If you have a strict budget and aren’t fussed about having the latest model then it might be worth considering a used camera, says Audley Jarvis
Regardless of whether you’re a seasoned pro looking for a relatively low-cost ‘backup’ camera or a first-time buyer looking to make your budget stretch as far as possible, there’s plenty of value to be found in the second-hand market – especially if you know where to look and are prepared to do a bit of homework. This is especially true if you’re more concerned with the quality and value for money of your photographic equipment, rather than whether it happens to be the latest version or model on the market. Buying used needn’t take the gloss off your next purchase either – especially if the camera you’re interested in is in a ‘like new’ condition and comes in its original box with all the relevant accessories.
Of course, buying an older model does mean that you might have to be prepared to make a few compromises. For example, you might find some modern conveniences such as built-in Wi-Fi connectivity or touchscreen control absent, on top of which the camera’s effective resolution will probably be a little lower than that on more modern cameras. On the plus side though, your money will go further – enabling you, in effect, to step up a level with your purchase. If you really want to spend your had-earned cash on a brand new entry-level DSLR from Canon or Nikon then that’s fine, we’re not here to try to persuade you otherwise. However, for much the same money you could alternatively secure yourself an enthusiast-grade DSLR that’s a few years old. Or if you’re looking at the latest enthusiast DSLR, then buying used might instead secure you a slightly older full-frame model. Stepping up a level like this often comes with a range of other benefits, too, for example, a more advanced autofocus system with a greater number of AF points or greater scope to customise the way your camera is set up.
With this in mind we’ve pored over the websites and current stock of all the most reputable second-hand camera equipment specialists in the UK in order to identify some great bargains that are worth checking out. Let the search for your next ‘used’ camera begin…
Take-anywhere camera under £225
Fujifilm X-A1 with Fujinon XC15-45mm F3.5-5.6 OIS PZ
At a glance
- Price £233
- Sensor 16.3MP APS-C CMOS
- Sensitivity ISO 100-25,600
- Continuous shooting 5.6fps
- Video Full HD video at 30fps
- Rear display 3in, 920k-dot tiltable LCD
- Viewfinder No electronic viewfinder
Positioned as the entry point to Fujifilm’s premium X-series range, the X-A1 was the cheapest interchangeable-lens model in the range at the time of its release in 2013. As with other cameras in the X-series range, the X-A1 takes Fujifilm’s unique take on retro rangefinder design and combines it with modern digital camera technology to produce a camera that looks and feels great and is capable of producing great images, too. For those looking to invest in their first ‘proper’ interchangeable-lens camera, the X-A1 is easy to use but also provides plenty of scope to expand your skills.
At its heart, the X-A1 is built around a 16.3MP APS-C CMOS sensor and Fujifilm’s own EXR Processor II. Unlike the X-Trans sensor found in more advanced X-series models, the sensor inside the X-A1 employs a conventional Bayer colour filter array. This produces a maximum output of 4896 x 3264 pixels when shooting at full resolution in the sensor’s native 3:2 aspect, although you can of course lower the resolution when shooting JPEGs. The X-A1 also provides raw capture for more-advanced users who would prefer to process their own images. Exposure modes are plentiful, with PASM controls for experienced users being backed up by a range of fully automatic modes for point- and-shoot duties. The X-A1 also comes with a selection of Fujifilm’s proprietary ‘Film Simulation’ digital filters, which mimic the look of classic 35mm film stock from Fujifilm including Provia, Astia and Velvia. Note that later additions to the range, such as Classic Chrome, Acros and PRO Neg, aren’t available on the X-A1 as these were released after the X-A1 came out and can’t be added.
In use the X-A1 is quick to start up and provides a useful burst speed of 5.6fps. Video capabilities, meanwhile, extend to 1080p Full HD video at up to 30fps for a maximum duration of 14 minutes. Shutter speed can be adjusted from 30sec to 1/4,000sec, while sensitivity ranges from ISO 100-25,600 (extended). There’s also built-in Wi-Fi connectivity that enables you to transfer images wirelessly to a connected smartphone or tablet via the Fujifilm Remote app. Note that the X-A1 does not support wireless remote control over the camera via Wi-Fi though.
The X-A1 is equipped with a 49-point contrast-detect autofocus system that provides fast and accurate focus when light is plentiful, although some focus-hunting can be expected when light levels drop. The X-A1 is well served with a range of focusing options including Multi-area, Single-point, Tracking, and Face detection.
Display and build quality
The back of the X-A1 is fitted with a 3in, 920k-dot tiltable display that can be angled up and down for shooting overhead or from the hip. While there’s no touchscreen functionality, the display is of good quality and plenty sharp enough to review your captured images effectively. In keeping with most other entry-level mirrorless cameras there’s no built-in electronic viewfinder, which means you’ll have to use the display to compose your images, which can occasionally be a little awkward in bright sunlight. The X-A1 also comes with a built-in pop-up flash, which sits under a panel on the left shoulder and is rated to 7m at ISO 200.
As with most Fujifilm X-series cameras, the X-A1 is solidly constructed and nicely finished. The finger grip on the front isn’t the largest, but does enable you to get a good hold of the camera thanks to its textured finish. The X-A1 is also an exceptionally easy camera to operate; buttons are large and well spaced, with the ever-useful ‘Q’ button providing instant access to a streamlined graphical menu from where you can directly adjust all of the camera’s most commonly used settings.
