A Guide for Buying a Used DSLR

A DSLR camera can click high quality images, and has various features that enhance your photographs. However, due to its high price, it is not affordable to all. With the used camera option available, you can have this piece of beauty in your hand, at a reasonable price.
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Digital Single Lens Reflex or DSLR cameras are best-suited for aspiring photographers and photography enthusiasts who want to progress to the next level and do more than just point and shoot. These cameras come with a variety of lenses with different focal lengths, that provide superior quality images. All those upgrading from their P&S (point-and-shoot) cameras will be amazed with the quality of images taken from a DSLR, in low-light and fast-action conditions. As these devices cost more than point and shoot digital cameras, opting for a used DSLR is the right choice for someone who isn't willing to spend that much. But, it then becomes necessary to inspect and select the right DSLR, free of any defects. We, at Buzzle, have listed down a few points that you need to check that will ensure you get a good deal.

Shutter Count
Sensor
Sensor Resolution
Lens
Auto focus Accuracy
Screen
Wear and Tear
Hot Shoe
Add-ons
Warranty
DSLR Options for Beginners

Shutter Count (Actuations)

There are a finite number of shutter cycles for a DSLR camera, which means its life is fixed. Once this limit is crossed, you need to replace the entire shutter mechanism. The shutter count will give you a clear idea about the number of clicks done by the camera. It is also known as actuations. The seller can tell you the exact count, if he/she have kept a track of the same. If he has no idea about the same, then carry out the following steps to determine the exact actuations.

You can look at the file numbering on the device, which tells you the exact picture count. However, you cannot rely completely on this method, because the file numbering can be reset.

There are third party programs available on the Internet where you simply have to upload a picture taken from that camera, and the software will calculate the shutter count for you.

For Nikon camera's, find out the shutter count here. As far as Canon cameras are concerned, you can download EOSInfo utility on your system, so as to get the exact number.

You can check the manufacturer's website for the shutter count limit, and if the said device has crossed the limit, it is better to leave the camera then and there, as there is a need to replace the unit.

Sensor

The next entry in your checklist should be looking for dust on the sensor unit. You can check for physical damages to the sensor by lifting the mirror release. But if you simply take off the lens, you cannot see the sensor. Use the camera's menu to lock the mirror, and then lift it to view the sensor.

You can click a picture of any bright object with the lens aperture reduced to the minimum. Maintain adequate light conditions while doing so. Transfer the photo on your computer, and then magnify the image to see any visible dust spots.

In case of dust issues, get it cleaned by using a lens cleaning kit, but if there are scratches on the sensor, reconsider before buying the product.

Sensor Resolution

Even though you have zeroed in on the camera model, it is good to consider the sensor resolution of the camera. It is always better to have a higher resolution sensor, but this could mean you may end up buying a pricey camera with high image noise.

I may sound a bit blunt, here, but if you are rarely going to print your shots, I would suggest not buying a high sensor resolution camera, as you will never use it to its full potential.

Take into account the regular print size (that you might print your images in), at the regular 300ppi resolution. This should give you a clear idea about the camera pixels. So, if you plan to print your shots in 6x4" size, a 2.1 million pixel resolution is enough. However, to print in A4 or A3 sizes, you will need a 14.2 million pixel sensor resolution.

Lens

Depending on the DSLR that you intend to buy, you may or may not get the lens kit included in the camera price. Mostly, sellers give away their entry-level DSLRs along with their lenses. If you are among the lucky few, it is necessary to carefully check the front and rear elements of the lens for scratches.

If there is an aperture ring, check its motion and folding of blades. Check for dents or scratches on the lens barrel.

In case the seller hasn't used the camera for a long time, chances are high that it was packed in a bag. There can be fungus deposits on the lens surface that could damage the glass beyond repair.

Lens mounts and contact pins should also be checked for dents, scratches, or bends. If there are visible markings on the mount, it is clear that the seller must have used a heavy lens or dropped the camera. You can negotiate the price on this point.

Auto focus Accuracy

The camera's auto focus can be checked by focusing on a particular object with and without the AF feature. Start by focusing on the main object in the manual focus mode. Now, do the same in the AF mode. Transfer both the images on your computer and view them in 100% zoom. There could be 3 scenarios depending on what you observe from these images.
Scenario 1 - If both the photos look the same, there is no problem with the camera.

