Antarctica

In the middle of an approaching storm a brief spot of sunlight exploded through the clouds in an amazing ray.

In the middle of an approaching storm a brief spot of sunlight exploded through the clouds in an amazing ray.

 

this is for the Depths of Perception Contest   http://www.cruise.co.uk/blog/depths-of-perception-ocean-waves-photoblog-competition/

Nikon 70-200mm f4 vs 70-200 f2.8

ok, so i ordered the new Nikon 70-200mm f4 from amazon and compared it to my older 70-200mm 2.8 VR II.   the results were pretty clear and simple, the 2.8 is a sharper lens.

i put my nikon d800E on a tripod.  i set it to iso 1000 since i was inside, just one overhead light.

i set it to aperture priority at f4 so i could have as little depth of field as possible.

i was about 4 or 5 feet from the subject (a post office box)  i set both lenses to 200mm.

took the same picture with each camera and did not move the tripod.  just changed lenses right on the tripod.

first was the strangest observation, as you can see in the pictures the f4 gets up closer in the image.  i’m sure there is a logical reason for this, but it makes no sense to me.

for the purpose of comparison i cropped the 2.8 image in lightroom so it would be the same size for comparison of sharpness

this first image is the regular 2.8 at 200mm uncropped

f2.8 (1 of 1)

 

this second image is the f4 lens uncropped.  notice the strange difference in size when both were set at 200mm??

f4 (1 of 1)

 

this last image is the f2.8 that i cropped so i could compare them at the same visual size.

f2.8 (1 of 1)-2

 

there is no doubt from these pictures that the 2.8 is the sharper lens.

the 2.8 also focuses much faster even when it is set at f4.

so i was hoping that the f4 would be sharper since it does weigh alot less and is smaller, but alas i’m still going to be using the bigger heavier and sharper 2.8 and back to amazon goes the f4.

if anyone has any different results i would most definitly like to hear about it and i’ll be conducting a few more tests since i still have 3 weeks to return it…..

you can email me directly at mike@michaelleggero.com if you have questions or if you know why they looked different when each was set at 200mm??

 

 

How to download photos FROM an iPad directly TO an external hard drive!!!

Ok, this is HUGE to me.  I have finally figured out how to transfer pictures from my ipad directly to an external hard drive.  Now, to clarify this for those that don’t get what I mean.  Lets say I’ve been out shooting all day and I have filled up a memory card.  Well, I want a safe backup,  I go back to the hotel and backup to my ipad, but I can’t do this for long because it only has a max of 64gb space.  Now, however I have expanded that space to 1tb!  Woo Hoo!!

The basic workflow is:

Go out and shoot all day on location

Using camera connection kit, download all your shots onto your ipad

Connect external hard drive to ipad

Copy all pictures you just downloaded onto the external drive

Delete those pictures from your ipad and you have space for tomorrow

 

What you will need:

An ipad of course, the bigger the better, I use a 64 since you still need to put the pictures from your camera onto the ipad.  But if you are reading this far you probably have an ipad anyhow.

You must have your ipad jailbroken.  That’s the only way to do this, I’m not going to go into why or how to do it, google it, choose for yourself.

You need the app ifile from cydia

Camera connection kit with usb plug

An external hard drive

The usb cable to connect the external drive.  This cable needs to have a splitter so you can power the drive by plugging it into the wall.  http://www.amazon.com/Cables-Go-28107-Mini-B-Y-Cable/dp/B0013LQD7Y/ref=sr_1_15?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1357128160&sr=1-15&keywords=usb+splitter+cable

The ipad does not have enough power to run the drive on it’s own, that’s why you need to plug the drive into the wall, or a solar charger if you are in the field too.

 

So, on to the good stuff!!

 

First install ifile on your device, there, now you have everything you need for the software to make this work.  Never have to download it again.

 

1. Using the camera connection kit, download all your pictures from your camera onto the ipad.  That’s easy, just like we’ve always done.

2.  Plug the usb part of the camera connection kit into the ipad and then connect up the external drive.

3. open ifile app.  Turn the ipad sideways so you get the landscape view.

