Should I buy a camera over eBay?
April 17, 2006 3:21 PM   Subscribe

How crazy am I to consider buying a camera over eBay?

I've been watching auctions for Nikon D70 bodies and kits on eBay. Although I'd like the security of buying from a local bricks-and-mortar store, I really can't deny the temptation of paying $600 Canadian for a body that retails up here for $1000.

Preliminary research has turned up some horror stories, but this place -- Cameta Camera -- has a good rep, it seems.

Any advice?

And what exactly is a "Factory Demo"? Can they really be selling that many showroom or demo models, especially when the camera is such a hot seller?
posted by docgonzo to Shopping (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If the price is above your risk threshold, use an escrow. It is very expensive ($30 on a $500 purchase maybe?), but often worth it.
posted by Chuckles at 3:35 PM on April 17, 2006

I've purchased a couple of cameras on eBay. I would check each seller's feedback carefully before bidding. Shop around online to get an idea of what the same model might go for retail (which I think you've done). I've seen some cameras listed for more than what you'd pay in a store, so don't automatically assume "eBay == cheap". Cameta seems to be a good shop, as does B&H. Pay attention to details, especially kits, as they may vary in content.

All brick and mortar stores have demo models, how used they are depends on how many people have played with them and how often they cycle them out for sale. If they don't seem to have a store, that would be a good indication it's something other than a demo.
posted by tommasz at 3:41 PM on April 17, 2006

I've bought and sold digital cameras (one each way) in the $200-400 range on ebay with no problems. Just use common sense. Deals that are way too good to be true usually ARE scams. Stick to proven methods of payment, sellers with high ratings and feedback ratios that have real web sites and list a phone number and real name (or company name) where you can easily find it.

It's ebay, you can find a deal, but if you get too greedy, you'll end up finding a scam.
posted by tiamat at 3:42 PM on April 17, 2006

I bought a D70 about a year ago, at an amazingly good price for the time. I've been very happy with it.

I bid, I think $700 or so for the body and lens back when anything below $850 was unreasonable. Wanted to use escrow -- the seller however said she was selling the camera b/c she needed the money ASAP. I got her phone number, talked to her, and she seemed fairly honest over the phone, but how can you tell anyways?

Fast forward a few days later, and while the payment has been accepted, my email requesting for tracking numbers, etc, are not being responded to. I tried giving her a call, left a message, no response. After a while, the emails started bouncing -- ISP said that the account no longer exists.

It looked bad, but after a reasonable while (week after purchase maybe?), she gave me a call saying that "sorry, I've been in the middle of a move, so everything has been in a flux; I shipped your camera when you paid" And lo and behold, I got it the next day. So even through it really looked and felt like fraud throughout the transaction, it turned out very well. The camera has had no problems, and in general, the D70 is a very nice tool.
posted by bsdfish at 3:44 PM on April 17, 2006

eBay's feedback system isn't flawless, but it's at least mostly functional. As long as you pay careful attention and only deal with sellers in the 99-100% range, you should be fine.

Of course, that doesn't mean that it won't be bad for your psychological wellbeing for those few days when you've paid but not yet got your camera... if you don't think you could handle that kind of stress (ie. it's really a lot of money to you), then don't do it.

And yeah, what tommasz says about eBay not necessarily being cheaper. Always, always compare, as the number of bidders on eBay tends to bring prices up to very-near-retail now.
posted by reklaw at 3:45 PM on April 17, 2006

I've bought three cameras on eBay from reputable sellers with spotless feedback, I only got one lemon and the seller was willing to take it back no questions asked.
but then, they were all mechanical, old rangefinders, all three of them.
posted by matteo at 3:50 PM on April 17, 2006

They look OK, as far as these things go. Are their prices really that good? They look like what you can find from the well known mail order camera discounters.
posted by caddis at 3:50 PM on April 17, 2006

oh, and I also bought (two, or three, can't remember) well-used Nikon manual focus lenses on eBay, no problem at all, they're great. bought them from 100% positive feedback sellers, too
posted by matteo at 3:51 PM on April 17, 2006

I bought my old P&S on eBay without any problems. I recently bought an entry-level DSLR as well, but I discovered that the kits listed on eBay were not really cheaper than the equivalent purchases in various (reasonably reputable) online stores. The only real difference seems to be that the kits on eBay will also get you a bunch of random crap like a lens cleaning kit, ultra-slow Flash card, cheap tripod, etc. I decided to skip eBay this time and used and
posted by Krrrlson at 3:56 PM on April 17, 2006

Over 13,000 feedbacks, 99.8% positive, I say go for it. They publish a phone number (a good sign) so phone them up if you need reassurance.
posted by fire&wings at 4:24 PM on April 17, 2006

1. Establish contact BEFORE auction end - ask the seller anything you like, but start a dialogue; you can tell a little from their response and responsiveness; it helps get a 'feel' for the seller.

