July 2012

Selling Second-Hand Camera Equipment

There are many people out there who have second-hand camera equipment they sometimes want to sell, but determining what it is worth and supplying the details to potential buyers can be difficult if you do not understand exactly what you are selling. Some sellers have camera equipment that they want to sell that they were given as a gift, inherited or just older equipment replaced with something new and sometimes assume it is worth a lot of money when it may actually be worthless. In this article I will only be covering the sale of camera bodies and lenses as most other equipment has little or no second-hand value.

Selling a Camera body

The resell value on SLR camera bodies drops very quickly as technology progresses. Once a camera body is out of production its value may become less than 10% of it original cost. Since the advent of digital SLR cameras film camera bodies have become items for collectors or as “display” items and their monetary value is sometimes next to nothing.

35mm Film SLR Cameras

On auction sites you can pick up 35mm film camera which where considered top of the range in their day for around R150 in great condition (like new). Last year I purchased a Minolta Dynax 300si with lens kit and 3000xi flash unit and great camera bag for R300 with postage included (around R90). I do not use any of the equipment but bought it purely for its sentimental value since I lost my original Dynax 300si. The bag is used as a holder for my small extras. If I was still shooting film the camera may have had value, but I do not and do not intend ever returning to film, so it in monetary terms it is worthless. If you have a film camera and kit lens (the basic lens that came with the camera) you will find it very hard to sell to anyone who is not using film. The value of a film cameras are very low and unless you have additional lenses to compliment the collection you cannot expect to sell it for more than R300-R500.

There are not many questions a buyer may ask about the camera itself unless they are interested in its display value. If you have a manual, look at the specification list in it and provide as much detail about the camera in the media you advertise the item for sale in. If you do not have a manual, use an internet search engine and type the make and model into it and get as much information about the camera as you can. Also check popular auction sites to see what others may be offering the same camera for. Provide photos of the actual camera, not a picture from the internet, so a buyer can see cosmetic wear (multiple photos from different sides).

Digital SLR Cameras

If you have a digital SLR which is out of production you cannot expect to sell it for more than 50% of its original purchase price (sometimes far less). Every successive upgrade camera the manufacturer produces will reduce the value of your camera even further. I am going to use a Canon series camera as an example: The Canon 650D (18mp) currently sells for around R8000 with kit lens. In 2005 the 350D (8.2Mp), the predecessor by a few generations (succeeded by 400D, 450D, 500D, 550D, etc), also sold for around R8000 with a kit lens. Though the price has remained the same, making the camera more affordable in today’s terms, the technological value of the 350D has dropped significantly. On popular auction sites the 350D now sells for an average R1200-R1400. This is a big drop in value and a loss on your original investment of R8000 when it was new, but this is the way technological improvement lets us down.

Questions that buyers may ask include age of the camera which refers to how long it has been used. You may also need to find out how many photos have been taken (an estimate) as a camera which has done many thousands of photos (called shutter actuations) may actually be at a point of failure (see my article: Your digital SLR camera WILL die). A camera which has not been used for a long time may actually become worthless as moisture may already have affected the shutter blades. You will also need to provide how many megapixel images it creates, condition of batteries (how well they retain charge) and the type of memory card it uses. Find this information from the manual or internet before trying to sell it and supply all information in your advertisement if possible. A detailed advertisement will always attract more buyer interest. Always include a photo of the camera or you may never be able to sell the item.

Selling Lenses for Cameras

Most buyers will be more interested in the lenses that come with a camera body than the camera itself. I have purchased camera and lens combinations and thrown away the camera body as the lens is all I want. If you have just a lens it is very important that it is well protected. You need to have the front and rear caps which protect the glass from even the tiniest scratches. You also need to know what camera body or bodies it will mount on. Though lenses also lose value they do not lose value as rapidly as camera bodies. Selling lenses may get you into a whole new technical world, so it is a good idea to search the internet for the particular lens make and model and provide the specifications in your advertisement where possible.

Here is what you need to supply when advertising a lens for sale:

  • Lens Make
  • Lens Model (written on side)
  • Focal length (refer image)
  • Aperture (refer image)
  • Filter size (refer image)
  • Camera Mount Type (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Minolta, Pentax, etc.)

For older type lenses that do not Auto-Focus you need to mention this too.

click for larger image

If there are any filters attached (usually screwed onto front of the lens) this will make the lens more desirable as the buyer will know that the lens has been cared for and risk of scratches on the front lens are much lower. A scratched lens may be completely worthless, so any filter that has been fitted is a plus. The filters are cheap to replace, but the lens glass cannot be replaced.

Determining a price for your lens will depend on many factors. Kit lenses, the ones that came with the camera in the first place, are usually worthless on their own (or can be sold for R30-R80). Basic entry level zoom lenses (usually aperture values 4.5-5.6 with 70-300mm focal length) are of little value as they can be purchased brand new for under R2000, so few buyers will risk scratches, fungus and other wear and tear for more than R500-R700). Check popular auction sites to see what others have sold similar lenses for.

The lens should also be completely free of fungus. The longer the lens has not been used the greater the risk it may be completely useless due to fungus infection if it has not been stored correctly. To understand what lens fungus is and how it affects your lenses, read this great article by Gene Walls : What Is “Lens Fungus”? Can It Really Affect My Camera Gear?