While a brand new X-A1 body and Fujifilm XC 15-45mm kit zoom cost around £530 at launch, reputable second-hand dealers such as MPB.com currently have stock of second- hand X-A1 bodies in ‘excellent’ condition for just £99. In addition it’s also possible to pick up ‘like new’ examples of the XC 15-45mm kit zoom for £134, while those looking for a more discreet set-up might want to consider the Fujifilm 27mm f/2.8 prime instead, which is available used in ‘excellent’ condition for as little as £209. Whichever lens option you decide on, building a second-hand package around the X-A1’s diminutive body certainly enables you to extract plenty of value for money while looking suitably stylish. You’ll love the images it produces too!
Panasonic Lumix GF1 with Lumix G Vario 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH Mega OIS
At a glance
- Price £124
- Sensor 12.1MP Live MOS
- Sensitivity ISO 100-3200
- Continuous shooting 3fps
- Video 720p HD at 30fps
- Rear display 3in, 460k-dot LCD
- Viewfinder None
While a brand new GF1 would’ve cost you around £700 upon its release in 2009, it’s possible to pick up a second-hand example in ‘good’ condition along with a 14-45mm kit zoom for about £125. Given its age it comes as no great surprise to find that it lacks many modern conveniences such as built-in image stabilisation, Wi-Fi connectivity or 4K video capture. That said, there’s still plenty to like about it. Not least the fact that owning one gives you access to the extensive range of lenses available for Micro Four Thirds cameras.
Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 with M.Zuiko ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ
At a glance
- Price £178
- Sensor 12.3MP Live MOS MFT
- Sensitivity ISO 200-12,800
- Continuous shooting 5.5fps
- Video 1080p Full HD at 60fps
- Rear display 3in, 460k-dot tiltable LCD
- Viewfinder None
Released in 2011, the E-PL3 was praised at the time for building on the strengths of its predecessor to deliver a stylish and generously featured little camera. Built around a 12.3MP Micro Four Thirds sensor, the E-PL3’s maximum continuous shooting speed is a more-than-respectable 5.5fps, while video capabilities max out at 1080p Full HD at 60fps. Autofocus is taken care of via a 35-point contrast-detect system that provides solid performance in good light. In addition, the E-PL3 also provides raw capture and the full complement of PASM shooting modes for more-experienced users, along with a fully automatic iAuto mode for more casual users.
Cheap APS-C DSLRs under £400
Nikon D7000 with AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G
At a glance
- Price £313
- Sensor 16.2MP APS-C CMOS
- Sensitivity ISO 100-25,600
- Continuous shooting 6fps
- Video 1080p Full HD video at 24fps
- Rear display 3in, 921k-dot LCD
- Viewfinder Pentaprism viewfinder, 100% coverage at 0.95x
The enthusiast-grade DSLR market has long been a highly competitive segment, with new models often benefiting from the ‘trickle down’ effect as manufacturers look to make their latest models more appealing by importing hardware and features directly from more advanced and expensive cameras. This is still as much the case today as it was in 2010 when the D7000 arrived on the scene.
Before the arrival of the D7000, the flagship model in Nikon’s DSLR range was occupied by the professional-grade, full-frame D3S. The only other full-frame DSLR offered by Nikon at the time was the popular D700. Nikon’s most advanced APS-C DSLR back then was the D300S, with the D90 from 2008 occupying the enthusiast-grade slot. Although commonly thought of as a direct replacement for the D90, the D7000 was actually much closer to the D300S in terms of its abilities.
At its heart the D7000 is built around a 16.2MP APS-C sensor and a Nikon EXPEED 2 image processor. This enables the camera to shoot consecutively at a maximum rate of 6fps, while native sensitivity ranges from ISO 100-6400 – with expanded ‘Hi-1’ and ‘Hi-2’ settings taking things up to the equivalent of ISO 25,600. In addition to JPEG capture, the D7000 also offers the choice of recording still images in 12-bit or 14-bit raw files in the proprietary Nikon .NEF format.
Autofocus duties are handled by a 39-point AF system with nine cross-type sensors in the central area of the viewfinder. While this might not seem like a lot compared to contemporary enthusiast DSLRs (the current D7500 provides 51 AF points), we must remember that many current entry-level DSLRs still only have 11 AF points. The D7000 also benefits from the added flexibility of dual SD memory card slots, whereas the current D7500 somewhat bizarrely only gets one! Unfortunately the D7000 came out before built-in Wi-Fi connectivity became a standard.
Encased within a magnesium alloy shell, the D7000 has a weighty feel to it. The handgrip, and indeed much of the front of the camera, is rubber coated for a secure grip while buttons are plentiful and intuitively placed. Image quality from the 16.2MP sensor is very good too, producing generally pleasing JPEGs with natural-looking colour.
At the time of writing Park Cameras has a selection of used D7000 bodies in ‘good’ condition for as little as £199, rising to £229 for one in ‘excellent’ condition with a shutter count under 13k. Add a lens like a 35mm f/1.8G DX wideangle prime in ‘excellent’ condition for £114, and a D7000 body and lens package comes in at well under £350 – not bad for an enthusiast-level DSLR that would’ve cost £999 body-only at launch.