Photographers: How do I buy a used SLR?

I have decided I want to “take up” photography again. I took it in college and I LOVED it. Would have switched to photo j from magazine journalism if I had the $$.

I had to buy a SLR camera for the class. Bought a used Nilkon FG-20 from a local store for around $200-250. This was probably in 1998 or so.

Since then, I’ll admit, the camera has been abused. I know that at some point my friend ruined the focusing screen trying to clean it. It sat on my desk forever and I know I dropped it once or twice. Now I see that there’s a crack in the case, and shutting the film case is pretty hard now (it doesn’t line up correctly).

Tried to fix the focusing screen myself but I got the wrong part and now I think I’ve made it even worse. Since it’s been dropped and is cracked, I have a feeling the thing just isn’t worth having repaired professionally.

I sort of want to go to a store to get another used one, but with Ebay or online shopping I feel like I could get a better deal. There’s loads of used and new SLRs for sale.

How do I choose one? Alot of the ones on ebay have accessories I never had and would like - different lenses, filters, a flash, a tripod, a CASE…

Yes, i could be swayed with a case :slight_smile:

I don’t have any real requirements. I would probably shoot alot of still shots, some black & white. Indoor, outdoor. Photos of my dog.

I just like the quality of SLR photos, and don’t have it in my budget to get digital SLR right now.

I’m willing to drop about $250 on this. Less if I can find something else, but I honestly don’t know what I’m looking for.

If any experienced Dopers can give me some advice - or even links to eBay auctions (I am fond of Buy It Now) that you’d do if you were in my shoes - I’d appreciate it.

Also - is it rational of me to think that I can sell my old camera for parts? Is it easy to walk into a camera store and say “I’ve got this, not sure if it works. Want it for parts?”

When I bought my first real camera in college, I went to the photo supply store the professor and advanced students suggested. I told them what I was doing and what I wanted and they hooked me up with my sweet baby OM1. I got a good price because I was a student, too.

Since you want to go through eBay, you could still ask your professor what features he or she recommends. Is there any particular subject matter to which you’re drawn? That may be an indicator of what you’ll want. Check out the local photo shop for more info (I like to play before buying), then go find it on eBay.

You might be able to sell your old one for parts. It may be for a lot less than you thought, if they can even use it. My old shop had people just giving their old cameras to them, and buying parts for a camera they may never need to repair leads to a lot of clutter around the shop. It can’t hurt to ask though.

And you’re correct-- SLR rules, anything digital drools.

My beloved workhorse Yashica FX-3 was a mere $50 bucks at a pawn shop.

I still occasionally check out pawn shops for older SLR’s–even though they’re harder to find these days b/c pawn shops don’t know what they’re worth unless they’re Nikon (and so many people are going digital)–and you’d be surprised at what you can find.

The trick is not to always assume you need a Nikon. Both online and in stores–whether pawn shop or camera–the word “Nikon” pretty much means you’re paying extra for no real reason. And I say this as someone who grew up using the FE and the FM2. They’re great cameras but they’re not “special.”

Cannon, Pentax, and Yashica all have great older SLR’s that you can find for very reasonable prices. Check out pawn shops, local used camera stores, and of course eBay. Any time you’re buying an older SLR, it’s vital to open it up to see what kind of wear and tear you’re looking at; the inside of a well-kept older SLR, even if it’s 20 years old, should be pretty pristine. The foam lining should still be spongy and intact (no crumbling) and you should always set the shutter to “B” so you can take a good look at the mirror and the inner workings to make sure there’s no rust or clouding.

A lot of these cameras have been sitting around for years on end until somebody finally got around to selling them, so if you’re lucky (and it’s not hard to be lucky if you have time to look) you can find one of these babies that’s in prime shape for less than $100 bucks. Particularly if it’s, as I said, not a Nikon.

And pawn shops generally give you a week to use the camera and shoot some film through it; if something pops up, take it back.

The good thing about used camera stores is that a reputable one has generally done all this for you; still take a look, but many of them offer warranties and guarantees on their used equipment.

As for eBay…obviously find a camera in which the seller has taken the time to give you detailed pictures of the inside of the camera, not just the outside (any older SLR is going to have a little wear and tear on the outside and that’s okay) and don’t buy from a new seller, or someone who doesn’t have great feedback, or someone who doesn’t give refunds if the product is not what they claimed it was. Pretty much the usual Buyer Beware stuff for anything you buy off eBay.

The only thing that will generally inhibit me from buying a good bargain is if the lens is after-market. There are too many cameras with their original lenses to buy a body with an after-market lens.

If I have time I’ll check out eBay and see if there are any bargains I’d recommend.

That is, if I don’t buy it myself. :smiley:

Also (and this applies to anything in a pawn shop) look at the date on the pawn shop label to see when the item was put out on the sales floor.

If it’s been there for more than a couple of weeks, you can generally offer them at least 20-30% less than the sticker price for it and they may take it.

This won’t work at camera stores, b/c they’re a lot more savvy and generally more expensive (they take the time to clean and check the camera, etc.) but they also have a lot more knowledgeable sales staff if you ever need help with the camera or other accessories/lenses, etc.

Search on eBay for Cannons.

Possibly talk to Johnny L.A.. I recall that he was clearing out a lot of old equipment, and I believe he had some camera equipment to go.

