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Buying a used camera (06/26/2005)
By Tom Hirsch

Why would you want to buy a used camera? Well, there are several reasons. For one thing, you might be going on a trip and would like your spouse or the kids to have a camera. Maybe you would want a 35mm camera as a backup to your digital camera. If you're still a 35mm camera user, you might want fast film in one camera for available-light indoor shots, and have a second camera loaded with slow film for outdoor scenery pictures. If you use a single-lens reflex (SLR), you might want a second camera body so you can have a telephoto lens on one and a wide angle lens on the other for faster shooting (this is a great idea if you're into sports or action photography). Maybe your old camera is becoming unreliable and you don't want to put a lot of money into buying a new one.

In most cases, you don't need a fancy model as a second camera. A camera with manual focus, advance and rewind could take care of your needs very nicely, but only if you know how to use a non-automatic camera. If your main camera is fully automatic and you have never been exposed to manual-everything cameras, you might be intimidated. If you (or your spouse) are reluctant to use the "new" camera, you're better off without it.

Okay then, why would anyone sell a perfectly good camera? A common reason is to use it as a trade-in on a newer model - probably a digital. Even at that, most camera buffs hang on to an older model as a backup. Another reason for getting rid of an old camera is that it has become unreliable. These are the ones you want to watch out for.

If you buy a used camera from a photo dealer, you'll probably get a thirty-day (or longer) warranty for replacement or repairs, or a written return privilege. If not, be sure to ask for either or both of these. This will give you time to determine if the camera lives up to your expectations, and find out if it has any hidden problems. Most dealers check used cameras pretty thoroughly for problems, but once in a while something is missed.

During the grace period, shoot at least two rolls of slide film (assuming it's not a used digital camera). Even if you don't normally shoot slides, use this type of film because of its narrow latitude. If the exposure is off more than half a stop, the slides will be either too light or too dark. The cause could be either a faulty exposure meter, the shutter speed is out of sync, or the aperture leaves are sticking. Because of its greater latitude, print film might not show any exposure problem.

If you're checking out a used SLR, you might see spots when you look through the viewfinder. Pay no attention to them. They are annoying, but they're just on the viewfinder's mirror system and will have absolutely no effect on your pictures.

When you find a used camera that strikes your fancy, check it over, inside and out. If the film channel is worn, many rolls of film have been run through it. Dents and scratches on the body indicate that the camera has gone through some rough times. Either or both of these factors mean that the camera could be on its last legs. If possible, take the camera to a neutral professional photographer or camera expert for evaluation.

Remember that a used camera is not a new camera. You can't expect it to do everything your primary camera is capable of, but a second camera can serve the purpose as a, well, a second camera. 


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