Are you interested in building up your Nikon lens collection? While there are advantages to buying pristine, new equipment, used glass can be extremely inexpensive yet optically excellent. Since you can’t always trust your source, you should go in knowing what to look for when buying used Nikon lenses!
What to Look For When Buying Used Nikon Lenses
Where Can You Buy Used Nikon Lenses?
From Craigslist to Adorama, there are quite a number of in-person and online outlets for buying camera gear. One should always try to balance price and ease with expertise and gear quality.
When it comes to buying used Nikon lenses, I prefer not to have to deal with the vagaries of eBay and other outlets. While you can get some excellent deals through that site, there’s nothing comparable to an examination by an expert. And even better if that expert offers an excellent return policy in case something was missed.
That’s why I do most of my used lens shopping on Keh.com. They offer a 180-day warranty on gear purchases, which is important considering a used lens probably has had a few owners before you. If you’re interested, I go into great detail on the entire Keh process right here!
Examining the Condition of a Used Lens
The inspection is the most important part of buying a used lens. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re setting yourself up for major problems in the future. Fortunately, I can break down this procedure for you!
The first thing you’ll want to consider is the condition of the optical elements. This means not only the front glass but any interior elements you can see as well as the rear lens element. Spend a fair amount of time inspecting the glass in good light, finding multiple angles to see if reflections and refractions reveal issues that you (or even the seller) may not have been aware of.
Some of the most common things to look out for are, in terms of severity: peeled lens coatings, scratches or scuffs on the glass, and fungus eating the glass. Peeled lens coatings may have no effect whatsoever to some effect on your picture, depending on the type of coating, how large the peeling is, and what kind of light you’re shooting in.
For this, and any glass issue, I recommend bringing your camera to mount the lens on. Take some test shots and see if any excess flare (beyond that the lens might normally create) comes into the frame. People make a big deal out of scratched glass. But even large cracks and other optical aberrations can have little to no effect on the image quality of a lens.
Still, we all prefer our gear looking as close to new as possible so hold off unless the lens is being offered at a substantial discount.
Fungus, on the other hand, is something to always avoid. Lenses that get dust and spores within the elements can have a fungus that grows slowly within the glass. This fungus is not only impossible to remove but contagious.
Mounting a lens with fungus onto your mount could spread the fungus to your other lenses. So always examine a used lens for it – it’s fairly obvious in most cases as the fungus forms spiraling white threads on either the front or rear elements of the lens. Fungus = no go, no matter how cheap the lens is.
Aperture Ring and Blades
Next, we should check the stiffness of the aperture ring and, if it’s a manual Nikon lens, see how the blades function. Sometimes the aperture rings can become too stiff or even frozen in place. You may need to mount the lens onto the camera for the aperture ring to function properly.
For DSLR and mirrorless lenses the aperture ring is an electronic one rather than a physical one. So you’ll need to mount the lens to the camera, turn the camera on, and then check to see if the aperture setting matches what your camera displays.
If you can see the aperture ring when the lens is detached, check for signs of excess aperture blade oil. This oil is used in older lenses to keep the blades lubricated and prevent rusting. A little visible aperture blade oil isn’t an issue in an older lens but too much, combined with a stuck ring, is a sign the lens needs servicing.
Mount, Zoom Ring, and Other Aspects of the Lens Body
Next, we need to examine the outer body of the Nikon lens. How well does the physical zoom ring function? Does it feel too stiff or catch at certain focal lengths? And examine the lens mount closely for scratches and other signs of misuse. Scratches and scuffs on the outer body of the lens are to be expected but cracks and other severe damage may be a sign that the lens was dropped in the past.
Does the Condition Match the Advertisement?
Keh grading chart
Last, but not least, consider the advertisement itself and whether the lens lives up to the description. If someone lists an older Nikon lens as “like new” yet you manage to find several issues that are minor but noteworthy, I’d have a hard time with that purchase. If the seller was that dishonest, what else might they not be telling you?
That said, you should also consider where you’re buying the lens from. If this is a pawn shop or flea market purchase, the seller might not even be a photographer. They may simply have found the lens somewhere, saw that it seemed undamaged, and made their best guess. But if you’re buying from a photographer, a used lens retailer, or other knowledgeable markets, their listing should be honest and factual. And, that’s why I highly recommend Keh.
I’m a big fan of buying used Nikon lenses! They are typically clean, sharp, and well cared for because people want to keep their resale value as high as possible. And you can get a hefty discount if you don’t mind some scuffs, scratches, or other cosmetic issues. So memorize this list of things to look for and shop with confidence!
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the article, in case you have any questions just drop them below & I will be happy to answer you.
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Thank you again for interesting article coming from you. I like the grading system of Keh, It really give you idea on what exactly lenses you will receive which lead to compare the prices in more efficient way. and a 180 warranty days too is a big plus. Thanks again for sharing this!
I agree Aubin! I am always a big fan of KEH. Thanks for your input.
Hi, I enjoyed this article. I must say that I wasn’t aware of Keh website before. You have introduced me into a new world of photography. Accessories can be expensive when using a quality camera like a Nikon, so it is extremely important to know as many loop holes as possible that supports your budget. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and support when looking for the best quality used Nikon lenses.
Glad that you find the article useful Tim!