View Full Version : Economics of newer used vs. older used ...

19-Apr-2008, 23:15
As a complete newby, I have begun the search for lenses and have seen a vast array of prices on ebay. I am still awaiting the arrival of Jack Dykinga and Steve Simmons' books, so, I've been scouring info and looking at prices.

Deals can be had, or so it seems, on cosmetically challenged lenses. Cosmetics don't bother me as much as mechanics. What I don't know about, are the shutters. Many ads say things like "times seem good, B and T don't work, selling as is"

OK, as is, that's fine. A CLA would probably take care of many things. What I am wondering though, is the cost of a CLA on a lens/shutter (including shipping, etc ...) versus spending more to start on "newer" used. If a CLA is $50, it may make sense. If it is over $100 it may not.

What is the real world experience of you all in these situations?

Thanks so much,


Gordon Moat
19-Apr-2008, 23:29
A couple of ways to approach this. If you consider the cost of a lens to include clean and adjust, then you end up with a lens that should stay within adjusted shutter speeds for a while. This might be more certain than a slightly newer lens, of which you may not know whether it was lightly used or heavily used. Another way to approach this is to consider that newer Copal shutters are quite reliable and plentiful, so why not just get one and use it as is arrives.

Quite likely lens optics might have a bit of haze or build-up on them. There are lens cleaning compounds out there at work well, and large format lenses are somewhat easy to remove from a shutter to clean the more accessible surfaces. However, if you are not comfortable with this, then paying a knowledge person/company to do this might be a better choice.

You can probably expect nearly any used lens to need cleaning. How much, and whether professional cleaning might be better, would be a judgement call.

With shutters, if you have audio software on your computer that allows you to see waveforms, and have a small microphone, then you can test your shutters. If they are somewhat close, or at least consistent, then you will know the speeds. After that, just use as they are, and adjust your exposure to better match shutter accuracy.

A modern Prontor Professional, Copal, or Seiko should be a reliavel shutter, though they can drift after heavy use. The older Compur shutters are fairly good, though seem to go off at slower speeds, but would still be an okay purchase. Linhof or Sinar branded shutters are often still good, though older examples can still be slow at slowest settings, or not that fast at the top speeds. Either test and live with them, or plan on getting it sorted professionally.

Vintage lenses are another realm entirely, and a bit of luck to find something not needing service. The best I have found so far have been Compur and Prontor, though even with those a cleaning can help a great deal, and it seems the fastest speeds are not quite as fast as the settings.


Gordon Moat Photography (http://www.gordonmoat.com)

19-Apr-2008, 23:44

When Carol Miller at flutotscamerarepair.com is back at work (and that will apparently be soon) her usual fees are $50 for a CLA and she is damned good. I've had her work on modern and very vintage lenses with great results all around. As long as the shutter at least fires, it isn't frozen and can be set right. Same with diaphragm blades. Be sure they open and close easily with no broken or bent blades..

I would worry more about the glass than the shutter. Slight cleaning marks or even a small scratch are not likely to cause serious problems. Heavy cleaning marks, fungus, separation other than at the edges, and internal haze are things that can cost you big bucks to have repaired.

Starting with older lenses and moving up when affordable is a great way to start.


20-Apr-2008, 00:03
My rule is unless it's brand new with a warranty assume it needs at least a CLA.

OTOH Ebay prices are often nuts. For common stuff I'm happier with one of the good dealers. Rare stuff or the odd deal that slips by are the only time Ebay makes sense to me.

Hany Aziz
20-Apr-2008, 06:13
My rule is unless it's brand new with a warranty assume it needs at least a CLA.

OTOH Ebay prices are often nuts. For common stuff I'm happier with one of the good dealers. Rare stuff or the odd deal that slips by are the only time Ebay makes sense to me.

Agree. Jim at Midwest photo particularly recommended. The lenses I have gotten from him have always been pristine and the prices are often less than on Ebay.



Ron Marshall
20-Apr-2008, 09:32
All of my lenses are modern, and all but one lens was bought used. Most of them from dealers. There are some good deals on this site, APUG and Ebay, but often the price is not much less than what you would pay at a dealer such as Midwest Photo, KEH Camera Brokers.

20-Apr-2008, 09:33
Hi Jeff--

I'm new to LF, so I've just gone this process and can offer a few observations.

1) A description of "excellent condition" from an individual seller is pretty much meaningless. I've gotten some thrashed lenses and a some like-new ones--all described as excellent condition. Descriptions of mint, like-new, or user are usually much closer to the truth.

2) About 1/2 of used lenses seriously need a shutter CLA. There is no way to determine which ones in communications from ebay or photo forum sellers. Assume you're going to need a CLA and be delighted when you don't.

3) If the shutter isn't working, don't assume it can be repaired. Used shutters are not cheap and can often cost the same as undesirable of common lenses in working shutters.

Good luck!

Brian Ellis
20-Apr-2008, 10:23
I wouldn't count on a CLA taking care of any shutter problem. I've bought two lenses that I had to return, one because my repair person told me it sat around unused for so long that it would never give consistent times and another because it wouldn't consistently close fully after being used on B or T and the repair person said it wouldn't be economically feasible to fix it. Personally I wouldn't buy any lens if there was a known problem with the shutter.

Ralph Barker
20-Apr-2008, 10:33
Another approach is to look for lenses that have the characteristics you desire, recognizing that the differences between lenses of a similar focal length can sometimes be subtle, and worry less about the economics. As mentioned by others, there is always a certain amount of risk associated with older lenses in older shutters. Real bargains are rare, pseudo-bargains far more common. Buying from reputable dealers with good return policies, however, can reduce or eliminate most of the risk.

21-Apr-2008, 13:03
I'm pretty new myself, and began with a used camera and used lens from a member of this forum. I'm pretty sure he had bought the stuff used himself, as his starter kit. I had no idea how to tell how good either were, other than looking at the glass on the lens. After using it, I have no reason to believe that the shutter is not right on.

Then I started reading more and more, and decided that I might want to upgrade my camera some day, but that my strategy with lenses would be to buy lenses that I think I could and would use forever. I determined which ones in the focal lengths I was interested were highly regarded, without being really expensive. (This ruled out things like the 80 and 110 mm super symmars.)

I had a modest financial windfall and started looking to buy two more lenses (to have a "normal", a "wide" and a "long".) The second lens I picked up on e-bay, only the second thing I have ever bought there. From the description it sounded like it was very lightly used, and the seller had a 7-day return policy. The glass is in perfect condition, and its shutter also seems right on, based on film I've shot.

For the third lens I started watching e-bay and made a couple bids, and made an attempt to buy from a forum member. All fell through. In the end I contacted Jim at Midwest, and he had a used one in at a VERY reasonable price. Unfortunately I have been really busy with non-photo things, so have not yet processed film shot with it. The glass is perfect, however. After this experience I would be hesitant to buy on e-bay again, because I know Jim will stand behind what he sells and his prices are so reasonable. That said, the one lens I bought on e-bay was a good deal for a fine lens. A week later I saw the same lens go for $100 more than I paid.

I guess my conclusion is that fairly modern used lenses with Copal shutters are probably low-risk purchases. From other past experiences in life, I would also say that it is sometimes best to get good stuff the first time around than to upgrade. And finally, Midwest Photo Exchange gets my whole-hearted endorsement.

John Kasaian
21-Apr-2008, 14:36
I'll second the recommendation for Carol at Flutot's for your cla needs.

My suggestion is to buy from a reputable source (Jim Galli or Dagor 77 on ebay---Jim at Midwest, Equinox Photo, Keh, etc..) unless you feel like gambling.
Of course gambling can be fun, but sage advice is never to gamble more than you can afford to loose. Since this is your first LF lens, suppress the urge to gamble and get your mitts on something you can use as soon as possible.