Eventually, the time will come when you want to sell your photography gear. This may be because you don’t use that lens anymore, you’re upgrading your digital camera to latest version, or you would rather just have the cash. In my experience, eBay is an incredible marketplace for selling your photography gear and is simply the best place to sell where you will get the top dollar for your goods.
The most important thing about selling on eBay is having an established account with excellent feedback. Nobody is going to buy a $1000 lens from someone who just joined eBay and has very little feedback. The account I use to sell has over 400 positive feedback notes with no negatives.
If you are new to eBay, developing an account will take a lot of work. You will probably want to start small selling relatively inexpensive items and gradually work your way up to more expensive goods. Make sure to retain positive feedback as even a few negatives can really hurt you. Historically, eBay had poorly designed feedback system where both buyers and sellers could retaliate against each other for leaving negative feedback. As a result almost nobody left negative feedback (even when warranted) because they would get negative feedback in response. Thus when you read the feedback scores even someone with 99.0% positive rating should be treated with caution.
How much can you get?
You can get very good prices for your used goods on eBay that are close to what it costs to buy the same item new. In a few cases I’ve gotten more than I paid for my items. Yes that’s right, my items sold for more than I paid for them new. For example, here’s a list of a few things I’ve sold in the past year on eBay:
- Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens, bought for $1450 (including the $150 rebate) and sold 5 years later for $1601.
- Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, bought for $1700 and sold 1 year later for $1671.
- Nikon SB-800 flash, bought for $360 and sold 3 years later for $380.
- Really Right Stuff L-plate, bought for $140 and sold for $128.
- Nikon D700 digital camera, bought for $3000 and sold 1 year later for $2227.
- Nikon 24-85mm consumer zoom, bought for $360 and sold 7 years later for $238.
As you can see lenses, especially the professional zooms, sell extremely well. To be fair, my sale prices have been helped by the increases in lens prices due to the rising Japanese yen (compared with the U.S. dollar). For example, the Nikon 24-70mm lens now lists for $1800 new at B&H Photo and the 70-200mm lens lists for $1950.
In my experience, consumer zooms and primes do not sell for as much but you will still get very reasonable prices. I was extremely happy to get two thirds of the new price on my 24-85mm zoom considering that I used it for 7 years and did not take especially good care of it. Not to mention that the lens has been discontinued and replaced with better options such as the 18-200mm VR dx zoom.
Personally, I would not buy a lens on eBay for the price that they sell for. To me, the risk is not worth the meager discount (if any) compared with buying from a reputable store with a good return policy. However it seems that there are lots of willing buyers which is great if you are a seller.
Digital camera bodies depreciate much more quickly, but this is understandable given how fast they become obsolete and how fast the new prices drop. Still, I was able to sell my D700 body for 75% of the purchase price after one year. From my perspective as the seller this is more than fair. At the time, the price I received for my body was about the same as a refurbished D700 from a large store like Adorama.
One thing to consider is that what your net will be somewhat lower than selling price. From the selling price you will have to pay eBay and Paypal fees which will add up to 5-6% of the selling price. Note you can setup your auctions so that the buyer pays for shipping and insurance.
How to set up an auction
When you list an item on eBay you have a lot of choices. What’s the best day and time to list the item? Should I use a reserve price? What should I start the list price for? What buy it now price should I use? Here’s what I do
- Buy it Now. I do not use the buy it now option. Every time I’ve thought about using this option the item has always sold for more than the buy-it-now price I was considering.
- Length of Auction. I always use 7 day auctions to make sure that there is enough time for people to see the listing.
- Time of day. I try to have the auction end when it is reasonable for people on the east coast and west coast to bid. Generally this means early evening, 6 or 7pm Pacific time.
- Day of the week. I like to list on Sunday or weekend evenings when people are likely to be home. I avoid having the auction end on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday.
- Reserve prices. I never use a reserve price. If I am worried that the item is too much of a specialty I just list for the minimum price that I would be okay with selling the item.
To get an idea of what the market is for your specific item, it is extremely helpful to look at the completed auctions.
