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04-30-2014, 08:00 AM - 5 Likes   #1
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Some Tips for Newbies on Buying Cheaper Used Lenses Online

This is less of Q and more of an A, but I thought this seemed like the appropriate place to post it.

When I set about buying a camera I wound up at Pentaxforums and read about all the wonderful old lenses that one could buy. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to invest a lot of money in cameras, as it can quickly become a very expensive hobby. So, shortly after getting my camera, I set off to buy a 50mm prime, a zoom lens, and a wide-angle one. Since I started my journey, I have bought a lot of lots on ebay and shopgoodwill.com and have a few pieces of advice for buying lenses for newbies.

First, start with something inexpensive. Using old manual focus lenses, in particular, is a bit different and it may not appeal to everyone. My first purchase was a mint SMC Pentax M 50mm 1.7. While this is a great lens, it was silly to buy a mint one and pay somewhat more for it. Mint lenses can sell for more down the line, but when you are getting started there are lots of cheap options to experiment with. The other mistake I made was buying a lens by itself. While I have had little use for film cameras, on most auction sites it is often cheaper to buy a camera and lens than a lens alone. This, perhaps, isn’t always the case, but there are frequently lots from estate sales on ebay that sell for little money. Though you are gambling with estate sales at times—hoping that the lenses aren’t in terrible condition—for the price it is a worthwhile gamble. My first three lenses came to about $110 including shipping. While this is not a bad price for three lenses, you can purchase a much better start up set for that price if you look for a camera lot. Furthermore, in contrast to the 50mm 1.7, I bought a dented takumar 50mm 1.4 for about half the price that was attached to a broken spotmatic. The takumar was fine apart from a dent to the filter ring and I later sold it for well over twice what I bought it for after I confirmed that it worked.

Note the price of shipping when you do your bidding. This can vary a lot and the only thing that I have definitely lost money on came because of an $18 shipping fee for a $20 lens that I did not notice.

If you want to start with super cheap lenses, check out the Sears options (or possibly the Ricoh ones though read up on the Ricoh pin). The Sears 50mm 1.7 is a great lens that is dirt cheap. After buying my initial set of lenses, I saw an auction for a Sears camera with four lenses and some filters. I won it for $8—I think it was $18 including shipping. I got to experience a 135mm telephoto, a wide angle macro (it was a terrible lens, but still interesting to try), and several other interesting items—like my first close up lens. The other great thing about starting with cheaper lenses is that it can allow you to be patient in bidding on other items. If you take your time, you can find very very good deals on lenses. If you decide, though, that you want a specific lens immediately, you will likely overpay.

Another great option for cheap lenses is to look for older autofocus lenses. Many of these have a really bad reputation for being made of plastic and they certainly do not feel as nice as some of the metal lenses. At the same time they can still have great optical quality. The non-pentax ones, in particular, sell for little—especially when attached to cameras. For example, I got a Promaster 28-200 from shopgoodwill.com for $30. For an autofocus zoom with a wide range, this seems like an incredible deal.

If you get into this way of purchasing lenses, be sure to read up on auction strategies. Early on in my lens buying career, someone was selling a camera lot that included a Pentax A 100mm macro, though this was not marked and it took some work to decipher what the lens was in the pictures. Up until the last minute, there were no other bidders and I was convinced I would pay $40 for a great lot including this one very nice lens and several other interesting looking lenses that I could not identify. I think I had raised the maximum I would pay to $75, which still would have been a great deal. Of course someone else swooped in at the last minute and got the lot for $76. I have no idea what their max bid would have been, but I felt silly for not realizing how to bid and that most people bid at the last minute.

The best deals I have gotten have tended to be on unmarked things. A search for Asahi instead of Pentax reveled a very cheap takumar 50mm macro that did not include the words Pentax or takumar. A bit of work on your part deciphering pictures can lead to you getting great deals.

Also, note that asking about lenses can be a double edged sword. I asked about a lot wondering about one particular lens and the seller posted the response for everyone to see. Suddenly the rarer Pentax lens was noticeable, and the post revealed that the lot included a great Canon lens—which was not what I had cared about or had even been able to remotely identify. Suddenly, and not surprisingly, the bidding went up very quickly after the posted response.