Scenario 2 - If both photos look anything like either of the two images (see figure), your camera is working fine.

Scenario 3 - But when one photo looks like one image (from the figure) and the other photo like the other image, we have problem.

To check if you have a problem with the lens or camera body, try this solution.

Mount a different lens, click a photo of the same object, and transfer the photo to your computer. If you have a repeat of scenario 1 or 2, your lens has a problem. You can safely buy the camera, but without the lens. But, if you have a repeat of scenario 3, the camera body has a problem. You would be well advised to look elsewhere for your camera!

Screen

The LCD screen of your camera needs a careful examination too. Look closely at the screen for dead and stuck pixels.

To check for dead pixels, point the camera at the sky with Live View on. The dead pixels will show up on the same place every time you move the camera. Apart from this, you can click several photos with different colors. Examine the images closely at 100% zoom and if you spot a pixel appearing in the same place, you have a dead pixel problem.

To check for stuck pixels, you can set your camera to Auto or Aperture Mode, then turn on Live View. Now, if you point your camera and look through the viewfinder, and observe a pixel that never moves and retains its color, no matter where you point the camera, you have a stuck pixel problem.

In case the device that you are interested in has two or three dead or stuck pixels, you can still buy the camera, but at a reduced rate. But if there are a lot of these pixels, it is better you don't buy the camera.

Wear and Tear

The camera body condition says a lot about the handling and usage of the camera. While looking for a used DSLR, you are bound to come across cameras with scratches and dents. Minor blemishes are acceptable, but if there is significant damage on the exterior, it is clear that the camera would have been dropped.

The working of the shutter buttons and dials should also be checked for any defects. Press each of those buttons and check if any of them are getting stuck, or you are finding it hard to press. If this is the case, you can ask the seller to replace the button or reduce the price of the camera.

The neck strap shouldn't have any material peel off and the lens cap shouldn't have any clearance while fitting on the lens. If this isn't the situation, you can always ask the seller to replace them.

Next, click pictures by changing the camera modes, especially the program mode or auto focus mode. Check their clarity on the LCD screen. Also, record a video to check its operation.

Hot Shoe

The adapter where the flash is mounted is the hot shoe. Many a time, we fail to check this part of the camera for its fit.

Mount the flash on the camera, and give the camera a gentle shake. If the flash rocks, ask the seller to fix it before you buy it.

If there is no rocking of the flash but your flash doesn't work, the camera might have a faulty flash switch. If you see an Error 05 popping up on the LCD screen, the flash switch is damaged and needs to be replaced.

Add-ons

Add-ons like battery charger, interface cables, body caps, etc., should be checked for defects and malfunction.

Plug the battery into the charger unit and check whether it is getting charged. If not, you have a faulty charger or battery. Though these are easily replaceable, you need to shell out money for buying them, and its replacement cost can be deducted from the overall cost of the DSLR.

If you are lucky enough, you might get lens filters, tripod, card readers, and extra batteries along with your purchase. You can click a few pictures with the lens filters on, and by transferring them on your computer, you can judge the image quality.

Check the tripod screws. Place the camera on the tripod to check if it can withstand the camera's weight. If there are any loose screws, you will immediately be able to spot them. Adjust the height of the tripod at various positions. If this operation is smooth, you have a great deal on your hand.

Warranty

In case you are purchasing the used gear from a store, you might get warranty on its parts. However, if you are buying one online, do not expect to receive any such offer.

If the seller is selling off his new camera, you can always transfer the current warranty on your name. For doing so, you will need the original purchase receipt.

DSLR Options for Beginners

We have suggested a few models for first-timers in this field of photography.

Canon EOS 70D: 20.2 megapixel
Nikon D3200: 24.2 megapixel
Sony Alpha A390: 14.2 megapixel
Canon EOS 600D: 18 megapixel
Nikon D3100: 14.2 megapixel

Whether you are upgrading your point-and-shoot cameras or trying your hand at professional photography, a used DSLR purchase is a wise idea because of the high costs of the new ones. But it is necessary to inspect the details of the camera thoroughly before striking a deal.
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