Thinktank Retrospective 7
Thinktank Retrospective 7
How we test & price equipment
How we test & price equipment
If you are buying or selling a camera through us, we feel that it's only fair to let you know how we test and price equipment. And if you're buying a camera somewhere else, perhaps this page will give you some insight into what to look out for.
We focus on buying and selling good quality, reliable equipment. We want anyone who buys equipment from us to have fun taking pictures- not to spend their days fighting with a half-working camera. We do our best to ensure that we buy and sell only the kind of equipment that we believe can provide that kind of experience. The information below should give you some insight into how we try to live up to that promise.
We check film camera shutter speeds by machine. Shutter speeds should be within a half stop of nominal speed, and they should be consistent. For example, a shutter that is consistently a half stop slow is better than a shutter that's perfect 90% of the time but occasionally jumps out of spec. Not only are the exposures less predictable with a jumpy shutter, but it's also a sign that the shutter may be on its way out.
Realistically, shutter speeds can be off by a stop or more without a great deal of effect on day to day shooting: most modern film has excellent latitude, and human error in metering is more likely to cause a noticeably bad exposure than a slightly-off shutter.
But inaccuracies in shutter speeds can compound with inaccuracies in metering and human error to produce exposures that are not ideal. We can't do anything about the human error, but we can try to minimize the machine error. That's why we don't generally make offers on cameras where the shutter speeds are outside of that +/-0.5 stop tolerance.
We check film camera light meter function with a calibrated light source at three intensities. Light meters should respond correctly at all three intensities. Some light meters do not respond at all; some are offset by a fixed amount. Others respond correctly at some light levels but not at others- like the jumpy shutter speed scenario, these are the most troublesome.
And like shutter speed, metering can easily be off by a stop before it realistically starts to affect imaging- but we try to keep error to within a half stop, for the very same reasons as the shutter speed scenario.
In film cameras, there are usually strips of foam or other material laid into the gaps where the film door meets the body: these help to ensure that the gap is sealed against light and dust. In many older cameras, the foam material has broken down into a sticky goo or a crumbly mess. This is not necessarily fatal- we can replace light seals- but material and labour costs for this work will affect our offer.
Unlike a film camera, a digital camera's image capture device is an integral part of the camera body. A camera's sensor must be in good condition, free of electronic issues like stuck pixels and unusual noise patterns. Dead pixels are pixels that don't respond to light; they show up as black dots. Stuck pixels will register as a wrong-colour dot. Even new sensors sometimes have dead or stuck pixels, but they don't generally cause problems unless there are a ton of them. Sensor noise and noise patterns exist in all sensors, but they will generally be visible only at the highest ISO settings. This is somewhat subjective, but if we notice excess noise or patterns that would affect imaging under normal use cases, we will decline to make an offer.
Digital camera sensors often collect dust or dirt- it's totally normal, and can happen even to seldom-used cameras. Sensors in interchangeable-lens digital cameras can almost always be cleaned, so this isn't generally a disqualifying factor, though material and labour costs will factor into our offer. However, a dirty sensor in a fixed-lens camera is not practically cleanable in most cases, and we will decline to offer on these.
We always check the mechanical function of lenses: a lens should operate smoothly, mount securely, and communicate correctly with the camera.
We check for surface scratches and coating wear. Light coating wear is sometimes acceptable, though it does affect value; scratches are more troublesome. We generally won't take in lenses with these sorts of issues unless the damage is so minor that it is unlikely to affect imaging under any circumstances, or if the lens is particularly rare or unusual (where a little scratch might be forgivable).
The most common internal optical issues are haze and fungus. Haze is a cloudy or foggy deposit on the internal elements of a lens. It can be caused by emissions from oils or adhesives inside the lens body, or by external vapours that make it into the lens. Haze can sometimes be cleaned out, but it isn't always economical to do so.
Fungus or mildew will also sometimes attach itself to the inside or outside of lenses. Lens fungus can manifest as specks, streaks, or web-like patterns. Fungus is common in lenses that have been stored for a long time: it thrives in cool, dark, humid environments like basements and sealed camera bags. Fungus is generally not cleanable without leaving marks behind on the lens coating. We do not buy lenses with fungus.
Dust can sometimes be an issue, but nearly every lens has some dust- even some brand-new ones. You can expect that a used lens will have some dust, but we don't buy or sell lenses where the dust affects image quality.
We also make sure that the lens aperture mechanism is in good condition. Aperture blades should be clean and free of spots, rust, or oil. Lenses with mechanical aperture couplings should have a snappy spring action, and servo-driven lenses should move the aperture briskly.
