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05-17-2016, 05:44 PM   #1
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Online used lens purchases -- am I being too picky?

Due to a bad case of K-1 fever , I've been on a bit of a lens-buying binge. I bought a number of lenses on eBay where the descriptions sounded good (no scratches, no fungus, etc.), but I've been disappointed with the condition of most of them (and I still need to decide whether to return them, ask for discounts, or keep them). (This is my first post to PF, after having been an occasional lurker for years, so forgive me if I'm doing anything inappropriate here.)

I need some advice about how I'm evaluating the condition of lenses and whether my expectations for the condition claims are unreasonably high in general (or perhaps it's just my expectation of what to expect from eBay lens purchases that's too high? ). (I'll note that I do have pretty strong perfectionist tendencies.) Also, if you have suggestions on avoiding these sorts of disappointments, I'd like to hear those. (I was probably over-eager to buy some of the lenses, and should have spent time probing the sellers about exactly how they inspected the lenses, getting more photos, etc., and I probably also paid somewhat high prices due to my eagerness.)

I'm going to post photos of three different purchases, showing their condition issues. Each of these lenses was described using terms such as "no scratches", "no fungus", flawless glass". When I looked at these lenses in normal room light (or even held close to a 60-watt bulb), they all looked pretty nice. But then I looked with a flashlight, reflecting the light off the front and rear elements at different angles (which revealed most of the issues shown here), and also shining the light through the lenses. (I should note that the photos are quite magnified, and the appearance of the scratches is probably exaggerated a bit, due to both overexposure/blown highlights, and movement of the hand-held flashlight during the longish exposures.)

First up, there's a Takumar 35mm f2.3 screwmount lens (for which I paid about $235). With the flashlight reflected off of it, quite a few fine scratches became visible, most on the exposed surface of the front element, but some inside as well. I also found a small spot that I suspect might be fungus.

I realize that most of the scratches on these lenses probably won't affect the image quality much (if the effects are discernible at all), but I'm wondering if I'm getting a fair deal. If I were to resell these lenses online in the future, I'd feel obligated to disclose these flaws, which presumably would lower the prices that I'd be likely to get for them. The possible fungus concerns me somewhat as well. I've read differing opinions on the risk of transmitting fungal infections from one piece of equipment to another. (I suppose whether one lives in a high-humidity climate (which I don't) would be relevant here.)

Anyway, please have a look at the photos of the Takumar's front element (the first 4 photos) and the rear element.

(The possible spot of fungus is inside the lens, visible through the rear element. I'd like to know whether people think it looks like fungus or not.)

To be continued...

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05-17-2016, 05:55 PM   #2
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Lens #2 (SMC 17mm f/4 fish-eye)

Next up, please look at the photos of the front element (the first three) and rear element of an SMC 17mm f/4 fish-eye (about $350, from Japan).

(Note the photo that shows a pattern of dots on the rear element. To me, it suggests fungus -- is that what other folks think too? Also, there's a dirty section along the edge, which is where that possible fungus starts. I'm wondering if that might indicate that there was a good bit more fungus previously (maybe the dirty area is residue from a not-quite-complete cleaning job?).)

To be continued...
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05-17-2016, 06:09 PM   #3
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A couple of thoughts:
1) You are buying used lenses so some wear is to be expected. If you want perfect, buy new.
2) You are also buying very old used lenses. That 35mm Takumar is at least 54 years old. What I would expect from a 50 year old lens and what I would expect from a used DA lens is very different.
3) On ebay the seller is very important. If you buy from someone who knows camera gear you should expect the descriptions to be accurate. If you buy from someone with few sales, or from a pawn shop or estate dealer it is basically buyer beware.
4) On older lenses the value is at least partly the collector value and rarity. For example a modern Auto focus FA 35mm f/2 would cost less than you paid for the 35mm Takumar. If you are collecting that's fine. If you just want a functional FF 35mm then IMHO, you should be evaluating all options.
5) Ebay will back you if the lens is not as described. If it says no scratches and it has scratches, then notify the seller that it is not as described and you want to return it.
6) Dust and stuff on the inside is actually fairly common on lenses of this age, but fungus is a no go as far as I'm concerned.
7) You might be better off looking at used camera dealers such as KEH rather than hanging out at ebay. I bought and sold a lot of lenses on ebay when that was profitable but you do have to be careful. The lowest price is not always a great deal, it often means you missed something and the other buyers saw the flaw.
05-17-2016, 06:14 PM   #4
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Lens #3 (K 30mm f/2.8)

Lastly, please take a look at the photos of the rear element (the first two) and through the front element of a K 30mm f/2.8 (for which I paid about $240).

This lens has swirly patterns on the elements at three different depths (maybe due to an incomplete cleaning job?). On a second inspection just before posting this, I also discovered a fine scratch on one of the inner element surfaces toward the rear of the lens (which is making me think that that I'll probably return this one).


So, I'd appreciate any advice you can give me on these lenses in particular, (e.g. would you ask for discounts on these lenses, return them, keep them -- sooner is better, since I need to decide about them promptly), and also on used lens buying in general (e.g. am I inspecting them too closely, what do you recommend asking eBay sellers, etc.).

