How-to buy a camera lens off craigslist?
June 12, 2007 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Buying a used dSLR lens via craigslist: What to look for? How much to offer?

I'm looking at buying a 28mm f/2.8D AF Nikkor lens for my Nikon d70s that I've found on craigslist. Intended use is nature/landscapes and low-light/night photography -- the kit lens is great but not very fast.

My questions: When I go to see the lens how do I check out its quality? I'll bring along the body and my Powerbook to check test shots. How best to tell the optics are still good and all the mechanics are in good working order? Also, the seller advises the lens was "made in Japan" -- What's the importance of this? Is it a good thing/bad thing?

Is this a good lens for my intended use or should I hold out for the 35mm f/2.0D AF?

Finally, if it's in good shape, how much should I offer? The lens retails new in Canada for $279.00
posted by docgonzo to Shopping (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Thanks for any advice!
posted by docgonzo at 9:35 AM on June 12, 2007

Is this the same lens? If so, BH has it for $209

* Look for scratches on the front element
* I would not expect there to be problems with the optics aside from scratches. I've bought a lot of used lenses over the years and I've mostly seen: scratches, lens clouding (from moisture inside the lens or something?) and cosmetic damage, along with physical defects like broken focusing mechanisms.
* Made in japan means that the lens is what's called "gray market". Nothing wrong with that, but it was intended for sale in japan. That may be a warranty problem, I don't know. I often buy gray market stuff because it's so cheap that I don't care about warranty, I can just buy a new one.
* I still use film, and I don't shoot much small format, so I'm not sure what size your CCD is... is 28mm about a "normal" sized lens for your camera? Like a 50mm for a 35mm? I tend to use wide angle lenses for landscapes, telephoto for birds/animals and some other stuff.

I probably would not offer more than 50% of the BH price but would probably pay something like 65% of the BH price (offer $100, pay $130-140)
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:55 AM on June 12, 2007

"Made in Japan" > "Made in Korea" > "Made in China"

Something like a cheapo 50mm f/1.8 wouldn't be made in Japan. In general, only good quality items are worth manufacturing in Japan.
posted by smackfu at 9:57 AM on June 12, 2007

Look for dust on the internal elements. Open the aperture all the way and look through it with your eye.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:09 AM on June 12, 2007

Bring your body and take some photos with it. Look for scratches on the glass. Look for fungus (not likely in a relatively new lens).
posted by chunking express at 10:32 AM on June 12, 2007

Ok, this is what you do.

1. Heft the lens. There shouldn't be any rattling in the focus ring. The outside should be clean. If there are scratches or white patches in the rubber, that's fine, but negotiate for a lower price.

2. Turn the focus ring. It should move smoothly and easily, without any sticking spots. It shouldn't rattle. Turn the aperture ring from f/2.8 to f/22. It should move smoothly, and you should see the aperture open and close when you look through the lens.

3. Look at the front element at an angle to a strong light source so that you can see the coating. It should have a consistent finish with no marks, scratches, swirls, or patches with no coating. You can see the coating in this picture (this is a lens I sold on ebay several months ago). If you see some small specks, it's fine, but you should negotiate for a lower price. Scratches won't show up on your images, but it'll lower the resale price of the lens. Same with cleaning marks.

4. Turn the lens over so that you're looking at the mount. It'll probably be scratched up, that's fine, but look at the rear lens element, it should also be clean and free of marks like the front element.

5. Open the aperture to f/2.8 and move the focus ring while looking at the back of the lens. You should see the glass move in and out. If you don't see a change, then the focusing isn't working. Avoid this lens.

6. Move the aperture to f/22. See the little pin on the back? That activates the aperture. It should be springy when you move it back and forth, and you should be able to see the aperture open and close when you look through the lens. When you open the aperture all the way and then let the pin go, you should see it snap back very quickly. If it moves slowly, avoid this lens.

7. Move the aperture ring all the way to f/2.8 and look directly through the lens at a very bright light. Do you see anything that looks like spiderwebs? That's fungus. Avoid this lens. Do you see little specks, like dust? That's fine, but negotiate for a lower price.

8. Finally, look through the front of the lens again. See the aperture blades? They should be clean, with a matte finish. Do you see oil on them? Avoid this lens. It'll mess with your metering and prevent you from getting properly exposed images at anything other than your widest aperture.

Here are some pictures I took of a 24mm f/2.8 Nikon I sold last year. It was a very clean lens, and your 28mm will look almost exactly like this one.

By the way, the 28mm lens is fine, but I would look seriously at either a wider lens like the 20mm, or a faster lens like the 35mm f/2. The 24mm and 28mm lenses occupy a peculiar spot in the lens lineup when you're using them on a digital slr since they're equivalent to 38mm and 45mm on a full-frame, respectively.

If that's what you're going for, that's fine, but I think that range is pretty boring. Your mileage will obviously vary, though.
posted by bshort at 10:54 AM on June 12, 2007 [4 favorites]

Oh, and to specifically answer your second question, about the 35mm f/2 lens: I love this lens, and if you're considering it, wait until one comes up for sale. It's small, fast, and works very very well on the digital bodies.

Here are some pictures I took with this lens. Obviously, this is a self-link.
posted by bshort at 10:58 AM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

You should know too that a lens like that was originally designed for 35mm film SLR cameras and that when you use it on a DSLR there will be a crop factor of about 1.55 owing to the difference in size between a frame of 35mm and the size of the sensor in your camera. That turns a 28mm into a 43mm basically, which most people would probably consider a little tight for shooting landscapes.
posted by bcnarc at 6:06 PM on June 12, 2007

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