My last piece of advice is about when to pay a bit more for lots. I have purchased three lots that are over $100. I was looking for harder to find lenses and found them in different lots. These were more expensive lenses and the lots came with slightly better cameras (Pentax MX, Pentax Super ME). Along with the lenses were some pleasant surprises. The lots came with better filters and included all the caps and cases. I had added up the value of all the lenses and thought I was getting a great deal. Once I factored in getting the other accessories, I got a really fantastic deal. Selling off some of the rarer things you come across (like bellows, winders, or authentic Pentax m42 adapters) can make a good deal a great one. Once you pay a bit more, fewer people are bidding. If you are willing to sell off some of the things you don’t need (or if you need everything), you can find really really good deals.

The other nice thing about acquiring some of the more expensive lots is about returning them. One lot I bid on came with a Takumar 35mm f2 that was described as being in great condition. The lens had some minor scratches and I was debating whether to return the lot or ask for a reduction in price. Ultimately, the lens works fine and the accessories would eventually sell for about what I paid for the lot, so I did not return it. Paying a bit more makes the process of returning a purchase somewhat more worthwhile. When a lens came with fungus that I had bought for $10, including shipping, I decided it wasn’t worth trying to get a refund or to return the lens based on the misleading description.

While finding cheaper lenses has led to me having a great rnage of lenses to use, it has also meant cameras, lenses, and accessories consuming more and more space.

04-30-2014, 08:18 AM   #2
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Great write-up!
04-30-2014, 10:33 AM - 2 Likes   #3
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General ebay strategy: if you want the item, decide on your max bid and get your bid in first. If you are just bargain hunting, then park spotted opportunities in your watch list and fire in a bid last second. Avoid weekend evening bidding frenzies.
Learn how to use good search terms to find items that have been listed in the wrong categories and/or poor titles and/or weekday am end times.
And be prepared to do a bit of legwork. Some of my best buys have been on an item described as "lens" and only going through the listings and checking it out have I realised the opportunity. Learning how to recognise mounts and K variants is an important skill.

Oops now I've told you all my secrets
04-30-2014, 10:48 AM   #4
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Yes, indeed!

04-30-2014, 11:26 AM - 1 Like   #5
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Make sure the item listed actually matches the item in the pictures. check the lens database here to make sure it looks the same from all angles. If the eBay seller does not show an image of the writing on the front ring, do not bid (unless you suspect the seller knows nothing, and you can identify the lens by other means - eg aperture ring and distance scale)

Some eBay sellers will list lenses as 'Pentax 135mm f2.8', but they are often the takmaur variants (which aren't bad - unless you end up paying Pentax-m prices!). I have seen worse than that though - so only bid on lenses when the pictures match the description (or email for confirmation).

Another common thing I've seen is 6x7 cameras listed as ttl and mlu (when that is clearly not the case). This seems to be quite common for Japanese sellers that target eu/us eBay (and once you've paid the import duty, what are you going to do? Send it back at a big loss, or accept that you've overpaid?).

If buying a newish and expensive lens/camera... If a seller cannot take a good picture of a lens/camera (it's a crappy iPhone job), and the item isn't complete (hood, rearcap, case, or charger missing), you need to ask yourself a simple question. "why is this person selling this item?". Ask the seller for serial numbers. (If it looks stolen, it probably is!)

Don't get in a bidding war. Set yourself a maximum price, and do not exceed it. If the item goes for more than that, it isn't worth the extra money.
04-30-2014, 11:35 AM   #6
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This is pretty much my method of buying. I've only paid more than $100 once for a lens (my Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5, simply because you can't buy that in a cheap version as it doesn't exist).

I'd guesstimate that there is maybe a $250 cumulative investment in this photo for everything shown.

EDIT: Make that about $300, I notice my Pentax-M 200mm is in there, I think I paid around $75 or so for that.



Last edited by Sagitta; 04-30-2014 at 11:42 AM.
04-30-2014, 11:36 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by marcusBMG Quote
General ebay strategy: if you want the item, decide on your max bid and get your bid in first. If you are just bargain hunting, then park spotted opportunities in your watch list and fire in a bid last second. Avoid weekend evening bidding frenzies.
You might want to re-think your logic on why you'd want to get a bid in first, or why you'd ever want to bid manually.
04-30-2014, 11:37 AM   #8
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Oh! And all double-posting... a lot of times you can get a better deal buying a camera you have zero interest in if it has a lens on it/with it that you DO have an interest in.

I picked up my Pentax-M f/1.4 for $12 that way.


EDIT: To use that case as an example, they were selling a battered ME Super with a case and a couple trash lenses, and the last picture was of this 1.4 with a dented filter ring.

It was listed as "Pentax ME Super, plus lenses" or something like that in the listing.

