Many of the artists we work with like to get set up to do their smaller one-off prints and digitization themselves, and we teach classes in how to do this. Many will also purchase used equipment to save money getting set up. Here are some general tips on what to look for.
Lets look at each category of thing, broadly, that our clients may look into purchasing and we will start with photography equipment. I won't get into specific brands or models of equipment in this particular article - and I always recommend checking with us before making a big purchase of photography or printing gear if you have any questions at all about it.
This article is not sponsored by any of the sources listed but I'll put a generic eBay used camera ad at the very bottom of the page that maybe someone will click on to earn us a few pennies.
Sections in this article:
Used Photography Equipment
Believe it or not, out of everything in this list cameras and lenses are the easiest and safest thing to buy used. Professional camera equipment is designed to take a beating and to function well even with a lot of use. In fact, many will perform better if they get used rather than sit in a box in a closet.
When buying a camera, used or otherwise, I do recommend looking for one with an absolute minimum of 18 megapixels. 24 megapixels is much better. If you are going to be offering photography of artworks as a service to others, and you have the budget, try for at least 30 - and preferably 50 or 60 megapixels. Above 50 or 60 you will start to see diminishing returns for all but the most specialized situations. Photographing artworks is one of the few areas of photography where resolution really does matter - but megapixels is only part of the equation and the specific lens you choose makes a huge difference as well.
When looking for a lens, I recommend getting a fixed-zoom (one that doesn't zoom, sometimes called a "prime") lens that is between 35mm and 100mm. If you mostly do large artworks go for closer to 35 and if you mostly do small artworks for closer to 100 or meet in the middle and get a 50mm lens. Most camera models have a great 50mm, often at a better price than many other focal lengths. The smaller the number of mm, the wider-angle the lens will be. So a 16mm lens is great for going outside and photographing wide landscapes but terrible for portraits of people, where you would usually want a 50 or 85mm lens. Most new cameras come with something like an 18-55mm zoom "kit lens". These are "fine" for everything from landscapes to portraits, and obviously better than nothing - but there is often a big difference in image quality comparing a kit lens to a prime lens.
Speaking of lenses, its worth noting that small scratches on the front glass of the lens mostly wont make any difference. As long as the back glass where it connects to the camera isn't scratched or chipped, and as long as the mechanics of the lens work, then its probably fine.
In my experience so far - as of this writing - a six year old 18 megapixel Canon 4000D will outperform, in terms of image quality and flexibility, even the most expensive band-newest iPhone or Samsung phone camera hands down every time (even though they claim to be 48 megapixels or more). Especially if you pair the 'real' camera with a good quality lens.
My advice is don't use 'I want to photograph my art" as an excuse to upgrade your phone. Put that money into a separate camera instead and don't fall for the cell phone companies marketing hype. As technology advances, this advice could change at some point - but in early 2024 cell phone cameras are waaaayyyy behind dedicated cameras and use 'marketing math' and AI filters to sound better than they are.
Ok with all that out of the way...
Depending on your budget and risk tolerance there are a few different options for used camera gear.
KEH is no-question our go-to recommendation for used camera equipment. They make sure everything is fully tested and working and give 180 day warranty on their purchases. Usually if something is going to break its going to be within the first few weeks. A great thing about KEH is as you outgrow your gear you can sell it back to them. Used camera gear is all KEH does and they are pretty much the experts in that market.
B&H is one of the big sellers of camera equipment and supply everyone from hobbyists to big movie studios and NASA with cameras. B&H offers a nice selection of used and open-box gear that has been thoroughly tested. They provide a 90 day warranty on their used cameras and 1 year on open-box new cameras.
An interesting thing with B&H is they are closed on all Jewish holidays (including Saturdays). Even their website won't let you check out during those times (but will still let you browse and add things to your cart).
Local Camera Stores
I can't make many broad statements about local camera shops, which are getting hard to find these days, other than to say most do thorough testing and offer some kind of return period on used gear. They have the advantage of having a live person to talk to in-person and a local reputation to maintain. They also often typically have less options available than the big national online sellers and some may try to steer you toward what they have in stock even if its not the best option - not necessarily a bad thing, just something to be aware of. Shopping local also means you get the instant gratification of walking out of the store with a camera instead of waiting for it to come in the mail and you get to support the local economy.
Naturally, all that testing and warranty stuff that KEH, B&H, and many local shops provide comes at a cost. Another option, where I bought the Sony 90mm Macro lens that I use every day as a matter of fact, is eBay.
A little bit riskier than the above two options but can save you even more if you use just a bit of caution. Check the listing to make sure the photos are the actual item being sold and not just generic photos of it from the manufacturers website. Read the item listing notes carefully. Look for sellers that offer "Returns Accepted" even if its just "within 30 days" that's often enough to make sure things will probably be fine. Look at the sellers reputation score and where they are shipping from. Pay with your credit card or debit card instead of PayPal because if something goes wrong PayPal and eBay like to go back and forth telling you that you have to contact the other one to get your money refunded (this happened to me once). As soon as the item comes in put a lot of time into making sure all of its features work - you don't want to miss any return window if something is wrong.