4 on the left side it has a  shortcuts menu which will say Devices.. under the devices section you will see disk, wait a few seconds and then it will show “flash drive”  there might be 2 flash drives depending on your external drive partitions

5. now, under places click images and it will give you a bunch of files.  This is the only confusing part, you have to find the files you just imported.  Simply click the file name and it will open the file.  Some files will be empty, and some will have photo file names.  It’s easy for me because I shoot all raw, so I just find the file with the .NEF extensions in the file name.

in the right corner, click edit.  Then hold your finger on one file until the “select all” appears.  Click “select all”   again, hold your finger and select “copy”

over on the left side, select your flash drive that you are using under the disk section.  Then on the right panel hold your finger over where you want to put the pictures.  “paste” will appear, click paste and all your pictures will be copied from your ipad to your external drive.

 

Next to the name “flash drive” there is a little button to unmount the drive.  Sometimes this works, but usually once you unplug the drive then your ipad resets itself.  Whatever reason it does this I don’t’ know, but it’s probably good to reset every so often anyhow.  All the nerds tell us that… wait, am I one of those nerds now that I’ve written a computer how to article?

 

Sounds like a lot of steps but it’s really simple when you actually do it

 

Now, since space is limited I go back and delete all my pictures from my ipad and I’m ready to start the process over again…

 

 

For those of you that need it here is a link to a youtube video that shows the same thing too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4u6IvnnTq_c&feature=youtu.be

 

 

Antarctica travel

Antarctica is a wonderful continent and one of the only places on this planet where nature truly feels untouched.  The remoteness of the region makes getting there a challenge and that really keeps the tourists and world population away.  I traveled there on a large cruise type ship and the entire time I was there I only saw two other vessels.  Truly an amazing world in it’s own.

My 3 week journey starts as I leave my home headed to the airport accompanied by my wonderful family.  Everyone gets a hug and kiss and my daughter has a sneaky look on her face.  Within a few minutes after they leave I realize that she has appropriated my favorite flavor of potato chips (ruffles sour cream and cheddar if anyone needs Christmas ideas.)  After many hours I land in Buenos Aires, I pay the stupid “tourist tax” which is $140 for US citizens but much less for other countries, hmmm, something political there maybe?  I have my first meal in Argentina, lamb kabob and wine for breakfast!  What a wonderful idea, much better than eggs, why don’t we do this at home?  I love traveling to foreign countries and seeing how the cultures work.  The most surprising thing I saw at this airport was the mothers and babies.  All the women in Argentina breast-feed their babies out in the open, and it works great!  There are no crying babies anywhere; the solution is simple.  The baby cries it gets a boob in the face, simple effective and the system works! So now I board my final connecting flight and the planes are finally over.

Most any commercially organized journey to Antarctica starts at the southernmost city on our planet, Ushuaia.  Situated in Argentina this city has grown solely for the purpose of Antarctic travel.  However, unlike other places that have gotten bigger this town still retains its roots and you see that in the people.  The population of Ushuaia has some of the most helpful and polite people that I have met in a long time.  The taxis are honest, the hotel staff actually cares about its guests and the restaurants are all spectacular.  I love to eat and I was not disappointed one bit.  At home I eat mostly organic and there that’s just their normal way of life.  At one restaurant they literally butchered the sheep each morning and cooked the entire animal hoping that they would have enough customers to use it up. But I digress, I could go on about food for many paragraphs but this is not a food article, ha ha.

I’ve got a couple days in town before I depart so it’s time to find some photographic opportunities.  Ushuaia is a very brightly colored city.  Murals are painted on the walls and if you get a few blocks off the main street it becomes a very third world city.  If you are an architectural photographer you can have tons of fun exploring all the different shapes and colors.  I however am a nature and landscape photographer.  Ushuaia is surrounded by the very tail end of the Alps which in this area are amazing glacial mountains.  I jumped on a rental helicopter and we went to the top where we found some crystal clear lakes and streams nestled among the peaks.   The only problem I had is the pilot is used to transporting tourists so he has the heat on at just a little below the temperature of the surface of the sun and wants to make the flight an adventure.  He takes the scenic route and likes to fly sideways because it’s “more fun and like the movies” he says.   That’s probably good if you aren’t still recovering from a day of airline travel… ugggg seasickness in the air isn’t fun.  Finally we reach town again and land.  It’s a great start to what will be an amazing trip.  I really recommend getting out and photographing something as soon as possible after a long plane flight, it calms you and puts you into a much more wonderful mood.  See the world, don’t just hole yourself up in a hotel and wait for the main event, you will not be at these locations often usually.