Focusing ring action should be smooth and free from unusual grit, noise, or hesitation.
We check the ability of the lens to focus to infinity and its subjective optical performance. If a lens is otherwise in nice shape but performs more poorly than we're comfortable with, we may not make an offer.
Equipment can have loose switchgear, controls that don't "feel right," intermittent electrical gremlins- these are also flaws we look out for. It's the sort of thing that can hint at future problems. While small, these issues can be disqualifying if we believe that they are or may become serious.
Retail pricing for used equipment is heavily dependent on condition. When we determine condition, we will check equipment for cosmetic wear, paint scuffs, dings, small missing parts- things which do not necessarily affect the equipment in use, but will affect market pricing
Normal signs of use are not a problem: used equipment often has small amounts of paint or finish wear, and while we'll make a note of it, it's hardly disqualifying. Old or new, cameras are meant to be used- it's OK if they look like it.
But with rare exceptions, we will generally not offer on equipment that looks very heavily used. To some extent, this is a subjective decision- but it includes equipment with very heavy paint or finish wear, deep scuffs and scrapes, heavy plastic smoothing or discolouration, and other similar conditions which don't affect function but may disproportionately affect marketability. We don't offer on equipment that shows signs of impact or heavy damage like casing cracks.
Cosmetic condition can also give hints as to the conditions equipment has lived through. Corrosion is a big one: if there is rust or oxidation present, that's a sign that the equipment has seen substantial moisture exposure. We generally will not offer on equipment with corrosion, as it can be a sign of invisible damage to mechanisms or electronics.
Just like pricing for new equipment, used values are subject to the laws of supply and demand. For example: "kit" lenses- those sold packaged together with cameras- can also be bought separately for several hundred dollars brand new. However, the used market is overflowing with supply (they come with nearly every camera sold, after all) and used values for these lenses in even excellent condition will be a fraction of the new price.
Along the same lines, used equipment in "like new" condition is still used equipment: the values for resale will be at the upper end of the used spectrum, but they are no longer tethered to new pricing. No matter how light the use, a resold product isn't new, and can't command new pricing at retail.
Our offers take into account both condition and marketability. Some equipment is worth offering on, but we know it'll sit around for months or years before the right person comes along; some will find a new home right away. As you might imagine, we'll offer higher on the items that we believe will turn around more quickly. A lot of this is a matter of judgment and experience- it's probably the most subjective part of our pricing process.
Offers on equipment for a less popular or declining system may be lower than similar equipment from a more current system. This is a judgment call based on our understanding of market trends, so please try not to take it personally!
Missing parts and minor repairs
We're not a repair shop, but we do some work to ensure that the equipment we sell is in ready-to-shoot condition. That means replacing batteries, light seals, chargers, and small fittings. If equipment needs replacement parts, we will take this into account when we determine pricing. If we have parts in stock, it's not a big deal- but if the equipment needs an unusual or hard-to-find part, it may remain unsellable for months while we source a replacement. This applies to interchangeable parts on film cameras (rewind knobs, battery doors, etc) and accessories for digital cameras. In some cases, the cost of sourcing replacement parts may exceed the retail value of the camera- this especially applies to things like rechargeable batteries and chargers. We will often not offer on digital cameras which are missing batteries or chargers for this reason.
On popular equipment in good condition, we offer at about 70% of our expected resale value; that number can vary for any of the reasons listed above. But you should know that while we may disagree on market potential, we're not out to lowball you. All our pricing decisions are based on data and experience, and we're happy to explain them to you as best we can.
A FEW EXTRA NOTES
- Non-brand equipment- that random Amazon or eBay stuff- has nearly no value for resale. Used pricing is a tiny fraction of the already low new prices, and we will generally decline to make an offer on this type of equipment. If you choose to buy this kind of gear, don't expect it to be an investment.
- Generally, point-and-shoot digital cameras don't have a whole lot of residual value. Most of these have been replaced in the casual shooter market by phone cameras. There are some exceptions, though. If you're not sure, get in touch and let us know what you have- we can let you know if it's worth bringing it down.
- If you're shopping around, see plenty of listings for equipment in "LIKE NEW" or "MINT++++++++" condition. Almost always, this is nonsense. Any equipment that has been used to any extent is no longer in "like new" or "mint" condition, and we think it's disingenuous to create that sort of expectation. It's not MINT++ if it has fungus; it's not MINT++ if the meter doesn't work. Don't fall for ALL CAPS AND PLUS SIGNS: check out the specifics and decide for yourself what kind of condition equipment is in. We hope the information from this page helps you make a better decision.