Craigslist / Local Classifieds / The guy standing outside the gas station
Pretty risky for all the reasons that buying from someone you don't know and only have a few minutes interaction with can be risky. If you choose to go this route - spend as much time testing the item as you can before handing over the money. Accept that if it stops working five minutes after the transaction, that its on you. If you have a good degree of risk tolerance, or an extreme budget this may be a good option. Its worth noting that no cameras on the market, as of this writing, even the highest end ones, have any sort of lockout-because-stolen feature like cellphones have. So if that guy outside the gas station has a working camera you don't have to worry about it getting suddenly locked out (though it could have some kind of airpod or other GPS tracker attached to it so just be aware of that). There are a lot of Chinese knockoff cameras on the market that are terrrrrrible so be sure you are not getting a $10 camera that happens to look like a $1000 camera.
While Amazon is great for new gear - I don't really recommend them for used camera equipment. Their platform just isn't really set up for the sale of used items (other than things like books) and their quality control of used product sellers is often worse than eBay's. Even new camera gear on Amazon is often at a higher price point than other outlets. If you want to buy used camera gear with confidence that you can return it, stick with KEH or B&H (linked above).
Wish / Temu / etc
This may seem obvious, but many of the cheap Chinese sites that ship to the US will have things that seem like deals labeled as "48 Megapixel Digital Camera" for $100 or something. Don't fall for it.
There is only one reasonably priced scanner I recommend for artwork anyway, and its like $100 - $120 new on Amazon (the Epson V39 II) so unless you happen to find this model for sale used, in person where you can test it yourself, I'd stay away from used scanners. Consumer grade scanners just are not designed with the same longevity in mind as professional camera gear so motors can go out and lights on them can stop working and a host of other issues. For this particular item, in my opinion, used just isn't worth it.
As with used scanners, I generally recommend staying away from used printers intended for printing photos and artworks unless you have a high risk tolerance and you can test it in person yourself. Don't buy one over the internet. In many cases the ink a printer comes with when new outweighs the cost benefit of buying a used printer. There are also some straight up scammmers selling "open box" printers where they bought a new printer and take the ink and print head out and sell those off separately then sell you a non-working printer with no ink and no print head (which can cost more than the printer new to replace).
If you really know what you are doing, and have a high risk tolerance, and get lucky with a seller that that understands the printer itself is worth a lot less than they originally paid for it, then sometimes you can get a good deal. Like I'd personally buy a second one of a printer I already have because worst case I can use it for parts.
Buying Ink Secondhand
Printer ink is expensive and sometimes you can find deals on eBay for sealed or open-box inks. If you are printing photos or artworks that you will be selling, be sure to only use ink from the printer manufacturer (called OEM inks. OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer). There are no third party inks that have any kind of real color longevity to them, compared to the inks from the printer companies which are often tested for decades or even centuries of vibrancy.
That being said, you can often get good deals on recently expired or soon-to-expire OEM inks on eBay or other platforms. Yes inks have expiration dates on them, but they are often still good to use for at least after the listed date and sometimes even several years later. If you are running a professional print shop for artists like us, use fresh inks every time for sure - but if you are just printing at home then its no problem saving a couple bucks buying slightly expired inks.
Reputable sellers of ink on places like eBay will list the expiration date in the listing. If it doesn't say, assume its way too expired or ask the seller.
Mostly just be sure that its OEM ink made by the company that makes the printer. 3rd party inks are fine for office printers printing out graphs and documents - but for artwork and photos you really do want the print longevity you can only get from the OEM inks. 3rd party inks will also throw off color accuracy, as the color profiles made for printers assume using OEM inks from the manufacturer of the printer.
Buying Paper Secondhand
You need to consider just a couple things:
Is it inkjet coated media? You are almost certainly using an inkjet printer if you are reading this and inkjets require the paper and canvas used with them to have a special coating on them or else the inks will either pool on top, or will soak way in and look faded (depending on the paper). So just check if the paper being offered is for inkjet printers (as opposed to laser printers or offset printing)
Just how old is it and in what conditions has it been stored? Most inkjet media has things like anti-fungal/anti-mold agents in it but like any paper it can start to yellow or go bad if it sits around in non-ideal conditions for too long. That being said, I've printed on rolls that have sat 15 years in an unconditioned warehouse in south Mississippi and just removed the first few feet that had yellowed and kept prints away from the sides of the paper (we just used that paper for throwaway fliers and such, not people's artwork or photos - just to be safe. I only trust our clients artwork and photos printed on fresh paper, personally)
It can be expensive to ship if its a lot of paper and you are not the paper company or some other company that ships large heavy stuff - make sure the shipping costs if non-local are worth it compared to buying the same thing new.
Are ICC color profiles available for the paper for the printer you use? If not you may need to use our Custom ICC Profile Creation Service to get the best results.
If the classified/auction listing is for a larger size paper than your printer supports, or is for rolls and your printer only takes sheets for example, it is possible to still buy it and cut them down to fit (with some caveats that I won't get into here) but all that labor adds to your cost as well, so take that into account.
And of course all the other usual considerations that go into buying anything secondhand like lack of warrantee etc.
Ok I think that wraps it up for this article. Here is that eBay ad I said I'd include so that maybe we can make a buck or two off this article: