It doesn’t take a rigorous work-out, a strict diet, or plastic surgery to get the body you’ve always dreamed of. Well, at least not in the photography world. As you all know, I’ve been working with my Nikon d60 since before I started my blog back in March of 2010 (my how times flies!). I purchased the camera over a year and a half before that in June/July of 2008. At the time, it was one of the best commercial models available and it has definitely served me well (see any blog post before this one). However, since I’m working on making photography a profession rather than a hobby, it was time to find a primary camera that would help me make that jump. I debated for months over which camera would be best for me. What I wanted, besides a larger and better quality photo, was a better ISO range and more frames per second. I finally decided to go with the d300s.
Since the d300s is no longer made by Nikon having been replaced in part by the d7000, I looked primarily at CraigsList and Amazon for making my purchase. That meant the odds of the camera body being new were slim to none. Buying used equipment means there are two very important questions you need to be ready to ask before saying “I’m interested in seeing your camera”:
- How many actuations does it have?
I know I’ve mentioned this word before, but I’ll go over it again. Actuations are to a camera as miles are to a car. They can’t give you the entire picture, but they can give you an idea about how much maintenance and/or life is left in your purchase. The average life expectancy of a d300s is 150,000 actuations. 100,000 and up isn’t a good purchase. Between 100,000 and 50,000 is a decent purchase. 50,000 and below is a better purchase. 10,000 or less is like brand new. The only way to be able to check actuations right when you go to look at the camera is to bring a laptop with you.
- Why are you selling the camera?
Not to harp on the whole “your camera is like a car” comparison, but you need to be careful. People sell cars for the same reasons they sell camera equipment. Perhaps they are upgrading just like you are. Maybe they’re looking to get some much needed money. Or maybe, and this is the one you need to watch out for, they’ve had trouble with the camera in the past and can no longer be bothered to deal with it. No one selling their camera will admit the last one, so I’ll talk with you a little farther down about what you can do to make sure the camera equipment you’re about to purchase is in working condition.
The posts I made sure to respond to claimed to have 60,000 or less actuations and a price range that was beneath $1400. The posts were never up long as the demand for the d300s hasn’t been stymied despite the release of the d7000. Then, I struck gold. Someone was selling a Nikon d300s with two batteries, a CF memory card, an SD memory card, and everything else that came in the original box. The asking price was $1350. The number of actuations? Less than 8,000. Based on the numbers above, that puts it in the “practically brand new” stage. I e-mailed the seller straight away and set up a time to meet the following week. When I asked him about the reason for selling the camera, he said he was leaving the business world of photography.
The morning before I went to look at the d300s, I decided to research tips on what to look for when buying used equipment. This was a large chunk of change I was about to give to someone I didn’t know much if anything about, and I have a tendency to shoot first, ask questions later (that’s a photography joke). PetaPixel had two very informative and helpful blog posts approaching just that subject: Checklist for Buying Used Cameras and Lenses on Craigslist by Jon Martin, and A Guide to Buying Used DSLR Gear by Michael Zhang. While the first one is much more thorough, the second one lists things I wouldn’t have thought of. For example, I told you there’s no real way to check the actuations without bringing your laptop. What you can check for is the amount of wear that camera’s seen by looking at the camera strap. If it’s discolored and frayed and the person selling says the camera’s been used twice, it’s likely a lie. Anyway, I took these two posts and used it to make up a short, comprehensive list for me:
- Check the wear of the strap and for major scratches/dents on the outside.
- Check for dead pixels. Do this by setting the focus to manual with the lens cover still attached.
- Check the sensor. Is it covered in dust? Scratches? Do this by taking a photo and zooming in on the end result.
- Check the hot shoe for wear. Hot shoes have a life expectancy, too.
- Check the shutter and its ability to take continuous photos. If the rhythm is steady, the shutter is fine. If it starts to lag at the end, it’s dying.
- Check the in-house flash of the camera. Does it pop up alright? Does it work?
- Check to make sure it works with YOUR lenses and YOUR memory cards and YOUR flash.
- Ask if the seller still has the warranty and receipt from the original purpose.
For me, the sixth step was the most important. I own a Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 lens as well as a Sigma EF-610 DG Super external flash, and if this new camera body didn’t like either of those, I’d have to look into both selling and upgrading that part of my arsenal. As for number seven, I asked so I could include it in my insurance policy. Nikon warranties, as I have read through a few forums (including this one) and based on comments beneath the PetaPixel articles, do NOT transfer from buyer to buyer. In my case, it’s null and void anyway as the limited warranty offered by Nikon is only for a year and the original purchase was made a year and a half ago.
On to the main event! Today I drove into Park Slope with all of my lenses, my flash, and my list of things to look for to make this d300s mine. One piece of advice I read a little late was traveling to a local public space in order to make the transactions, just to be safe. I opted for the “bring a friend” option. Both are great ideas so try to if you can. You can’t be too safe. Anyway, I arrived at the person’s apartment and went inside. The man selling me his camera had two dogs, a wife, a clean apartment, and a full-time job in construction, all of which were great, normal, mentally balanced signs. He let me play with the camera, which I proceeded to run through my check list. The strap looked good, there weren’t any dead pixels, no major dust spots or scratches in the sensor area, the hot shoe worked well and looked clean, and it worked with my Sigma gear! The only things I forgot to do in the apartment before I left was check the rapid-fire shutter (I did it in the car and it was clean and crisp) and the in-house flash (just checked it now, it’s also in fine working order).
There were two things the seller told me before I left. The first d300s he purchased did have a sticky shutter, but that B&H (where he made his original purchase) gave him a replacement without any hassle. I think this was just in case I did have any issues in future with this camera, that maybe it’s something with the model. The second thing was that if I ever needed anything at all to feel free to contact him. He gave me his phone number, his e-mail, and his address. Now that is the sign of an awesome seller! If he had been on Amazon, I would have given him the highest rating possible. So despite the horror stories you hear about CraigsList, as long as you’re prepared and well-versed in how to make smart purchases you shouldn’t have any issues.
Later, I thought to ask the seller one last question: When was the last time the camera was serviced? The seller e-mailed me back to say he hasn’t had it serviced since he first made the purchase. I smell a future blog post coming on…
When I put the cameras next to each other, my friend exclaimed, “It’s like Baby Bear and Daddy Bear!” Yes, the size difference is the first thing you’ll notice. These two cameras are different in every way imaginable. The d300s has double the amount of frames per second (3 vs. 7), double the memory cards (1 vs. 2), a better ISO range and capability, a larger amount of pixels (10.2 MP vs. 12.3 MP), and almost twice the weight (16.1 oz vs. 30 oz) thanks to the d300s’s magnesium alloy body. Another seller had this to say about my purchase, “My first DSLR was a d60, too. Your going to love the 300s. Night and day difference. It’s nice to get away from the 3 auto-focus points of the 60.” He was exaggerating, but only slightly, as the d300s has 51 auto-focus points. All that PLUS video capability? I can’t wait to play with my new camera!
By the way, I did check the number of actuations the camera had when I got home: 7,994. Oh, the possibilities!