Recently, someone asked me, “Would you have any apprehensions about refurbished cameras? Do you know of anyone who has purchased one?” These are good questions. First, not only are they asking for my opinion, but they also want some insight from someone who has experience. Well, they have come to the right place. Not only do I have an opinion on the matter, but I also have some experience.

The last picture taken with the 20DLast November, I needed to upgrade. My first digital camera, a faithful 20D (which I purchased new), died on a trip to Mexico City, and I was looking to replace my kit 18-55mm lens. I figured it would be best to do my research all at once and buy them both at the same time. Due to funds, I found I could feasibly purchase what I was looking for at Adorama if I bought them refurbished or used. I was apprehensive at first because I had never bought anything that was not completely new before, but after some study, I came to the following conclusion:

  • Refurbished is worth the risk; used is not!

The difference between Refurbished and Used can be significant. Refurbished usually means that someone bought the camera, opened it, decided they didn’t like it, and sent it back to the manufacturer. Why they didn’t like it is where you have to take the risk. Perhaps it malfunctioned. Perhaps it had missing parts. Perhaps they just didn’t like the way it looked. Whatever the reason, once a camera is sent back, it can’t be sold as new anymore. Thus, they make the necessary repairs, run it through whatever functionality tests are required, and, if it passes, they put it up for sale as a refurbished item.

On the other hand, Used refers to a camera that someone has had for a while and has sold it back to the manufacturer for any number of reasons. It’s impossible to gauge the health of a used camera. The outward appearance might be excellent, but there is no way of telling what the inside condition is. Used cameras are cheap and you might get just as much life out of them as you would a new camera; it’s just that the changes are slim.

So, speaking from both opinion and experience, I would take the risk to buy a refurbished camera. Though I am only speaking from six months of light and occasional use, both my refurbished camera and lens are doing just fine.

2014 UPDATE

I’ve been buying cameras and lenses since this post was written way back in 2010 and am still strongly of the same opinion. Refurbished is worth the risk; used is not. Here’s why:

I have purchased refurbished computers, lenses, a camera, a tripod and a monitor over the last few years and have not had a problem with any of them. In fact, the ones that are older and to the point where they should start wearing out, are still going strong. On the other hand, when I bought my 5Dii/24-105 combination used on eBay, I had trouble within the first two months. Simply put, I don’t think I’ll ever buy anything used again unless I personally know the seller. But buying things refurbished is an excellent way to find the best deal and be a good steward of your resources.

The items you are looking for may not always be available in refurbished form. Know exactly what you want first and then start keeping your eye out for it. When a refurbished item does become available, get it as soon as you can because it probably won’t last for long.  To find refurbished products, you have to dig a little deeper. On Amazon.com (my favorite place to shop for equipment), when you are viewing a product, a number of items will be listed for New, Used or Refurbished. Check out the comments on the Refurbished items. They are not always suitable, but there are usually a good selection of options. Also, try searching Amazon Warehouse Deals. On Adorama.com, you can search for Refurbished items under the Deals tab on their home page. On B&H, their refurbished selections are in the Used Department section, also accessible from the home page, Used Refurbished.

Know that you know how to do it, happy searching!

8321_Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area-California-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 17 mm, 1-160 sec at f - 11, ISO 100This snapshot was taken using a refurbished lens and refurbished laptop. The 5Dii was purchased used, and thankfully it hasn’t given me any trouble since the first hiccup recently after I bought it.

 

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