If you like cameras as much as I like cameras, you’ve probably bought one off eBay before. It is without doubt, the easiest way to find that camera you’ve had your heart set on. But if you’re just getting into film photography, or if you don’t have much experience buying film cameras online, there can be a lot of pitfalls. Below, I list my top 12 tips to buying film cameras on eBay.
The information and tips included in this article are based on my experience. Please seek your own advice and check consumer laws in your country before proceeding. This article is the basis for episode 16 of my podcast which you can listen to here:
1. Research the camera
Read reviews, find out what people like and don’t like about the camera. Do you have a friend or acquaintance that has one? If so, check it out, look through the viewfinder, make sure it’s right for you! Sometimes we think we want something that someone else has, then when we have it in our own hands, we realise it’s not for us.
Make sure you can still get the film and the batteries if it’s an older camera. I have seen at least three people come into Polaroid Facebook groups in the last year asking where they could get pack film, not knowing that there is no current supplier.
Make sure you know about all the different models and variations of the camera. Quite often, small differences in models can make a big difference in terms of value. An Olympus XA1 is not worth as much as Olympus XA or XA2, and a MJU II zoom 80 is not worth as much as a MJU II.
Twice I have bought the wrong model of camera, but luckily, both times it turned out well for me. I bought a MJU II zoom 80 for $60AUD, thinking it was a MJU II. I ended up selling it on eBay for $160AUD – even after mentioning and showing photos in my description that the camera had the infamous MJU zoom light leak!
The second time was when I bought the Fujifilm Klasse for $600AUD, I thought I had bought a Fujifilm Klasse S. I didn’t realise until I printed out the manual. With the rising tide of film camera prices, I sold it for $800AUD on eBay.
Make sure the item you are buying is legit – I say this in reference to Leicas in particular. There were so many Leica copies made by the Russians in particular so make sure you know what you’re buying.
If you have any questions, ask away! There are some very knowledgable people in Facebook groups – you can try both general film camera groups and also groups dedicated to a particular camera e.g. Leica groups, Contax G1G2 group.
2. Research the estimated camera price
This is very easy to do, search for your camera on eBay, then on the left hand side, tick sold listings. You will see all the cameras that have recently sold and how much for.
Keep notes on what they have sold for, along with what condition they were in, and what accessories came bundled with the camera.
Always make sure you are comparing like with like: if you want to buy a working polaroid SX-70, make sure you are only looking at the sold prices of working SX-70s, not untested or broken ones.
Other places where you can search for price information for cameras include Facebook sales groups, Etsy, Gumtree in the UK and Australia, Craigslist, and Collectiblend.
Another thing worth considering is this: is it cheaper buying a lot of single items or is it better to buy a bulk lot / job lot of equipment? For example, when I was looking at getting a Contax G2, I worked out that it was cheaper for me to buy a body and 45mm lens separate to the 90mm lens and the 28mm lens, even when taking into account shipping! The bundle deals with all that equipment were way more expensive.
3. Set up eBay alerts on your phone and email
Once you know what camera you want and the rough price you should pay, sign up for eBay alerts. You can get push alerts on your smartphone and/or email alerts about items that match your criteria.
If you have the eBay smartphone app, you also get reminders when items are ending.
Also regularly check your emails for eBay special offer coupons. Quite often, eBay Australia have discount coupons that take between 3% and 10% off, subject to conditions.
4. Read eBay listings carefully
Read listings very carefully – check anything you’re not sure about with the seller.
Make sure you are comparing like with like when you benchmark this item against items that have previously sold.
Condition is key to a camera’s value. Perfect working condition is the first thing you should look for. If there is anything that affects the working condition of the camera, think twice before buying. Has the seller mentioned any issues with the camera? Do these issues really matter or are they something that would affect the functionality or value of the camera?
Secondly, look for any cosmetic issues: scratches, dents, LCD display leakage, broken parts. Hopefully these will not affect the functionality of the camera, but they may affect their resale value.
Thirdly, look at the accessories the camera comes with. These could include a manual, strap, case, original box, remote control and lens hood. All of these things are important for resale value.
If it comes with a manual, ask if it’s in English – Japanese buyers sometimes do not state what language the manual is in. It may look from the front of the manual that it’s English, but it could be Japanese.
If you’re buying a camera with a lens, the seller will usually give you a description of it detailing any scratches, fungus, haze or dust that it may have. Most lenses will have some sort of dust in them which will rarely affect shooting. Japanese sellers often mention “tiny dusts”, I love reading their listings!
If the seller says that it doesn’t work or is untested, you need to make a decision, are you happy for it to sit on your shelf as a paperweight? A couple of times I’ve bought cameras that have been untested or not working, thinking that I could work some kind of magic on them and they’d spring to life, but guess what? I’m not a camera repair person and I wasted my money on them!
You can get lucky of course – often people sell cameras as not working and all they need is a new battery and some TLC.
5. Research the seller
Start by viewing the seller’s profile. Click on their name in the listing.
