Average prices of camera bodies and lenses in Singapore tend to be a little on the high side. Many shops charge a premium on bodies compared to US and one can save as much as 30-40% on second hand gear. Also, warranty in Singapore lags far behind that in the US and your new gear may not remain protected for long. As a result,  some do try their luck with pre-loved camera gear.

Many of my friends and juniors in the NUS photographic society have asked me how to check lenses and bodies before buying. Here i will be detailing some key things to check for camera bodies, followed thereafter by lenses and flashguns/speedlights.

Checklist for camera bodies :
1. When you first handle the camera,  does it have any obvious cosmetic flaws? While I’m no stickler for pristine external condition (DSLRs generally can take a beating,  check out the video by DigitalRev showing how they abuse a 550D ) alarm bells should be ringing when you see dents in the body. It might have suffered a nasty drop in the past and could be surviving on spit and guts.

2. Shake the camera gently. Are there any loose screws moving about inside? DSLRs are tightly engineered equipment, there should be no loose parts or screws in the body.

3. Check the mirror and the viewfinder using a torch. There should be no fungus on the surface of either. Small dots of fungus or the nasty spider webbed fungus should be observable with direct light. Dust is usually not a big issue unless it is so thick you can cut it with a knife :).

Check the viewfinder to see if it has any obvious flaws

4. Check all the dials. These are your bread and butter for changing settings on the camera. These include the front and rear dials,  the mode dial (sometimes absent,  especially on pro grade bodies, D700, D3 and their updated models).
The dials should be nice and fluid,  especially if the camera has been a real workhorse for its former owner. Stiff dials can mean either the camera hasn’t been used much or the dial is getting stuck.

mode dials
check that the mode dial turns smoothly and any changes register on the camera,

5. Check the buttons. Most should be easy to press, and responsive to the touch. Bodies like the D3 have extremely sensitive shutter buttons,  the photo should be taken with the slightest of touches.
Buttons which are stuck should be flagged out to the owner. Depending on how important the button function is,  you may choose to ignore the defect but do haggle with the owner for a corresponding price reduction.

6. Check the flash. Obviously,  it should fire without a hitch. If the body is capable of the Nikon Creative Lighting system,  try to activate it. I have encountered a D800E failing to trigger an SB900 using the commander mode. Do take note.

7. Check the autofocus on a working lens. For bodies without a screw drive,  just use a lens with an inbuilt AF motor. For bodies with the screw drive mechanism, use both an AFS lens and an AF lens to test the body’s AF.

annotated screw drive
Note if your camera has a screw drive mechanism that can power the AF type Nikon Mount lenses.

8. Lastly check that the 4 primary modes, ie,  Manual,  Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Program mode,  works with your lens.

9. Check all ISO settings. ISO basically means the sensitivity of the sensor to light. Just switch the ISO settings and take photos of your surroundings.

These are the steps I will follow whenever i acquire a pre-loved piece of gear. Let me know if there is anything else one might need to look out for when purchasing second hand camera bodies.

My next post will deal with how one should check lenses before purchase.