Canon refurbished cameras: are these bargains a green light, or a red flag?

Canon EOS R5
(Image credit: James Artaius/Digital Camera World)

When buying new kit, Canon refurbished cameras offer tantalizing value for money. Between hundreds of dollars off the price and buying direct from the manufacturer, you're getting a great deal on a genuine product. There's $900 off a Canon EOS R5C, for example, or $135 off a Canon EOS R50.

But there's that word that makes some people shudder: "refurbished". Just what does it mean? What the heck was wrong with a camera in order for it to need refurbishing? Is it like when an auto dealership patches up an old car, gets shot of it, then it goes kaput once it's not their problem any more? Suddenly, Canon refurbished cameras don't feel quite so tantalizing. 

I get it. We've all bought a turkey in our lifetimes, whether it's something we got from eBay, a friend of a friend, or even from a respected store. But we need to remember that "refurbished" isn't a synonym for "second-hand", let alone "damaged" or "defective".

Sure, once upon a time – and I'm talking probably 20 years ago – you were well advised to avoid refurb products like the plague. Usually because refurbs were performed by anonymous technicians whose workmanship you could never be sure of (my dad used to refurbish electricals and electronics, and he has some horror stories).

Again, though, there's a huge difference between a Canon-refurbished camera and a refurbished camera you find in a thrift store or from a random listing on Gumtree. Far from cowboys with soldering irons, these are serviced, inspected and tested by Canon's own technicians. 

"Products that are refurbished must pass a comprehensive quality assurance inspection before final packaging and shipment," says Canon itself

"Rigorous function and cosmetic inspections are performed by trained Canon technicians so that each refurbished product meets operational specifications and strict cosmetic standards that we have established."

So, why exactly do cameras need refurbishing – because they're broken, right? Or somebody has already used it for a few months and then sent it back in lousy condition. Well, no.

"Products are returned to Canon for a variety of reasons, including overstock balancing, miscellaneous returns from retailers, suspected mis-operation, and minor damage to the box."

Indeed, I know of refurbs that were simply display or demonstration models in camera stores – sometimes they never even got used, but sat in the display cabinet and the box was tossed out, so they got returned to the manufacturer.

I've owned Canon refurbished cameras before, and in my experience there was literally zero difference from buying regular stock. On one of them, the shutter count was even zero! 

When you buy a refurbished camera directly from Canon, you get a one-year warranty just as you do with a non-refurb product – so you still have the same protection should something go wrong. Interestingly, though, I've had a brand new camera with an error straight out of the box, but because refurbished cameras have been tested before being sent to you, it's almost impossible for them to have a fault!

With money being so tight these days, and cameras being more expensive than ever, you need to save money wherever you can. I can't speak for other manufacturers (though I imaging the situation is the same), but I can at least say that Canon refurbished cameras offer extremely savvy savings if you take time to investigate them.

(Image credit: Will Cheung)

Take a look at the best Canon cameras, along with the best Canon lenses for DSLRs and the best Canon RF lenses for mirrorless cameras.

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James Artaius
Editor

The editor of Digital Camera World, James has 21 years experience as a journalist and started working in the photographic industry in 2014 (as an assistant to Damian McGillicuddy, who succeeded David Bailey as Principal Photographer for Olympus). In this time he shot for clients like Aston Martin Racing, Elinchrom and L'Oréal, in addition to shooting campaigns and product testing for Olympus, and providing training for professionals. This has led him to being a go-to expert for camera and lens reviews, photo and lighting tutorials, as well as industry news, rumors and analysis for publications like Digital Camera MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon MagazineN-Photo: The Nikon MagazineDigital Photographer and Professional Imagemaker, as well as hosting workshops and talks at The Photography Show. He also serves as a judge for the Red Bull Illume Photo Contest. An Olympus and Canon shooter, he has a wealth of knowledge on cameras of all makes – and a fondness for vintage lenses and instant cameras.