eBay Camera Buyers Beware

1 pound of fury
Creative Commons License photo credit: jj look

I’ve had a decently positive buying experience on eBay when it comes to old cameras. I’ve purchased six cameras and four of them arrived in great condition just as the seller stated. But I was disappointed with two of them.

In both cases, the seller stated “Camera is in good working condition. Now generally, if I see that I’ll assume that the camera is operational in every aspect and that I won’t have to pull it apart to fix it. But I guess the phrase “good working condition” is open to interpretation.

The first camera had a screwed up rangefinder with sticky joints and a half-silvered mirror with far less than half the silver left on it. I got the sticky joints fixed, but the half-silvered mirror is probably worth more than what I paid for the camera — so now it’s a nice little viewfinder camera that has to be used at f/16 to ensure focus.

The second camera (which I just received in the mail) was in far worse shape. The latch mechanism for the film compartment door is totally beefed up. It holds the door closed as long as you don’t touch the camera. And the viewfinder… well, it’s more than a little foggy. Oh yeah, and the focusing ring feels like it’s running on sandpaper. So I’ll be pulling this one apart to see what I can do with it. But, for a $10 camera I’m not too disappointed — I just wish the seller’s description was a little better.

The point of my whole rant: “good working condition” on eBay doesn’t always mean that the camera is in good working condition. Many times, the people selling the camera know nothing about cameras so they really wouldn’t know the difference. Anybody else have bad experiences with eBay camera purchases? Do share.

22 thoughts on “eBay Camera Buyers Beware

  1. Janne

    I would never, ever buy anything off Ebay. It’s dicey enough to buy used stuff unseen from someone else in your own country; from another country you basically have zero possibility for recompense if there is a problem. Not to mention that the freight cost alone most likely makes cheaper purchases a net loss to try to return anyhow.

  2. Joseph Szymanski

    I’ve had great luck on ebay, and probably bought and sold at least three systems on ebay over the years. I did get burned once, but I was expecting it, and wasn’t really that disappointed as I was able to fix the issue anyhow.

    That said, I hear a lot of horror stories about people getting taken for a ride. It helps to stick with a handful of sellers that you know are reputable.

  3. Andrew

    Now that you mention it i have a had few bad experiences with sellers on eBay as well with cameras (especially with cameras)

    Recently i thought it would be kind of fun to play with an older elan (with eye detection focus) and once again the seller stated “in good working condition” upon receiving the camera it would hardly focus, let alone be capable of detecting where i was looking. so i thought well that was kind of a bummer, but none the less thought it might be worth using for manual focus but the cameras automatic rewind would kick in and rewind all of the film after it had taken only 5 pictures, what a waste!

    The other bad experience i have had (which should have been enough) was a few years back when i was just getting into digital i thought i would buy the original rebel with one of those packages with an extra lens, tripod, a memory card, a hard case, and a soft case so i researched a great deal of time trying to find the best deal i could find. the seller had nearly 100% positive feedback and i was very pleased with what i was seeing, so i ordered the camera and not only did i not receive any of the extra accessories as stated in the description but it turned into one of those scams (bait and switch) the only item i received was the actual body, no battery, no 18-55, and no battery door! so i called the company,thinking that there had been some kind of mistake, but sat on hold for nearly an hour only to talk to someone who wanted me to pay $70 for the battery door and another $150 for the battery! now you might be thinking to your self, well if your looking at a deal that is too good to be true than chances are it is, but the fact of the matter, is that the package i had tried to purchase was about the same price as i had seen it other places on the internet as well, so needless to say i returned the camera and had pay pal refund the money, and i notified the Better Business Bureau

    With that said i don’t believe ill be buying any more expensive electronics from eBay, which is a shame because I’m sure there a lot of other reputable companies selling cameras on eBay…

  4. Chung Nguyen

    I LOVE eBay. I think that’s because I know the system pretty well and how it works. Plus, I hardly ever get sucked into the bidding wars, rendering any “deal” to be had pointless. No gripes from it at all, and I’ve purchased two camera systems ($500+) from eBay with no problem.

  5. Brian Auer Post author

    @Janne It’s not all bad. I got my Minolta Autocord from eBay and it’s in excellent shape and produces tack sharp images. And yeah, eBay kinda sucks when you don’t live in the US since that’s where most of the sellers are from.

    @Joseph It helps when you’re a master of the camera repair too. I’ve got a ways to go before I’m comfortable stripping down an entire camera (like you). But with these cameras that don’t work as shipped, I figure I can’t make things any worse.

    @Andrew Further proof of the “good working condition” phenomenon.

    @Chung I tend to find that the more expensive cameras found on eBay are from reputable sellers who know what they’re selling. It’s the folks that are selling these old cheapies who don’t have a clue.

  6. the_wolf_brigade

    I buy from ebay a *lot*. If I’m ever in doubt I email instructions to the seller on what to test but in such an obscure manner that it won’t make sense to anyone else but me. That way I know if the camera works or not.