So the day has finally come, I am boarding the ship bound for the wilderness of Antarctica with several other photographers.  Everyone has been checking weather forecasts and we suddenly have all become experts on wind and wave predictions and how currents flow.  If you wonder why we are all concerned by weather then get on YouTube and look up Drake Passage.  The entertainment for the first few hours of the voyage is everyone comparing which medicine they have for seasickness and hoping they will all work.   The most recent news predicted 15-20 foot waves.  That’s actually good weather for the two day crossing of the Drake.  Unfortunately just like weathermen in the States the predictions were wrong.  We didn’t have the 60-80 foot waves that swamp ships and sink them but we did have our share of 40 footers.  And remember, this goes on for two days and nights constant!!  There were sick passengers that never left their cabins and then there were the evil ones that were just fine and were always smiling and laughing happily with no seasickness effects at all.

Eventually like everything else in life, things get better and we are finally in Antarctica where the water is perfectly smooth and we see our first iceberg.  Seeing your first iceberg is a really great feeling.  You have spent days at sea with overcast skies and very few photographic opportunities.  Now you are seeing what you have been waiting for!  The shutters click excitedly like we are all talking fast and smiling like little children.  Then there is more ice ahead and more and more.  We soon realize that getting excited about that first iceberg was just silly and we will see thousands more of them  in the week to come.

Antarctica barely has night.  There are about 22 hours of sunlight so that gives you incredible time spans of long dusk and dawn golden light.  It’s a photographer’s dream location as far as light is concerned.

So it’s our first night of photography and it’s about 11pm.  There are no docks or anything like that here so we go ashore on small inflatable zodiac boats.  The island was basically a testing scenario so we could get used to how the boats work but there were penguins!  Woo Hoo I thought, penguins that aren’t in a zoo!  Well, while they are the cutest little buggers on the planet, penguins stink.  Imagine a chicken coop with about 50 dead and rotten chickens, then throw some tuna in there.  Let it sit for a few days in the hot sun, that’s what penguin colonies smell like.

Photographing penguins is a skill in it’s own. They have their own personalities and social structure.  I had a buddy that never worked with landscapes before; he mostly did photojournalism.  He treated the penguins as just another odd human tribe and he had a ball with them at every island.  Once I followed his mental theory of watching them as people it was very entertaining to watch them interact with each other.

After returning to the ship and settling in at about 2am I was awoken at 6:30 to the announcement that breakfast would be served at 7.  No relaxation on this boat. You can’t skip meals because they don’t leave snacks out between meals.  I learned to steal oranges and bananas…

There were many islands and inlets we spent time at but one of the most memorable ones was Deception Island, which is an old, abandoned whaling station. It was a volcanic beach with all sorts of whaling equipment and buildings and even an old airplane hanger.  One thing that really stood out was the many whalebones all over the beach, some scattered and some in huge piles.  A very odd site to see; but amazing nonetheless.

Penguins are still everywhere but the smell is becoming something that is just considered “normal” at this point.  They just completely ignore us; the rule is that we can’t approach them closer than 15 feet or so.  Fortunately they don’t follow that rule and they always walk right up to us without knowing how horrible of a threat humans are in the rest of the world.  It pretty much goes for all the wildlife there.  None of them are afraid of you so you can get incredible images right up close.

Traveling through the ice fields is amazing enough in a huge ship but when we get off the ship and explore them closer it’s even crazier.  I don’t know who thought the idea of an inflatable boat amid huge pieces of sharp ice was a good idea, but strangely enough it works.  The drivers aren’t afraid to hit the ice either.  The most memorable driver introduced himself as “I’m Vlad, I’m from Russia, I drive boats, I fix things.”  That was about all the English we could get out of him but he always laughed along with us and never sank the boat, so Vlad rocks!

I say it all the time, when you see a photographic opportunity take the photo right away.  Don’t say I’ll come back and get it later.  I landed on an island and there was this cute little black penguin right there when I started exploring.  I said to myself  “cool, I’ll have to make sure I get pictures of these guys today.”  So I wandered around wondering why I couldn’t find a whole group of this new breed.  It took me 2 hours to find him again and I had to climb a rock cliff to get pictures of him.  It turns out that according to the expedition’s bird expert he was extremely rare and was the only one of his kind on the whole island.  So please remember, always take pictures when you first see something that sparks your interest, otherwise you may lose that opportunity forever.

It always turns out that when it’s time to leave that’s when the best light appears.  On our last hour on the zodiacs the sun appeared out of nowhere and reflected off the icebergs making them sparkle like we hadn’t seen the entire trip.  We made our driver keep our boat out so long that they sent two other boats out to corral us and force us to come back.  They did radio us before that but our driver was awesome and just ignored them, very groovy.

