If you want your budget to go as far as possible you should consider buying a second-hand camera. Audley Jarvis reveals some of the best used DSLRs you can buy

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second hand cameras and used DSLRs

While we all would like to be proud owners of brand new Nikon D850s, Sony A7R IIIs or Canon EOS1D X Mark IIs, such premium cameras are out of most of our budgets. Of course, by shopping around it is possible to find discounts and offers that will save you money, especially if you keep an eye out for Black Friday camera deals; however the fact of the matter is that when shopping for a brand new camera there’s always going to be a limit as to what your budget can secure.

Buying a second-hand camera on the other hand, greatly expands your purchasing power and enables you to consider used DSLRs (and lenses) that would otherwise be out of reach. Indeed, for the savvy buyer happy to do a bit of research beforehand, the second-hand camera market can provide a way to acquire top-end equipment without you having to break the bank. This is especially true if you’re more concerned with the quality and value-for-money of your equipment rather than whether it happens to be the latest model. Buying a used DSLR needn’t take the gloss off your purchase either – especially if the camera is in ‘mint’ or ‘like new’ condition and comes in its original box with all the original accessories present and correct.

With this in mind we’ve pored over the websites and stock of all the most reputable second-hand camera equipment specialists to try to identify some of the best bargains out there. We’ll reveal the cameras we think offer the best value for money when bought second-hand. While they are primarily older, long-discontinued models lacking some of the latest technological bells and whistles of their more recent descendants, they have all received favourable reviews when tested by AP. More importantly, they are all capable of great image quality in the right hands. Likewise, while the trend is to introduce cameras with ever-increasing resolution sensors there’s nothing wrong with buying an older model with fewer megapixels. After all, there are plenty of photographers out there taking better images with older 16MP models than there are with modern 40MP ones.


Entry-level second-hand cameras under £275

NIkon D5100 - best second-hand cameras and used DSLRs

Nikon D5100 with 18-55mm VR lens

At a glance:

  • Price £228
  • Sensor 16.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor
  • Sensitivity ISO 100-6400 (ISO 25,600 extended)
  • Continuous shooting 4fps
  • Video 1080p Full HD video at 30fps
  • Rear display 3in, 921k-dot vari-angle LCD
  • Viewfinder Pentamirror, 95% coverage at 0.78x

Upon its release in 2011, the Nikon D5100 was positioned as an upper entry-level DSLR for those looking for something a little more advanced than the more basic D3100. While the D5100 undoubtedly shows its age now in terms of its core hardware, it remains a practical and easy-to-use camera that’s capable of great image quality. Better still, while the D5100 and 18-55mm kit lens package would have cost around £750 at the time of its launch, second-hand camera bodies in ‘good’ condition can now be picked up for as little as £109 from the likes of MPB.com and other reputable second-hand retailers. Add an 18-55mm kit zoom, and you’ll still get plenty of change from £250, making it highly affordable and great value.

The D5100 is built around a 16.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor and Nikon’s EXPEED 2 image processor – the same components found inside the much more advanced (and considerably more expensive) D7000 that was also released in 2011 and went on to win numerous ‘camera of the year’ awards. The point we’re trying to make here is that while the D5100’s 16MP resolution might seem a little lacking compared to the 24MP APS-C sensors that are common to many contemporary DSLRs (including the D5100’s direct descendant – the D5600), the overall image quality is still very good.

Autofocus and metering

Elsewhere, the D5100 is equipped with an 11-point phase-detection AF module, arranged in a diamond formation across the viewfinder with one cross-type sensor in the middle. Again, while this might seem a little dated next to the 39-point system offered by the D5600, the D5100’s autofocus system is still effective and fast enough in most situations. One other thing to bear in mind is that the D5100 doesn’t have a built-in AF motor, which means only AF-S and AF-I lenses will focus automatically when mounted to it – other lens types will need to be manually focused. In addition, the D5100 isn’t compatible with Nikon’s recent AF-P lens range either.

Metering is handled via a 420-pixel metering system, which we found to produce consistently accurate results. Overall image quality is very good, with the D5100 providing a range of JPEG sizes and quality settings, alongside a range of individual Picture Control settings that determine how your images are processed in-camera. More-advanced users can, of course, record images as lossless 14-bit raw files and process them to their own specifications in Lightroom or similar.

