When Buying an Older Model / Used Lens Makes Sense

By Sean Setters
 
When it comes to Canon lenses, newer is always better. We know that Canon doesn't typically release a lens update unless it can improve upon performance, build quality or features. It's the natural evolution of technology that we all benefit from in the long run.
 
But are there times when buying an older / used lens makes sense? I think so – and that's why I recently purchased a used Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L Tilt-Shift Lens. More on that later.
 
Here are some of the reasons why you might consider and older, used lens in place of a new one:
 
  1. Budget Constraints - Canon isn't in the habit of releasing new, better lenses at prices below their predecessors. Sometimes the increase is minimal; in other cases, the difference in price can be substantial. A new lens debuting at a significant premium over its predecessor can actually drive up the price of the older lens on the used market. However, the predecessor can [usually] still be purchased for significantly less than the retail price of a newly released lens.
  2. Limited Intended Use - I consider some lenses to be "special use" lenses, meaning I won't be reaching for them on a regular basis. If I don't plan on using the lens often, I'm more likely to make compromises on the purchase. Slightly lower IQ, more distortion, or lack of "IS" are often tradeoffs that may be tolerable if I won't be using the lens regularly.
  3. New Lens Features Unneeded - A good example of this is when Canon releases a new lens with the addition of built-in image stabilization. A couple of years ago I picked up a used EF 300mm f/4 L USM (non-IS) for around $500.00. As I wanted the lens to photograph sports, I reasoned that the image stabilization would have minimal benefit when using action stopping shutter speeds in broad daylight. I've been using the lens for two years now and it's worked very well for its intended use. If making the same purchase today, assuming you could pick up a used EF 300mm f/4 L USM for the same price, you'd save $850.00 over the after-rebate price of the IS model.
  4. Wide Aperture Performance Not a Priority - Most new lenses released by Canon display a noticeable improvement in wide-open image quality over their predecessor. But when it comes to the image quality at f/5.6 and f/8, the differences are usually much less discernible. If you don't plan on using a lens in low ambient conditions, you might find it easier to compromise wide-open image quality in the older lens.
So why did I choose to purchase a Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L that was originally released in 1991 (although mine was manufactured in 2004) over the undoubtedly better (and significantly newer) TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II? It's a combination of the reasons listed above.
 
First, I don't really plan on using the TS-E very often. Yes, I'll do a few real estate jobs with it, but it's never going to be a lens I'm reaching for on a daily basis. Also, because this lens will be used primarily for architecture, I'll be using narrow apertures more often than not making wide aperture image quality less of a priority. One relatively significant compromise I made by purchasing the older model lens was losing the ability to do tilt and shift adjustments independently of one another. By that, I mean that I can only shift at a perpendicular angle to my shift (whereas you can perform both adjustments independently of one another in the new model). But considering I picked up the lens for $620.00 and in excellent condition, the relatively small concessions I made ended up saving me $1,379.00 over the retail price of the TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II. That's no small chunk of change and the extra money in my pocket makes my concessions that much easier to live with.
 
Risks of Buying Used
 
There are always risks involved with buying used products. You may not be able to obtain satisfactory answers to questions such as, "How well was the item cared for by its previous owner(s)?" or "Is there a deficiency in the lens that is undiscernible by the product pictures shown?"
 
eBay is a great venue for purchasing used gear. However, dealing with personal sales on eBay can be challenging when/if you are unsatisfied with purchase. It's best to only bid on items from sellers with high positive feedback ratings. If the seller has a liberal return policy, that's certainly a plus. While most of my dealings on eBay have been very positive, be warned – there will always be more risk in purchasing used products on eBay compared to buying new/retail ones.
 
You can also check out B&H's Used Department. You may not save as much as you would bidding on eBay, but B&H does offer a 90-day warranty on most of their used products, meaning there is significantly less risk involved with the purchase.
 
Another risk to consider when purchasing older lenses is that Canon may not be able to service your lens if it breaks. And even if they can fix it, how much will the out-of-warranty service repair bill eat into your initial purchase savings?
 
With all things considered, though, purchasing an older model /used lens can make a lot of sense under the right circumstances – and may end up saving you a bundle in the process.
Posted: 12/2/2014 10:06:38 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
Posted to: Canon News, Nikon News, Sony News    
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