How do I decide when to sell existing gear?

A variety of ways exist to sell cameras and photography equipment today, not the least of which is on the Web. Selling equipment by putting an ad in the newspaper is slower, more expensive, and doesn’t reach nearly as many qualified buyers. In this section, I’ll focus on eBay and Craigslist, which both have dramatically changed how photographers trade gear today, to the point that they have become the default solution for the challenge of getting the most money for what you perceive your gear to be worth.

The good news about selling photography equipment is that typically it holds its value much better than computers and peripherals. Selling a three-year-old computer is difficult (if you want to get more than a pittance compared with what you originally paid), while a good-quality dSLR that’s the same age is likely to yield much better results and have a far more acceptable resale value.

I am frequently asked about old camera gear (sometimes 20, 30, and more years old) and how to sell it. Most of these products, obviously from the days of film photography, are much more difficult to sell unless they have some collector’s value as interesting or unusual devices. You can try listing these items on eBay or Craigslist, but generally speaking, don’t expect too much, and think twice before trying to adapt them to your digital gear.

How do you determine what your gear is worth? First, if the product is still available as a new product, then what it’s selling for new obviously gives you a reference point. Don’t be surprised to find that cameras, lenses, and flashes for which newer models have been introduced may be selling new for far less than when they were first on the market. From there, you can look at eBay or Craigslist to see the prices listed for the same thing you’re selling. If you don’t see them, then you may want to call around to various camera stores and see what they’d pay you for your item; you can usually mark up your item at least 20 percent from whatever they offer if you plan to list it on the Web. Note that your equipment’s condition is a vital factor in its ability to sell — while someone may be willing to buy a camera or lens with some dings, it will be for significantly less than if it’s in mint condition. And selling a damaged or inoperable lens or camera almost isn’t worth the trouble (unlike a used car!).

The gear you sell and expect to get a decent return on should be reasonably new, meaning about five years old or less, unless it’s something unusual or not affected by digital upgrades and innovations. Certain lenses, for example, have been around as workhorse standards for several years and, in good condition, can hold their value very well.

The more original parts and pieces you have for your gear, the better you can present it for sale. Even if you don’t have the original box, having the manual and warranty card is a good start.

When selling on Craigslist or eBay, be sure to take and use good photos of what you’re offering! Especially given that you’re a photographer, a photo of your equipment is essential for someone to effectively evaluate its worth on the Web.

Also, be careful to list your equipment with the correct product name and spelling so that it can be found easily, and in the right category. Before listing your item, take a look at how similar or identical products are selling, and if they’re selling better at various pricing strategies (such as starting with a low asking price but with a “reserve” price, for example).

When selling in an online auction, such as eBay, you may be tempted to simply list a starting bid that’s rather high to ensure you don’t sell your equipment for too little. However, this can be a bad idea; you’re much better off to start with a very low bid (for example, $5 or $10) and to use a reserve price. That means that you aren’t willing to sell the product for less than the reserve price, but that price won’t be shown until the bidding reaches that level. If the real minimum price you’re asking for the product appears, it may scare people away; if it doesn’t, you might be able to get a few folks into a bidding war.

One of the problems with Craigslist is the “garage-sale” aspect: You may have to meet whomever wants to buy your gear in person, and you may be hesitant or unwilling to have strangers in your studio or home when you’re offering something obviously expensive. Instead, offer to bring the equipment to a public place like a coffee shop or restaurant where you can more securely show it to them. If you are selling a camera, you may want to bring a laptop, take a photo with the camera, and download the image to present the quality on the spot.

Craigslist, however, has some advantages over eBay: It’s free, it’s local (no shipping!), and it’s fast — you don’t need to list something in an auction and wait for bidding to end. eBay has more recourse for failed payments with the use of PayPal, but it’s hard to beat a quick-and-dirty cash sale when you have something that others obviously want.

Some local professional photography stores will buy and sell used equipment, and it may be worth it for you to consider this if you’re in a hurry. However, they have to resell the gear, so, like a used-car dealer, don’t expect to get top dollar for your camera or lenses; their first priority is to make a profit and to sell, not to buy, equipment. Some of the online photography megastores, like B&H Photo, also buy used gear; while their trade-in offers are perhaps a little better than local stores, they’re still going to be buying your gear for less than what you’d get by selling it yourself directly to an end-user photographer.


There are some products that will let you adapt an older lens to a modern camera. In my experience, however, this always has a tradeoff of some kind and rarely produces the type of photographic results you really want.

Category: FAQ

Comments are closed.