Used lenses are a great way to find good optics for your DSLR cameras. Buying used DSLR lenses can have several benefits.
Two Main Used Lens Benefits
Probably the first benefit that will come to most people’s minds is lower cost. You could also include refurbished lenses in this benefit category. Refurbished lenses are often display lenses or rental lenses that get checked out, cleaned up, and may come in the original packaging with all the accessories.
You may find used DSLR lenses from time to time with original packaging, but you will also see lots of lenses with just a front and rear cap. That’s fine, just buy a lens hood or pouch for them.
The second benefit of buying used DSLR lenses is that it gives you access to items that may not be made any longer. Sometimes, a lens design gets slightly upgraded and the old design is dropped. Other lenses are simply gone from a manufacturer’s catalog altogether.
Some of these gone forever lenses are collector’s items, but others are very desirable for everyday use. That’s the type of lens we’re most interested in.
DSLR Mounts and Adapters
There are basically two ways to make good use of used DSLR lenses. One way is to look for lenses in the mount your particular model of DSLR uses.
Nikon users would look for lenses in the various iterations of the Nikon F-mount, introduced in 1959, making sure to research which versions of the mount will work on their camera. Some older, non-AI lenses could damage certain newer camera’s mounts. Some newer AF lenses won’t allow older cameras to control aperture or focus.
Canon DSLR users would need to stick to the EF-mount, introduced in 1987. Earlier FD and FL lenses won’t fit directly to current Canon DSLRs.
Pentax owners would seek out any of the various K-mount versions, again taking care to note that slightly different versions of this mount also exist. The K-mount has been around since 1975.
Several Sony DSLRs use the A-mount, first seen on Minolta Maxxum cameras in 1985. A lot of different options exist when talking about Sony lenses.
The second way to make use of used DSLR lenses is to use mount adapters. For most cameras with a mirror box, flange to film (sensor) distance can cause some issues with function and focus when using adapters.
Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras (ILCs)
Digital cameras without a mirror box open a whole bunch of different lens choice options. Either from the camera manufacturer or third-party makers, there is an adapter that allows for mounting almost any lens mount to any camera, within reason, of course.
You can adapt some lenses that weren’t even intended for SLRs at all to some current cameras. For instance, there are third-party makers providing adapters to attach Leica M bayonet and screw mount (M39) lenses to current Sony mirrorless cameras. Those lens mounts came out in 1954 and 1932, respectively.
As more mirrorless ILCs come out, more very usable lens mount adapters are coming to the market.
Image Circle and Crop Factor
Since most legacy lenses were made to be used on full-frame 35mm film cameras, any photographer shooting on one of the smaller formats such as APS-C or MFT will need to calculate the crop factor to determine if the lens is usable for their needs.
An older 24mm lens made for Canon’s AE-1, for instance, was fairly wide-angle on that camera but would be more equivalent to a normal lens than wide angle on an MFT camera. Just something to keep in mind.
Some newer used DSLR lenses were made specifically for crop format cameras. Using those lenses on a full-frame format camera will result in some changes as well. The camera may switch to a cropped mode, with crop factor calculations coming into play, or the image circle the lens projects won’t completely cover the frame.
Many of the lenses may still be usable, but there will be some major considerations.
And Now, the Lenses!
With all we talked about above concerning mounts and adapters and adding third-party lens makers to the available OEM lenses, there are literally thousands of used DSLR lenses we could list.
This list is not ranked in any order, and contains lenses from common to specialized.
In the mid 1970s, Vivitar introduced the Series 1 line of lenses for 35mm SLRs. Previously, many photographers turned to third party lens makers primarily for lower-cost options. The Vivitar Series 1 lenses were high-quality optics, competing directly with prestige lenses from the camera brands.
The Series 1 70-210mm macro zoom lens was a huge success, a game-changer for many photographers. It had good performance and usable features, plus was relatively fast for the day. Compared to many current lenses, though, it’s really nothing special.
The Series 1 lens that still offers modern photographers something special is the 90-180mm f/4.5 Flat Field zoom. Big and heavy, it is 6 inches long and weighs almost 2 1/2 pounds. The f/4.5 maximum f-stop is constant throughout the zoom range.
What makes this lens special is that it provides high quality, corrected macro focusing from 90mm to 180mm as a zoom. In other words, it doesn’t merely focus close, it is a true macro lens, optimized for close up imaging.
Reproduction ratios vary from 1:4 at 90mm to 1:2 at the 180mm end. Most “macro” zoom lenses don’t give good center to edge sharpness. This “Flat Field” zoom is the equivalent of having 90 different focal length specialty macro lenses.
Lens mounts are limited to the major mounts of the 70s and 80s, Minolta MD, Nikon F/AI, Canon FD, Konica, Olympus OM, Contax/Yashica, Pentax K, and UM-42. Compared to the hugely popular Series 1 70-210, production of this lens was limited.
Relatively expensive in its day, it has now reached sort of a cult status. Meaning it may be hard to find and will command premium pricing when you do locate one. For photographers able to find one in their mount or using mirrorless and adapters, it is extremely usable as a high quality and versatile macro lens.
Creating a circular 180-degree image on full-frame sensors, this is a true fisheye lens. It is also usable on APS-C format cameras, filling the frame with almost 180-degrees from corner to corner, but not being circular.
Designed for modern AF digital cameras it came in most current mounts. Canon EF, Sony A, Pentax K, and Nikon F. No longer in production, it was replaced by the 8mm f/3.5 EX DG Fisheye lens.
What makes this lens one of the great used DSLR lenses is that it is thoroughly modern and can be found at very low prices compared to the current model brand new. You could expect to pay around half of the price of the current lens.
Fisheye lenses are a specialty lens, often used for scientific studies or for stitching together panoramas for virtual tours. They are also fun lenses to play around with. You can crop into the image for some very wide-angle views and correct distortions with a post-processing program.
Its front element bulges out quite a bit. A short removable lens hood was provided as part of the cap, but it cuts into the extreme edges of the view. A padded lens case was included when brand new, but some sellers separate that to sell as an add on.
Introduced in 1959 as part of the complete professional Nikon F-system, this lens remained unchanged optically through its entire production. Mount improvements and multi-coatings are the main differences from oldest to newest.
For DSLR users, the most modern version of this lens is the top choice for the most integration of camera features. That would be the AI/s version with a built-in lens hood, made from 1983 to 2005.
An AI version with separate lens hood dates from around 1977 to 1983, and the non-AI version from 1959 to 1976, with the oldest ones of those having metal knurled focus rings.
A favorite of portrait and wedding photographers before the rise to popularity of modern 80-200 f/2.8 zooms, the 105/2.5 is revered for being sharp, having great contrast, and color correct with few aberrations.
Sometimes available for barely more than the price of an SDHC memory card, this lens still stacks up favorably against more modern designs.
First-generation Canon EF lenses were an interesting group. All of them are good performers, some were sleepers. This is one of the sleepers.
A maximum f-stop of f/5.6 is par for the course concerning classic 100-300 lenses. They were often lower budget lenses within a brand’s line of optics. What makes this lens stand out is the L designation.
Canon reserves the L label for lenses that are special in one way or another. Generally speaking, they are more professional caliber. For this lens, the L was bestowed upon it for the optical design including ultra-low dispersion fluorite glass elements for improved sharpness, contrast, and color rendition.
Compared to modern EF lenses, focus is slow and the built-in motor is kind of noisy. Zooming is handled by a push-pull mechanism, common back then, but it may take a while to get used to.
Based on what comes up on the used market, photographers must have used this lens a lot if they had one. Pristine samples are hard to come by. However, it also usually the least expensive of Canon L-Series telephotos to be found.
Bokeh is the reason for this lens being sought after. Wide-open to a couple of stops down, this lens provides razor sharpness for the in-focus part of the image and the out of focus parts have the quality that bokeh lovers call dreamy.
Often overlooked in discussions because of the legendary status of the Nikkor 105/2.5, you might be able to pick up samples of this lens for a very attractive price.
Originally introduced as a screw mount (UM42) in the 1960s, it was updated for the K bayonet mount and given things like improved multi-coating and a modern rubberized grip for the focusing ring before finally being redesigned altogether.
The screw mount version is widely available since it was considered one of the basic lenses in an advanced photographer’s gear pack. It’s always a pleasure to find an old photographer’s bag of fine classic Pentax gear at estate sales.
One of the earliest autofocus macro lenses capable of focusing continually from infinity to 1:1 macro, this lens is lightweight and very sharp. Fits and works perfectly on current Sony A-mount cameras as well as E-mount cameras with the proper adapter.
Minolta lenses were superb imaging tools, sometimes beating out all the other brands in terms of sharpness and features. Minolta cameras were amazing, too, which is why they stayed a top camera brand until the photographic division was taken over by Sony digital.
It has some plastic construction on the outer body, but it proved to be durable as well as light. Samples in good condition can be readily found for less than half the cost of the current lens in Sony’s lineup.
A rather unique lens with a great reputation, this mirror telephoto lens is scarcely larger than a fast normal lens and is actually lighter than one.
Produced in the Minolta MC/MD bayonet mount, this lens originally fit on cameras such as the Minolta XD-11 and SRT-202. To mount on any current cameras, you’ll have to use an adapter.
A mirrorless APS-C format digital camera with the right adapter pairs great with this lens due to its small size, light weight, and extreme telephoto reach when figuring in the crop factor.
Since it’s a mirror telephoto lens, the f-stop is constant at f/5.6, requiring adjusting the shutter speed and ISO for exposure control or adding a neutral density filter. If you find a mint condition set with original accessories, a rear-mounted 4X ND filter was included.
Amazingly sharp, this is a very desirable lens. Thus, if you do find one in good condition, be prepared to pay a premium price for it.
How Do You Find Used DSLR Lenses?
There are tons more great used DSLR lenses out there, by the way, these 7 are just some of my favorites. So, where do you go for used lenses? I have found several avenues that work.
Online Auction and Warehouse
Two of the biggest, busiest websites worldwide are eBay and Amazon. While Amazon deals mostly with deeply discounted new items, more recent used and refurbished items do show up from time to time.
Buy It Now and open bidding auctions are what eBay is geared up for, with new, refurbished, and millions of used items changing hands daily.
Online camera stores such as Adorama and B&H Photo Video get used equipment in as trades and outright purchases. Their descriptions, photos, and condition ratings are very helpful for deciding what used equipment you may want.
Brick and Mortar Stores
That’s the popular phrase describing a business in a real building. An address you can actually visit on foot. A great feature and benefit of local camera stores is having knowledgeable salespeople to help guide you in the realm of used DSLR lenses.
You may also get to see, hold, and operate the equipment before purchasing. Do you have a great local camera store like Baker Photo & Video of Yukon, Oklahoma in your area? Get acquainted with them and support them.
Person to Person
Estate and garage sales can sometimes be an absolute gold mine of used DSLR lenses and camera gear. While you should treat the seller ethically, there’s nothing wrong with negotiating a bargain for something they no longer want.
What’s Old Is New Again
That classic camera, elderly tripod, or dirty lens may be older than your firstborn, or even older than you! Cleaned up, readjusted, and cared for though, it becomes your newest tool (or toy) for you to use and enjoy.