04-30-2014, 12:16 PM   #9
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Not to overlook the obvious . . . It's hard to go wrong buying lenses here on the Marketplace!
04-30-2014, 12:53 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by DSims Quote
You might want to re-think your logic on why you'd want to get a bid in first,
Rethink what? this is a no-brainer. If you want the item there is no logic or value in waiting till the last second. The advantage lies with the first bidder, not the last (I had a plaintive msg once from a guy who tried to bid last second on a lens I was selling: "I tried to bid but it didn't go through...".

QuoteQuote:
or why you'd ever want to bid manually.
???
Once you've put in a bid or maximum its all auto.
04-30-2014, 01:19 PM   #11
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Thanks for all the follow up tips. Johnyates the marketplace is a great space and there are certainly good deals in it, but it doesn't seem like you will ever a great lens at a super cheap price. If you know what you want and don't mind paying a fair price, then by all means go to the marketplace. If you are hoping to find a gem for somewhat less, though, then I think the auction sites have some advantages.
04-30-2014, 05:38 PM   #12
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I look at eBay as a place where I take advantage of my knowledge to save money or take a risk. I have looked at a bad photo of a camera with a lens on it, been the only bidder and gotten something excellent. When I've made a bad deal, often it is my fault (thinking I knew more than I did), than the seller. Of course sometimes the seller says it's a Pentax and sends you a Sigma, nothing you can do about that except dispute.

The marketplace may not have unbelievable bargains, or you might miss them as others snap them up. But you can buy from someone who knows what it is, might have actually used it, might have a history here, etc. Just reading unrelated posts might tell you whether you want to buy something from a marketplace seller. But it should be easier to buy something here if you are a beginner, possibly paying more for less risk and the seller's knowledge. Some of the lenses here have gone through a couple of members already, with two sets of sample photos. I sometimes spend more time exchanging messages with curious non-buying people than communicating with the actual buyer.
04-30-2014, 07:53 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by marcusBMG Quote
Rethink what? this is a no-brainer. If you want the item there is no logic or value in waiting till the last second. The advantage lies with the first bidder, not the last (I had a plaintive msg once from a guy who tried to bid last second on a lens I was selling: "I tried to bid but it didn't go through...".



???
Once you've put in a bid or maximum its all auto.
Never mind. I guess some people think their actions won't affect other's actions.


More to the point of this thread, I think eBay should be reserved for bargain hunting as described by others here, or when you can't find a lens you need elsewhere. But your chances of getting a problem lens (especially with fungus) are much higher. Some sellers are ignorant, others probably know; but either way your odds of getting a poor copy are much higher.
05-01-2014, 02:20 AM   #14
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One other thing to consider is the use of a sniping tool for something you really want. I use EZsniper, a web based service so I can just set my max and forget about it.

Make sure that you have self discipline to decide what it's worth to you, full stop. And stick to that, don't go higher.

Try and avoid getting into a bidding war - this makes things stupidly expensive. Another will be along sooner or later, do you really have to have this thing today?

To make sure of an item look up what it sold for previously or put in a snipe price at at least double what it is approx. an hr before.

Beyond that, yes there are bargains on eBay but there is also a lot of seller ignorance, so what we as photo nerds might think of as a bad quality lens, the seller, especially if it's someone selling granddad's old gear, might think is fine.

Power seller "Seller ratings" are actually useful - I stay away from anyone below 99.5%.

eBay is on the side of the buyer. Of the 500 or so items that I've bought there over the years I've had issues with 4, and always been compensated fully.

Don't be scared to give a negative review if the item is crap, that's what it's there for. Sellers who were dismissive and arrogant when you contact them about a poor item soon change their tune if you give them the negative review they deserve.

Don't let yourself be bullied. I once had a schmuck withdraw an item I'd bid on at a fair price relist it at 20x the price, so I moaned. He threatened to report me as a seller for harassing him when he did this, so I gave him negative feedback and he was censured and shut up by eBay (details here). There are jerks out there, don't let them bully you.

eBay is especially useful for hard to find items in your local shops, or if you're at work during the week and want something delivered to the office. Ie a superweird camera adapter that camera shops in the UK charge £100 for to be 'custom built', which you can buy from China for £2. I bet the camera shops here just order the same thing! Do be aware of ordering and shipping time though.

I always give reviews and feedback so others know if the products are any good.

Last edited by Nass; 05-01-2014 at 02:37 AM.
05-01-2014, 04:28 PM   #15
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Never buy a lens with a mashed filter ring.

It means the lens was dropped. And while it may be no big deal not to be able to screw on a filter, it does mean the alignment of the elements was likely compromised by the concrete bashing.

Move on....
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