Dec 29, 2009

Buying a camera lens on Craigslist

Once you get out of the consumer zooms, Nikon charges a mint for its lenses, especially the fast glass with f/2.8. Even if a lens isn't designated for the pros can still retail above $1,000. Fortunately, there's some good deals to be had on Craigslist, if you know what to look for and how to deal with sellers there. People get excited with a new camera and buy more lenses that they know what to do with. Eventually they realize that all the pieces of glass sitting in the closet are worth some real cash. Personally, I'd rather buy lenses of Craigslist than eBay, as you can get your hands on the merchandise before you commit the cash.

Finding Your Lens

Craiglook is a great resource for digging through Craigslist because it lets you expand your search beyond Craigslist's default search radius.


I'd rather get this out of the way by email or phone before meeting in person to avoid wasting everyone's time. Craigslist sellers tend to have an inflated view of what their lens is worth. While it's true that Nikon glass holds its value very well (especially compared to third-party manufacturers like Tamron, Sigma, and Tokina), it's still a used product that will sell for a substantial discount. Check eBay and KEH for pricing indications. The seller's price needs to be below comparable eBay transactions, because eBay/PayPal/shipping fees (which are paid by the seller) can easily amount to 10-20% of the sales price. Sometimes the seller doesn't know what they're selling, and has overestimated its value. For example, there are 5 versions of the Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 lens. The version made in 1988 is worth a lot less than the version that's currently being produced.


Find a neutral location - Starbucks works well - to meet. It's unlikely that someone's going to rob you, but since you're carrying a large wad of cash, why take the chance? I wouldn't meet at someone's house, nor would I want them coming to my house. There's just no reason to risk it.

Inspecting a Used Lens

  • Does the case have scratches or dents?
  • Are the zoom and focus rings smooth?
  • Check the autofocus and vibration reduction switches.
  • Check the front and rear glass elements for scratches.
  • Hold the lens up to the light and open the aperture, then look through it. Is there dust in the lens? Depending on the age of the lens, a little dust is ok. If you see lines or haze across the optics, sort of like a spiderweb, that may be mold or fungus, which is a serious problem. I'd avoid any lens with potential mold issues.
  • Check the aperture control with your hand - when you open the lens to full aperture, does it spring back to minimum aperture quickly?
  • Pop the lens on your camera and test it out. Does AF work? How about VR? Do you hear any strange noises from the AF or VR?

Keep in mind that if you ever plan to resell the lens, it'll be worth more with the original box and papers. The warranty papers are nice, but Nikon USA's warranty is non-transferable, so if you need repairs in the 5 year warranty period, you'll have to have the original buyer send it in. Also remember that non-US (gray market) lenses aren't accepted by Nikon for repairs if you ever need service, regardless of who owns the lens. Generally, the serial number on all US warranty lenses should start with "US" before the numbers.

Does it Work?

Yes - if you're patient. You have to do your homework on pricing and you'll probably have to walk away from several deals before you find one that works. For example, I was recently in the market for the Nikon 12-24 f/4 wide angle zoom. Amazon sells it new for $999 and used copies on eBay sell for $550-$600. I picked up a copy on Craigslist for $500, still in the box and didn't look like it had ever been used. If I ever decide to get rid of it, there's no question I can get my money back, so it's a low risk investment.


Sara said...

I wouldn't by from craigslist because there a lot of people on craiglist who are trying to rip people off. You can find some good used inexpesive camera equipment on

mahasiswa teladan said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)