Screen and viewfinder

In terms of shooting modes the D5100 comes equipped with the full PASM quartet giving users the choice of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual modes. Point-and-shoot duties are catered for via a fully Automatic mode, backed up by a selection of individual Scene modes. Last but not least the D5100 also offers a range of digital filters that can be applied to give your images a unique look – you’ll find these under the Effects option on the mode dial.

The back of the camera is equipped with a vari-angle 3in/921k-dot LCD display that is hinged at the side. This enables it to be pulled away by 180° and rotated through 270°, allowing users to shoot from awkward angles or to capture self-portraits with. Above this is a pentamirror-style optical viewfinder that provides 95% scene coverage at a magnification of 0.78x.

In terms of size, the D5100 is impressively small for a DSLR and at 560g with the battery installed isn’t particularly heavy either. Build quality is very much what you might expect of an entry-level DSLR. Like most entry-level and mid-range Nikon DSLRs, the D5100’s outer polycarbonate shell has been given a mottled finish so as to give it a more premium metallic look. While the outer shell provides ample protection against the occasional gentle knock, it obviously isn’t as robust as the magnesium alloy cages found on more expensive Nikon DSLRs. The D5100 isn’t weather-proofed either, so you’ll need to take care when using it near water or in wet weather. For beginners starting out and those who’d like the option of full manual control, the D5100 offers a lot of bang for your buck.


Also consider

Canon EOS 600D - best second-hand cameras and used DSLRs

Canon EOS 600D with 18-55mm IS II lens

At a glance:

  • Price £273
  • Sensor 18MP APS-C CMOS
  • Sensitivity ISO 100-6400 (ISO 12,800 extended)
  • Continuous shooting 3.7fps
  • Video 1080p Full HD at 30fps
  • Rear display 3in, 1.04-million-dot vari-angle LCD
  • Viewfinder Pentamirror, 95% coverage at 0.85x

Released at the beginning of 2011, second-hand examples of the 600D now provide excellent value for money – especially for anyone on a tight budget looking to wring the most out of their budget. Benefiting from a vari-angle rear LCD display the 600D makes light work of taking selfies or shooting from awkward angles, while the 9-point AF system is both fast and accurate. Video capabilities extend to a respectable 1080p Full HD at 30fps, while the built-in pop-up flash doubles up as a wireless commander unit should you want to get creative with off-camera flash. Image quality from the 18MP APS-C CMOS sensor is very good indeed.


Sony Alpha 5000 - best second-hand cameras and used DSLRs

Sony Alpha 5000 with 16-50mm lens

At a glance:

  • Price £268
  • Sensor 20.1MP APS-C CMOS
  • Sensitivity ISO 100-16,000
  • Continuous shooting 3.5fps
  • Video 1080p Full HD at 24fps
  • Rear display 3in, 460k-dot LCD
  • Viewfinder None

The A5000’s big claim to fame upon its release in 2014 was that it was the smallest interchangeable-lens camera on the market. While that may no longer be the case, it remains impressively diminutive. As an entry-level model controls are stripped back to the bare minimum, which makes it very easy to use, especially in fully automatic mode. That said, more-advanced users may find the constant need to enter the in-camera menu a bit of a chore. While the 460k-dot rear LCD display is a little underwhelming by modern mirrorless standards, the A5000 nonetheless feels solid in the hand and is capable of delivering good results in a wide variety of situations.


Second-hand mirrorless bargains under £400

Olympus OM-D E-M5 - best second-hand cameras and used DSLRs

Olympus OM-D E-M5 with 12-50mm kit zoom lens

At a glance:

  • Price £343
  • Sensor 16.1MP Four Thirds Live MOS
  • Sensitivity ISO 200-25,600
  • Continuous shooting 9fps
  • Video 1080p Full HD at 30fps
  • Rear display 3in, 610k-dot tiltable OLED touchscreen
  • Viewfinder 1.44-million-dot EVF

Released in 2012, the E-M5 was the first camera to grace Olympus’ all-new OM-D range. Whereas existing PEN models at the time borrowed heavily from 1960’s Olympus PEN half-frame rangefinder cameras, the OM-D E-M5 took its inspiration from the company’s ‘OM’ range of 35mm SLRs from the same era. Back in 2012, a brand-new OM-D E-M5 and M.Zuiko ED 12-50mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ kit zoom would have set you back in the region of £1,150. These days, however, MPB.com has second-hand examples in ‘like new’ condition for just £219. Add an M.Zuiko 12-50mm kit zoom lens for £124, and the whole package could be yours for less than £350.

