Checking second hand quipment

I'm buying some cameras, lenses and stuff from the local photographers faire. Please tell me how can I check if it is good condition. TIA!

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My checklists

It is hard to judge test images by looking at the camera's small LCD screen. It is better to download test pictures to a lap top for evaluation. So when checking out equipment, always bring a lap-top computer with card reader and a memory card. For checking a camera, you should also bring a lens with auto-focus you trust, for checking out a lens or flash bring your own camera, for checking out a lens bring an ordinary flash-light, for checking out the colour temperature of an old flash a WhiBal card is indispensable.

Do these checks for all types of equipment:

  1. Ask for a copy of the original receipt. If the seller can't produce the receipt, you may be buying stolen goods.
  2. Ask whether the equipment comes with its original box and original accessories such as manuals, charger, caps, lens hood, diffuser, filters, etc. Finding manuals and accessories for discontinued equipment may be hard. Having them also shows that the seller cares about his equipment.
  3. Check exterior for marks that indicate rough treatment or damage from being dropped.
  4. Check all buttons and controls and make sure they operate smoothly.
  5. Check the heads of any screws. If these are mis-matched, scratched or chipped, there is a risk that the equipment has been repaired by non-professionals.

Checks for digital cameras:

  1. Make sure the view-finder and focus screen is clean.
  2. Make sure the dioptre control for the view-finder works.
  3. Check that the battery compartment is clean and the contacts free of corrosion.
  4. Check all the lens mount contacts and look for bent pins, dirt or corrosion.
  5. Check the lens mount (look for brassing or scratches) and be sure that the mirror box looks clean and dry (no dirt or water stains).
  6. Insert your own memory card and make sure it works in the camera.
  7. Mount your own lens. Does the camera recognise it?
  8. Test single shot and continuous shooting mode, and make sure it sounds “right”. If the shutter is dying, sometimes you can hear that it is not firing at an even pace.
  9. Does changing the aperture and shutter speed actually change the exposure?
  10. Check that all the modes on the dial work as they are supposed to.
  11. Does the LCD screens work?
  12. If the camera has live view or video, check that it works.
  13. If the camera has a pop up flash, check that it pops up when it is supposed to, and that it works.
  14. Use your own flash to check that the hot-shoe is operational.
  15. If the camera can do remote TTL control flash, check that it works (if you have the means to do so).
  16. Take one completely black (with lens cap on) exposure of about 1/4 second. Make sure dark-frame noise reduction is off. Examine it on the lap-top for hot pixels.
  17. Shoot a well defined high contrast subject with your own lens to confirm that the auto-focus is properly calibrated. When testing focus, make sure you are shooting at close, medium and infinity distance. Focus accuracy may vary depending on the distance from the subject to you. Use the lap top you brought to examine the test pictures.
  18. Make sure the battery charger works.

Checks for lenses:

  1. Shine the flash-light through the lens so that you can see the inside check for scratches, fungus, dust and anything out of the ordinary. Unless the lens is brand new, some dust is normal. Fungus, however, is not. I never buy anything with fungus.
  2. Angle the glass towards a light and look at the reflection. Are there any marks or swirls in the lens-coating?
  3. Check that the filter threads have no flat spots. If a filter is attached, make sure it can be removed and re-attached.
  4. Check the lens mount (look for brassing or scratches).
  5. Check the electrical contacts. Make sure the pins are not loose or corroded.
  6. Check for cracks in the plastic, in particular close to any moving parts.
  7. Test the lens' auto-aperture by toggling between stopped down and opened up to make sure the aperture blades aren't sticking.
  8. Mount it on your camera. Give it light nudges left and right, up and down. Make sure it mounts properly and stays fixed, and that there are not any error messages.
  9. If the lens has a focus scale, check that the scale matches what the lens is doing (i.e. if you're focused on infinity make sure the focus scale shows infinity).
  10. In manual focus, make sure the focus ring turns smoothly.
  11. If it is a zoom lens, make sure the zoom ring turns smoothly.
  12. Shoot in aperture priority mode and use the histogram to verify that the aperture is accurate.
  13. Make sure that it operates properly on your camera. If it is an electronic lens, make sure there is good contact and that auto-focus, aperture control and stabilisation (if appropriate) works well. When in-lens stabilisation is engaged, you should be able to see the effect in the viewfinder.
  14. Set the lens to infinity focus and focus on something close. Is the AF as fast as it is supposed to?
  15. Shoot a well defined high contrast subject to confirm that the auto-focus is properly calibrated. When testing focus, make sure you are shooting at close, medium and infinity distance. Focus accuracy may vary depending on the distance from the subject to you.

Checks for flash:

  1. Make sure that the flash you buy is compatible with your camera with respect to trigger voltage electrical connections, and operational modes.
  2. Check that the battery compartment is clean and the contacts free of corrosion.
  3. Check the battery contacts and make sure that they are not bent or dirty.
  4. Check that the body, including the foot, is mechanical sound and free of cracks.
  5. If the flash has a LCD screen, make sure it works properly.
  6. Test that the recycle time is reasonable with fresh batteries.
  7. Test that the colour temperature has not shifted. To do this, photograph a WhiBal-card or a neutral grey surface, locking the camera's white balance on “flash”. Upload test image to the lap-top and make sure that the RGB-values are reasonable neutral.

Good luck with your purchases.

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