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Are old digital cameras still good?

For most people, one trip down the proverbial camera aisle featuring today’s latest and greatest camera technology will have you clicking over to “eBay” in search of a deal in about 2 seconds flat. You’re to be forgiven for having that reaction, while most if not all modern 35mm cameras are worth it if you like cameras, technology, and of course, photography itself (the art of taking pictures), not everyone starts off with the cash to buy an R5 or R3.

As such many newbies to photography will end up on eBay or at their local thrift store searching for used cameras at substantial price discounts.

I have purchased a lot of cameras used off of eBay, from thrift stores, and even at estate sales and yard sales. Every once in a while its still possible to stumble across a deal. Although the deals aren’t always life affirmingly great, it’s still fun to find a cool old camera for a giveaway price. The question is, are those old cameras still worth it?

I personally do not buy a lot of old digital cameras, mainly because I have a lot of new digital cameras, lol. What I tend to buy at these kinds of places are old film cameras and lenses. That is simply my preference considering its not possible to buy film gear new anymore.

But it has occurred to me many times to buy a used digital camera, I just don’t think I’ll be doing it anytime soon and here’s why.

For the most part if you buy used through the typical channels there are not any good warranties on the used gear. If you’re lucky a reputable dealer with give you 30-90 days to use the camera and if something comes up wrong in that period you can usually return it. However, an old camera could have all manner of things wrong with it. DLSR’s in particular can be problematic as they have lots of moving parts in them that can wear out with use.

I sometimes shoot for a company that has their own cameras and many of those cameras have been used and abused like you wouldn’t believe. While that isn’t the typical state of a used camera the point remains, if the last owner/owners used the camera heavily there may not be much life left in it without some major repair work.

There’s also the fact that using old cameras will keep you from learning what new cameras are capable of. Unlike the days of film where cameras pretty much remained unchanged for a good 80 years or so until autofocus was invented, digital cameras are changing all the time. New features like IBIS, high speed shooting, and subject tracking AF have expanded the options available to photographers. Sticking with an ancient 5D classic might make you the cool kid at the photography club, but you won’t be learning about the new features and tech that cameras are using now.

Does all this mean that you should always pass on the used digital camera you stumbled across at a the local Goodwill? No, not necessarily, but the point is, don’t buy an old camera as a stand in for a newer camera thinking you’ve gotten the same thing for less money. There are two lines of logic here, the first is that you can buy a used camera of a higher quality than a comparable new camera. The second is that you can buy a lower model new camera for less money that does the things that were special when the older camera was top dog. Both lines of thought have their strong points. An older high end camera will be a nicely built machine and it will work really well too. In fact, it will probably be reliable and confidence inspiring when used within its design parameters. A newer entry level model won’t have the same build quality, but it will still be built well enough, and the capabilities may be surprisingly similar. The main difference is the build quality and the lack of a warranty on the used camera. And as mentioned earlier in this post, many professional level cameras get used to fire off shots in a way you really don’t understand if you’re not a professional. A camera can look really clean and still be in need of repair with a used up shutter and mirror assembly. It may sound crazy, but some pro’s will shoot 5,000, 10,000, even 20,000 shots in a single day. When a camera says it can shoot 16fps you better believe that pro-sports photographers and the like are shooting that every time they go out. At those rates cameras like the 1Dx will last a year or two at most.

That said, if you are able to handle the camera before buying and it is handling well, everything works, and the shutter sounds right, the camera is probably good to go for a lot of pictures.

Hopefully that helps you make a decision about buying used digital cameras.


  1. The amount of cameras that go to the second hand market that are mere upgrades to last year’s models is immense, not to mention cameras that have very little use. Yes, pros shoot wildly and I dare say use up the life of a camera, but these will largely have a shutter count that one can use as an advisory. Equally, how many cameras that hit the SH market have had a pro owner? The second hand market is awash with used cameras that are in great condition and looking for a new owner. The latest and greatest new releases are all good and well, but most folk don’t need these specs to take great shots, and the savings they make on a camera can go towards decent glass. I also can’t help feeling that the tighter money becomes, the second hand market is going to seem like a far more viable solution for those in the market for a new camera.


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