Thanks a bunch!

Marc

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05-17-2016, 06:16 PM   #5
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Well personally, if was paying a full price, I would expect better. While fully usable, scratches / marks / fungus effect the value of the lens.

I presume you have tried carefully (blower then, lens solution on lens tissue) cleaning the front / rear of the lens? Often found that some marks go away after cleaning.

Certainly looks like the scratches are for real at the very least which will effect value.
05-17-2016, 06:33 PM   #6
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Based on the prices and the pictures I would not be happy about any of those 3 either. True that they are old and you can expect some dust or minor imperfections but those do not look too good to me (unless those imperfections were already in the description)
05-17-2016, 06:44 PM   #7
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Have you taken test shots with the lenses? If not I would.

I have a Jupiter-9 that has all sorts of cleaning marks and it works fine. I also have a few lenses with oil on glass elements that works fine if I avoid bright light sources. So don't worry til you take pictures and pixel peep them to hell.
05-17-2016, 07:03 PM   #8
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I'd be curious to see those lenses under "normal" inspecting condition. Could you post pictures of what it looks like when you look through the lens when pointing at the sun, aperture opened. I'm not sure many old lenses would fare well when a powerful led flash light is pointing through it. The flash light is usually very good at detecting early fungus and lens separation, but it seems to also always show crazy amount of dust... I have lenses that are just about mint and I'm pretty sure that even those show some crazy dust specks and hairline scratches. I think I'm actually gonna try that test with all my "very good condition", "like new" and "mint condition" lenses to see what's what.

I do have a similar story that may, or may not be relevant to you, I'll leave it to you to decide. I was also very disappointed with an eBay purchase lately. I usually am very good at gauging sellers, my risks and the "trustability" of the seller. In the past year, I've come to purchase quite often from Japan, from reputable seller because they were being very honest in their descriptions and seemed very knowledgeable about the products (with many, many feedbacks and all). Anyway, I purchased an old SLR for decent amount of money that was described as being in very good condition, 9,3/10, no fungus haze, no dent and bla bla bla. Well, it turned out the camera was not in such good condition. At first, I notice it had many corrosion under most butons and dial (and visible when inspecting the camera). It wasn't so bad I thought, I could always clean it up good and as long as everything works as it should (and was stated), all will be fine. Then, I inspect it a little more, and there is a small dent of the corner of the prism housing. Oh well, I say, it's very small and I couldn't pick it up in the high quality pictures of the listing, it's my fault. But then, I noticed a lot, and I mean a lot of black particles in the viewfinder. That was way too much troubles for a 9,3/10 condition camera, so I held it against the sun and later a lamp and sure enough, there was fungus in the viewfinder and crazy amount of dust in the lens and probably some early separation happening on the two rear elements of the 50mm 1.4 that came with it. So I contacted the seller and showed him the picture. He knowledge he did a bad job inspecting the lens and that it was his error and offered to take it back or to pay for repair. I'm still waiting on a quote, but I'm expecting at lest 150$, so we'll see if the seller is willing to pay that. For reference, 150CAD$ would equal to about 70% of the total price I paid for the camera and lens.

edit : I'm sorry the attachment module flipped all my pictures... It must be one of the reason why I never use it. Pictures are available here if anyone is interested https://mega.nz/#F!sIZjGIQB!vdqm45rWkZD2TYRczBgiDA

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05-17-2016, 07:27 PM   #9
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You state that you are a perfectionist as am I. That said, I would have concerns with "bargain hunting" on eBay. I have had very good luck purchasing used lens from B&H and KEH. I talked to the sales person when I was in the store and he said they under rated the lens so that customers would be pleasantly surprised with their purchases. I have been.
05-17-2016, 07:40 PM   #10
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Thanks, jatrax, kiwi_jono, and sergysergy, for your responses. Responding to some of the points that you raised:

Yes, the Takumar 35mm is quite old, but I'd say that the quantity of scratches was more than I was expecting (even though I'd describe them variously as very fine and ultra fine). In comparison, I bought another lens recently that was about 40 years old and it had minimal scratches. My interest in the Takumar is one of curiosity -- I've read that it has interesting characteristics, and I'd like to try it out and have it available to use (and there's certainly also a bit of collector's view as well -- "look at this interesting old lens"). I already have other 35mm lenses (FA f/2, DA f2.8 Macro), so I'm not looking to buy it because it's a focal length that I'm missing.

I do try to screen eBay sellers, both according to their feedback and experience selling photo equipment. (Looking back, I should have been more careful with one of the sellers, who seems to sell some photo equipment, but not that much (though his description sounded like he knew what he was talking about, and his photos of the lens were quite good (though not taken using a flashlight, as mine were).)

I have bought lenses from KEH also, though my recent experience was a bit mixed. I bought two lenses from their kehoutlet eBay listings, and wound up returning both. One was an F 17-28mm fish-eye, where the focusing was mis-calibrated, such that it wouldn't focus as close as it it should have. The other was an FA 24-90mm, and the front element coating was slightly degraded somehow, over most of the front element. (I wondered whether their kehoutlet items are ones which don't quite measure up to their usual grading standards. Does anyone know?) I bought a second 24-90mm lens from KEH's own website, and while it seemed fine optically, it had severe zoom creep (which is apparently common with that lens), so I swapped it for a third one, which fortunately did not have that problem.

