Selling Cameras: A Comprehensive Guide

At some point in your photographic journey, you're going to sell a camera. It's going to happen. And, there will be moment when you ask yourself, "where are people selling cameras these days?" We're here to save you time, trouble and money answering that question. Grab a cup of coffee because this is a more complicated topic than you may have realized.

But first, let's get the obvious out of the way. Yes, we are biased. As the first peer-to-peer camera gear marketplace, we believe there's no better way to buy and sell camera gear than doing it right here. We're also aware that although we are the newest option, there are many other long-standing ways to do this and everyone will have their preferences. We won't be discussing our service with any degree of detail in this guide (you can read about that here), instead, we'll focus on the previous options out there for selling your camera gear online.

Your Options For Selling Camera Gear

Here's a surprising fact: it's 2018 and you have very few options for selling camera gear online. Sure, there are a lot of places where you can sell, but there are only 3 ways to do it. When I decided to sell my entry-level DSLR 10 years ago, I was stuck with these 3 options and that hasn't changed today (with the obvious exception of Gear Offer).

Let's take a look at each option and how they work.

Selling Your Camera Using Classifieds

For most, this is the default way to sell a camera or lens online. And again, there are a lot of places where you can do this, but at their core, these are simple classified sites. Craig's List, Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp and online forums to name a few. On the surface, it seems like a good idea to go this route, especially if you're looking to sell locally and avoid shipping. But, as grandma used to say, "nothing good comes easy."

Let's talk about the good parts of using classifieds, because there are several. When you use a service like Craig's List or Facebook Marketplace for local transactions, you can avoid shipping your gear, get paid in-person quickly and get back to life. When these types of transactions work out, it's pretty nice. I have done many a deal this way and haven't had anything go horribly wrong.

Although this method of selling can work out and often does, it's never without hassle and you have decide if your time is worth the inherent frustration of going this route. There are several frustrations you will encounter when selling gear using classifieds. Here are the more common ones.

  • The back-and-forth emails/texts. These platforms are primitive and communicating with potential buyers is annoying to say the least. You'll get the inevitable "is it still available?" emails, the seemingly interested person who ghosts you after you provide a detailed response to their questions and of course, the guy from Nigeria who wants you to ship the item and he's even willing to pay you extra if you do (more on that later). If you happen to have a hot item for sale, good luck keeping track of the communications as they fly back and forth.
  • Sketchy meetups. Once you finally get on the same page with a potential buyer, you're going to have to arrange a time and place to meet up. Hopefully you're meeting in a public place during daylight hours and not inviting this stranger to your home. The reality of your situation when meeting a stranger is this: they know you have a high-value camera or lens with you and you know they're likely arriving with a lot of cash. There's risk involved and the potential for things to go sideways.
  • Your listing is ephemeral. On most classified sites, you post your camera gear listing, it sits at the top of a category for a few hours or days, then it gets buried under all of the newer listings until its barely discoverable by potential buyers. These platforms typically have search features, but lack any sort of curation. Buyers have to dig in order to find what they're looking for. You end up having to re-post or renew your listing periodically so it can once again be seen. If you're selling something that's niche or rare, a buyer will likely never find your listing because you'll tire of renewing it.
  • Your local market is too small. If you live in New York City or Los Angeles, the market of potential buyers is quite large. But, if you live in small town, it's going to be hard to find someone looking for a Contax T2 at just the right time. When trying to sell locally, outside of a major city, the small size of your local market can make meeting up for a sale impossible.
  • Non-local transactions with strangers. Not all classified sites are strictly for local transactions. Many people selling camera gear opt to use forums or a platform like Facebook Marketplace and ship items to buyers, even internationally. The key to this is trusting the process and ensuring you know exactly what you're doing. You have to make sure you're actually getting the funds before you ship gear to a buyer and there are some gotchas to look out for (more on that later). You are on your own here and whatever classified site you use will not help you if something goes wrong. It's the wild West.

These are just of few of things you'll encounter when selling camera gear using a classified site. Thousands of successful transactions occur this way every day and typically things don't go wrong, but there's a lot of hassle and risk involved. It works, but it's not ideal.

Online Auctions For Selling Camera Gear

Let's be real here, there's only one place you can do this: eBay. There are some big advantages to using eBay to sell your camera gear as well as some serious drawbacks. The advantage is, there are a lot of people using eBay and it's the default location to find used camera gear outside of those sites mentioned above.

If you're selling a rare or niche lens, you'll likely find a buyer on eBay, eventually. When you sell on eBay, there are protections and dispute resolution available, although these processes tend to favor buyers. Selling on eBay is not as risky as a classified site and there are ratings and reviews to promote good behavior. If you really want to get something sold, eBay has the traffic to make it happen.

