Monday, August 30, 2010

Used and Refurbished Nikon dSLRs: Good-buys and Good-byes

I would have no reservations about purchasing a used Nikon dSLR from a reputable dealer or trusted friend. Here are a few I have experience with and would be especially interested in, with price points:

Used good-buys:

Nikon D70/D70s. Up to about $150 body only, $225 with the excellent 18-70. Probably the largest leap forward Nikon made in a single bound. Even though the original D70 is now six years old, if you can find one in good shape (again, from a reputable dealer — I'd exercise caution on eBay) I'd think about it. This was arguably Nikon's best attempt at nailing professional features and image quality uber alles in a prosumer package. I would make sure to ask about battery quality; the seller can check from the wrench menu.

Nikon D40.
 Up to about $200 body only, $230 with 18-55 I kit lens, $275 with both the 18-55 and 55-200. A few dollars more if the 55-200 is VR. The D40 is basically the D70, but with an SD slot (as opposed to CF in the '70), a bigger, nicer rear LCD and a few fewer buttons. I'd be willing to bet this has been Nikon's most prolific camera produced if sales numbers are your yardstick. Sadly, it looks like the last of the factory refurbished units are now sold.

Nikon D90.
 Refurbished by Nikon for about $750, used up to maybe $600. I shot with the D90 for over a year and loved it. A capable camera. If possible, I would advise avoiding the 18-105VR kit lens. The D90 has Nikon's second generation image processing hardware, which is good. But if a fairy dropped a D70s in my lap, I wouldn't complain and wish for the '90. (Well, maybe a little bit.)

Nikon D300.
 I wouldn't pay what many are asking. If you can find a screaming deal on one, make sure you're not being taken. But if you can find a legitimate screaming deal, maybe. I wouldn't pay more than what I would for the D90, which I think is 90% of the camera for 90% of people. The only reason to get the D300 (or D300s) over the D90 is if you shoot a lot of manual focus lenses, with which the '90 can't couple for metering.

Nikon D700.
 Used about $1,750. Can still be had new for about $2,700. Get one with a warranty or buy new. If money were nothing, this is probably the camera I would have, even against the D3/D3s/D3x.

Used good-byes:

I would avoid these cameras.

Nikon D40x/D60.
 Both about the same camera, a stripped-down version of the...

Nikon D80.
 After the D70s, it would've been nice to see its successor D80 raise the bar so high again. Unfortunately, crippled with a poor meter and sometimes-twitchy AF, the D80 failed to be much of an advancement of the D70. Either go higher (D90) or lower (D70s or D40).

Nikon D3000.
 More megapixels, more problems. I would avoid at any price, except free. (Attention D3000 owners: feel free to test my integrity and make me an offer I can't refuse. Like S&H.)

Nikon D5000.
 Similar in many ways to the D90, I would recommend this except for its flippy LCD. It's too soon, I think, to be comfortable with reliability in a used camera with a flippy screen. However, unlike the 40x/60/80/3000, none of which I would recommend at any price point, I might jump for a D5000 if the price were sweet. Maybe $350 for the body.

Nikon D300.
 They're asking too much. Don't get me wrong: the D300 is a wonderful camera, it's just overpriced. When the D90 came along it replicated 90% — maybe 95% — of the usefulness and image quality of the D300 for half the price. The only reason to pay the price premium for a '300 is if you do an awful lot of shooting with manual focus glass, because this is the cheapest Nikon that will meter with MF. That said, my brother has been making fantastic shots with manual focus glass on a D40 for years, while guessing at exposure. Having an intuitive feel for exposure is a good skill to develop anyway.

Nikon D3/D3s/D3x.
 If you can find one at a steep discount with a warranty, maybe. But these are the professional grade bodies that have seen hard use their entire lives. They're built to take the abuse, but ask yourself: would you buy a used steak supper? There's a reason it's for sale. Exercise caution.

Nikon D200.
 I'd get a D70 for a lot less, or a D90 for about the same, instead.


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