So that was the last day of shooting. Remember the Drake Passage from the beginning of the article?  Well, here it is again, and we had a headwind so it took us three days to get back this time, plus the waves were bigger.  The unofficial solution was to take enough seasick medicine to make you practically pass out and just sleep through those days, ha ha.

We finally made it back to port in Ushuaia and the crew was wonderful.  They all stood at the gangway and shook everyone’s hands.  It was a small gesture but it makes a big difference and you just don’t see that courtesy anymore these days.  It’s great to be back on dry land and I spend the last few hours waiting for the plane in a small café with a few other photographers.  It’s just a funny sight to see us all sit down together and everyone pulls out an iPad or iPhone or laptop and connects back to the Internet and the real world.  The locals were awesome; we didn’t get one dirty look as we took up all the bandwidth for about a small city block within 5 minutes of getting into the café, ha ha!

Would I go back? Yes, I had an incredible time and I think someday I will return.  Some of the things I would do different?  I would travel later in the year, I think late January is a good time to go, there is more wildlife as the ice melts further South and the baby penguins are hatching.  I also learned that there is some sort of airplane service that will fly you down to Antarctica where you can get on the boat there and avoid the entire Drake Passage, that’s definitely something I would do next time.

Antarctica is an expensive place to visit.  Save your nickels and make sure you go there someday.  It is definitely an experience you will never forget, it is simply “nature untouched.

Today we’re going to talk about art and the Zen of processing.  There are many opinions out there on processing after you get that awesome shot in the middle of nowhere.  Some people think that the best picture is completely unedited with no modifications from Photoshop or any other software.  Some see no problem with editing and making adjustments or enhancements.  Remember as you read this that this is an opinion article.  Art is an opinion and  if you don’t agree with mine that is awesome because you aren’t following someone, you are making your own decisions in life!

I’m from the opinion that it’s ok to make adjustments or enhancements.  We are creating art here and art isn’t about everyone seeing it the same way.  When I photograph something I see a wonderful image in my head and my imagination runs wild.  I can see ideas about processing and making changes as I look through the viewfinder.  Maybe I’m odd that I can see this way but I think it’s awesome!

 

Art is a very opinionated subject and I really believe that you can’t take someone’s art and say it is wrong just because you don’t like it yourself. There are many many modern pieces of pop art that I think are a waste of canvas, but others love them, and the artist loves his work too.  The same goes for photography.  When I go out to work I am shooting for my enjoyment.  Sometimes if I have an assignment I have to restrict myself to fit within certain guidelines, but usually I just go out and find what inspires me.

When you go back and process you have to decide what you want your end result to be.  If you want to represent exactly what you saw that day then you will only need to make small adjustments to exposure and white balance and probably some sharpening and noise reduction.  These are probably the minimal accepted processing adjustments to give you what you saw.  However, did you represent the image with all your senses?  When you are out there you see a place and you can feel the air around you, you can smell the odors of nature, you can hear the birds.  While you can’t show smells, sounds, or some other senses; you can portray a big emotional response.

I know how I feel when I see something and I want to overwhelm  someone and get an emotional reaction when they look at my art.  Rarely with landscapes can you show that with just simple exposure  modifications.  For example,  if you darken a sky it immediately adds a more mysterious and dramatic mood.  If you take focus away from distracting objects by blurring something then you can direct attention to a cool part of your photograph.

Photoshop and software similar to it are here to stay.   Making adjustments to photography has been around forever too.  This isn’t something new to digital.  When I used to work in a darkroom I always used dodging and burning and other ideas to produce effects that I didn’t see in the viewfinder.  If you look at some of the original negatives from Ansel Adams you will see that many of them are quite flat and dull.  He spent hours in the darkroom perfecting his images to the way he wanted his art to be seen.  Today our computers are our darkrooms, it’s no different, the only difference is that modern day photographers don’t know what fixer tastes like, ha ha ha ha.