Like anything, it's not all wine and roses selling on eBay. Here are some of the issues you'll encounter if you choose this platform to sell your camera gear.

  • It's hard to use. Many people despise eBay because it's difficult to use and understand. If you sell a lot of gear, you might not mind spending the time to understand their terminology, figuring out the tools and learning about the optimal ways to conduct an auction. For the casual seller, this might not be worth it. Is it better to run your auction for 3 days or 14? Should you enable buy it now or allow offers? Do you really want to auction your item at all?
  • The fees. Oh, the fees. Here's the primary turn off to selling on eBay. You're going to pay at least 10% when your item sells, plus 2.9% + .30 for payment processing. So, take 13% off whatever you were hoping to get for the camera you're selling. And, there are other fees. Sometimes there are listing fees, sometimes not. Honestly, I don't think anyone can keep track of the fees. Here's an Excel formula for you, good luck: =IF(J2<=25.01,J2*0.0525,IF(J2<=1000.01,25*0.0525+(J2-25)*0.03,IF(J2>1000,25*0.0525+975*0.03+(J2-1000)*0.015)))

Just like with classifieds, eBay handles thousands and thousands of successful transactions everyday. eBay is more secure than classified sites and has a broader audience of buyers, but it comes at a steep price. That's why it's also known as feeBay.

Selling Cameras to Re-Commerce Sites

You might wonder, what does re-commerce even mean? It's simple really, these are companies that will buy your gear from you at the lowest possible price only to turn it around on their website and sell it for a much higher price. A pretty simple business model. It's good for them, usually good for buyers, and terrible for selling gear.

I've had a great experience buying gear from KEH (one of the biggest players in this market). They have a nice grading system and they often have sales on used gear that are hard to pass up when buying. But when I looked into selling my old kit to them, I was appalled at the tiny amount of money they were going to give me for my very lightly used, popular camera kit.

Here's an example of what you can expect. I used our camera gear pricing tool to find out how much I could expect to get for a Sony a6500 kit. These prices are from actual recent sales found on the web (including a certain auction site) so we know the values below are pretty accurate at the time of this writing.

Actual Sale Values

Sony a6500 body only - $900

Sony SEL50F18/B - $182.73

Sony SEL35F18 - $320.16

That's a Sony a6500 body, a 50mm f/1.8 lens and a 35mm f/1.8 lens. Total value: $1,402.89. Not bad. Below is a screenshot of the quote I get from KEH for the same kit:

Ouch! The same kit will fetch only $899.00 and that's based on an online quote. There's a chance you'll get less once you send your items in and they're inspected (a situation I hear happens often). It's also possible that you'll get slightly more, but still, that's almost $400 lost. Somebody is winning with this business model and it's not photographers who sell gear.

But, here's the advantage to loosing all of that money, less hassle. Once you get your actual quote and agree to it, they send you payment and you're done. You don't have to deal with it anymore. Saving time is valuable, but that's a very high price to pay.

I'm sure you might be able to think of some other ways to sell gear online, but these are the 3 primary methods. They all have benefits and drawbacks and it really comes down to how much your time is worth, how much risk you're willing to endure and how much hassle you can put up with.

How to Get The Most When Selling Camera Gear

We all want to get the most money out of our used gear when we decide to sell it. How do you get the most when selling gear online? There's no easy answer because there's such a wide variety of camera gear.

For instance, if you're looking to sell a camera body that's fairly popular and was released 2 or 3 years ago, you'll be in a good spot and you can probably sell your camera quickly and for a decent amount. If you're selling something old, niche or rare, it's hard to say how much you'll get or how long it will take to sell.

Getting the most money possible for your used camera gear comes down to 3 factors: how long are you willing to wait, how much hassle are you willing to put up with and how much are you willing to loose to offset the previous 2 factors.

For Those in a Hurry to Sell

You just watched 10 YouTube reviews about the new Sony a7 III and you're convinced that your life as a photographer is over unless you obtain this camera and it can't happen soon enough. There's just one problem, your wife already told you that if you buy another camera, she's packing her bags and moving back in with your mother-in-law.

But, you're not technically buying another camera if you sell your old one first. All you need to do is sell your Sony a7 II to offset the cost of the new camera, then you'll have the camera you want and remain married. So, how do sell that "old" camera and get as much as possible in the least amount of time?

  • Sell it on Craig's List: lot's of hassle, lot's of risk but you'll probably find someone willing to buy your a7 II at a reasonable price locally and skip paying shipping. Unless you live in a small town with no local buyers.
  • Sell it on eBay: Nope. You don't have time for an auction (you've got G.A.S.) and the fees are too high.
  • Sell it to a re-commerce site: Nope. You'll have to wait to ship the camera to them, wait for them to inspect it and get a fraction of what it's worth.

For Those Willing to Wait it Out

Now let's say you're selling an older, film camera. It's in great shape, not many people appreciate this model, but you know someone out there would love to own it. You know it will eventually sell, but you're in no hurry.

  • Sell it on Craig's List: Nope. It's unlikely (but not impossible) that the right local buyer will see your listing at the right time. You'll have to keep renewing your listing every few days to keep it discoverable and eventually you'll forget you ever listed it.
  • Sell it on eBay: With their huge audience of buyers, you can list your rare film camera at auction for the longest possible time to ensure it's seen by as many potential buyers as possible. Someone will win the auction and you'll feel like you made out pretty good until you see the fee breakdown, but at least you got something.
  • Sell it to a re-commerce site: Nope. They value your camera so low, they'll only give you 1/4 of what it's actually worth because they'll have a hard time selling it too.

What to Expect When Selling Gear

Now that we've looked at the current options for selling camera gear online, let's talk about some of the things that people often wonder when selling gear.

What Scams Should You Look Out For?

Wherever there's commerce, there are scammers. Among the 3 options, the biggest offender here are classified sites. It's not hard to imagine why. For sellers, most of these scams come in the form of fake payment confirmations. You'll get a message or email from a person you have reason to believe is credible, they'll lead you to a very convincing PayPal page stating that your payment was posted or something along those lines. You then ship the gear only to find it was a fake page and your actual PayPal account shows no balance.

To avoid being scammed here's a few tips:

  • Never participate in a transaction using PayPal "friends and family" or anything involving the word "gift". This is essentially a money transfer with zero protection. You want to use PayPal "goods and services". These transactions are protected.
  • Never ship anything before the payment has cleared and you can verify the funds have cleared by logging into your PayPal account to see that it's real.
  • Avoid using Venmo or other payment processors. Their terms may not be in your favor if something goes wrong.
  • Always meet in a public place during daylight hours when transacting in-person. You might even go so far as to meet in the parking lot of a local police station. Paranoid? Yes. Practical? Also yes.
  • Never ship anything that you're selling on Craig's List unless you're sure the buyer is legit. Craig's List is for local sales.
  • Don't be fooled into thinking eBay is free of scammers. It's not, but they do a better job of protecting you than classified sites. Stay alert for suspicious activity.

How Long Does it Take to Sell a Camera?

There's no easy answer to this question because it all depends on supply and demand. Selling a relatively new camera (something in neighborhood of 2 to 3 years old) might happen fast in the right place. There are also rare items, such as certain vintage lenses, that can sell very fast.

The length of time it takes to sell and item is unpredictable in a lot of cases, but choosing the right place to sell makes a difference. Classified sites aren't ideal for waiting out a sale because your listing will be quickly buried by newer listings.

eBay is the better bet if you're willing to wait. You can list with the buy it now option or accept offers and eventually the right person will discover your listing and snatch it up. Another option is to create an auction for the longest possible timeframe and keep renewing it until the right person comes along and makes the right bid.

Should You Sell a Kit or Separate Each Item?

We've written about this before. It's very unlikely that someone is going want to buy your complete camera kit. It can happen, but 9 times out of 10, it won't. And, you'll make more money selling each item separately anyway. I get that it's easier to create a single listing with everything you're selling but the chances are high that you'll end up going back and listing each item separately.

What Level of Service Can You Expect?

Finally, who's backing these services and do they really care about you and the camera gear you're selling? For classified sites, the answer is, there is no service. You are on your own. If something goes wrong, there's nobody to help resolve disputes. These services merely provide a place to let the world know you have something for sale and that's it.

eBay does have customer service, albeit, not great customer service. If something goes wrong, you can email them and they will eventually help you out. But, eBay tends to favor buyers when things go wrong so keep that in mind.

Re-commerce sites offer great service and why wouldn't they? If they can keep the people selling gear happy, making huge profits by purchasing way below market value, their business will thrive.

Conclusion

Hopefully you now have a better idea of what your options are when selling cameras, lenses and gear. You at least have a better lay of the land. None of your 3 options are great and they all have significant drawbacks. This is exactly why we created Gear Offer. We are the only marketplace built exclusively for buying and selling camera gear. We don't charge anything to list your gear and you only pay a single 6.9% fee when your gear sells. Compared to eBay (%12.9 + .30), we're much more reasonable.

Your listings never expire and can be found by buyers easily, so there's no need to constantly renew a listing. And, we back every transaction with fraud prevention and great customer service. Also, we don't sell gear, everything on our site was listed by people just like you. So, yes, there is a 4th option and it's much better. You can learn more about selling camera gear on Gear Offer here.

Author: Don Fitzsimmons
Co-Founder of Gear Offer, software developer and photographer.

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