    However….I sold a rare lens once. The guy emailed me demanding a refund because of some *damage*. I know it was mint when I sold it but I didn’t have photos of every single angle to prove it so I had to refund the money and get him to return the lens. When he sent it back he sent lots of other *gifts* to say thanks for being such an honest seller. I know he damaged it but I couldn’t prove it. I also know he felt bad about ripping me off….I ended up reselling on ebay for almost double what he paid for anyway :D

    @Brian: With your rangefinder that didn’t have much silver, have you tried the permanent marker tick? If you put a dot on the mirror it functions in the same manner as a diamond. Some people use it on patches that have almost gone on the Yashica Electro 35 GTS/GTNs.

  7. libeco

    @ Brian “And yeah, eBay kinda sucks when you don’t live in the US since that’s where most of the sellers are from.”

    Not completely true. I use eBay to buy new products (we have a simillar site here in Holland for used material which is actually owned by eBay) only. When I buy, it’s usually from either China or Hong-Kong. Since the dollar is worth way less than it used to it’s much cheaper to buy a product in dollars. Now that the Pound is also loosing its value it might also be a good idea to buy from the UK.

    However shipping rates often make the price a little higher (but still lower than buying in Holland in expensive Euros). I do have to say I only bought smaller Photographic equipment from Asian countries, but I did buy my 24-105L IS USM from an English eBay store (although he imported it from Japan).

    The main problem with eBay are the taxes for importing products from foreign countries outside the EU, I have no idea what the maximum amount is so I won’t go to expensive…

  8. EnonOrez

    I’ve had mostly good experiences on Ebay but have only bought one camera there. Unfortunetly I wish I hadn’t. I bought a brand new Nikon D80 from a dealer in N.Y. at a good price. Afterwards I found out that the camera was intended for sale outside the U.S. ONLY. That means Nikon won’t honor the warranty if something should go wrong with it. I didn’t even know there were cameras built for the U.S. and different ones for the rest of the world. How crazy is that.

  9. Janne

    “I didn’t even know there were cameras built for the U.S. and different ones for the rest of the world. How crazy is that.”

    There aren’t. Apart from a possible different badge and packaging (some stuff is named differently depending on the market) it’s almost always identical. But US laws apparently allow companies to draw this distinction, so there you are.

  10. Enon Orez

    “There aren’t. Apart from a possible different badge and packaging (some stuff is named differently depending on the market) it’s almost always identical.”

    Well I guess there ARE seeing that the Nikon customer service department told me that the camera I bought wasn’t intended for sale in the U.S. I didn’t mean that they were put together differently only that they were built for sale in different parts of the world. Apparently they can tell that by the serial number.

  11. Air Jordans

    Good tips. I stopped trusting eBay a couple of eyars ago. Especially with high end electronics and cameras. The internet has the best deals but eBay is not worth the risk, IMHO.

  12. Ajith Edassery

    I have been a victim of online purchase of camera and accessories on ebay and otherwise. But this was not really old accessories but new one. The latest issue was with the memory cards that would not function sometimes due to access errors. Once, a bunch of images got wiped out for no reason. However, the online vendor was kind enuogh to send replacements though I ended up loosing on express shipping charges.


  13. Johnny Cosmo

    A little while back I ordered an older laptop from ebay that was advertised as good working condition. When I got it there were bits of plastic missing from the corners, the clip was missing from the lid and the end of the power adapter was stripped and covered with electritians tape. If that info had of been in the listing I never would have ordered it. What really bummed me out is that I ordered it for my dad so I was really embarassed giving it to him.

  14. Mattias Wirf

    I buy some from international ebay and a lot from swedish ebay, and I never had any big problems. I often get a positive surprise, things that’s said “not tested with film” and “sold as is” and so one arrive as new. But I guess I mostly try auctions where I can see a lot on the images, where the item is not to expensive and where the seller has a very good reputation.

  15. R C Parsons

    I’m a little late on this thread but….several years ago I bought a “mint-like new Nikon D1X” on Ebay from a chiropracter in Arizona. When it arrived it looked like a AP/UPI veteran of the Iraq war and had a broken battery latch to boot. I immediately emailed the guy to tell him I didn’t want it and he became very abusive, called me a nitpicker and when I questioned the description he told me that a “professional working at a local camera store ” had graded it so I was way off base. After a number of less than pleasant emails(threatening legal action) he agreed to let me return it but dinged me for $300 shipping and a nattery latch repair which I agreed to to at least get part of my money back ($1500). Later i gave him negative feedback and EBAY pressured me until I withdrew it. The moral: LET THE BUYER BEWARE and don’t count on any help from EBAY.

  16. Oliver

    Yeah, it’s silly how careful you have to be on eBay these days… people using their dodgy wording etc… I got ripped about £400 quite a while ago now, and the police are onto it still at the minute, just because someone’s account got hacked… so I think that eBay really need to buck up their ideas and make their sites a bit more secure.