10 Tips for Better Landscape Photography

Landscape photography is one of my most favorite subjects.  From the beaches and coastlines of Big Sur, California to the lighthouses of the Northeast, landscapes make up our world.  Everyone looks at them but few can capture the magnitude. Here are some tips to help you improve your landscape work and get the most out of your time

  1. 1. Wake up before the sun comes up.  It sucks, I don’t know anyone that likes to wake up early but that’s when you get those great shots.  The fog is still in the valley, nobody else with half a brain is awake, and the world is at peace.  The lighting at sunrise is spectacular, you can actually watch the sunlight move across the ground and expose colors that you never see in midday.
  2. 2. Equipment; don’t think that all your landscape work needs to be done with a wide angle lens.  I frequently use a 70-200 with great results.  A good wide angle zoom lens is a great choice.  18-200 is an awesome range.  You can play with composition and observe all sorts of different options.
  3. 3. Panoramas are becoming more and more common these days.  This is one thing where it’s ok to join the pack and do the same as everyone else.  Photoshop has an incredible panorama tool, use it.  The days of 8×10 are gone, don’t worry about what the dimensions of your image are.  It’s your photograph, show that entire mountain range with the ocean leading out the side.  Your eyes see it, show it in your photography.
  4. 4. Go where nobody else goes.  As I drive up and down the California coast I always see signs that say “no trespassing” and that’s a good rule to follow.  However, go up to someone’s house and ask if you can walk on their land and take some pictures.  Just explain what you want to do and offer to email something to them when you get back home.  I’ve never been told to go away and have never been denied admission after I ask.  Just remember, some of the people that have beautiful views are rich and powerful, so when John Travolta answers the door don’t become a stupid goofy groupie.
  5. 5. Get on the ground.  The true mark of a good photographer is that we’re not afraid to get dirty.  Get down on your stomach and try some shots with a different perspective.  Or get high up on something, climb a tree, hang off the side of a mountain.  Find a new way to approach your subject.  Think of the Golden Gate Bridge; millions of pictures are take of it each year, but how many people take the extra 10 mins to climb down to the shore and get the water’s edge in the foreground?
  6. 6. Take pictures of cloudy skies.  It always happens, I’ve got a great picture with no clouds in the sky, and I’m not local to the area so I can’t go back and reshoot another day.  Well, it’s cheating, but if you have a big collection of just cloudy sky pictures you can Photoshop in some clouds and make that dull sky come alive again.
  7. 7. Travel alone without your assistant.  For me this is the best way to inspire myself.  When I travel alone my mind is 100% on photography.  I don’t get distracted and I don’t have to keep someone else company.  If I have someone else in the car there is lots of useless babble and then you have to worry about if they are hungry and they always have to find a bathroom at the wrong moment.  Also, they won’t want to sit for an hour waiting for the light to get perfect.  You will compromise your quality to make your partner happy.  Keep your quality and inspiration at the top, leave them at home.
  8. 8. Take several different exposures of the same image. This is called bracketing, and while most people reading this know all about it few do it anymore.  Most cameras today have an auto bracketing setting.  I use mine all the time. I’ll often take 5 or 7 different exposures of the image.  90% of the time I use just the normal regularly exposed image, but if I decide I want to have greater highlights or shadows all the information is there in a different picture.  This also leads to the HDR world, which I’m not going to even go near in this article, but HDR is here to stay and multiple exposures are a necessity for it.
  9. 9. Pay the extra money to get into parks and travel on scenic roads.  For example the 17 mile drive at pebble beach, California.  It’s $9 to drive along this road and I almost didn’t go the first time I was there.  Well, I’m glad I paid the money, it’s one of the most scenic places along the California coast and if I never paid the toll I would have missed out on some of the greatest pictures on that whole trip.  The same goes for state and national parks.
  10. 10. Finally, be prepared; bring food and water with you in the car.  If you are hungry then your creativity will suffer.  Make sure you have a full tank of gas.  Nothing will screw with your brain more than running near the E and looking for a gas station instead of a great landscape.
  11. 11. Ok, one more.  Find your sunset image way before sunset.  I start looking for my sunset place about 3 hours before the sun sets.  It sounds like a long time but remember, you might have to hike a half-mile to get that unique vantage point, or it might take you an hour just to find a good location.  Once I find my location I can sit and wait and relax.  I get on my iPhone and start looking for hotels in my area so as soon as the sun is down and it’s dark I can just drive strait there and relax for the rest of the night before I have to wake up at that horrid time before daylight, ha ha ha.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buying Used Photography Equipment

How to safely buy used photo equipment.

 

In today’s economy every nickel counts, and just like everything else cameras and lenses cost way more than anyone wants to pay.  I’ve had good and bad experiences with buying used equipment.  However, if you do it correctly then you can save a bundle.

Used equipment is available from several sources; some examples are eBay, craigslist, store returns, pawnshops, and private sales.  There are others but these are what I will be covering. I’ll give you the goods a bads and recommendations on what to look out for.