How long have they been on eBay? What’s their feedback rating? What have buyers said about them? This is all useful information. If a seller is new and has no feedback, proceed carefully.
Does the seller have a return policy? This is especially handy if you’re buying the item as untested, or if you’re not sure if you will like it. If they accept returns, you can always send the item back in its original condition for a refund – all you’ve lost is your shipping fees.
6. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is…
This particularly relates to film sales – twice i’ve bought discount film from Asian countries at too good to be true prices. I’ve bought FP100C, Instax Mini, and 120 film. Every time it was some kind of scam where the seller got to hold on to the funds for a month, before having to refund them. Luckily I was covered by eBay and PayPal and had my money returned, but it was annoying and time consuming.
Also be very suspicious of any too good to be true deals that encourage you to move off eBay by contacting a seller via their phone number or email to do a private deal. I’ve heard stories where the same non-existent kit has been sold to several people at the same time. The seller requests money be deposited into their bank account. You will not be protected by eBay of Paypal if you do this.
7. Bid late and bid high
Don’t bid too early – try and wait until near the end of the auction if you can.
If there is an item I really like the look of, I always add an extra 10% to whatever I’m prepared to pay for it. My reasoning is that I’d rather pay extra and get what I want rather than restarting the whole process again looking for another similar item.
For auctions that are based overseas, I use an eBay sniper called Gixen. If you have the paid version, which is only a few dollars a year, you can import your watch list, add your bid for each item, and Gixen will bid for you.
You can even group your bids – if you are bidding on the same model of camera from several different sellers, Gixen can group them together. This means the first successful bid stops any further bids from taking place in that group, so you don’t end up with two of the same camera.
If you use Gixen, make sure the seller ships to your country. If they don’t, your bid may not even go through. I found this out the hard way! You can change country settings in Gixen to get around this, but the seller may refuse to ship the item to your country, so be careful.
8. Ask for a discount on fixed price listings
Some fixed priced listings allow you to make an offer to the seller, but some don’t.
One tactic I’ve successfully used before is messaging the seller very politely to ask for a better price. I’ve had sellers refuse, but I’ve also had sellers offer me discounts of up to 15%.
You can also ask if there is a cheaper shipping method for an item, and you can also ask for a discount for buying multiple items from the same seller.
9. Always pay with PayPal
Always with PayPal. Make sure you have the correct address in your eBay and PayPay (they should match) and abide by the terms and conditions of the eBay and PayPal guarantees to make sure you’re eligible should something go wrong.
I never pay through my bank account via PayPal, it takes too long to clear.
If I buy goods from overseas, I always pay on a credit card which has no international transaction fees. When I get to the shopping cart, eBay will have converted the overseas currency – usually US dollars – to Australian dollars at eBay / PayPal exchange rates.
This may seem helpful, but they’re actually adding their little cut on to the amount you’re paying. I always click on the amount and change the currency back to the overseas amount, as my credit card company gives me a better exchange rates. The screen should then say “Card issuer will determine your exchange rate”.
10. Get ready for camera’s arrival
Before your item arrives, make sure you know how to use it. Read the manual and watch YouTube videos about the camera. Make sure you have the correct batteries and film.
When your item arrives, check it over and make sure it’s come with everything as promised by the seller. Also check the condition to make sure it matches the listing. Document any issues with the camera and get in touch with the seller to let them know.
Test your camera straight away: make sure there is no issue with all the functions, shutter speeds, apertures, modes, everything!
Always use fresh film to test a camera – some people think you should use expired film for this task, but if there’s an issue, you won’t know if it was the film or the camera causing the problem.
11. Talk to the seller if there’s an issue
If there’s a problem, google it or search forums to see if it’s a user error or camera error. Then ask the seller about the issue, they may be able to help. Don’t jump to conclusions straight away and always be polite in your dealings with people. You can always ask advice about the issue in a friendly Facebook group if you’re not sure how to proceed.
12. Make sure you know what your rights are
Make sure you know what your rights are with eBay, PayPal, and your country’s consumer laws.
If a seller says “no refunds or returns” this may not be true under consumer law in your country. If they have advertised the camera as in full working condition and the good differ from what they have described, contact eBay.
In Australia we have very strong consumer protectino laws – research what protection you have in your country.
As well as eBay buyer guarantee, you also have the separate PayPal protection – be sure to check the conditions for each in your country and chat to either company if you’re unsure of something.
Remember to take into account the seller’s perspective – if it’s something relatively small and insignificant, let it slide. I’m a big believer in karma – never resell items that have issues as “untested”. Shoot film be nice!
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Issues with the Contax G2 I mentioned in this episode
In episode 16 of Matt Loves Cameras I spoke about the importance of testing film cameras when you receive them. The images below clearly demonstrate why! I bought this excellent condition Contax G2 from Japan, but it had a major issue. There was some kind of problem with the shutter and the film advance. On my test rolls, one frame would slide into the next frame! Luckily, I got a full refund, including shipping fees, from the seller.