Regarding the suggestion of attempting to clean the lenses, I haven't gone beyond using a blower. I'm not very confident in my lens-cleaning skills, so I've actually been avoiding cleaning my lenses for quite some time, and I wouldn't want to risk damaging a lens that I might otherwise want to return. (I bought a cheap broken lens recently for the purpose of practicing lens cleaning, so I can become more confident about it without risking damaging my lenses. It's a newer lens, though, and my understanding is that the coatings are more robust than they used to be, so I may still look around for an older one that has softer coatings.)

Does anyone have an opinion on whether the spots that I thought suggested fungus likely are or are not?

---------- Post added 05-17-16 at 08:02 PM ----------

The points about "bargain hunting" on eBay are valid. I try to buy items on eBay that sound like they should be good quality (for example, I avoid ones which are described as having just a little bit of fungus), and while they aren't necessarily the cheapest, I certainly like to get a good deal if I can. I guess getting (and likely returning) some lenses that I'm not satisfied with would be the price of buying on eBay, though I think I need to press sellers for more information about how they're inspecting their lenses (and also determine whether my flashlight approach is really appropriate) to reduce the likelihood of needing to return things.
05-17-2016, 08:16 PM   #11
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Flashlight method is good although it does make some problems seem worse than they are. Ken Rockwell (he has a way of saying things to annoy everybody, but he does know his stuff) has a good discussion on his website on how to inspect used lenses w/ flashlight. See The Flashlight Test

---------- Post added 05-17-16 at 08:22 PM ----------

BTW I actually think the 30mm f/2.8 is the best buy of the lot, and seems to be in good condition--assuming photos with it are OK.
05-17-2016, 08:56 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by kp0c Quote
I'd be curious to see those lenses under "normal" inspecting condition. Could you post pictures of what it looks like when you look through the lens when pointing at the sun, aperture opened. I'm not sure many old lenses would fare well when a powerful led flash light is pointing through it. The flash light is usually very good at detecting early fungus and lens separation, but it seems to also always show crazy amount of dust... I have lenses that are just about mint and I'm pretty sure that even those show some crazy dust specks and hairline scratches. I think I'm actually gonna try that test with all my "very good condition", "like new" and "mint condition" lenses to see what's what.
I think most of the flaws that I posted photos of would not be visible in most other lighting conditions. (I'm not sure I'd want to look directly at the sun through a lens -- I think that could be dangerous in some circumstances.) It would be quite interesting to know what you find if you (and anyone else who might feel like doing so) look at your lenses with a flashlight, especially for older lenses. Dust inside doesn't concern me that much -- if it's excessive, at least the lens can be sent for a cleaning.

The flashlight I was using is a Maglite Solitaire LED, which takes a single AAA cell, and claims a brightness of 47 lumens. I just bought it recently to replace my old Mini Maglite (2 AA cells, non-LED, I think around 15 lumens), which I accidentally left on and let the batteries run down completely. I think they swelled or leaked, because I could no longer remove the end cap (even with a pair of pliers).

I will note that Ken Rockwell actually has an article called "The Flashlight Test", where he warns that people shining flashlights through lenses might be prone to returning them unnecessarily. He doesn't mention reflecting light off the element surfaces.

---------- Post added 05-17-16 at 09:12 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by dms Quote
BTW I actually think the 30mm f/2.8 is the best buy of the lot, and seems to be in good condition--assuming photos with it are OK.
It looked quite sharp with a test chart. Contrast was low wide open, but I think that's normal with that lens. I need to do some real-world test shots with it, and also check for flare. I was assuming that the swirl patterns might lower the contrast a bit. The scratch concerned me as well, since it's near the rear of the lens, but on the other hand, it's really very fine (the photos I posted exaggerate its appearance).

(I see you also noted Ken Rockwell's article while I was still composing my post.)

Last edited by fotomarc; 05-17-2016 at 09:17 PM. Reason: Removed extra quote, added comment about Ken Rockwell
05-17-2016, 10:29 PM   #13
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you should return a lens that was falsely described,
I had to recently when a zoom lens would not go to all of its focal range.
get new or refurbished lenses if you want no scratches or dust.
you will want newer glass with K1 anyway to use all of that sensor.
05-17-2016, 10:37 PM   #14
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I buy new, or second hand lenses and cameras from the market place here. Everything from the market place has been top notch, condition as described. At this point I would not resort to ebay and the risk of not getting the right gear.

No, you are not being too picky.
05-17-2016, 10:43 PM   #15
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As has been already said, people who don't know anything about photo equipment are more likely to misrepresent something. I had an argument with someone who knew nothing about cameras. I said that the camera didn't "work perfectly" because the light meter wasn't working and he said that he fired the shutter before sending it and it worked fine. Some people use the "for something that old" logic. There are old things that do look brand new. Anything else is less than that. That is the nice thing about KEH etc.
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