The used-kit market has exploded in recent years, with high-quality products becoming available at affordable prices and the risk being taken out of trading by the major dealers.
WORDS : TERRY HOPE
I HEARD AN ANALOGY the other day about used kit, which compared the acquisition of camera gear with what you might go through if you’re looking to upgrade your car. Plenty of people will go for brand-new motors, of course, but there has always been a strong secondhand side to this business, and it’s relatively painless to trade your vehicle in for something newer, with all kinds of credit options in place to ease the financial hit.
Given that this template works so well in the automotive business, why shouldn’t it work in exactly the same way where photographic equipment is concerned? Increasingly, that’s exactly what is happening, as the used-gear side of the photographic retailing business is becoming assimilated into the general day-to-day stock transactions. So, instead of a window exclusively full of shiny new kit, it’s now completely normal to find a mixture of new and used side by side, and the same applies to a retailer’s website, where there’s little differentiation between products that are still fresh in their box and others that might have had some previous use.
Back to the cars for a moment and you would expect to find used vehicles to be in a good, usable condition, with details such as mileage and servicing history freely available and a warranty in place to cover breakdowns once you’ve driven off the concourse. Similarly, it’s now fairly universal for cameras to be sold with numbers of shutter activations supplied and a guarantee that if anything goes wrong in the months after purchase that there will be a stress-free process in place to ensure a replacement or repair.
While the secondhand side of photographic retailing has always been around, it’s only really in recent years that it’s truly taken off, to the point where it’s now making up a sizeable chunk of the turnover of many establishments. Similarly, trading up to newer gear has now become an accepted way of keeping your kit up to date without necessarily paying the skyhigh prices that the early adopters have to expect. Why is it now such big business? There are some very good reasons for this, and much of it is tied into the favourable conditions that are currently in place.
“Everything tends to go in cycles, ” observes Jason Mitchell, MD of partexchange specialist Camera World. “When the first lockdown happened, it was a shock to everyone and people tended to react by battening down the hatches and cutting their spending right back, since they were scared by what was happening. By the time the second lockdown came around, people knew more about what to expect and there wasn’t so much uncertainty. They could also have some savings, since they might have had to cancel holidays and expensive treats such as eating out. The British tend to be a nation of shoppers, so we saw people going online and spending more of this cash they might have available on such things as secondhand photographic gear.
“At the same time, there weren’t, understandably, many new camera launches going on and so used kit became more attractive, but it did mean that we old out much of our inventory and there wasn’t much trade-in coming in since people couldn’t buy new product. That’s now changed again and we’re back up to a reasonable level of used stock, helped by deals from some of the big manufacturers to encourage people to buy new kit. We’re offering a deal at the moment, for example, where someone trading in a piece of secondhand kit against a Canon EOS R5 or R6 will get a £250 bonus on top of the valuation we’re offering them, which encourages sales of new cameras but also boosts the trade-in side of things.”
Park Cameras is offering similar deals on cameras such as the Nikon D850 and D780 right now – both with £180 trade-in bonuses – and across the industry there will usually be trade-in offers available that, by their very nature, will be fluid and changeable, and so it’s just a case of keeping an eye out for them.
Coming of Age
As a sign of just how important the whole used-kit scene is these days, Park Cameras has created a dedicated position of used product manager to look after this side of things, a post that’s occupied by Aaron Brigden, who is enthusiastic about the whole business of selling used kit and the trade-up potential it offers to professional photographers.
“One of the reasons that used kit is so popular now is the fact that digital photography came of age some time ago,” he says, “which means that even some of the older products are still well specified and can do a good job for the professional photographer. Take the Canon EOS 5D, for example: this was introduced as long ago as 2005 and yet it comes with a 35mm full-frame sensor and can still fetch up to nearly £300 in a good used condition.
“Sony Alpha cameras are also a good example of used cameras that are really popular. With updates being introduced by Sony pretty much every year, it’s meant that there are some really well-specified models that are now discontinued and these will invariably sell within a couple of days of us putting them up on the site.”
