5 Ways to Buy Lenses for Cheap

How to affordably grow a premium lens collection for your DSLR or mirrorless kit

By: Garrett Stroup

January 17, 2020

Buying Professional Lenses

Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) is a major issue in the photography world. The grass is always greener, and ALL of the camera companies are experts at making you believe that you need the latest and greatest upgrade of your favorite lens; no matter how perfect your current "old" copy is. The new one may have a new lens coating that promises less glare, or a .01% light transmission increase. That difference will bring your photography to a whole new level! Or at least they won't stop until you believe so! And if you have been involved in professional photography at all, you know how expensive a new f/2.8 zoom lens or f/1.4 (or below) prime lens can be.

This blog post will teach you the five best ways I have learned to purchase professional-grade lenses at a massive discount, if you must absolutely scratch that itch!

1. Manufacturer Refurbished Sales

This varies by camera manufacturer, but most companies offer a means to purchase refurbished lenses at a significant discount directly from their online marketplace. One major player in this sales tactic is Nikon, who maintains a selection of current and previous-gen equipment at their Nikon USA refurbished pageIf you can get on Nikon's mailing list, they periodically offer 10-20% off their already generous refurbished prices as well! The smaller discounts occur every few months, seemingly at random. The large sales most frequently occur around the Winter holidays. Buying a refurbished lens [or camera] from the manufacturer directly is the safest way to buy used gear. In fact, I recommend this option the highest over any on this list, if the gear you are after is available.                

I bought a couple of high-dollar lenses on Nikon refurbished sales. My favorite find was a Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 E FL ED VR. At the time I purchased mine, a new copy was $2,799 + tax, bringing the total to $2,980. I managed to pick up a refurbished copy, after tax, for $2,396. What's even better? I am 99.9% sure Nikon sent me a brand new copy instead of a refurb. I spent 15 minutes searching over ever surface and tiny crevasse of the lens, and I could not find a SINGLE flaw! And I purchased my lens for only a 10% discount off the refurbished price; a 20% discount would have put my total closer to $2,100 after tax. 

A low-res snippet of one of Nikon's sales flyers can be seen below.

2. Black Friday and Periodic New Sales

Black Friday is a sure way to find deals on your desired camera gear. However, the trend of massive discounts is wavering; especially on current-gen models across-the-board. Lately, manufacturers have been offering massive discounts on previous-gen models and lenses; using Black Friday to clear out stock that didn't sell the first time around. Sony has been using Black Friday and other holiday sales to offload A7II and A7RII models. This is because the A7III, A7RIII, and A7RIV are out now, and the A7IV is coming soon. Nikon, Canon, and Fuji are known for offering massive sales not only on previous-gen, but also current models.

I plan to detail some of the brand new Fuji gear sales I caught in a future blog post.

3. eBay

eBay remains the largest consumer-to-consumer selling platform on the planet. What does that mean for camera gear? Access to the largest used market possible. Even the rarest and most niche pieces of gear can be found for auction on eBay. I know there are concerns with being scammed, with misrepresented gear, and all sorts of other possibilities. However, a vast majority of auctions qualify for eBay's Buyer Protection. This protection applies when you do not receive the item, you receive a faulty or broken item, or the item you received is not what is represented in the auction listing. Basically, you are 100% protected against scammers or honest people who were not educated on exactly what they are selling.

I have successfully purchased 4 camera bodies, 5 lenses, and a variety of flash equipment and photography accessories from eBay. In a future post, I plan to detail the best ways to avoid issues using eBay, and some tips to get the best deals.

4. Facebook Buy/Sell Groups

I am constantly surprised how much of a secret this institution continues to be, despite the Facebook groups existing out in the open. I have had many people ask me how I manage to offload so much camera gear so quickly whenever I change brands. So, if you are not aware, there are a TON of helpful buy/sell groups on Facebook! Some groups are dedicated to one particular brand, while some groups allow any well-known brand to be listed for sale.

But wait a minute, what about scammers? There are definitely scammers who are after your money mixed in with each of these groups. But, typically the scams are very transparent, and once somebody is reported to an admin or a moderator, they are promptly banned. So, just make sure to keep your wits about you, and as always in life, don't fall victim for any deals that are WAY too good to be true. They may be legitimate, but verify details about the item and purchase process with the seller beforehand. One more or less standard way to operate safely within these groups is to use PayPal invoicing. Like eBay, involving PayPal in the process [and using Goods and Service invoices] offers both Buyer AND Seller Protection. You can read more on that here. But, basically, the same terms apply as eBay. If you receive a broken or faulty item, or one that was misrepresented, you can file a claim with PayPal, and they will act as a mediator to sort out the issue.

I can vouch for PayPal's helpfulness. Before I bought my Nikon 70-200 on a refurbished sale, I purchased one that was advertised as a US Model on a buy/sell Facebook group. When I received the lens, it came with no documentation from Nikon. I asked the seller if he could provide me a receipt on the lens that verified it was a US Model, and was told that he bought it from his "friend that works for NPS," so he knows it is a US Model. I called Nikon, and while they either cannot or will not verify 100% over the phone (per company policy), they told me that particular lens was sold to Norwegian Cruise Line. Norwegian Cruise Line is operated out of Miami, so it MAY very well be considered a US Model lens. But, without 100% verification, I was uneasy holding onto the lens in case I wanted to resell it in the near future (which I did). So, I filed a claim with PayPal, and they refunded me and coordinated the entire lens return to the seller.

My experiences have overall been very pleasant using Facebook buy/sell groups for camera gear and lenses. I actually have daily push notification updates set on my phone, so I can constantly keep an eye on the items for sale in the market, and going rates, for my favorite brands.

5. Amazon Price Tracking

I am not sure how well-known this is, but you can set up Amazon price tracking e-mails using camelcamelcamel. When an item you are tracking hits a price that is at (or below) your desired price, you will receive an email alert! This is also a great way to keep track of low-key sales for your desired brand that might not be as publicized, as Amazon is generally an Authorized Retailer for all brands sold in the US, and typically goes off of the MSRP or allowed sales prices for each brand.

This paid off in a major way for consumers watching the Sony 85 f/1.8 FE lens in September of 2019. Due to a pricing mistake, Amazon accidentally priced the FE (full-frame) 85mm lens for the sales price of the crop-sensor version, at $249. This was a STEAL! Of course, this only paid off because Amazon honored their mistake, took the loss, and shipped the Sony lenses for their mistakenly low price. Recently, Adorama goofed up on their Fuji kit pricing, and accidentally allowed consumers to buy a camera body, and add EVERY SINGLE Fuji lens for $100 a piece to the bundle. Of course, the public grossly exploited this, but Adorama did not honor their mistake.

Using camelcamelcamel, you can observe historical prices on items for sale on Amazon, such as in the below image for the Sony 85 f/1.8 FE and Fuji 56 f/1.2.

Go Forth and Buy Intelligently!

I hope this article taught you something new about picking up premium photography gear for bargain prices! If you loved the article, comment below with any topic you would like to see me cover, and stay tuned for the next one!

Happy shopping!

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GES Who Photography

Dedicated wedding, event, portrait, and headshot photographer based out of St. Augustine, FL. Serving Northeast and Central Florida.
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