The Problem of Unloading Old Gear

Recently, I almost talked myself into buying a new camera; I’d been wanting to switch my travel setup from Sony APS-C over to Nikon and the new Z50. But then I thought about all the used gear I’d have to sell to rationalize this move, and my enthusiasm fizzled out.

Yes I actually own this camera.

Acquiring new camera gear has never been easier; but it seems like unloading used has never been harder. If your setup includes a few lenses, no one will want the whole enchilada; you’ll have to move it piece by piece. None of your friends or relatives want it; they all have smartphones. That leaves 2 options: camera stores, and online markets.

Of course I’ve carefully preserved every bit of packaging, all the manuals, the lens bags and both end cap – and I think I can find it all. That’s just the start.

There aren’t many local camera stores left; the only one in my area is way on the other side of the city, in a congested maze of suburban malls. If the “used gear guy” is in, he’ll look at my spotless, neatly boxed equipment and offer maybe half of what I could get online. Unless they already have too much used gear on hand.

Ebay, you say. I’ve sold stuff there for years and about half the time I end up resolving to never sell there again no matter what. It’s not just the hassle of getting nice looking photos of everything , or the tedious and ever-changing listing procedure; it’s dealing with the flakes, scammers and PITAs that are drawn to this weird and creepy online market.

CraigsList is like Ebay, except the flakes, scammers and PITAs come right to your door. That is, if they actually show up at the agreed time. And sure, I’ll take a personal check for $500 from a guy who seems to be living in his car.

Some time ago, intending to sell a nice lens for a fair price, I paid for a month’s listing in the Buy/Sell forum of a “Well Known Photography Site”. For $30 I got a parade of tire-kickers who messaged me with “How sharp is this lens?”, “Is it still available?” and “Please post full resolution sample images”. One guy actually wanted me to shoot some sort of test grid so he could evaluate the corners.

So I reluctantly listed on Ebay, with the clear statement “will ship ONLY IN THE U.S. and ONLY via USPS Priority Mail”. And wham, a guy in Kowloon swooped in and clicked “Buy It Now”. Aaaargh. What should I do? The process for disputing a transaction takes weeks, and you can’t relist in the meantime; I decided to ship. This turned out to require US Customs forms, which I found online and printed out – in triplicate – and a really keen official plastic “Customs pouch” that the forms need to be in, which I had to order from USPS and which took 10 days to arrive – and some other special packaging hoo-ha which I’ve forgotten. After I jumped through these hoops and sent it off, I got a message from the guy: “Oh and please ship to this new address”. I replied – no can do, fella. I never heard from him again …

The basic problem of course is oversupply. There are fewer ‘real photographers’ every year, and as they buy new gear, they create an ever-bigger pile of old stuff that fewer and fewer people want. Camera makers increasingly focus on pros and ‘enthusiasts’ who only want the latest stuff; people who once bought used cameras now buy new phones.

For guys like me, the inability to unload the old becomes a strong disincentive to buying the new.

Do you have an Ebay or Craigslist horror story? Share it in a comment. Oh and I have a spotless Sony a6300 and several lenses to go with it… if you know anyone…

UPDATE: looks like the action – for current gear anyway – is moving to and similar businesses that will buy used equipment for what they think it’s worth, after you take the leap of faith and ship it to them. I sold something to them, and I got enough, and it was easy. You won’t get as much as if you trolled it on Ebay for 3 months, but hey – it’s time to move on…

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