For the money, you get a great camera. The E-M5 is built around a 16.1MP Live MOS sensor – a modified version of which is still in use today – and the Olympus TruePic VI image processor. Native sensitivity ranges from ISO 200-25,600 while shutter speeds range from 1min to 1/4000sec. The maximum continuous shooting speed is a healthy 9fps. Being an older model there is no support for 4K capture, but video capabilities do extend to 1080p Full HD capture at 30fps. The back of the camera is equipped with a 3in, 610k-dot tiltable LCD display with limited touchscreen functionality, above which sits a 1.44m-dot EVF. Admittedly, both the display and EVF are a bit dated compared to the 1.04-million-dot displays and 2.36-million-dot EVFs found on more recent Olympus cameras, but they both remain perfectly usable.

5-axis image stabilisation

One of the biggest innovations the E-M5 brought to the table on its launch was built-in 5-axis image stabilisation. In our review we found it to work exceptionally well shooting handheld at slower shutter speeds. Another benefit of having the image stabilisation technology built-in to the camera is that there’s no need to pay a premium for optically stabilised lenses. In addition to Olympus MFT lenses, the E-M5 is also fully compatible with Panasonic and other third-party MFT lenses – you won’t be lacking for glass options.

Autofocus is taken care of by a 35-point contrast-detect system that at the time of the E-M5’s launch was billed by Olympus as the ‘world’s fastest’ contrast-detect system. Of course, things have moved on a bit since then, but for the vast majority of situations the E-M5’s overall AF performance remains impressive and is highly unlikely to disappoint.

Build quality is another area where the OM-D E-M5 shines, with its magnesium alloy body giving it an undoubtedly premium feel in the hand. Better still, the camera is also fully weather-sealed, meaning it can be used in the kind of conditions that would require many other cameras to be tucked safely away in a dry camera bag. In addition to being solidly built the E-M5 is impressively small and light.


Also consider

Sony alpha 6000 - best second-hand cameras and used DSLRs

Sony Alpha 6000 with 16-50mm lens

At a glance:

  • Price £373
  • Sensor 24.3MP APS-C CMOS
  • Sensitivity ISO 100-25,600
  • Continuous shooting 11fps
  • Video 1080p Full HD at 60fps
  • Rear display 3in, 921k-dot tiltable LCD
  • Viewfinder 1.44-million-dot EVF

Positioned as a more advanced alternative to the A5000 and released soon after it in 2014, the A6000 benefits from a sizeable increase in resolution (from 20MP to 24.3MP), an expanded feature set and improved processing power. Unlike the A5000, it also gains a built-in electronic viewfinder that sits above a sharper rear LCD display. Unlike the purely contrast-detect AF system of the A5000, the A6000 benefits from a hybrid AF system that employs 179 phase-detection AF points alongside 25 contrast-detect AF points for speedier focus acquisition. Other highlights include a burst speed of 11fps, and 1080p video.


Fujifilm X-T10 - best second-hand cameras and used DSLRs

Fujifilm X-T10 with 16-50mm lens

At a glance:

  • Price £383
  • Sensor 16.3MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS II
  • Sensitivity ISO 200-6400 (ISO 100-51,200 extended)
  • Continuous shooting 8fps
  • Video 1080p Full HD at 60fps
  • Rear display 3in, 920k-dot tiltable LCD
  • Viewfinder 2.36-million-dot EVF

Released in 2015, the X-T10 was essentially a scaled-down version of the X-T1, which at that time was Fujifilm’s flagship mirrorless camera. While a number of the X-T1’s features were omitted to bring the cost down, the X-T10 does share the same sensor and image processor. Consequently, image quality is very much on a par with that of the X-T1. While it has since been succeeded by the 24.3MP X-T20, the X-T10 remains a stylish camera that provides good value for money. It also comes encased within a weather-sealed magnesium alloy body. Highlights include a hybrid AF system that uses on-sensor phase-detection pixels for fast AF, 1080p Full HD video capture plus Fujifilm’s excellent Film Simulation modes.


