Is eBay for Suckers?

I think it’s for people too lazy to do their homework.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know I’ve been spending a lot of time with photographers lately in some of the most outstanding scenic areas of Arizona. I’ve had a lot of downtime on these trips, waiting for passengers, etc. I brought along my Nikon D80 camera with the 3 lenses I used to use on my old film cameras, a pair of Nikon 6006s. (I still have those camera bodies in excellent condition. They’re great for anyone interested in working with film. Make me an offer.)

Again, I’m not a great photographer, but I do get lucky once in a while. It’s hard to come away without any good photos when you’re in a beautiful place and have a camera capable of storing 300+ 10-megapixel images on a single card. Digital cameras give us the luxury of experimentation without cost. We can try different lenses and different aperture or shutter speed settings. We can shoot a dozen photos of the same thing at different times of the day. Something has to come out okay or even — dare I say it? — good.

Wide Angle ExampleA lot of the photographers I’ve been working with — Mike Reyfman and Jon Davison come to mind — do a lot of work with wide angle lenses. The photos look great, the curvature gives the images a certain character. And Jon even showed me how to remove the curvature when it isn’t wanted (although I admit I forgot how; I’ll have to research that again in Photoshop documentation).

Wide Angle ExampleAlthough lens collection includes a 28-85 mm zoom lens, I only recently discovered that a 28 mm lens for a film camera doesn’t give you a 28 mm focal length on a digital camera. There’s a conversion factor, which I looked up for my camera: 1.5. That means the focal length of my lens is 1.5 times whatever the lens is labeled. So, for example, a 28 mm lens is resulting in a 42 mm focal length. (Please, someone, correct me if I’m getting this wrong. This is my understanding and I’m not an optics expert.)

This explains why I’m not getting the curvature effect I was looking for with my “wide angle” lens.

Wide Angle ExampleSo I did some research and found that Nikon makes a 18-55 mm lens. I saw the retail price and decided to see if I could do better on eBay. I did. I bought a used lens in pretty good (but not “mint,” as advertised) condition on eBay for $81 including shipping. I got to play with it on Sunday when we were goofing off at the local airport. The photos you see with this post are examples. I didn’t have much to work with in the way of subject matter, so I took a few shots of my car (parked in front of my hangar) and a cool little airplane sitting out on the ramp.

But, as I expected, this curvature wasn’t enough. I wanted more. It looked like I’d have to go with a fisheye lens, which I’d already been researching and bidding on on eBay. I kept losing the auctions. The lenses were going for $700+ and one used one slipped out of my grasp for $620. My top bid was in the low $500s, and even that was more money than I wanted to spend.

Then there’s the condition of the lens that arrived on Saturday. The seller said it was used, but also said it was in “mint” condition. In my mind, “mint” condition means perfect. It doesn’t mean dusty, like it’s been sitting on a shelf for half a year. It doesn’t mean accompanied by a skylight filter that has dust on both sides. And it certainly doesn’t mean dust on either end of the lens. This was not mint. I couldn’t complain because I thought I’d gotten a good deal, but I wasn’t about to spend $700 on another lens and have it arrive in the same condition. For that kind of money, I wanted a brand new lens in a box.

I lost my most recent bid on a 10.5 mm lens on eBay. Just for the hell of it, I decided to check Amazon.com. And guess what? They had the same lens, brand new in a box from a camera dealer, for $589 with free shipping.

So what the hell was I doing on eBay?

I bought the lens on Amazon.com.

I also learned a few valuable lessons here:

  • eBay should be the discount seller of last resort when buying an expensive item.
  • Buy used only when condition is not vitally important. (To me, it’s vital that photographic equipment be in pristine condition.)
  • Do your homework on an item’s pricing in at least four other places before placing any eBay bids.
  • And of course, the rule we should all know: don’t get auction fever when bidding on eBay.

The good news of all this is that I still have about $300 left from some “found money.” (I unexpectedly sold some post-level advertising on this site, resulting in a little windfall of mad money.) And when the new lens arrives, I know it’ll really be in “mint” condition.

3 thoughts on “Is eBay for Suckers?

  1. On ebay I too have been unsuccessful in bidding: – on Garmin 196 GPS units for the last month. They retail at $695, so I figure a used one should go for up to maybe 2/3 of the cost, right? I saw a used one go for $660 + $11 shipping last week. You are defiantly correct about it being for suckers…the buyers that win seem to really be losers…ouch.

  2. sometimes the bidder is a drunk on a public access computer with a fake site and he or she is just bidding either to screw with people or destroy his or her competition. like so many things ,e-bay has turned into a den of thieves. p.s. overstock.com has way better deals,brand new,and any junkyard has better vehicles. Ebay is DEAD. not only all the above ,but a terrible economy and swoosh, no more e-bay.

  3. Ha, I saw a vintage Sony Walkman WM-F10 auction for a blinding US$306. Get an MP3 player!!

    The “poor” guy who won it got sniped at last minute, leading to a hefty price tag – another thing why eBay isn’t always the “best deals”… and oh, by the way, the Walkman was non-functional as described.

What do you think?