How to describe an item
There’s no secret here. Give a detailed description, point out any issues/defects, and show lots of pictures. More specifically,
- List the item with exact model number. Make sure you get this right as there is a big difference between say a Canon 5D (12MP sensor) and a Canon 5D Mark II (21MP sensor).
- Describe the item in detail and point out any blemishes or defects. As a buyer, the biggest concern is that the seller may be misrepresenting the condition of the item (or omitting important information).
- State if the item is a USA or imported model. Some manufacturers such as Nikon refuse to service imported products (also known as gray market items).
- State what accessories you are including with the item. You should try to include everying that came with the item initially including the original box and instruction manual. I think having the box is very important as it shows that you are a legitimate owner (i.e. you didn’t steal it).
- For camera bodies, state the number of shutter actuations. You can find this by using a program like EXIFTool.
- List any additional conditions you have on the sale or buyer. For example, you will only sell and ship to U.S. bidders.
- Mention any points that might increase the sales price. For example, if the item is only a few months old or if it is still covered by the warranty.
As an example, here is the description I used to sell my 24-85mm zoom lens:
Nikon AF-S 24-85 mm f/3.5-4.5G Zoom Lens
You are bidding on a Nikon AF-S 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G Zoom lens in used condition. This is a US model. Note that the lens hood fits loosely and there is some white markings on the rubber (see picture). The lens works perfectly and I used it on a D200 camera.
The lens comes with everything in the photo which includes: the lens, box, lens-hood. The UPC symbol has been cut out of the box.
Buyer must pay by Paypal with a confirmed address. The lens will be shipped insured with signature delivery. No shipping outside the United States.
You should also include lots of pictures.
- I include one picture with everything that comes with the item: box, manual, warranty cards, case, item itself.
- For lenses, I include pictures of the electrical contacts, front element, rear element, controls on the body, and any blemishes.
- For camera bodies, I include pictures from all sides (with the camera on) and pictures of the active LCD.
You should clean your items before taking a picture. Dust and grit has way of sticking out like a sore thumb on the pictures. Also, take your own pictures, don’t bother with stock photos, and especially do not use pictures from other people’s auctions (not only would this be misrepresenting your item, bidders may rightfully think your listing is fraudulent).
Shown below are the pictures I used to sell my Nikon 70-200mm lens.
There are many horror stories about eBay and Paypal on the net and I have no doubt that some honest sellers have been negatively impacted through no fault of their own. However, eBay (and Paypal) process millions of transactions and the vast majority go smoothly without any issue. For me, the benefits of using eBay vastly outweighs the risks.
You should read carefully the eBay/Paypal seller protection policies and make sure you meet all of the requirements. Thankfully, I have not needed seller protection so far. (To be honest, I am dubious as to whether the protection policies would really help me in the case of a dispute. Looking at the terms eBay states that you are not covered if “the buyer says that the shipped item is significantly not as described”. They don’t make any mention of attempting to verify the buyer’s claims…)
To minimize risk,
- I only ship to U.S. bidders with a confirmed address.
- I require insurance for anything over $100. I do not leave it as an option for the buyer.
- I ship with signature confirmation. So far, I have found USPS to be the most convenient and cheapest method.
- I have a dedicated bank account for Paypal and immediately transfer money out of it (so that Paypal cannot transfer it back).
Some people cancel bids from buyers who do not have enough positive feedback. I don’t do this simply because most of items are won by people with substantial amounts of feedback.
Alternatives to eBay
Unfortunately, there’s not many alternatives to eBay. Basically, you can either (1) use Craigslist or similar forum to sell the item locally or (2) sell the item to a local camera shop or to an online seller like KEH or Adorama.
I generally prefer to use eBay because of demand and convenience. Demand leads to the best prices which you won’t get from either Craigslist and certainly not from a camera dealer (anecdotally, friends and relatives who’ve tried to sell camera gear to a dealer were offered about 50% of the market rate). I also don’t want to use a local forum like Craigslist because of the hassle of arranging to meet with potential buyers. It is much easier to take a few pictures and then ship the item via USPS.
When the time comes to sell your photo gear, eBay is an excellent venue and attracts many buyers to help you get highest price for your goods. Although there is some risk with online transactions, as long as you take reasonable precautions you should be able to avoid any problems.