Great digital cameras for less: Buying a used DSLR By Jay Dougherty


dpa German Press Agency
Published: Sunday January 7, 2007

By Jay Dougherty,
Washington- Today's hot digital camera is tomorrow's
bargain - if you know what to look for.
Digital camera makers have worked feverishly over the past several
years to offer more megapixels than the next company, and that has
meant new models coming out every six months or so.

That's now good news for those who once eyed the prohibitively
expensive digital SLR cameras with envy.

Professional-quality digital cameras such as Nikon's D1X or
Canon's original 1D 8 frames-per-second speed demon once sold for
over 5 thousand dollars.

Now, those models regularly go for 500 to 800 dollars on the used
market.

More recent, smaller cameras such as the Nikon D70 or Canon 20D
boast more megapixels and smaller size. These once sold for as much
as 2 thousand dollars when new just a couple of years ago. Now,
they've available for a quarter of that price.

But does it make sense to buy an older DSLR when the latest models
offer more megapixels? The short answer is "yes." The longer answer
is that savvy digital camera buyers have long known that image
quality is about more than megapixels.

Pictures from the Nikon D1X, for instance, have been used in
National Geographic for years, and you probably look at images from
older DSLR cameras from Canon, Nikon, or Olympus every day in
newspapers and magazines.

Performance-wise, a DSLR offers you a great deal over a point-and-
shoot digital camera. Most models offer instant-on responsiveness and
can take multiple pictures per second.

There's no more waiting after you press the shutter button for the
camera actually to snap the picture. Also, because the imaging sensor
- the main light-gathering chip - in a digital SLR cameras is larger
and more refined than the one you'll find in a point-and-shoot pocket
camera, you'll get better image quality.

But how can you venture into the used camera market without
getting ripped off? Here's what to look for to help you find a true
bargain at a good price.

--- What's the condition?

You really can tell a book by its cover when buying a used DSLR. A
camera that's been well cared for be obvious, although you should
ignore minor scratches and scuff, as these will appear on most used
equipment. Handle the camera if you can. If you're looking at online
auctions, make sure the picture you see is of the actual camera being
sold. Ask the seller if you're not sure.

Pro-level DSLRs such as the Nikon D1H or D1X and the Canon 1D are
built tough to withstand the rigors of frequent professional use, so
the camera itself is likely to last many years.

--- How many pictures?

Approximately how many pictures have been taken with the camera?
Getting an answer to this question will tell you a lot about how much
the camera has been through.

Digital SLR cameras are designed to take anywhere from 100,000 to
250,000 pictures before the camera's shutter - the mechanism that
moves inside the camera when you snap a picture - may need to be
replaced. Replacing the shutter is generally not cost prohibitive -
around 200 dollars from a factory-authorised service centre - but the
more life you have left on the original shutter, the better.

Owners of Canon 1-series cameras can find out exactly how many
pictures a camera has taken by using the CanCount utility, which can
be downloaded freely from the Internet
(http://www.soens.de/Software_EN.html).

--- Money back?

It's not too difficult to find sellers of used DSLRs who will
offer a money-back trial period. Take advantage of this if you can
find it. That way, if anything is wrong with the camera, you can
return it for a refund.

--- Dead pixels?

It's not terribly uncommon for older DSLR cameras to have one or
more dead pixels that show up on photographs. Ask the seller of the
camera whether there are any dead pixels. Look for units with none.

--- Buttons, terminals, and flash

Make sure that all buttons work without sticking, and check all
terminals and on-camera sockets to be sure that they are not damaged.

--- Serial number?

Prefer cameras that come with original box and paperwork, and get
a copy of the original receipt, if possible. Exercise more caution if
someone is selling a camera body only, without accompanying
paperwork. Get the camera's serial number and check it against a
stolen equipment registry, such as the one maintained by Photo.net
(http://www.photo.net/neighbor/registry/).

Remember that a DSLR is often sold without a lens, so you'll
either need your own compatible lens or you need to look for a camera
that's sold with a lens. Lenses are precision optical instruments and
come in many focal lengths, which is one reason why DSLR cameras are
preferred by photographers who want to get the best possible picture.

© 2006 - dpa German Press Agency