10 things to test before buying a used DSLR

I was recently confronted to pick a used DSLR for a friend of mine so I was busy building a list of things I should be testing in each of these digital camera before I gave my final verdict.

1. Body inspection: Let’s take out the most obvious thing first, inspect throughly the body for any trace of damage or abuse.
Minor scratches are normal and should worry you a lot, more pronounced scratches aren’t harmful either but they are story telling about the history of the camera.

2. Auto Focus accuracy: Use a lens you already know to be focusing fine and test the auto focus accuracy of the digital camera by taking some “real life” pictures of well contrasted and well lit objects using the central focus point with the lens set to its widest aperture, download the pictures to your computer and check for front/back focus. Also make sure to check that all other focus points are working, no need to test them for accuracy.

3. Sensor inspection: Shoot a defocused white wall at f/22 download the picture to your computer and check it at 100% for sensor scratches.
N.B.: Some dust spots are normal, they are often even found on brand new cameras.

4. Shutter inspection: Ideally speaking check the number of shutter actuations and compare it with the shutter life cycle of the camera you are planning to buy. If it is impossible to know the actual number of shutter actuations, inspect the shutter curtain visually for wear and damage.

5. Colors inspection: I know that colors can easily be fixed and that they are factors of a lot of things, but I have seen some DSLR which colors are really really bad, just take a couple of shots in daylight with White Balance set to Auto White Balance and check the the colors looks “normal” with no real pronounced color cast.

6. Buttons inspection: Check that none of the buttons “stick” and all work as they should.

7. Flash inspection:Check the pop-up flash (if any) and flash hot-shoe.

8. Dead Pixel inspection: Take a picture with the lens cap on. Shutter speed: 1 sec, ISO 100. Then use any dead pixel analyzer to know the number of dead pixels. Even though dead pixels are quite normal, if you get a large numbermore than 15-20 for such an exposure of dead or hot pixels resulting from this test you might want to consider another DSLR.

9. Connection inspection: Make sure all the connection of the camera are working, you can connect it to a computer to download the pictures, that the TV out connector is working, and if you can also test the remote shutter release connection.

and last but not least
10. Serial Number inspection: If you have no idea about the seller you might want to check the serial number of the camera you are about to buy against any Stolen Photography Equipment Registry like the one on Photo.net.

I would like to thank my friend Petteri Sulonen for helping me out in building this list.

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  • Nice tips…Thank you. Buying used product, needs more punctuality…The list mentioned are really great check point.

  • These are some great tips! I’ll definitely be keeping these in mind on my next camera purchase. Thanks!

  • deepakssn

    1. Take a few pictures w/ the lens. then take off the lens. there will be a mirror inside and make sure there’s no smears or dust. well, dust is normal, you can use a blower to blow that out. When you look through the view finder, check to see if you can see any visable dust. could be from the lens or the sensor. i’m sure if the guy is smart, he’ll clean everything himself before you come.

    2. There’s an ISO button to the left of the LCD screen. You can press that, hold it down, and use the scroll to the top right corner of the LCD screen to change the ISO setting from 200 all the way to 1600. Make sure that works. Ask if it’s been serviced by Nikon, since his year warrantee will expire soon. Ask apporximately how many shots he’s taken.

    3. I would test if there are scraches in the sensor first. make a photo with f22 against the sky and look to the 100% image.

    4. I would also try to see the amount of dead pixel on sensor and on LCD. Take a picture, 1 sec. at ISO 100 while the cap is closed. Then then check the image at 0 if you’ll see any blue, green or red dots…
    Have a look at the same picture on the lcd of the camera too, to see dead pixels on your lcd…

    5. Make sure you get all the accessories, battery, USB cord to connect to computer, charger, the diskette that comes w/ the camera , the manual.

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  • Creativity point is missing and it also needs for photography i mean for excellent photography that reflects reality.

    • Movers Packers in Delhi Ncr

      saying rights…….

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  • Movers Packers Delhi Ncr

    Haven't much knowledge about it, so your all tips are valuable

  • if il buy used dslr, how can i check shutter actuation if i meet the seller without having laptop? is it possible that i can check it on cam itself? thanks

  • Dove_t313

    You think a camera is just a camera? For very useful photo tips check out my site. http://iexpressphotos.com

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  • Ziaamc

    Thanks, was a great help

  • Dorcasly

    Selling a used Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 dslr camera. All the thungs to check for in this list was checked and the only thing about my dslr is that there are minor scratches on the camera but not on the lens or lcd screen. I’m selling it for SGD$300. Contact me via email at [email protected] if youre interested 🙂

  • Artis_Latvia

    Also check memory card slot. Once I wanted to buy a camera, everything was ok, but the CF card was stuck. Also check the pop up flash!