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Bad White Background Photography

I am certain many of you have seen some bad white background photography. White background photography is a quest of many a young photographer and they search all over internet and other resources trying to find a magic bullet or trick that they can use to get away from lighting it correctly. Photographers come up with some of the strangest DIY projects to light up a background to get it to look pure white, but never quite get the result they look for. Photographing on a white background, and here I am referring to a full even white spread of light, is tricky and takes some time to learn through experimentation. There is one fact about photographing on a white background, if you are attempting even lighting throughout the photo, which one has to accept and that is that you need large soft diffused light sources.

Photographing on a White Background (click for larger view)

Bad white background photography is a result of trying to force a white looking background without using correct technique. Here are some ways photographers try to get a white background look:

1. Let’s just Photoshop it to White!

This is the worst possible look that can be achieved in the bad white background photography arena. The photographer takes a photo on a white (or some ANY) background with whatever lights they have and then pull the photo into Photoshop and spend a couple of minutes tweaking the levels, creating layers and adjusting an assortment of other options to get the background to look white. The result is usually something that looks contrasty, grainy and almost alien. They convince their customers it is an art look while knowing they did it wrong. The results look artificial and leave a subject looking as if they have been cut out with a hacksaw and pasted onto a white sheet of paper.

2. Explode the background with light

Once some photographers discover that editing photos to a white background for hours on end is wasting too much of their time they may invest in “some” lighting. By “some” lighting I mean those unwilling to spend good money to get a set of good flash units or studio continuous lighting. It is expensive to get good studio lighting or camera flash units (even more expensive), but why spend thousands when you can use cheap table lamps (just add a few more or get stronger bulbs). This process usually results in uneven or over lit background spilling into the front and back-washing onto the subject. The resulting photos still need some work in Photoshop, but look a little better. These photos are usually characterized by edges of subjects and especially hair being blown away by white light.

3. Got the lights, 2 f-Stops up!

Finally some photographers will spend the good money and get a set of studio lights or camera strobe units, sync cables or wireless transmitter set and assume they are ready for white backgrounds. There is a rule out there, on internet, that a background should be over-exposed by 2 f-Stops to get it to be white. The photographer follows this rule and gets pretty much even lighting throughout his background, but there is so much backwash onto their subject that fine edges and especially again the edges of hair is gone. Fine hair strands become white and the subject looks washed out. Some photographers accept this and just pull it back into Photoshop, raise the contrast and drop the blacks in levels again to get subject detail back. The resulting images are not bad, but that edgy look on the hair makes me feel uncomfortable since the subject looks as if they had hair surgery done with a lawnmower.


The problem is that many customers are satisfied by this type of bad photography since they accept that they paid cheap and believe that that clean fashion magazine look on a white background can only be achieved by magazine photographers. The truth is that a white background, once you understand the principles of light and how to capture it using low ISO, fast shutter (1/160th) and smaller aperture (f/8), is fairly simple. Study light, learn the inverse square law of light falloff and light to subject vs. light to background distance and you will get great results with the simplest of tools.

How do I do it?

Personally I do not like pure white backgrounds as they are boring and best suited to fashion models and specific subject focus. Even when I do do white background I prefer to drop it just a small tad to get to about 5% grey so focus to my subject is not so harsh. I ignore the 2 f-Stop rule! I set all my flash units to 1/2 power and use huge diffusers and place my subjects the same distance from the background as they will be from my key light (remember the inverse square law?). This works for me in 99% of cases as can be seen from the sample photo above (which only saw Photoshop to create the compilation). The photos are as they come from the camera. The white hairs are compliments of age, not lighting… *sigh*

6 Minutes in the Air

What was meant to be a fun outing to the Klerksdorp Air Show on 30 July 2012 turned to disaster when a L-39 Albatros suddenly dropped from the sky and hit the ground.

I am ill equipped to do aviation photography as I own only a basic 75-300mm lens. But the idea was to have some fun while practicing to focus on high speed action. More high speed action than capturing two jets you could not ask for. Following the jets through their routine was exciting.

“Amen. Let the engines roar.” were the words that the pastor who opened the show used to end his prayer. Moments later, when the L-39 Albatros of Gianfranco Cicogna hit the ground I continued taking a few photos instinctively but could not believe what I was seeing. I was still following the plane and got a last shot of his jet upside down and was zooming out for the next shot when all I saw was flames and smoke. The words of the pastors prayer and theme song from Top Gun, which had been played during the performance, rang through my head. A silent prayer asking for protection were my in my thoughts.

I stopped taking further photos and went home. The day, for me, was over.

When I got home I downloaded the photos from my memory card to my computer. As I looked through them I was still in shock of what I had witnessed. After a prayer asking for guidance I posted this set of four images to my Facebook wall. My thoughts were that the news would soon spread and people will soon ask questions and that there will be much confusion about what happened. I remembered how it felt when someone I knew got killed in a car accident and how, when I saw photographs of the accident scene, it brought a kind of closure to the unbelief one feels when such an event occurs. I hoped that these four photos would explain and bring closure to a terrible event for those who were not there to see it. Those last few photos are something I wish I never needed to take.

Gianfranco Cicogna and Charles Urban spent just 6 minutes in the air. The time of take-off recorded by the GPS time on my camera was 9:45am, and the crash occurred at 9:51am. I photographed the last six minutes of someones life, something I never want to do again. I loaded an album of photos to my Facebook Page which I entitled “6 Minutes in the Air” in memory of Gianfranco Cicogna. The images from this album are available at high resolution at no charge via email on request (not for commercial use).

Gianfranco, may you rest in peace.