The type of equipment you buy is a huge consideration.  Stay away from used “push-pull” zooms.  These usually get loose and wear out with age.  Outdated cameras are also not a bargain like they might seem.  For example, you can buy a Nikon d1 or d2 very cheap now.  The problem is that while they were good in their day, now they are not.  The older pro cameras are slow with writing to memory cards, use a lot of battery power and usually have much more noise than even today’s modern consumer level cameras.  They were great in their day, really awesome, but now they are just simply old technology.

Tripods are a mixed bag; if you can see it and try it before you buy then it might be a good deal.  Things to watch for are loose clamps, bent legs, center shafts that are warped, and cracks in the legs on carbon fiber models.  I would avoid eBay or any online store that does not offer a money back guarantee on anything, but especially tripods.

Big expensive professional lenses are a tough one.  Here’s an example for how to be safe.  Nikon has been selling a 70-200mm 2.8 lens for years.  They recently upgraded that lens and most pro photographers will buy the new upgrade even if their old lens was working fine.  That’s usually a safe bet.  If a lens has been upgraded then buying the old model gives you a good chance that the old owner just upgraded.  The best way to be sure is to buy the old model right after the newer model is introduced; that’s when the market is flooded with the older lenses.  Same is true for professional cameras.  When the D4 is introduced later this year (I hope) there will be many many D3’s going up for sale.

Filters are a pretty safe bet.  Unless the threads are damaged or there is a scratch on the glass then there’s nothing that can go wrong with it.  Avoid batteries at all costs!  That seems like common sense but I see used batteries online all the time.  Strobe units are another to avoid, just way too many electronic parts to go wrong.  Bags and soft cases are usually safe.  Avoid hard cases because the padding is usually already cut to fit the previous owner’s equipment.

Used underwater cases are a huge treasure! So many scuba diver try underwater photography and fail it’s ridiculous.  Ebay is full of underwater systems that are used very little and you can save thousands sometimes!  Just remember to test the case in a pool without your camera in it first to make sure it doesn’t leak.

So where to buy your stuff, what’s safe, who will screw you?  Those are the important questions.  I’ll address several companies I’ve purchased from.  I really have no specific complaints for any company—I think I’ve just had a lot of good luck, ha ha.

KEH.com is my favorite place to buy used cameras and lenses.  They are very very honest and their return policy is awesome.  Their descriptions are accurate and their grading is very strict.  I hardly ever buy their top condition grade because I think they are way too strict. I usually look for items in their BGN or bargain grade.  To me they look almost perfect.  As far as I can figure is that if there is a scuff or scratch on something then it’s bargain to them. If there is anything specific wrong like a ding in the filter ring they will note that in the item description.  Their service is super fast often shipping the same or next day and the people on the phone are very knowledgeable.  Unfortunately you will wait on the phone on hold for a while because they are so popular.  I think that’s my only complaint with them.  Their return policy is simple, if you don’t like what you buy for any reason you can send it back and get a refund!

Amazon.com has a section that they sell items people have returned.  These things aren’t really  “used” they are simply customer returns.  If you call and get the right person sometimes you can get the operator to look in the notes and find out why it was returned too.  Do not wait and “think about it” these items move very fast, so buy it fast.

Ebay is a risky place.  I’ve had mostly good luck but remember, these are usually regular people that think their item is in much better condition that it usually is.  You will often see descriptions such as “mint, perfect, like new, pristine”  these are simply sales words and really don’t help you any.  Look at the description and contact the seller with specific questions.  I always ask for a phone number from the seller so I can call him and talk to him about it.  If he doesn’t give it to me I move on to the next item, easy.

Craigslist is another source.  Unfortunately it seems that everyone selling on craigslist thinks their stuff is made out of gold.  I rarely find good deals on there.  The advantage of that site is you can physically put your hands on the item and examine it before you give out any cash.  You can also put a listing on there that you want to buy used camera equipment.  This gives you the ability to name your own price if you are a good negotiator.  The only problem with that is you will get tons of people calling you and annoying you with old junk film and point and shoot cameras.

Pawnshops are great. You can get a great price and still be able to examine the item before buying it.  In today’s economy people are pawning everything.  The shops are paying almost nothing these days and that gives them a lot of leeway in what they need to charge.  Don’t pay the first price they ask, haggle with them.  If you develop a relationship with a certain store they will often call you when they get something in that they think you will want to buy and give you a better price than a normal customer.

Even with all these sources I still buy a lot of my equipment brand new. Just go by the old philosophy of Buyer Beware and use common sense and you should be fine.