Photography with a conscience

We often hear people talk about responsible photography but there is more to it than what you do when you’re travelling or out shooting. It starts with your camera gear and considering buying in the secondhand market is an easy way you can make a difference.

Buy it now! Shiny new super-whizzy high spec camera with 293 different function settings… most of which you’ll never use! You want a new camera, don’t you? You need a new camera… or do you? In this two-part feature, we take a look at buying secondhand and how it can make a difference in both your pocket and to the planet

Buy a new camera or consider secondhand

The lure of buying a new camera is ever-present but it’s a big commitment because it locks you into future spending. Lenses and accessories to expand your system can soon mount up and the costs skyrocket from that initial outlay, which wasn’t cheap but sounded good. So what is the alternative? How do you know which camera to buy and know the right one for you before you jump in?

Which camera suits you best?

The simple fact is that most cameras which have come to market in the last 5 or 6 years are highly competent performers. Unless you’re doing big shots for advertising hoardings or working at the extremes of light, most will produce good images. Arguably the bigger investment should be in the lenses and lens quality rather than the camera body. Two determining factors are what are you shooting and what do you want to do with your images. Are you intending to sell them, either commercially or even as prints? Or are you taking them for your own pleasure, to share with friends or just to put online?

Choosing the right camera for you

This is something which we don’t think about enough before choosing which camera. If you were choosing a car, you’d think: is it big enough; can I fit enough people in it; is the leg or luggage room spacious enough; what’s the fuel economy and so on? As a result, you wouldn’t buy a Ferrari if you only every drove to the local shops with a family of five! So why buy a pro DSLR or even medium format cameraif you don’t aspire to do more than shoot for your Instagram account or family album or blog? Spend the difference on travelling somewhere to take pictures instead.

The evolution of photography – there are some really interesting options buying secondhand

It’s a good idea to get a feel for a camera before you buy it. This is a crucial part of your photography; being comfortable with a camera and how it works. Over the years we’ve moved more and more towards digital displays rather than dial and button. Which option makes the camera feel more comfortable and best suits the way you work? And are the controls in the right places for your fingers? Does the camera feel right when you pick it up? Is it balanced and a good weight for you? Lots of questions, but the one really important one is can you use it quickly and easily without taking it away from your eye? To truly know the answer to these questions you have to try it.

The option to hire a camera for a few days has always been available and is highly recommended. Numerous companies offer this but Hire A Camera are a good one to try. By doing this you can take it for a test drive and be much more confident that it suits what you want to do. Cameras can look and sound great in the adverts, but they have to fit you too. If they don’t, this can not only stifle your joy of making photographs but also your creativity.

Various camera manufacturers are now introducing ‘try before you buy’ schemes. Fujifilm certainly do this and others are also introducing this option. Good cameras aren’t cheap and the top end models, especially when you get up to the pro end of the market, can cost a small fortune, so any option which gives you confidence that your hard-earned money is being well spent is a big plus.

Diving into the secondhand market

Most camera manufacturers bring out a new model every year, and upgrade an existing model every two years, sometimes more often. When they do, the price of the previous model falls and there are bargains to be had as many people want the latest model. In this trade-up process, these now previous models also become available in the pre-owned market, which brings us to a good way to get a camera which suits you without spending a fortune – buy secondhand. Often you can get a previously top of the range model for a mid-range price by doing this.

Trying before you buy is a great way to test drive a camera and make sure the choice is right for you

Let’s look at the options here. You can buy or even sell locally through small ads and local papers or websites. There is always Ebay, then camera stores which sell secondhand stock and companies which operate exclusively in the pre-owned market, like MPB. The choice is yours and each has pros and cons. 

Buying or selling?

Selling through the small ads and Ebay require you to describe and list your gear and then package and send to the buyer when sold. There’s no guarantee what you’ll get price-wise. If you’re buying then it’s much simpler as long as collection isn’t required. One drawback of using these methods is that what you buy isn’t usually warranted and buying something carries a degree of risk. Sometimes you get a bargain, sometimes you get your fingers burnt.

With camera stores you should get a warranty – usually 6 months – and the equipment will have been cleaned and possibly serviced before you buy it. Generally, you have to go into the store to get the price of your camera assessed if selling or to choose what you want if you’re buying, although some operate online as well. At least this way you get to inspect and handle the equipment. 

MPB is an interesting one because they do a lot of the leg work for you. If you’re buying you choose online and if you’re selling they send you the packaging to send your gear in to them. A price is offered and you can accept it or not. Both options are covered by insurance while in transit, and for purchases, these come with a warranty too.

Photography with a conscience – recycling and reusing camera gear

Aside from price and investing less to find out if a camera is right for you, are there any other considerations and benefits to buying secondhand? Most definitely, yes! Modern cameras contain plastic, metals – including aluminum, gold, magnesium, silver – and glass plus many other things. As our planet warms and some materials start to become either much more expensive or rarer, manufacturing costs are increasing, which means you pay more.

Many of the materials used in camera production can be recycled but what better way to recycle than to re-use? Manufacturing has an environmental cost, but so does reclaiming these materials in the recycling process. A perfectly good camera which is no longer wanted or needed can be used by someone else. Someone who may not have so much disposable income to be able to afford a new one or, through various charitable schemes, may not ever be able to afford a camera at all. 

With so many negative stories about climate change, conservation of resources and recycling, this is a positive one to which we can all contribute by buying used or selling that perfectly good camera, sitting in a cupboard unused, into this marketplace. And we can contribute positively, even in a small way, by giving someone the opportunity which they may not have had to enjoy photography and discover their creativity.

In the second part of this feature we’re going to sell some camera gear and see how this experience was. We’ll start by trying a camera shop and MPB. Sitting in the cupboard, unused for many years, is a Mamiya RZ67 medium format camera with a selection of lenses. It’s a beautiful piece of kit with fabulous optics, and would be ideal for anyone who’s studying photography or looking to get back into shooting on film. We’ll also look in the cupboard to see if we have any redundant digital kit which we can sell as well. Watch this space to find out what happened…

Our planet

Images © Chris Coe and courtesy of and © Jeremy Hoare


By Chris Coe

Chris is a professional photographer, and the founder of Travel Photographer of the Year. He has been working as a professional photographer since 1992, shooting both editorial and advertising photography, and has published over 50 books. He lectures on and teaches photography, mentors and is a competition judge.