Interestingly, many used kit stockists are discovering these days that film cameras are shooting up in value as a new generation discovers what they have to offer, and some professionals are basing a bespoke service around them that reinforces their artisan credentials. Clearly, there is a limited supply of good-quality cameras such as Olympus OM-1s and Nikon Fs, while medium-format models from just can’t get enough to meet the demand. That’s reflected in the prices too: to give some idea, a Bronica ETR-Si kit in nice condition was selling at £299 two years ago, while the same camera is now selling for £450 and upwards, while a Leica M6 film body over the same period has gone from being £749 to selling for over £2,000. Prices have likewise risen steeply on the likes of Hasselblads and Mamiyas.”
The retailer celebrated its 60th anniversary during the height of lockdown last year and has a long and proud history of dealing in secondhand kit that the likes of Hasselblad and Bronica are particularly desirable, and so if you might have a few of these tucked away in the back of a cupboard it could be the springboard to raising the cash for some modern digital gear that could benefit your business.
Camera World and Park Cameras both testify to the increasing level of interest in film, something that’s also been the experience for Inverness-based retailer Ffordes. “We are looking for anything film at the moment,” confirms manager Alister Bowie. “Everything mat and large format, wejust can’t get enough to meet the demand. That’s reflected in the prices too: to give some idea, a Bronica ETR-Si kit in nice condition was selling at £299 two years ago, while the same camera is now selling for £450 and upwards, while a Leica M6 film body over the same period has gone from being £749 to selling for over £2,000. Prices have likewise risen steeply on the likes of Hasselblads and Mamiyas.”
The retailer celebrated its 60th anniversary during the height of lockdown last year and has a long and proud history of dealing in secondhand kit that predates many of its rivals. “We’ve got a tradition of doing things the other way round to most dealers,” says Alister. “Our founder Reg Byford’s plan when he started the business up in 1960 was to put used gear first and new second. I believed then, and we still believe today, that you can get better value for money with pre-owned equipment, because it enables you to get more for less while delivering the same quality. Customers also know that we’re picky with the quality of our used stock, as we don’t want to waste anyone’s time should they need to return it.”
Carl Cresswell is the manager of London Camera Exchange’s Chichester branch and he’s witnessed first-hand the growth of the used-kit side of the business over the past two to three years. The retail chain, which boasts 26 outlets and recently moved to employee ownership, has a vast inventory of used kit and the secondhand presence is pronounced on the company website, from where there is a direct link from the home page to the latest used kit that’s in stock, plus a separate section headlined ‘We Buy Cameras,’ which leads to a very straightforward explanation of how photographers can trade in their gear.
“We tell people what we’re selling and what we’re looking to buy,” says Carl, to view kit in the flesh and this is a big attraction for some, who appreciate the personal service and the tactile nature of being able to physically handle kit. This, in turn, does potentially raise issues in the current Covid-aware environment, but reputable secondhand specialists take good care to clean everything that comes in while some, such as Park Cameras, also leave kit to stand for 72 hours to make doubly sure that it’s safe to handle. “and those who enter their details will be contacted by a personal email or a phone call. During the first lockdown, people were buying online but we weren’t taking stock in and we almost ran out of gear to sell, but things have really picked up since
we reopened our stores a couple of months back and we’ve now got a really good range of secondhand stock to offer.”
Having a number of physical stores means that it’s possible for photographers to view kit in the flesh and this is a big attraction for some, who appreciate the personal service and the tactile nature of being able to physically handle kit. This, in turn, does potentially raise issues in the current Covid-aware environment, but reputable secondhand specialists take good care to clean everything that comes in while some, such as Park Cameras, also leave kit to stand for 72 hours to make doubly sure that it’s safe to handle.
Buying and Selling Online
Online giant MPB were one of the instigators of a more relaxed approach to buying and selling kit, offering a genuine alternative to auction sites where there are potential dangers lurking from scammers and you take a chance that the gear that turns up is as described and in good working order. The concept that you can invest in used kit without ever laying hands on it is an intriguing and fairly recent one and it’s crucial that it’s based on trust, and this is something MPB has worked very hard to establish over a number of years.
