To the uninitiated, Ebay can be a tumultuous place to invest your money, especially when it comes to something like cameras which many Ebay-ers(even many who sell them), often know little about. To add confusion to the matter, Ebay’s one-size approach to selling used goods leaves room for interpretation when it comes to things like the condition of older cameras like the ones I feature on this blog. Because of this, it can be very difficult to navigate the plethora of cameras for sale on the site, even when you know exactly what you want. In this article, I will (hopefully) clear up some confusion that many people may have on Ebay, and make you a more confident and savvy buyer.
When it comes to cameras, there is a lot of grey area regarding condition. Often times all you have to go off will be a sentence or two written by someone who happened upon an old camera and wanted to sell it online. But as a rule, the important thing to remember is that unless a listing specifically says a camera is “not working/for parts”, or describes specific flaws it has, you are almost always guaranteed a fully functional item if it is covered under Ebay’s buyer protection, which all U.S. purchases and most international ones are. In the event that it is not working, or it is not as described in the listing, Ebay will assist you in returning the item and getting a refund, even if the seller chooses not to comply with their policy or decision on the return case. Even though it can seem risky, Ebay’s return policies/money back guarantee is heavily weighted in favor of the buyer, and it is honestly a very safe place to buy. Just remember to use Paypal as your form of payment to get maximum protection on your purchase.
Often times, you will run into the term “untested” when searching for the camera you want on Ebay, which is a bit of a misnomer. The thing about “untested” is that, in Ebay’s mind, it basically doesn’t exist. Buyers will want you to think that you are gambling by purchasing a used item that has not been tested, but this is NOT the case. Technically, any items that are not known to work are supposed to be sold as “for parts or not working.” Because of this, you are entitled to a return and refund on any non-functioning items listed as “used” even id the description says it is untested.
That being said, there are definitely some things to look for to get an idea of whether a camera works or not. When it comes to point-and-shoots, it is pretty simple. Usually, if the shutter fires, then the camera is working, and as long as the lens is clear and the flash works, the camera is probably good to go! Listings will usually say as much, and once again, if a camera has issues that aren’t described in the listing, you will be covered under buyer protection. While there can be unforeseen problems with point-and-shoot’s, this has always been my experience, and they are very simple cameras.
With SLR’s and rangefinders there is a bit more to look for, and you will most likely have to test them yourself. First and foremost is simply to ensure that the shutter and advance mechanisms work reliably. If the camera has a built in meter, you will need to make sure that it is accurate by testing it against another meter of some kind, and if the camera is designed to take certain batteries(particularly ones that use mercury) you will need to ensure that there are viable replacements available. The camera’s shutter speeds will also need to be tested for accuracy, and I use a free app simply called “Shutter-Speed” to do this. Anything within half a stop is acceptable in my opinion, especially with older cameras.
Checking lenses is fairly straightforward. First, you should check for haze, fungus, and balsam separation. You can do so simply by shining a light through the lens and inspecting the glass from every direction. The flashlights on smartphones are excellent for this, but something like a pen light will also work great. Check to make sure the focus and aperture ring are smooth. If you feel any dryness or grinding when turning the focus ring, just know that the lens will likely need to be cla’d in the future, and if it affects the lenses performance(ability to focus accurately, focus speed, etc), it is grounds for a return on items listed as “used” or better, if you decide you don’t want to deal with the issue. Give the aperture a quick check for oil on the blades and the same goes for a leaf-shutter, if it has one. If the aperture still works well despite the oil, i would tentatively try to use it, but if it sticks, send it back. Any oil on a leaf shutter is unacceptable, unless you plan on cleaning it yourself.
Buying the camera
When it comes to actually purchasing the camera, there are a few things I do to save a bit of money, as well as ensure that I am getting functional items. First and foremost, always buy things at auction when possible. If you can wait, many cameras, especially the more common ones, can be bought in auctions for much less than they cost with “Buy It Now”. I have had the best luck with point and shoots, but cameras like Canon and Minolta slr’s, and many fixed lens rangefinders also commonly go for less at auction. Some brands like Nikon, Leica, and Russian(Kiev, Zorki, Fed) rangefinders, for whatever reason, don’t seem to go for that much less at auction than with instant purchase, in my experience.
When buying internationally, always make sure the purchase is covered by Ebay’s buyer protection, and only buy from reputable sellers with plenty of positive feedback. As far as cameras, most of the international sellers are based in Europe and japan, and of those, most are allegedly sold by the same few sellers under different names, so as long as their feedback is good, you generally don’t have anything to worry about. When buying within the US(or your own country), I don’t mind buying from sellers with little to no feedback, especially for less expensive purchases, and I have never had an issue in the US that Ebay couldn’t resolve.
In conclusion, Ebay is a much safer place to buy than it is sometimes made out to be, and knowing what to look for can make buying on the site that much easier. By knowing these few things before you buy, you can ensure that you are a few steps closer to getting the best product at the best price on there, and doing it without risking your money on junky products. If this helps you at all, or you use this to buy a camera, let me know! and feel free to reach out if you have any more specific questions.