good to be true then it probably is

When browsing your search results on eBay you will often come across items offered for sale at ridiculously low “Buy It Now” prices. Be very weary of such “opportunities” since most times they are there to lure you into some hacker’s or con man's trap. Read the description and the terms very carefully and attempt to contact the seller to ask for clarifications. Prefer to call them if a telephone number is provided and in most cases you will end up talking to the person whose account has been hacked. If you cannot reach the seller then move on to the next item and never look back. The risk is just too great.

I really hope you found this list helpful. If you have any observations or suggestions please feel free to post them in the “Comments” section below.

Until next time, happy bidding!


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