In the world of reflex cameras, but also of mirrorless cameras, given the high prices of good quality lenses, many often prefer to buy a used lens. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Often it is not enough that it is externally in good condition.

Let’s see together what to check to find out what is absolutely essential and what are the small defects that can be overlooked. This article is intended as a guide for those who have to buy but also for those who have to sell, who can thus also objectively evaluate the sale price of their equipment.

Purchase Used Lens

So, let’s see what kind of approach to take when buying a used lens. First of all, how do we determine what is an appropriate price? The number of results obtained also gives me an idea of ​​how easily a lens is available. Very good optics are harder to find. Then I set the filter on my region because I prefer to evaluate it in person, I hardly buy lenses remotely unless they are guaranteed by some shop or there is the possibility to return it.

What To Check And How

The optics must be evaluated both from an aesthetic and functional point of view. Aesthetics establishes a degree of quality that can be more or less acceptable based on the price. For example, a more worn optic is worth less and it is still worth buying it if the price is adequate. Personally, I am not a maniac of aesthetics, I do not pretend that an optic is perfect, even if often from the aesthetics you can already understand how it was treated and therefore anticipate any functional problems. The correct functioning of the optic instead establishes the boundary between buying it or letting it go regardless of the price.

Functional Evaluation

Look for the point of focus, sharpness and any smudges on the frame. It is essential that your camera does not have a dirty sensor in order to be sure that any sign on the frame is due to the lens. For this I recommend you read our article on cleaning the sensor of a reflex. If you can’t do the cleaning try to review your last photos to evaluate any stains present and remember their position in order to exclude it in the evaluation of the optics.

The Lenses

Naturally, it is necessary to check that the front and rear lenses have no marks, scratches or chips. I advise you to bring something to clean the lenses, so if the external lenses are dusty you can evaluate them better.

However, it must be considered that a small mark on the front lens will hardly be seen on the frame, probably not even at very small apertures. On the other hand, a mark on the rear lens, being closer to the sensor, could be a big problem and be visible on all the shots. 

External lenses aren’t the only ones to check. It is necessary to check that there is no mold or too much dust inside the lens. This verification is done by looking through the optics. Point the lens at a solid background, a white paper, a solid wall, or the sky and look through it. If you see some kind of spider web, like the one in this photo, it’s moldy, forget it.

The Sharpness

Shoot both at the widest aperture available to the lens and at smaller apertures. It is often useless to analyze the image taken by zooming to 100% expecting it to be perfectly sharp. Some lenses are not as high quality even if you buy them new. So first try to read up on the optics you want to buy, perhaps looking at example photos that you will easily find on specialized sites and forums. However, check that at least with a 50% magnification the photo renders well.


Buying a used lens is not a simple thing. It is necessary to find the right compromise between savings and the quality of the purchased optics. If the price is very advantageous, some aesthetic defects can be postponed, the important thing is that the final rendering of the photo is not compromised. Photo quality, smooth dials, proper functioning of the autofocus and stabilizer, are the key things to purchase. Everything else is a question of price.

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