    It’s true, you’ll find the cheapest things on eBay, but you have to be careful and buy off people with a lot of feedback on similar kind of things… and if you can, then try and pick up the items instead of having them shipped to you! :)

    Good luck and keep safe, thanks for the post :)

  17. Amanda

    I’ve not bought a camera from e-bay but I’ve bought Handphone which was also stated the same remarks as yours “good working condition”. It was in bad condition and I was a bit disappointed with it. So, buyers on e-bay, don’t trust too much on the product description. Beware!!

  18. Tom Becker

    EBay shmeebay! I’ve spent the last several weeks looking for a used camera body to act as replacement for my old Olympus OM-1 system. After spending hours and hours researching the available listings, I’ve actively followed a number of possible cameras, most of which are not just a body but include a standard or zoom lens, as well. Every time I get really interested in a camera that is in excellent shape, cosmetically and functionally, there is an automatic bidding war and the camera goes for twenty or thirty or even forty dollars more than it’s really worth. Factor in the ever-increasing shipping costs, which some of the sellers obviously abuse (I’ve seen these cameras ship for anywhere from six bucks to fifteen), then you’re talking about some real money for a thirty-year-old film camera that, let’s face it, is obsolete. The only thing holding back the digital revolution, as far as serious photographers go, is the ridiculous price of digital equipment and accessories, the fact that you give up all sorts of control in favor of convenience aimed primarily at the point and shoot moron crowd, and that film cameras are much better tools, even given the fact that the film technology is being phased out by the corporatist scumbags who try to control everything and everyone. God, I hate them, but that’s another story. The worst aspect of eBay, however, is that it is almost impossible to win an item if you don’t have a super fast, spanking new computer and high speed internet service. I see these guys making last second bids every few seconds while it takes me ten or fifteen minutes to sign in, go to the listing of interest, and make just one lousy bid. If I could get in the winning max bid five minutes before the auction closes, I’d be incredibly lucky. That means I must overbid for the item by tens of dollars just to have a slim chance of winning. To do that, I must assume that one of the competing bidders is NOT a shill bidder, and frankly, I don’t believe it. If you think buying off eBay is a pain in the ass, try selling there. I attempted to make my first sale and couldn’t even get my listing up after three weeks of working on it. Their “confirmation process” didn’t work and when you complain, only a bot answers your complaint in an email that instructs you to do precisely what you’ve already done ten or fifteen times already. In short, eBay sucks, bigtime. They appear to be trying to improve it but it is hopelessly skewed for rich bidders with fast new computers, the highest of high speed internet, and so much disposable income that they can make their maximum bid so high that no one else can touch it, then they walk away from the auction and aren’t even there in the final moments, stopping by in their own good time to pick up their easily won items. Like the rest of this grotesquely unfair country we live in, the rich boys win every time, and when they don’t, some corrupt official or happenstance steps in to reverse “the mistake” and to ensure “the proper outcome.” EBay is nothing but a shill for the rich. As for the author of this blog starting in serious photography in 2003, all I can say is, I started in 1974. I’ve got a few years on ya, hey boy. Maybe I know something you don’t, whaddya think?

  19. R C Parsons

    Tom Becker…..I’ve bought and sold hundreds of photographic items on EBAY and have had but 3 or 4 negative experiences. Sure , you have to use a littlle common sense but frankly that’s something that should be a prerequisite for buying anything anywhere…not just on EBAY. I don’t see how you can malign people with decent computers , and characterizing digital photographers as ‘morons” seems a bit hypocritical to say the least. I switched to digital because IMHO it’s better and I no don’t think of myself as a “newbie” next to your vast experience. I have been a nationally published working pro for nearly 40 years. shooting everything from 8X10 film to now digital. I started my photographic career in Vietnam in 1966 so “i guess I got a few years on ya , hey boy, maybe I know something you don’t, whaddya think?” ” to borrow your quote. The point of this post is to underscore the fact that NONE of us, me included, knows everything no matter what we think!

  20. Brian Auer Post author

    @Tom I’ve purchased most of my film equipment via eBay and probably all but one or two have been outstanding experiences. And I don’t play bidding wars — I place my maximum bid on an item and I check it after the auction is over. I’ve lost a lot of bids, but I’ve also never overpaid for my stuff.

    A lot of times, you just have to get lucky if you want a good deal. My most recent camera is a good example of this. I’ve been wanting a Minolta Hi-Matic 7sII for quite some time and I happened to find one listed with a misspelling or a missing keyword or something (and it also happened to be the all black collectors edition). Needless to say, the number of bids and views were quite low on the item. I put in my max bid 2 days before the end date and I didn’t look at it again until I got the email saying I had won it (and the bid was quite low for this particular camera). I just got lucky.

    I think patience is the name of the game with eBay. Try not to get burned by getting caught up with bidding wars — just let it go. I’ve passed up far more cameras than I’ve purchased, and another one always seems to come along.

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