When writing this article, a 2013 Chevy Silverado LS has an MSRP of $30,500. On the used market, the 2011 Chevy Silverado LS is worth $19,000. So in roughly two years, the truck has depreciated by nearly 30 percent.
Next, take a look at the 2013 Toyota Tacoma v6 Base, which has an MSRP of $25,000. Again, a 2011 model, which has a used value of $22,600 which isn’t nearly as close to the 30 percent of the Chevy.
This same methodology applies towards camera equipment, which depreciates at different rates depending on the category and quality. I would put camera bodies and cheap lenses in the same category as the Chevy truck and high-end lenses in the same category as Toyota.
Camera bodies are refreshed quite frequently, and in comparison to a prime lens, have a lot more moving parts causing them to wear out more quickly. Just look at the used price of a Canon 40D ($250) compared to its original MSRP of $1,300 in 2007. Now lets compare the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L, which had a MSRP of $1,479 in 1998, and a now sells for around $1,100 on the used market.
The point is, buying used camera gear is smart, but make sure the price reflects it. Generally speaking, L series glass holds its value more than cheaper lenses. Camera bodies are like cell phones. They get minor upgrades every one to two years. Nikon and Canon’s marketing department spend millions of dollars figuring out ways to convince you to upgrade your camera. If you want good advice about when and why to upgrade, ask a professional who has actually used both cameras. Gear-heads on the forums or even some blogs use spec sheets to justify upgrading, which isn’t the complete picture.
If you are needing to upgrade your dSLR, first find the camera that fits your budget and needs. Then, follow it until its release, but don’t immediately buy it. Instead, set a date on your calendar to which you would like to have the camera. For example, before the start of next wedding season or your next vacation. Then use websites such as Canon Price Watch, which has a notification system for when the camera goes below your specified price threshold.
Buy during the off season or months after its release. If you’re looking for a lens popular among wedding photographers, don’t buy it during the summer. Never pre-order anything, unless availability is going to be an issue. You really only run into this problem with equipment above the $5k mark because of production limitations.
Look at buying refurbished. We’ve done this a few times, including a refurbished Canon 5D Mark III, but on a case by case basis. If purchased from the right retailer, you’ll get a brand new body for a wonderful price.
Buying Used High End Lenses. Most of the lenses in our wedding gear bag are worth nearly what we paid for them. I can’t say the same about the 1D, 5Ds and 40D. The caveat to this is that the lens has to have been well care for. Sports photographers are notorious for using their lenses outside, in the elements and giving them a beating. However, your average professional photographer’s lenses will last them a lifetime.