IF YOU EVER BUY A USED DSLR...
...please let my story help you. [Note: if you just scroll through to the bold headings it will save you time and get to the important part. I know you have a life and things to do.]
When I first started really getting serious about photography in April of 2009, my instinct was to purchase a Nikon DSLR. I just knew the brand already from owning a point and shoot Coolpix. At that time, spring of 2009, Nikon's biggest, baddest, and best professional DSLRs were the Nikon D3X and D3S. They were selling at the tune of around $5000. I have a soft spot for those cameras, because they were the first to show me what the best pros were using and the quality of images that were possible to create.
So many people say, "it's the photographer, not the camera"....yes...yes...BUT, I'm a firm believer that the camera is an extension of the photographer. The tool and the artist are intertwined. Cameras and lenses have personalities. They will render light and color in different and specific ways. The combinations are infinite. Likewise, photographers have personalities. If the artists knows what they'd like to communicate then they will/should combine the right camera and lens to communicate it.
On a superficial level saying, "I need the best camera because it's the best camera," doesn't add up. But if you say, "I need the best camera because it produces a quality of image that will help me communicate my vision more effectively..." Bingo. You can express yourself more authentically with the right tools.
If clarity, perfection, and the subtlety of light and shadow are what your soul wants to communicate (which mine does), then you need to be connected with a camera that can provide that, hence my passion for the D3X and D3S. Conversely, if you say, "I don't need clarity and perfection, I just want to express tough, raw, emotion," then you can achieve that with a film camera, or a DSLR of a more affordable price point.
All that said, despite the fact that they have been well discontinued, I was on the search to purchase either the Nikon D3X or D3S.
HERE'S THE HEADS UP...
The marketplace for used DSLRs is a zoo. Unless you plan to go to your local camera store test it out in person, you will have to use a lot of faith to purchase a DSLR online. Be careful: there are a lot of scammers out there.
I would recommend purchasing from Amazon and only from vendors that are established and have a few positive reviews under their belt. I have now purchased three DSLRs from Amazon and have been satisfied each time. When you're in the market for a DSLR you will hear all kinds of words floating around:
Body condition - B+, comes with the original manual, comes with no manual, slight body damage, Japanese version, firmware updated last year, refurbished, no lens, comes with kit lens, only a few scuffs, comes with battery and charger...
I will tell you the one thing that matters in a just a moment, but let me share my mistakes with you...
First mistake: Body condition. I hustled for a couple of weeks because I had my eyes set on a Nikon D3S. It was a phenomenal price (red flag). I was literally about a click away from purchasing and it dawned on me to check the condition of the camera. Every vendor and website will have a different scale of what "body damage" is and means. It's a used camera; people will drop it, scratch it, fling it, drag it, you name it. They can take a beating but it's still nice to purchase one that looks good on the outside, right? There's no real way to know until you see it. Hopefully there are a few photos of it on the site before you purchase it. This particular D3S probably had a few dings and scratches which is no problem, but the deal breaker in this instance was that the vendor shared that the camera had a cracked sensor, hence the great price.
A cracked sensor is a no go. The sensor is going to record all of the visual data for each of your images. It's what makes the digital camera...digital. Repairing a cracked sensor would be a nightmare. I'm not even sure why they are selling the camera, unless it's to a trigger-happy, not noticing, unsuspecting person...like I was about to be. They even admitted that the camera performance would be noticeably hindered. Needless to say, I did not get that D3S and my search would continue...
SECOND MISTAKE, AND THE ONE THING THAT MATTERS: SHUTTER COUNT.
I was determined not to give up on getting a new camera. I was "pot committed" as they say in poker. I had turned down the chance to travel with friends. I had held off on paying a few bills. I had even traded in my best DSLRs (a D700 and D300s) just to add to my savings! I was without a full body DSLR. I couldn't take on professional work even if I wanted to! I pushed back the seas of life to open up the way for a new camera, only to be delayed. (But God had a plan all along).
I saved up a few more bucks and went to another online vendor whom was selling the Nikon D3S. They had a few in stock, with different prices and different...shutter counts.
SHUTTER COUNT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR WHEN BUYING A USED DSLR. THINK OF SHUTTER COUNT AS THE NUMBER OF MILES ON A USED CAR.
DSLRs are fun and you can click click click and get a ton of images, but nothing lasts forever. They are created and rated to have a max shutter life. Most are in the 250,000-500,000 range. That's a lot of pictures. But again, they are mechanical beings and eventually will wear out. Again much like miles on a used car, getting a camera with a low shutter count would be attractive, right? Of course.
This particular website...
I SHOULD completely blast and call out this website....but I won't. What they did...any vendor could do, so I'm just going to tell you what you should do when purchasing a used camera. No matter who you purchase from, you can avoid being scammed.
This website advertised a few Nikon D3S bodies in their stock. They had one in particular that was at a pretty attractive price (again, red flag) and was said to have only around 27,500 shutter accusations. That's not bad at all. The reason they were dropping the price was because of some noticeable cracks in the cameras body.
"No big deal! The camera has a story! I can live with a few cracks and maybe even fix them! Look at that price! Gimme!"
I ordered it. I felt good about it, too (temporary feeling). The camera arrived. I pulled it out of the box and the body damage was not a big deal at all. The cracks were not as aggressive as they looked in the photos online. I win. I got a steal of a deal. Hahahahaha.
This particular model has a battery that takes quite a long time to charge: literally 6 hours. It did not come charged so I plugged it in and went about my business for the day. I returned home that evening and got excited. Finally, the D3S.... *smiles largely. Battery in, camera on. I liked the weight of it. Serious stuff. I turned on the lights in my closet and created a first shot.
Huh. Not as magical as I had hoped. No worries, let's try again. Click.
Blank stare. It's the color temperature. My color temperature is off. Click.
Ah. Active D-Lighting that's it...oh it's already off. Okay...that's uhh. Click.
Maybe it's the lights. It's just getting the truth of how the lights look, they are really dim lights now that I think about it. Click.
I'll change lenses. That's it. Let's go with the 1.4. That will...Click.
Alright....that's...a little better, I guess. Click.
Let's go to the kitchen, maybe the light is better there. Click.
I guess...I could work with that. Click.
After spending that much on a camera, "I guess I could work with that" is not the feeling you want to settle for. Two thoughts came to mind. First, maybe it was expectation v. reality. I had built up the D3X and D3S in my mind for so long. Maybe I was seeing what I wanted to see and the reality of owning it and shooting with it was not as magical. Secondly, maybe I should wait until daylight and see what it can do.
Then...a third and very important thought came to me: check the shutter count.
TO CHECK THE SHUTTER COUNT ON YOUR DSLR...
Built deep into the heart of every digital camera is what is known as EXIF data (for Nikon cams anyway). It basically keeps track of the bare bones of your camera and every image you create...forever. The same way that a car tracks it's lifetime milage, the EXIF data will be keeping track of the lifetime shutters on the camera. Even if the camera changes owners, the EXIF knows you're on shutter #...whatever...
There are plenty of websites that will tell you the life shutters of your camera. If you Google "Camera Shutter Count" you're good to go. On this night, I went to https://www.camerashuttercount.com/
Here's all you do:
- Create an image from your camera. Save it to your computer as you normally would.
- On the site, click "choose file" to upload that image to the site. It is best in a JPEG format.
- Click, "Upload" to have the site run the photo. It will spit out the lifetime shutter number of that particular photo from that particular camera. Magic.
This fateful night, I uploaded one of my underwhelming bathroom photos from my "new" Nikon D3s. It pulled up the shutter count, and in the words of Marlin from Finding Nemo, "good feeling's gone."
Oh it hurts just to look at it again:
Yes, the camera advertised at around 27,500 shutters...in fact... had over half a million shutters! 502,488 to be exact! That's outrageous.
My gut was right and that was reassuring. I could feel something was wrong and this camera, bless its soul, was worn out. It had done it's job. It had lived a long life and should call it a career.
I then thought of the website that will remain nameless. I wasn't even mad, to be honest. People can be deceitful. That's just the world sometimes. Maybe it was an "oversight" as they claimed, but...come on.
THAT'S WHY I'M WRITING THIS POST.
There are all different levels of photographers: novice, enthusiast, professional. I've been all three. Anyone could see and like a camera online, purchase it and just start using it without thinking of the lifetime of the camera. I never used to think about it, either. I liked a camera and ran with it. But be sure to check the shutter count! You wouldn't buy a used car if on the outside of the car they painted that it only had 27,500 miles but then on the inside the odometer read 500,000.
I promptly called my friends at don'tbuyacamerafromhereeveragain.com the following morning. Coincidentally they were having phone problems and "couldn't hear me" and the line got disconnected several times. Surprise, surprise. Eventually I worked out all the details of a return with them...thankfully.
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL...
I'll be honest, I was a little furious and inconsolable after this incident. I didn't let it come out too much. I was just sitting in wait. "God, what's Your Plan? Am I not supposed to get a camera right now?"
I remembered that the Nikon D3S and D3X are discontinued so from here on there will only be older and older models out there. Finding a great one will only get harder over time. But on the other hand, I have not been impressed with the new DSLRs that Nikon has created. They are "good" but feel very digital. Where's the soul?
"They feel digital?" What does that mean? I'll get into my gut sense about cameras another time.
I didn't know what to do. Again, I was pot committed. I had no professional camera, and a bulk of cash. To not spend the cash on a new camera felt like I just gave away two of my cameras for no reason. To what? Pay rent? Absolutely not. I could not mortgage my passion for mundane life responsibilities. A new camera must be obtained.
I searched and searched and one week, I saw a Nikon D750 for a price that was within my saved amount. Yeah, the 750 is "nice" and it creates 1080p video, but the images never moved me. It's a very functional professional digital camera. Zzzzzz.
I can't explain it, I just feel it, but I need a camera with a soul. There's a tangible and realistic quality to some of the Nikons. The Nikon D3X has a soul. It's my dream camera and I will own it eventually. Nothing about the 750 grabbed me, nothing about D800 or the D810, too digital, too clean, or the D4, D4s, both too soft and contrast heavy, nor the D5....something was missing.
Then one day, it came to me. The D800E. I had glanced at it before but never really looked at it. I was on Flickr.com and it just came to my mind (from God) and typed it in the search bar. Thousands of sample images from people across the world came up. I immediately sat up in my chair because I felt it...
Gasp! It has a soul! I saw that realistic tangible quality. That quality that feels like you're really there, not just looking at a pretty digital image. It was the Nikon D800E. Done. Question answered. It's a bit dark and loves shadows, but it has a soul. And it shoots 1080p video :)
I went back to my reliable marketplace, Amazon and found a few used models in "Very Good" condition and took a chance on "Giraffe Market," a vendor with 97% positive reviews , no negative ones, and who sold many different digital products.
It arrived two days ago, and I'm already in love. I will be sharing a lot of work but here's a misty mountain shot from the Angeles National Forest (which will be on my Instagram in a couple of days most likely):
I love this camera. It's "shadowy" but that clarity is going to be incredible.
WHEN PURCHASING CAMERAS ON AMAZON, WATCH OUT FOR...
- Vendors with no reviews. New scammers, eh?
- Vendors that do not sell any other camera products, just this particular one. That's not a deal breaker. A camera owner could be unloading just one camera, but still, watch out. It's good to know that the vendor sells other projects in the same genre.
- Way low prices, like $450 for a camera everyone else is selling for $1200. These are scenarios where they are going to promise you an escrow situation. They'll send the camera after you deposit the money in secure a "Amazon Protection Program." Then once you verify that you like the camera, they'll withdrawal the....NO SUCH THING EXISTS. You are not going to receive a camera but they will receive your money.
ALSO WATCH OUT FOR THE BAIT AND SWITCH...
I almost purchased that D750 I talked about earlier. I clicked "order" even. Then I received an email from the company saying to call them to confirm my order. That felt odd so I checked the site for reviews (something you think I would have done earlier...). It turns out that the site advertises one price, but then during that confirmation call they will try to up-sell you on more equipment and/or reveal that the true price of the camera is much higher.
That's all my friends. Hope you enjoyed the story and the tip to ALWAYS CHECK YOUR SHUTTER COUNT. Happy shooting.
I said I was not going to name and blast the website that sold me that D3S. I just want to take the high road and educate others on how to make a sound camera purchase. Because the truth is, any vendor from any website could do the same thing. It's your responsibility, when you get the camera, to check it's shutter count.
...but just watch out for mpb.com. That's all I'm saying.