Sunday, April 11, 2010

Checklist for evaluating a used camera

Here is a checklist for buying a used camera.  (Note: some of the info here was derived from a post on on this subject.)
Seller's name:
Contact info:
When was the camera purchased by the seller?
Was the item originally purchased new, used, or refurbished?
Local version or gray market?  If gray market, manufacturer might not service.
Reason for selling?
Ask about seller's photography background? What kind of photos does he or she take (portraits, landscape, still life, wildlife, etc.)? (The more knowledgeable the seller is, the more likely the camera is legit as opposed to stolen.) 
If the seller is pro, ask to see their portfolio. In my view, buying from a reputable pro is safer.
  1. laptop
    1. install exif viewer
  2. check information on the spot with an internet device (the laptop, assuming there's an accessible WiFi connection, or a smartphote) or have a friend who has internet access on standby to call.
  3. battery
  4. test lens (ideally, one that you have owned and are familiar with)
  5. focus targets
  6. memory card
  7. USB cable (to connect the camera to the laptop) or memory card reader
  8. tripod attachment
  9. external flash
  1. Know your limits - if you're new to photography, ask for help!
  2. Research the camera for known bugs and issues.  Do an internet search on [camera name] issues or problems, such as: D300 issues or problems. 
  3. Remain detached mentally and stay cool.  Don't imply or state that you'll buy the camera until everything is to your satisfaction.  Once you imply or commit to buying the camera, the negotiating power shifts to the seller.
  1. Check included accessories.  If any are missing, it may be possible to buy a replacement on ebay or Amazon.  If you care about them, check for prices and factor them into the effective cost.
    1. make sure rubber covers and attachments are included.  make sure the rubber viewfinder cover is attached and in good condition.
    2. body cap
    3. LCD monitor cover
    4. Eyepiece cap
    5. batteries - make sure you have the nikon battery with the nikon hologram. With terminal cover.
    6. battery charger
    7. USB cable
    8. Video cable
    9. Nikon camera strap
    10. warranty
    11. instruction manual
    12. software CD
    13. original box
  2. Lens mount.
    1. Ask the seller if you can borrow their lens to test.  This is an additional clue as to whether the seller's story checks out (e.g., if they claim to do wildlife but have no long tele lens, that may be a red flag).
    2. Examine the lens mount for any signs of damage. Mount a lens and remove it. Make sure it easily locks into place and does not have any abnormal movement.
    3. Once lens is mounted, check if there is any play or movement.  There should be none.
    4. D300 issue: F0 error on some lenses on some D300 cameras.
    5. ensure that the focusing motor and drive are functioning by checking if the camera can focus with a non-motor lens such as Nikkor 50 1.8
  3. Body.
    1. signs of being dropped: deep scrapes or dents in the plastic body
    2. Check each selection button and knob.
    3. rubber on the bottom on the grip - loose?
    4. check the threads on the tripod mounting screw with a plate or tripod. wobbly? damaged by cross-threading?
  4. Viewfinder.
    1. Dirty?
    2. Test each AF indicator if it's working (i.e., camera focuses) and if it illuminates properly
    3. Test whether are gridlines
    4. If the previous owner replaced the focusing screen with an aftermarket version, the metering might not work properly.
  5. Doors and hinges.
    1. battery door: closes tightly and stays closed. battery doors can pop open or can be cracked at the hinge.
    2. rubber doors - check for dryness that can lead to cracking.
    3. check flapping covers to make sure they are not damaged.
  6. Memory card.
    1. insert a memory card and make sure the camera functions properly.  look for bent or damaged pins or binding when inserting the card.
    2. make sure the memory card door opens and closes properly. check for cracks at hinge.
  7. Hotshoe mount
    1. Mount not bent or damaged. Can insert and lock external flash with no problems.
    2. Inspect for scratches on the hotshoe and around the hotshoe (by careless insertion of a flash).
    3. Verify that the hotshoe is working by connecting external flash and functioning in iTTL, TTL, Auto, Manual mode.
    4. Check sync speed (1/250 for d300).  Take a shot with the popup flash at the sync speed. There should be no black bar creeping into the image.
  8. Popup flash.
    1. operates properly
    2. does not have unusual play
    3. popup flash latch can fail and the hinges of the popup flash can be damaged.
    4. check advanced wireless lighting – TTL, Auto, Manual.
  9. LCD screen - back of camera.
    1. Test live view function.
    2. No cracks
    3. No LCD leaks
    4. dead or stuck pixels
    5. Can scroll through all functions.
  10. LCD screen - top of camera.
    1. No crack.
    2. No leaking LCD.
    3. LCD backlight can turn on.
  11. Ports.
    1. examine ports on all sides of the camera, including the bottom.
    2. examine the 10 pin connector to make sure no pins are bent or broken
    3. check and test the transfer port - look for damage
  12. Eyelet for strap: check if cracked or if the eyelet is lose.
  13. Firmware.
    1. D300: currently 1.10. Can upgrade but serial number required.
  14. Test shots.
    1. switch to high ISO - yellow/magenta problem?  Example: 
    1. banding in high contrast scenes?
    2. Check focus accuracy with both MF and AF lenses.
    3. Plain background: look for:
i.      streaking (damage due to improper sensor cleaning),
ii.      against dark background, check for hot pixels (usually can be mapped out relatively easily), and 
iii.      dust on the sensor (normal and easy to remove unless it is stuck on the sensor). check for dust on sensor by taking photo of clear background, focus on infinity and use the smallest aperture (f/22 or smaller).
    1. make sure bracketing works, WB adjusts properly. Test manual white balance.
  1. If the seller promises anything, have it in writing.  Spoken words have no value.  The law is designed to protect the status quo.
  2. History/ownership.
    1. Ask the owner for the shutter count.  Note: research beforehand the shutter life for the camera.
    2. Use an exif viewer to verify the image count and possibly owner name.
    3. Has serial number plate.  If the serial plate was removed, it may have been stolen.  Can also try internet search to check the serial number if the camera was stolen. 
    4. Serial number:  For D300:
i.      2xxxx japan
ii.      3xxxx USA
iii.      4xxxx Europe
iv.      5xxxx Canada
v.      6xxxx Asia/australia
vi.      8xxxx UK

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