A great way to be able to get high-quality photography gear at affordable prices is to buy used equipment. There are many ways for private individuals to contact each other to buy or sell used cameras and lenses such as eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, classified ads on local newspapers, or at events such as garage sales and flea markets.
While these person-to-person channels for buying and selling used cameras exist and thrive, many people are wary of parting with large sums of money with few guarantees of satisfaction. So, these potential buyers would rather deal with a store of some kind, most of which will have policies in place that protect the customer and their purchase. The best used camera stores in the US provide just such an experience.
Two Kinds of Stores
Shopping for used cameras and other photography equipment, I tend to split up used camera stores into two general types. One is a store primarily selling new equipment that also takes used gear as trade-ins and then sells that gear that is worthy of reuse.
The second type is a store that specializes in used gear, sometimes even just one brand or one type of equipment. These stores tend to have a much wider selection of those items and many of them also offer rentals and equipment repair services as well.
Stores That Make the List
Used to be, I would list the two major types of stores as online or brick-and-mortar, but everyone is online now – even Mom & Pop businesses. Still, walking into a store has some great advantages, so I will add that into the store description if it’s an option.
This list of popular used camera stores in the US is mostly unranked, after the winner of each of the two categories. Any store on this list is a good place to find and buy used cameras and other photography gear. If you know of any stores that I missed, please let me know, and I’ll compile an update.
New and Used
These are some of the stores I have visited that primarily sell new equipment but that also have a large used gear department. The used cameras and lenses tend to come into the store as a trade-in on new gear and are checked out before an offer is made on them.
Many of these stores offer either a money back period or a short limited warranty. Carefully read the guidelines for their used equipment to see if they qualify for the guarantees and in what condition level it is.
Even with stores that offer their own warranty, some gear will be strictly “as is” or final purchase. Read item descriptions carefully.
Adorama is one of the largest full-service camera stores in the USA. It has both an online presence and a brick-and-mortar store in the New York City Flatiron District at 42 W 18th Street.
Since 1974, Adorama has had a huge presence in the photographic retail scene beyond their doors with mail-order sales being their main focus. Several of the stores in this list with both an online and in-person presence were well known to readers of photographic magazines, as their ads filled up the back third of those magazines.
Adorama has 10 different levels of equipment ratings, including in-store demo models and returned new items. These levels are clearly marked and the links explain what each one is. This is a big reason why we can call Adorama one of the top used camera stores in the US.
A lot of the cameras, lenses, and flashes that are available as used are actually current models or very recent offerings from the manufacturers. If you are looking for great prices on recent equipment, giant mail-order stores are a fantastic resource.
B&H Photo/Video is another of the huge mail-order marketers that has transitioned from magazine ads and telephone to online, in addition to having a physical store on 9th Ave in New York City.
Open since 1973, B&H has about half a million items in stock at any given time. Their used equipment primarily comes from trade-ins and there are 10 different levels of not-completely-brand-new descriptions, so you should read the listing for each item carefully.
To add to their impressive used photographic equipment inventory, B&H also has lots of video gear plus computers and even secondhand smartphones.
Samy’s Camera of California is a chain of full-service camera stores and equipment rental centers in San Francisco and Los Angeles that sells used cameras and lenses from their trade-ins and retired rental gear.
Started in 1976, Samy’s has been a fixture in the pro scene for decades, as well as consumer-level gear and even photographic collectibles. The condition ratings are numerical and easy to understand.
Roberts Camera in Indianapolis sells new and refurbished gear only, leaving the used gear part of their business to their UsedPhotoPro brand.
Originally opened in 1957, Roberts Distributors began selling cameras in 1968 and became Roberts Camera. They split off their thriving used gear business to the sister store UsedPhotoPro.
The equipment comes from direct purchase and trade-ins. A six-level rating system is used to rank the condition of the cameras and lenses. Their used gear, except for the as-is stuff, is backed by a Roberts Camera 180-day limited warranty.
In the greater Boston area and several other cities in New England, Hunt’s Photo Video has been serving the needs of pro and amateur photographers since 1952. In addition to selling new and used equipment, Hunt’s also rents a lot of different types of gear.
There is an eight-level rating system for the used equipment sold from the store website and they also operate an eBay store for new and used cameras and lenses. The main difference between the eBay store and the Hunt’s website is that the eBay store uses the bidding method for pricing and purchasing.
This is the type of camera shop that some of us used to go visit in person on a regular basis and browse what came in since the last time visited and also shoot the breeze with the staff and other staffers. I lived near a huge camera exchange and was often thrilled by what I could find. I would see classic items I liked for years and many times would pick up a newer piece for a fraction of what it cost brand new.
That was then, but the experience now is very similar, but simply handled online for the most part. I love to browse older, classic cameras and lenses, plus I tend to check the used market first for a newer camera, lens, or flash that I might need for my business or as an upgrade.
Two main things to consider when shopping in this type of store. Consider the reputation of the company, and pay very close attention to the descriptions, especially concerning the condition of the time. The leading used camera stores have great item descriptions and a stellar reputation.
The stores with a good reputation have earned it for being honest and easy to deal with. Honest in that they will list the condition of the camera or lens after careful inspection by experts. Easy to deal with because they know their stuff and can be accessed by chat, phone, or e-mail.
When you’re buying a used camera online, trust is extremely important. If they say this camera tests out and is in pristine condition, yet when you get it the card slot door is broken off or the front element scratched, then you may not be able to trust them.
Sure, mistakes sometimes happen, but if a used camera store doesn’t have a good reputation, it won’t take long for the word to get out online.
6. KEH Camera (Overall Winner)
KEH Camera, located physically in Smyrna, Georgia since 1979, is quite possibly the coolest store ever – for camera lovers and photo enthusiasts, anyways. The reasons it is the overall winner for buying used photographic equipment are multi-fold.
One reason is the sheer volume of stock available. On any given day, you can pick and choose from over 50,000 items from years ago or a used version of a current camera or lens. You can also find all sorts of used accessories as well.
Another reason is their rating system. KEH buys cameras, sometimes at local exchange events, other times individually, and only takes in what they are comfortable with. The rating system is based on an actual inspection which may include their technicians making minor adjustments to make sure the equipment operates at a high level. This rating system is extremely detailed, accurate, and easy to understand.
Their reputation is a huge reason I listed KEH as the overall winner. In business since 1979, KEH likes to keep customers happy. They do so by honesty in listings, fair business practices such as a generous return policy, and by offering a 180-day warranty on gear rated above As-Is or Ugly.
If you have camera gear you want to sell, KEH will give your equipment a fair appraisal and the procedure is quick and easy.
7. Gear Focus
Gear Focus is a new player in the field, but they have already made a huge splash by offering a moderated outlet for buyers and sellers of photographic equipment. Unlike other online classifieds or online auctions, Gear Focus holds both the buyer and seller to a very high standard.
It’s moderated by professionals from the various fields of photography and videography and rules are strictly enforced.
What I really like about Gear Focus is the huge array of very recent offerings from various manufacturers. If you look right now, you will see some used cameras that are currently sold new. The savings from brand new can be significant. Keep in mind, though, that you are dealing with an individual, not a store, so return availability or guarantees may vary.
I would much rather buy from an individual listing their camera or lens on Gear Focus than I would from some of the other big names in online classifieds or auctions.
Rental giants such as BorrowLenses.com are also some of the best ways to look for used camera gear. Rental houses tend to only stock higher-end equipment at professional or prosumer quality, but they take excellent care of their gear and offer limited guarantees to purchasers.
BorrowLenses has multiple rental locations on the East and West coasts, plus you can arrange rental shipping to most places in between. Your purchases can be shipped directly to your home or studio.
Prices tend to be a little high, but you are usually getting pristine examples of very recent photo and video equipment. In fact, if you are looking for new pro-level video gear, BorrowLenses.com is one of the places that you should check first.
LensRentals.com is one of the other rental giants, and LensAuthority.com is the storefront they use to sell off their gear after a certain time out in the field.
All of what I said about BorrowLenses can be reposted here for LensAuthority. When wanting very recent examples of higher-end photo or video equipment, rental houses are an excellent venue in which to shop.
I have a grab bag of other stores and ideas that don’t fit perfectly into the two main categories I created. I’ll list these here as they include some specialty stores, local stores, and internationally located stores, along with a few ideas about gear other than brand new.
10. Tamarkin Camera (Leica Specialty)
Located in Chicago, Illinois since 1971, Tamarkin Camera is one of the premier Leica retailers in the world. Besides selling anything Leica makes brand new, Tamerkin also prides itself on having something available that Leica may have made since about 1925. They are truly experts in this brand.
11. Houston Camera Exchange (Lighting and Darkroom)
This store sells used and new camera gear in the fourth largest city in the USA, Houston, Texas, but what makes them special is their large used marketplace for video and studio lighting plus being one of the few places to find quality used darkroom equipment in great condition. If you visit Houston, go see Houston Camera Exchange in person yourself, otherwise, check them out online.
Around the World
All over the globe, you can find some very fine spots to pick up used or sometimes collectible cameras and lenses.
We may call these Mom & Pop shops, but some of them are regional chains. What these stores tend to offer is a very high level of customer service, though the selection of used gear may vary widely from place to place or week to week.
Refurbished Direct from Manufacturer or from Repair Centers
Refurbished is a great option as an alternative to brand new equipment. Manufacturer refurbished gear is often hardly different from new equipment, but can not be listed as new because it may have been in a display case or in a field rep’s bag.
Generally speaking, when you buy a manufacturer refurbished piece, you get a limited manufacturer’s warranty and usually everything in the box like new. There is also the option of gear refurbished by the expert repair shops associated with many of the camera stores, these may not have all the little stuff in the box, but they usually have a limited store guarantee.
Older Models of New
Whenever a new camera or lens is released, there is often still a supply of the previous item still available brand new. The retail stores selling them will often mark them way down and the manufacturer may also offer substantial rebates to consumers.
Though still completely brand new, this type of deal can also save you a lot of money when purchasing cameras, lenses, and accessories.
Hunting for the Best Used Camera Stores in the US
The options may seem overwhelming, but I think you will agree with me that I am glad we have so many great options for used camera stores in the US.
Cameras and lenses can really wear out our bank accounts or credit cards, so used, refurbished, or clearance sales are fantastic ways to obtain high-quality gear for lower-than-new prices.