“We have a team of specialists who thoroughly check, test and grade each item against a set of strict criteria, ” says Patrick Williamson, MPB’s global head of media. “This involves technical checks, functionality of all modes, a cosmetic overview and shutter/hour count checks, and we also take photographs of each individual item you see on the platform. This means you can see the actual product
you’re buying, alongside all the information about what it comes with, plus we offer a six-month warranty for everything we sell for added peace of mind.”
Professionals, it appears, have warmed to this very straightforward method of trading up their kit and, with few people these days having much time to spare, it’s a way of going through the process without having to physically travel to a location to hand over and pick up kit. Everything is run out of a vast warehouse near Brighton, where boxes and boxes of carefully processed kit is stored, and the operation is slick, finely tuned and generally capable of lighting-fast turnaround times.
“We do see a lot of trading behaviours among our pro customers, ” says Patrick, “and they are increasingly aware of the value of the gear in their kitbag and are thinking about using it as a way of funding their next piece of kit, which is a really sensible way to approach things. With our instant valuations, it’s really easy for them to know what their gear is worth at any point in time and since pros never like to be without a camera for long, we ensure it only takes a couple of working days before their new equipment is back in their hands.”
At the moment, the most popular models being sold by MPB are the Canon 5D MkIII and MkIV, which are classics and never out of the company’s top seller list, plus the Canon EOS R. On the Nikon front, hot right now are the Z 6 and the D750, with the Sony Alpha 7 III and Fujifilm X-T3 also really popular choices. Particularly in demand for selling are models such as the Canon EOS R6, Nikon Z 6II and the Sony A1, while on the lenses front it’s the Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM, Fujifilm XF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 R LM OIS WR and the
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS.
“Lenses are always hugely popular, and we actually trade more lenses than bodies, ” says Patrick. “There is a huge choice of optics in the secondary market, which is great for buyers, and they also hold their value really well over time, meaning we can offer good prices to sellers. Accessories are also popular items for us, but they don’t hold their value so well, so it’s worth considering buying used if you might want to sell them on in the future.”
Another giant that has built a big used-gear reputation in recent years is filmmaking specialist CVP which, alongside its huge range of secondhand stock, also offers clearance products at
greatly reduced prices, which are generally pieces of kit from the company’s showroom and studio that has been tested and evaluated and has therefore been unboxed and can no longer be sold as new.
Meanwhile, the used section of its website is home to a vast range of kit that’s been pre-loved, and everything being offered has been put through a rigorous evaluation and testing process by in-house ProRepairs engineers and is supplied with a warranty. Not only does this make the purchase of used kit a risk-free process, but CVP also offers a range of 0% finance deals on orders over £1,000 ex-VAT.
How to Sell
All of the dealers here go the extra mile to ensure that it’s as easy as possible for photographers looking to sell or trade up their kit to do business. It’s worth perusing the individual websites to get the full picture, but generally you need to self-evaluate your kit honestly using the guidance supplied to arrive at a condition, and this is then shared online in a simple form. An offer will then be made and, if this is acceptable, kit will either be collected by a courier if it’s high value or a free label will be supplied so that the kit can be dropped off at a local DPD collection point.
On arrival, the offer will then be verified and usually this is a non-committal process, so that the photographer can ask for the kit to be returned if, for any reason, they no longer wish to proceed with the sale. On occasions, it’s not up to the condition level that’s been stated and the price comes down, but more often the kit is actually better than stated and the price will consequently go up.
For those who regularly trade up, the process becomes second nature and it takes just a few days either for money to appear in an account or for the kit that a photographer has acquired to appear. It’s a simple way of updating gear, it works really well for the modern professional and it’s risk free and means you can buy and sell from stores maybe hundreds of miles away.
There genuinely has never been a better time to explore what the used market has to offer you, and if you’re a professional on a budget looking to stay ahead of the game on the technical front then it can be a brilliant way to upgrade.
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