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Save money with a used camera on eBay: everything you need to know

eBay screen
(Image credit: Future/eBay (logo))

Given the current cost of living and ever-rising inflation, many of us are looking to grab a bargain when it comes to getting new camera kit.

While the security of buying used camera gear from a respected camera equipment retailer is undoubtedly appealing, that's not to say you can't get perfectly good used camera kit from places like eBay, and potential bargains are there for the taking if you know what to look for.

Years ago, eBay was viewed by some as being a bit of a ‘wild west’ marketplace, with a small minority of unscrupulous sellers taking advantage of what were – back then – fairly limited protections for buyers. That's long since changed, with eBay's buyer protection schemes meaning that if your purchase doesn't match up to the seller's description, you're almost guaranteed to get your money back if you paid through eBay or PayPal. Even so, it's always preferable to just buy smart in the first place to avoid ever having to fall back on eBay's safety net.

• Our expert pick of the best used cameras (opens in new tab)

So what do you need to look out for when choosing your next used camera, lens, or photographic accessory on eBay?

Look at the seller's feedback

eBay feedback

(Image credit: eBay)

Once you've found a tempting example of the camera you're after, first examine the seller's feedback profile. Regardless of how temptingly shiny the camera may be, you'll want to know the person selling it is reputable. By clicking on their feedback profile, you'll be able to see how long the seller has been registered with eBay, and what feedback he/she has received from people they've previously dealt with. 

Make sure you select the 'received as seller' option to display only feedback written by people the seller has sold to, not just bought from. Be cautious if a seller has lots of feedback as a buyer, but little or none as a seller, especially if all past transactions are dated 'more than a year ago'. Though rare, it has been known for inactive eBay accounts to be hacked in order for the scammer to make a quick buck by listing several high-value items at very enticing prices, all with the ‘credibility’ of past feedback given to the hacked eBay user. 

Check to see if the seller has any other items for sale. If they're offering numerous examples of products like the latest iPhone, all for knock-down prices, tread very carefully.

Examine the camera listing

eBay screenshot

(Image credit: eBay)

But assuming your chosen seller's feedback is good, it's time to examine the camera they're selling in more detail. You'd hope that someone selling a camera would know how to photograph it reasonably well, as you really want to see plenty of well-lit, in-focus, detailed shots of all angles of the camera being sold. eBay will now give a seller a very basic automated written description of the product they're selling, but it's no substitute for a proper, detailed write-up describing exact marks/imperfections/damage the product may have. 

If a seller is up front about any damage to the item, there's less chance of any unexpected surprises when you receive the product after purchase. Though by no means essential, you may want to hunt out an example of your chosen camera that's being sold with its original box, instruction manual/s and original accessories. If the previous owner has gone to the trouble of keeping those, and has hunted them out for the sale, there's a chance he/she may have taken good care of the camera itself. 

Likewise, if there's mention in the item description of how the seller intends to package the item for postage, all the better. It's never encouraging when your latest purchase arrives on your doorstep battered and with minimal protective packaging.

Bidding tactics

eBay

(Image credit: eBay)

Now you've found a trustworthy seller, with a camera worth buying, it's time to go ahead and purchase. If the item is being sold in the eBay auction format, decide the maximum amount you're prepared to pay for the item. You can judge this by looking at previous sales of equivalent items – just tick the 'Sold items' box when doing an eBay search for the item in question. 

Once you've decided your maximum bid amount, then always, ALWAYS, place your bid in the final 10 seconds of the action. Bid any earlier and a rival bidder could up their maximum bid and either out-bid you, or else make you pay more than you otherwise could have. If your bid isn't high enough, then just move on to another auction - when it comes to cameras and lenses, there are usually plenty more equivalent fish in the sea. 

If the item is being sold using a fixed price 'Buy it Now' listing, then you can cut out any auction anxiety and simply hit that Buy button as if you're purchasing from any other retailer. Sometimes the seller may have the option for you to offer a lower 'best offer' price. This can be worth a try, as it's possible for a seller to set up their listing to automatically accept a buyer's offer that's above a pre-set price threshold. 

But if the Buy it Now price is already a fair price, you may want to simply click Buy Now, as you never know if someone else might come along and snatch the item from you while you wait for the seller to accept or decline your lower offer.

Buying from other marketplace sites

Facebook Marketplace

(Image credit: Facebook Marketplace)

Of course, there’ll be plenty of people that have bagged bargains from places like Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree and other similar listing sites. If you’re prepared to physically go and examine a camera being sold and pay the seller in person, this can work, but it’s very much a case of ‘buyer beware’. 

You’ll have little-to-no comeback if you get home to find there’s a fault such as a scratch on the camera’s sensor that you didn’t notice at the time of purchase. Finally, never, ever, pay a Facebook Marketplace seller electronically under the assumption he/she will then post you the item. There’s simply too little financial protection for you should the seller turn out to be a scammer.

Read more:

Best camera under $500 (opens in new tab)
Best camera under £500 (opens in new tab)
Best cheap cameras (opens in new tab)

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Ben is the Imaging Labs manager, responsible for all the testing on Digital Camera World and across the entire photography portfolio at Future. Whether he's in the lab testing the sharpness of new lenses, the resolution of the latest image sensors, the zoom range of monster bridge cameras or even the latest camera phones, Ben is our go-to guy for technical insight. He's also the team's man-at-arms when it comes to camera bags, filters, memory cards, and all manner of camera accessories – his lab is a bit like the Batcave of photography! With years of experience trialling and testing kit, he's a human encyclopedia of benchmarks when it comes to recommending the best buys. 

With contributions from