Full-frame second-hand camera bargains under £750

Canon EOS 6D - best second-hand cameras and used DSLRsCanon EOS 6D with EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens

At a glance:

  • Price £678
  • Sensor 20.2MP full-frame CMOS
  • Sensitivity ISO 100-25,600 (ISO 50-102,800 extended)
  • Continuous shooting 4.5fps
  • Video 1080p Full HD at 30fps
  • Rear display 3in, 1.04-million-dot LCD
  • Viewfinder Pentaprism, 97% coverage at 0.71x magnification

Announced at Photokina 2012 and released a couple of months later, the EOS 6D was marketed as a smaller and more affordable alternative to the hugely popular EOS 5D Mark III. It was released with a body-only price of £1,680 and it’s now possible to source a second-hand 6D in ‘excellent’ condition with a shutter count under 10k for £599 from MPB.com. Throw in a ‘like new’ second-hand EF 50mm f/1.8 II prime for a further £79, and a full-frame DSLR starter kit could be yours for under £700 – for those looking to buy brand new in today’s DSLR market that’s barely enough to secure a mid-range APS-C DSLR.

Fulfilling its brief, the 6D borrows some hardware from the 5D Mark III, but also brings some of its own to the table in order to keep costs down. For example, while the 5D Mark III was built around a 22.3MP full-frame CMOS sensor, the 6D instead employs a 20.2MP chip. Both cameras share the same DIGIC 5+ image processor though, and both provide a native sensitivity range of ISO 100-25,600 that can be expanded to the equivalent of ISO 50-102,800. Last but not least, whereas the 5D Mark III offers a top continuous shooting speed of 6fps, the 6D maxes out at 4.5fps.

Autofocus and metering

Another area where the 6D differs from the 5D Mark III is with its phase-detect autofocus module. While the 5D Mark III comes with a 61-point system, the 6D instead employs 11 AF points that are spread out in a diamond formation in the central portion of the viewfinder, including one cross-type sensor in the middle. In our original review we noted how the 6D’s AF system nonetheless does a good job, providing fast and accurate focusing. As with many Canon DSLRs that don’t come equipped with Canon’s Dual Pixel AF technology, autofocus performance when the camera is being used in live view is noticeably sluggish.

Metering is handled by Canon’s own 63-zone Dual Layer SPC metering system – the same module employed the 5D Mark III – and offers a choice of Evaluative, Partial, Spot or Centre-weighted metering. The back of the 6D is equipped with a fixed 3in/1.04- million-dot LCD display that produces a clear and sharp image. Above this sits a pentaprism-style optical viewfinder that provides 97% frame coverage at a magnification of 0.71x. As is usually the case with more-advanced DSLRs, the 6D also sports a small LCD display on the top of the camera providing a quick reference point to key camera settings.

In terms of exposure modes, the 6D is well served by the full quartet of PASM modes, along with a fully automatic Scene Intelligent Auto mode and a range of specific Scene modes for less-experienced users. In addition, the 6D also provides a High Dynamic Range mode that captures a sequence of JPEGs at different exposure values and blends them together into a single image. Video-recording abilities, meanwhile, extend to 1080p Full HD capture at up to 30fps.

Wireless connectivity

While built-in Wi-Fi connectivity is something that we largely take for granted these days, the 6D was actually the first DSLR to implement the technology – until its release, the feature was only really seen in mirrorless cameras and a few high-end compacts. DSLR users, meanwhile, had to either attach bespoke Wi-Fi modules or wait until they were able to manually transfer their images to a computer via a card reader.

In terms of build quality, the 6D benefits from front and rear magnesium alloy panels bookended by a polycarbonate top-plate. By full-frame standards it’s quite a small camera too, which makes it easier to transport around when not in use. Paired with the EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens, the combination weighs 890g.


Also consider

Nikon D600 with lens - best used DSLRs

The Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8 D can be picked up for as little as £64 from MPB.com

Nikon D600 with AF-Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D

At a glance:

  • Price £663
  • Sensor 24.3MP full-frame CMOS
  • Sensitivity ISO 100-6400 (ISO 50-25,600 extended)
  • Continuous shooting 5.5fps
  • Video 1080p Full HD at 30fps
  • Rear display 3.2in, 921k-dot LCD
  • Viewfinder Pentaprism, 100% coverage at 0.7x magnification

Announced towards the end of 2012, the D600 was at the time the cheapest full-frame DSLR in Nikon’s range, slotting in just below the semi-professional D800. The 24.3MP full-frame sensor is capable of excellent image quality, while the 39-point phase-detection AF system provides fast and accurate focus acquisition. For those looking to get creative with off-camera flash the D600’s built-in flash can also be used as a command unit via Nikon’s Creative Lighting System. In terms of size and build quality the D600 remains one of the smaller full-frame DSLRs available and also benefits from magnesium alloy top and back panels alongside dust- and water-sealing. It’s a cheap route into full-frame photography.


Sony Alpha 7 with lens

The FE 50mm f/1.8 can be bought for £139 in ‘excellent’ second-hand condition

Sony Alpha 7 with FE 50mm f/1.8

At a glance:

  • Price £744
  • Sensor 24.3MP full-frame CMOS
  • Sensitivity ISO 100-25,600
  • Continuous shooting 5fps
  • Video 1080p Full HD at 30fps
  • Rear display 3in, 921k-dot tilting  LCD
  • Viewfinder 2.4-million-dot EVF

While the original Sony Alpha 7 that was released in 2014 isn’t able to match its direct descendants in terms of raw speed or processing power, it nonetheless remains a great little camera in its own right. Built around a 24.3MP full-frame sensor and Sony’s Bionz X processor, the A7 was one of the first mirrorless cameras to benefit from hybrid AF technology, which in this case combines 117 on-sensor phase-detection pixels with a further 25 contrast-detect points for frame-wide coverage and impressively fast lock-on speeds. Better still, while a brand new A7 would’ve set you back £1,500 (body-only) in 2014, second-hand examples in ‘excellent’ condition and with relatively low shutter counts can now be picked up for under £600.


Buying a second-hand camera

Here we reveal a few tips for buying second-hand equipment

Warranties/guarantees

If you decide to buy second-hand, we’d strongly advise sticking with an established and reputable firm. This includes – but isn’t limited to – the likes of WEX Photographic, MPB, CameraWorld, Park Cameras, Richard Caplan, Camera Jungle, Ffordes, Grays of Westminster, and the London Camera Exchange. Reputable specialists like these will generally offer a short guarantee on all second-hand kit, usually three to six months. This is in addition to any consumer protection rights you are legally entitled to. While buying privately can usually save you additional money over a second-hand specialist, you are unlikely to get any such guarantees.

Second-hand camera ratings system

All the major second-hand camera specialists employ a fixed grading scale that’s used to indicate the overall condition of the camera. The most commonly used terms for this purpose are: ‘Mint’ or ‘Like New’, ‘Excellent’, ‘Good’, and ‘Fair’ or ‘Well Used’. Some companies – WEX, for example – use a numerical grading system instead. Either way, ‘Mint’ or ‘Like New’ condition describes a camera that is scratch-free and in perfect working order. ‘Excellent’ describes a camera in perfect working order, but with minor cosmetic marks. ‘Good’ describes a camera that has been well looked after, but which shows obvious signs of use. Last, ‘Fair’ or ‘Well Used’ is used to describe a camera that is in good working order but which bears obvious signs of use and age. In almost all cases, the retailer will have checked the sensor for dust and cleaned it if necessary. Most companies also offer detailed images of the products they have for sale so you can inspect it yourself at close magnification.

Shutter count

Another useful indicator – that can help you to gauge the condition of a second-hand camera you might be interested in – is its shutter count. This describes how many times the shutter has been opened and closed and is useful to know because the delicate blades that make up a camera’s shutter mechanism have a limited lifespan, after which expensive repairs may well be required. Knowing a camera’s shutter count therefore not only provides a good idea of how heavily it has been used by the previous owner but also gives an indication of how much life is left in it