2. Make sure the ad is presentable - IE Real photos not web page lifts; make sure any photo marking the ID matches the seller; check other listings for the same photos.

3. Check location of the seller; if not specific (IE County Vs Country) check a little further; / have useful things to assist you.

4. Check ever item of history that you can, as far back as it goes - look for negative feedback, contact those that have recently purchased high value items and ask for comments; using toolhaus contact purchasers who *haven't* left feedback and ask them why and so on.

5. Trust your instinct. A D2x at $200 is at $200 for a reason; one at $15,000 likewise - get a 'feel' for what prices the item you're looking to buy goes for.

6. Be deeply suspicious but be prepared to be wrong; there is nothing wrong with caution at all - sincere ebayers will recognise such and be straight in their responses. (Note I said straight, not neccesarily supportive!)

7. Ask for advice on certain listings you're interested in from whomever you can - don't automatically bid - there will *always* be another - never feel pressured into bidding due to price.

8. Don't bid drunk. BUI is a heinious crime that costs millions their garage space, sanity, and, in extreme cases, their significant others. (Although it must be said, I sent her back as She was the wrong size. :p~ )
posted by DrtyBlvd at 4:34 PM on April 17, 2006

Have you tried forums like If the eBay thing falls through, you can often find great deals from actual photographers on the boards (particularly lenses, but often bodies). I saw a D70 for $500 (USD) just a day ago, for instance.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:37 PM on April 17, 2006

I've bought from Cameta Camera in the past (my purchase was in the $200 range). They were nice, efficient people, who packaged the item rather nicely and sent it very quickly. My only complaint was that they forgot (lost) the instruction manual they said was to come with it; I got a photocopied version of the manual a few days later after a friendly phone call.

I say go for it - they're nice folks that are true to their word.
posted by itchie at 4:42 PM on April 17, 2006

Cameta is a class act. I would buy from them with confidence.
posted by bshort at 5:42 PM on April 17, 2006

I bought my first digicam (a canon D300) from Cameta two years ago. I won the auction, then called them directly and finished up the order. Prompt, good seller, etc.
posted by notsnot at 5:50 PM on April 17, 2006

It really bugs me that Ebay does not allow you to sort by negative feedback. It would be much easier to spot a trend.
posted by any major dude at 6:13 PM on April 17, 2006

FWIW: I have spent tens of thousands of dollars on eBay and have been scammed only once for about $50 (knocks wood). As others mentioned upthread the key is to carefully scrutinize the seller's feedback and trust your gut instinct. Also use PayPal to take advantage of buyer protection and eBay's Buyer Central forum
The longest week I ever spent was waiting for a >$2K guitar to arrive after buying it on eBay. With an actual value of over $4K (and rising) it is one of my best deals. I also bought my first digital camera via eBay in the 'early' days (pre 2K) with no problems (~$700). Another great deal was another $1500 guitar I bought on eBay, played for about 2 years then sold on eBay at a 20% profit!

eBay isn't the Wild West bargain bonanza it used to be, but there are still many great deals to be had.
posted by HyperBlue at 6:55 PM on April 17, 2006

YMMV, but Factory demos may never have been touched by anyone other than the Nikon rep and the salespeople he/she was training. We used to do demo days all the time when the reps would come in and train salespeople on the latest camera or lens features. Now why are there so many? Your guess is as good as mine, but it could indicate that the model you are looking at is near end of life, and they have recalled the demos. typically thare is a rush for training when a new model first comes out, then not much use for them after that.
posted by Gungho at 7:34 PM on April 17, 2006

I'll just add the following, since you quoted some numbers in your post: The D70s (body only) currently sells at retail for ~$650US. So just be sure to shop around at the time that you are shopping at eBay. MSRPs do change over time, as they have for this camera over the last year.

I just ordered a D70s this weekend!
posted by Dr. Sam at 8:21 PM on April 17, 2006

You can always go to a camera forum and ask for recommendations on ebay sellers. People are generally very happy to share good experiences.
posted by fshgrl at 8:54 PM on April 17, 2006

If you're planning to have the device shipped over the U.S./Canada border, bear in mind you're going to be liable for paying some serious duty (taxes). Consider this carefully.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:02 AM on April 18, 2006

FWIW I've bought a $100ish lens from Cameta on ebay before without a problem.
posted by normy at 3:53 AM on April 18, 2006

Thanks v. much for all the responses, especially the experiences and tips of what to look for. My temptation to buy from Cameta has only increased; I know now I'll be well informed!
posted by docgonzo at 7:54 AM on April 18, 2006

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