(SmackFu, that would be “canons”, wouldn’t it? :smiley: )

Lot less bids on the cannon cameras. :slight_smile:

Thanks guys for all your help so far. I asked my brother to point me towards some pawn shops…he pointed me towards a local photographer friend. I asked HIM for some pawn shops or repuitable camera shops where I won’t get ripped off.

IIRC…stuff like lenses, bags, tripods, etc are kind of expensive. If I end up going the eBay route, paying something like $250 for a camera that comes with all that stuff isn’t so bad, right?

I’ll email Johnny LA too, thanks.

Depends on how good the lenses are. For me, that would be the most important consideration–the body itself is almost secondary.

For a beginner who wants a flexible one-lens set-up with some of the perks of modern equipment, I’d suggest getting this Sigma 28-200 lens for around $200 and an old Nikon autofocus body.

The Nikon 8008 is quite nice and affordable. Looking at past auctions, it goes for about $50-$75.

With a 28-200mm lens you have a great zoom range, and that particularly Sigma lens has gotten great reviews. The only reason I wouldn’t like it is because it’s a variable aperature lens f/3.5-5.6 and I don’t like having any lens with a maximum aperature larger than f/2.8. For your purposes, though, it should be ideal. Also, should you ever upgrade to a Nikon DSLR like the D70 or D50, this lens will be compatible with it (although its zoom range will seem more like a 42-300 due to the CCD sensor size.)

The 8008 body is a great Nikon automatic body and will let you use the autofocus feature of that particular lens.

If you want to go real old school, my suggestion would be to get any ol’ Canon or Nikon body, and two prime lenses: a 24mm f/2.8 and an 85 f/1.8 or f/1.4 (or something a tad more telephoto, like a 105 or 135, but definitely f2.8 or less).

That should read “maximum aperature smaller than f/2.8”

I should sell a couple of my 35mm cameras, but not yet…

I do have some 16mm motion picture cameras I’d sell though.

This is all good advice. Your biggest investment with an SLR is going to be the lenses. So make sure that you get lenses that you can take with you if you change equipment – and right now, that means lenses that are compatible with digital bodies.

However, you can almost certainly get some real old school cameras and non-auto focus lenses for dirt cheap. The only problem is that most of them are going to be 10-20 years old, and possibly in need of some maintenance, or on the verge of it.

One thing that I wouldn’t automatically discount is the all-in-one prosumer digital cameras. Although it’s a bit higher than your price range, I found the Sony F717 to be a very good camera with decent zoom range and a very fast lens.

Second Q first - yes, you could sell it - for $5-$10 on ebay - junk cameras aren’t worth anything - fewer and fewer shops even have repair facilities these days.

If you are going to go SLR, the minimums:

  1. Interchangeable lenses - if you get much past Photo 105, you’ll start collecting glass (Excluding duplicates of the same lens, I current have 10, and am lusting after a couple more).

  2. Tripod mount - this separates the “made for WalMart” crap from real cameras.

  3. Built-in flash shoe (the little pop-up flashes on some models are good for fill flash on short-range shots, but should not be mistaken for a real flash.

The above are in stone. A collolary to (1.) is: lenses must have accessory (filter) mounting rings - see any tutorial on the use of a UV filter as “lens insurance”. Historical note: it used to be a “skylight 1A” filter used - that was before the global warming syndrome buchered the ozone layer, necessitating the UV filter.

For cheap, functional cameras, Yashika and Konica have entry-level systems geared for students - they are competant machines, with very limited growth potential.
For expandible systems, choose one:


The saying was: “Minolta makes the best bodies, Nikon makes the best lenses, and Canon makes the best compromise”.

You pay dearly for the Nikon name - and, while I will not dispute that they make very good bodies, and many great lenses, they are hardly unique in that.

For me, my eyesight has always been poor, and focusing a camera really limited my enthusiasm - until 1985, when Minolta introduced the Maxxum - the first REALLY auto-focus camera. I bought 2 bodies (keep 1 loaded with color, one with b/w) and 1 lens.

Warning: that first brand choice is one you’ll probably live with for a long time - the magic of interchangeable lenses (they are NOT compatible across different product lines, let alone across brands).

The Sigma and Tamron lenses are noted for cheap - you pay for a lens either at time of purchase, or at print time - try to enlarge, and you’ll see why good glass costs what it does. Both Sigma and Tamron make some very good lenses, and Nikon makes some poor lenses - but, as a rule, either bone up on a paticular lens before buying, or stick to a name brand and hope you don’t get a lemon design.

For most of your shots, you’ll want something between a ~30mm and ~90mm Minolta makes a 28-85 for their Maxxum which is actually quite decent, and goes cheap. This is the original f3.5-4.5 brass and glass model, not the plastic models they now make.

A note on aperatur - large (lower number) is nice, for several reasons, but they cost - and zooms are so handy, and almost always have varible aperatures, depending on the focal length setting.
The f1.4 - f1.8 stuff is very nice, but very pricey - for max bang for the buck, the first exotic I’d go for is a real Macro lens - real magic in those.

And, when buying on ebay, the combo deals (body, lens, flash, bag) are usually the best bargains - but don’t pay more for a good body and bad lens than you would by buying them separately.

And another note: the form-fitting “everready” case is not nearly as useful as a bag - wher are you going to keep the extra film, batteries, the flash, other lenses, filters, etc.? Get a really large bag, and work on filling it up :smiley: