A buyers guide to e-Bay by Dan K


by Bellamy /

11 min read

A buyers guide to e-Bay by Dan K
Dan is back, and this time he chips in on the eBay debate. As many of you may know I am not a big fan of the site, but it has its uses. Dan outlines the typical challenges and pitfalls, and how you can avoid them.

O e-bay Why eBay?
I am an avid collector of cameras and lenses. As I am fairly experienced in testing cameras and I research what to look out for in some models, I always prefer to buy in person, either from a friend, or from a trusted store.

The main reason I use eBay is the joy of window shopping in idle moments. It’s fun to browse through such a huge array of photography gear looking for undiscovered gems. That’s the main strength of eBay; it brings together people of all walks of life and from all over the planet. eBay gives Buyers the opportunity to find rare cameras and maybe get a bargain price. However, it’s getting rarer these days to find well known, high-value cameras at a knocked-down price. Indeed, there are some specialist high-end Sellers that go about all the camera fairs and auctions, hoovering up all the legends. They resell them on eBay at vastly inflated “Buy-It-Now” prices and the auctions are rolled over month after month until they sell to a desperate, or uninformed Buyer. Who else would be willing to pay $7,500 for a Noct-Nikkor? But at least they can be found!

Finding Cameras
One way to find excellent deals on eBay is to hang out in forums and on Twitter and from time to time people will mention great deals that they offer, or have seen but don’t have the money to buy. Obviously you have to know what you should be willing to pay for such an item, but that goes for all eBay bidding. Looking back, I overpaid for most of my early auction wins. I just didn’t know how much to pay. Remember that it’s not really ‘winning’ if you overpay.

Personally, when I search eBay I do two kinds of searches. One way is to search for specific cameras. Often I will search for a very specific item. I will use very specific syntax using brackets and commas to include alternate names and the minus symbol to exclude unwanted items that are often caught by the search. For example:

Ricoh (elle, R10) -(protector, caplio, memory, battery, case, remote, digital, SD, display, db70, R8, cx3, cd, mirror, gx200)
in Cameras and Photo
under $405
Auctions and BIN

Another way is to make a much broader search and visually match for cameras that I’d be interested in by scanning my eyes down the page. For example:

black paint
in Cameras and Photo
under $1007
Auctions and BIN

By the way, notice how I pitch the price just over round numbers? I do that when I bid as well. That way I don’t lose an auction to another guy that bids $1,000.

Recently, eBay has brought in My Feed to the front page after you log in. This feeds ‘Discoveries’ from your Saved Searches as pictures for you to see. It’s worth scrolling down. You can improve this search by including and excluding Saved Searches from your My Feed.

Typical eBay Challenges
It’s not all a bed of Roses, though. The biggest problem for me is shipping.  Shipping to Hong Kong from some countries, for example as Canada, Germany and Australia can be prohibitively expensive. If you have a lot of Sellers in your country, then that’s great, but not many people in Hong Kong sell on eBay, so it’s almost always shipped from Europe or the USA. That’s if they are willing to deal with me at all, as I don’t live in the USA. If you are reading this from the continental US, then these concerns probably don’t apply to you so much.

Getting a Good Deal
I always price a Bid, BIN or Offer net of shipping charges. Sadly, after calculating shipping, I’d usually get a better deal buying locally, especially on low-value items. As the high value items are generally sold at highly inflated prices and low value items are expensive to ship, that means I almost always buy cameras and lenses priced at between $30 and $500. I get some good deals, but only because play the game very carefully. I know my cameras and their value, I read and examine the auction listing and Seller carefully and I use eSnipe.com to place my bid two seconds before the auction closes. Using eSnipe avoids my getting nibbled up by curious but insincere bidders and I don’t make any legal commitment to buy until the very last second. Clicking Buy-It-Now or bidding in an auction through eBay does involve a commitment and you are likely to get your account suspended if you do not pay up. There can be legal implications from breach of contract as well.

Outright Scams
From time to time, maybe once in every 20 transactions, I get scammed by a seller, or have an experience that puts me off eBay for six months to a year. Scams abound on eBay, and high value items like cameras and lenses are especially susceptible.

Usually, it’s a camera that’s not as described, be it cosmetically, or mechanically. If the Seller does not offer a proper description or clear photos, or says something along the lines of “not tested”, “I am not an expert” or “I have no batteries to test”, then I generally walk away.

Buying lenses is a bad joke, because a Seller’s subjective opinion of a lens quality is usually biased and it can be hard for a Seller or complaining Buyer to photograph the condition of scratches, polishing marks, fungus, bubbles and separation. It’s a risk and the buyer’s reputation is critically important. You can’t always tell from feedback either, but if someone I know like agfcamera are selling a marked-down lens, I will actually call the bricks-and-mortar store and ask the seller’s honest opinion. I always ask if my friends and favourite stores have eBay stores and then I save them in my Favorite Seller list and check to see if they have anything interesting from time to time. It beats travelling across town.

I’ve been ripped off by a seller that didn’t ship at all. He had excellent feedback upto that point, but then ‘went bad’. I was the first to get hit and then he had half a dozen negative feedbacks. Who knows what went wrong? The same thing can happen on internet forums. If it sounds too good to be true, walk away. Even if the item has freight tracking, you may not get what you paid for. The Buy-And-Switch fraud (also known as the “Box-O-Rocks” fraud) entails the Seller sending the Buyer a box loaded down with junk, or an empty box, or incomplete contents. Buyers need to photograph the condition of the box before opening and video the act of opening. Who really does that? Be paranoid.

Buyers that live outside the locations that shipping can be calculated for, shouldn’t bid unless they have contacted the Seller and received a quotation. It’s very common for a Seller to overcharge for shipping. Sometimes, they send a small camera in a big well-padded flat-rate box. Sometimes, they just overcharge.

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of misunderstanding, rather than fraud, but the outcome can be similar. I once bought a toy camera from the USA, stipulated tracked airmail service and was charged a hefty premium over the actual USPS Priority Mail cost. Two weeks later, it hadn’t arrived in Hong Kong but the Seller insisted his wife shipped it. When the 45 day deadline to initiate a complaint arrived, I did so, as I had been burned before for doing so. I received threatening and aggressive emails from the seller, some accusing me of scamming him. He was unable to provide proof of shipping, a tracking number, insurance, or anything and had his account suspended by eBay. Prior to that, he’d had hundreds or thousands of successful transactions. The twist is that more than two months after I had paid, a box shows up with my camera in it. It had been shipped by surface mail without tracking. It seems his wife had sent it by sea. The post mark was not long after I had paid. I set things straight with eBay, but left Neutral feedback, describing the problem. He left a particularly nasty comment in response.

If you think Buyers have it bad, spare a thought for Sellers. They are getting ripped off all the time and eBay does have a system for recording potentially dodgy Buyers (no negative Seller feedback) so it can be hard to differentiate between a good Buyer and a fraudster. This often makes them very edgy and suspicious and understandably so.

One such thing is the Package-Not-Received fraud. Buyers get their camera but deny receiving it and demand a refund. Sellers now often require Buyers to pay for tracking as a result, but some Buyers may claim the signature was fraudulent and it’s really hard to claim on shipping insurance in that case. Delivery-people have been known to leave a tracked package on the porch without obtaining the delivery signature. Some Buyers will take advantage of that situation. They complain to eBay and may even file a police complaint for mail fraud or send legit-looking legal letters.

The Damaged-In-Transit fraud seems to be popular now. A fraudulent Buyer will claim that the package was damaged in transit, the item broken, not as described, not in the package or something like that. If the item is declared broken, often they will send a demand for a partial refund or a bill for repairs, asking the Seller to pay a prohibitive return cost. If the Seller demands the product is returned, he/she may become a victim of a Box-O-Rocks fraud and the Buyer may even deliberately damage the item. Sadly, it seems some of these frauds are being reported as originating in Hong Kong. Even with an honest return, Buyer and/or Seller can lose out. When you deduct the cost of packaging and shipping, eBay and PayPal fees, etc. in some cases, the Seller might receive less than half of what the buyer pays for the camera. Fees may be refunded if initiated in time, but return shipping is usually paid by the Buyer. Some things aren’t worth returning.

Another scam involves having an item shipped to a mail forwarder, or a false address. That’s another reason why Sellers don’t allow foreign-registered buyers to bid, even if they have a domestic address.

In summary, there are a lot of good people and there is a lot of good gear on eBay, but there are also a lot of scumbags and rubbish. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose; sometimes you don’t even get to play.

A good article about protecting yourself from many of the common scams is here http://ebay.about.com/od/mistakestoavoid/a/Win-The-Buyer-Protection-Battle.htm

Obviously there are other auction sites, but the same caveats apply and the other auction sites may lack the same buyer protections that eBay has put in place. I still prefer eBay.

Internet forums also lack controls, but I take comfort that if someone has made thousands of posts on a forum, they may be reluctant to throw away the reputation that they have earned on one bad trade.

There is also Craigslist. This doesn’t work well for me, as I live in Asia. I also don’t like the idea of being robbed or murdered. YMMV.

I also like shopping at the many bricks-and-mortar second hand camera dealerships in Hong Kong. Even amongst the major cities of the world Hong Kong and Tokyo are rich hunting grounds and it’s worth shopping if you go there. Bellamy and I have published buying guides for these cities.








The main differences between Hong Kong and Tokyo is Tokyo has quality, condition and collectibles, but you’ll pay for it. Some great deals can be found in Hong Kong, particularly on lower-priced cameras and ones that are in less than prime cosmetic condition. If you really want pristine cameras, or Japanese cameras and lenses that are hard to find outside of Japan, then you really have to travel to Tokyo. Of course that’s not always practical; and that’s where Japan Camera Hunter comes in.

Japan Camera Hunter’s Service

Bellamy’s not just a reputable western bloke in Japan. He doesn’t just go shopping and kick the tyres. If that were so, you could just find a reputable store’s website or eBay store and plunder direct from the seller.

First, Bellamy is an expert. He knows his stuff. He’s the guy who’ll say, “Nah, for what you want to do you’re better off with a late model 8-blade”. Stores may or may not give good advice. Very few stores carry every model ever made. They will sell you what they have, or what’s been sitting on the shelf for too long, or the consignment item that has a fat commission on it. Bellamy doesn’t carry stock, so you’ll get unbiased expert advice.

Secondly, Bellamy knows every reputable source in Tokyo. He can find the really obscure cameras, even things that nobody’s seen. Don’t waste his time or your money on cheap, common cameras, the kind of thing that eBay is awash with, for example a Canonet 28 or a FM10. He’s not Japan Dumpster Diver. He’s the go-to guy for 60mm Hexanons, KE7A, stuff like that. He’s the advanced collector’s dream. 90% of what I ask him to find just can’t be found. It’s the kind of thing you don’t specify a price range for; “Just find me one”.

Thirdly, Bellamy knows what gets broke on what camera or lens. He doesn’t just run through the shutter speeds, check the meter moves and the lens isn’t mouldy. He knows stuff like Contarexs’ helicoid oil goes bad and that can lead to friction welded focus mechanisms. Buy cameras and lenses from him that really need an expert to check and are valuable enough that it matters.

Fourthly, he knows how to get gear fixed, tuned and customised. His M6 is so slick it’s stuck in my mind. I don’t even like the M6! Go to him if you don’t just want a run of the mill camera. Specify and pay for customisation. Want a really good repaint? Get him to find a donor and have it done right.

Finally, he’s a good bloke. There’s no such thing as a warranty in this business and after sales follow up can be important. If you’re buying a special gift and worry if it’ll subsequently go wrong, it’s worth spending a bit more.

Unlike most sellers, Bellamy is very open about what he charges for his service:


If you are looking for a high-priced item, or a cheap item that is almost impossible to find outside of Tokyo, then he is pretty reasonable. His service starts from JPY5,000 (currently around $50) and I think that’s pretty reasonable considering that he’s travelling around an expensive city and applying local knowledge, business connections and professional expertise to help you get the right camera or lens in good condition. Heck, I often pay more than that on shipping eBay stuff from the USA, so this is a reasonable commission in my book.

So, in conclusion, Bellamy’s not the right buyer for every camera or camera buyer, but for some special purchases, he is a godsend. If you’re in doubt, why not ask him if the thing you’re looking for is worthwhile buying in Japan?

You can follow Dan on his social networks. He always has something interesting to say about photography and cameras.

He was also on ‘In your bag’

text © Dan K. All rights reserved.

13 comments on “A buyers guide to e-Bay by Dan K”

    Francis July 27, 2013 at 2:35 pm / Reply

    Nice article. Thanks.

    Bernard Reznicek July 27, 2013 at 3:01 pm / Reply

    Nice synopsis of the market via ebay. I have become leery of the high end ebay purchases. Too much room for differences in opinions on quality as well as working condiitons (and a true lack of method to check in advance). I had experiences where what I got was not the exact version. Next, the “clean” scam where the camera is clean as in no dust & dirt, yet heavy dents existed –although the dents were clean too. And, unidentified in the photos via clever camera angles and shot bokeh.
    On cameras I dislike the lines:
    1. cannot test because I have no batteries.
    2. did not test with film.

    On lenses fill in the blank about these problems
    1. slight dust
    2. small cleaning marks,
    3 mold or haze is small back section
    Sellers always answer with “Should not affect picture quality” BS.
    (makes me suspect)

    Lastly i love the term “Minty”; help me out here, but is this a way to say Mint without having any legal responsibility to deliver said quality.

    Caveat Emptor, cross your fingers, or expect some disappointment purchases, or get someone to help you out on location. I have been in Japan over 100 times. The quality and quantity is much better there. Having an expert there that can speak the language will get you 10x the exposure to the market and 10x deeper with the dealers there (because of the Language issues). Additionally, Tokyo is a huge city and you could easily expect to spend 1/2 a day running around a couple of stores in various parts of town. What is the cost of a day’s shooting on limited time in the most expensive city in the world?

    Marco Castelvecchio July 27, 2013 at 4:56 pm / Reply

    Brilliant article, as always. Ebay is a good source for cheap accessories, adapters, spare parts. I bought several good cameras on it, but also bad stuff. It’s a 50/50 chance even if you know your stuff. Instead, Bellamy sourced me an excellent GR1s and gave me several good advices, even if he didn’t have to. He’s a good bloke and I recommend him to anyone needs good collector’s items.

      ZDP-189 July 28, 2013 at 1:22 am /

      Thanks Marco! I believe it was Bernard who put me onto Etsy yesterday regarding original Petzval lenses.

    Keith July 28, 2013 at 2:23 am / Reply

    I’ve always been honest with my camera sales on ebay & I’ve yet to really have a problem with an item I’ve sold. Yes, I’ve had an item or two returned, no prob, and in most cases I’ve resold the item for more than what I did originally. Are my cameras perfect like new specimens, not usually. It’s also fun to hear back from buyers to find out more about their plans for the camera I’ve sold them. Yea shipping costs are a problem, I’ve undercharged quite a few times.

    As for Craigslist, I’ve never had any luck selling cameras there – because of the no show rate.

    Isaac July 28, 2013 at 4:37 am / Reply

    Great article! I read this one from beginning to end.

    Andy Woodside July 28, 2013 at 10:07 am / Reply

    I have to admit taking a chance with lenses and camera’s however I recently bought what I thought was a good bet from a seller Tokyo with good rep but when the lense turned up in the UK The rear element of my purchase a Nikkor 50mm F1.2 was loose to the point of rattling !!! I had the “It was fine when it left Japan” fortuntateIy know a camera repairer and gave it five star treatment for £100. Only consolation is I never paid UK import tax which suprised me and it was able to be repaired easily.A lesson learned and in future I think an email to JCH will be the order of the day.

    Happypoppeye July 30, 2013 at 12:15 am / Reply

    The last time I used Ebay was the time I was on the good end of a $700 USD claim.

    I was the seller and shipped an item worth $700. The buyer send me full payment via PayPal. The buyer was not happy and shipped the item back. Apparently, in the time between shipping and receipt of the return the buyer put in a claim. Ebay denied the claim because he didn’t have a signature of receipt for the return (of course because it didn’t reach me yet) and Ebay/PayPal gave me a win on the case. I’m still not sure what happenned but I think than either the buyer closed his account or Ebay closed his account …and than I receive the product back. …with no way to contact the buyer and Ebay refusing anything to do with it.

    So long story not so short …I have the buyers $700 and the original product back which is worth $700 …total failure by Ebay and their complaint department. The buyer bought the product, returned it in the same condition it was sent and did absolutely nothing wrong but still got ripped off $700 because of a mistake. You’re taking a leap of faith buying or selling anything on their. …and there is really no way to tell who is right or wrong in the case of an error.

    Good luck.

      ZDP-189 July 31, 2013 at 8:11 pm /

      LOL, you’re the only person I know that acted in good faith and accidentally ripped the counterparty off for $700. Usually, it’s the other way around; you act in good faith and get checkmated by a scammer.

    Jim October 18, 2013 at 12:09 pm / Reply

    This is a great article but I think that many of the issues you talk about are more apparent when you live in a country besides the U.S.. I find many of the super clean photo gear comes from Japan and you can see that while looking for the details in the equipment. I’ve been fortunate in my experiences with eBay to get what I expected when making a purchase. I usually won’t buy from Canada or other countries in Asia or Europe but the gear from Japan and the U.S. has been fairly priced and in the shape I was expecting.

    Michael Richardson December 13, 2013 at 7:08 am / Reply

    Clearing out all my film swaps to free up cash for more or my collection.
    got 500+ types going on my website and some are on ebay as well.
    user id KITSCHRETRO

    Argenticien February 23, 2014 at 8:32 am / Reply

    In USA at least, consider shopgoodwill.com, which is the online auction of the well-known (in USA) charity GoodWill. It it widely used (so has high liquidity like eBay) so you won’t find much below true market price anymore, but, the advantage is this: It’s local charity shops who are selling, not greedy, for-profit individuals. There is no incentive for them to engage in malicious misrepresentation or fraud. On the negative side, there is sometimes accidental misrepresentation or bad information, only because these are generalists who sell cameras, furniture, antiques, jewelry, clothing, books … everything. They are not camera experts, with a few exceptions (such as the GoodWill stores in Washington state, which have a lot of cameras for some reason). So they may mis-describe things due to true cluelessness. Also their photos are small and not very good. And sometimes their shipping cost is high. But they mean well and are fair sellers, which is priceless. I have never had a bad experience. A lot of it is garage junk ($10 autofocus SLRs from 1990s) but somtimes there is a Barnack, or a Nikon F, etc.

    Eric November 18, 2016 at 8:34 am / Reply

    1) description must be precise and fair.
    I prefer someone who tells me near mint conditions, meter works well, focus works well, there is a little scratch on the top and gives me a lot of pictures : lenses, shutter, meter working … …, not easy but good sellers can do with micro lenses, … …. than excellent conditions
    2) I prefer to buy item at a correct price, than low one, or very high one ! It s better to see on a store. Who will take risk to buy a T3 at 700 us $, because it will not be served any more, it s a Leica M3, M6 Ttl, M7 price put a Rokkor 40 mm and you will have better
    3) Japan is the pearl. But there is a few great sellers on Ebay because they are collectors.

    My photographer GF sends a wonderful set of Olympus OM2, two, with 3 lenses, the 2 lenses was nearly free, free shiping from China, because she wanted to buy the beast the Contax 645. Buyer has sent a congratulations for the great conditions of material. This is people who cares they gear!!!

    Bellamy has a price of course with his services, all my readings here have shown everyone was totally satisfied. I will buy one from hime when I will have the cash, a special one.
    Ebay, it s like everythings, feeling is the key, serious sellers do their best to show their are serious. One day I got a new, with box and Rollei lense 40, Rollei 35 RF for 380 $. Not open, with seals !!! Why ? People has store and needs to sell it, from China. When I ve saw it, whaou, I ve asked a friend to buy for me. There is also luck.

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