Tips for shopping for lenses

I have one steadfast piece of advice I give to all prospective lens buyers: Evaluate the lens with your intended use in mind. It’s very common in today’s online-driven economy for photographers to spend hours reading photography Web site reviews, blogs, and chat groups that extol the virtues of one particular lens and deem another unworthy, but they never actually get to try the lens out before they shoot it! That isn’t to say that the Internet isn’t a good source to look for information on a particular lens: It is potentially one of the best. It’s just that among all the charts, graphs, and backfocus testing, you can lose sight of your real goal: determining whether or not a particular lens can do the job you have in mind.

However you plan to acquire a particular lens, and particularly if it’s an expensive piece of glass, if possible it’s a good idea to find a local camera store where you can rent one for the day or weekend and try it out. Some stores will even let you apply some or the entire rental price to a purchase. If you plan to buy the lens from that store, they will most likely let you bring in your camera and memory card and take some test shots.

If you are considering two lenses, take some shots with both, trying as much as possible to mimic your intended use. If you want the lens to shoot architectural interiors, then take some shots of the inside of the store. If you plan to shoot sports, then go outside if possible and get some shots of a car driving by. Then it’s a simple matter of going back and pulling up the images on your computer and making evaluations or comparisons. Bottom line: If you are happy with the performance of the lens and the price is within your budget, it’s a good lens.

Insofar as buying used lenses, you can save a great deal of money and find some great deals on used equipment, lenses included. Again, if you have a local store where you can actually see and put your hands on the equipment, then by all means do so as there is no substitute for this. If you elect to buy through mail order or online, just make sure you are dealing with a reputable dealer or individual. Large online dealers such as B&H Photo (www.bhpoto.com) or Adorama (www.adorama.com) also sell good-quality, reliable used equipment. Read or ask about the return policy prior to purchasing. If the dealer has no return policy on used equipment, then don’t buy from them. Any business or person worth your dollars should accept returns so long as the item is returned in good condition.

If you turn to auctions at eBay, Amazon, or Yahoo!, which millions of people do, just make sure you do your homework first. You can often find good deals on used equipment, but I have also seen many bidders get caught in the frenzy and pay more than the current street price of a new lens for a used one. Be especially wary of foreign sellers, particularly if they want you to send money outside of the standard auction policy under the guise of offering you a better deal. I have a student who, against my advice, a few years ago sent a money order to someone in Spain for a camera she saw on eBay; she still has never received the camera — and her money’s gone.

Category: Photography System

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