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Saving Money on DSLR Lenses

written by: Stephen Ip•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 12/16/2009

Photography can be an expensive hobby, but it is possible to save money on DSLR lenses by borrowing, renting, or buying used.

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    Any photo enthusiast with a DSLR camera will tell you the general rule is to buy the best lenses you can afford. With professional grade lenses priced over $1000, the cost of filling your camera bag with a few nice lenses can add up quickly.

    Fortunately, there are a ways to use the lenses you may be interested in without spending a fortune. The key to saving money on DSLR lenses lies in knowing which lenses you want to use and finding ways to borrow, rent, or purchase them used.

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    Borrowing Lenses

    Whenever I'm helping someone with a DSLR purchase, one question I ask is what brand of camera their friends and family use. Since most people know other DSLR owners, it is a good idea to find out what brand of camera these people use. If your friends and family all use Canon gear, you are probably better off going with Canon. The reason being that these people can not only help you learn about your new camera, but can also loan you lenses to try while you are deciding the type of photography you enjoy most.

    Borrowing lenses from friends and family is a great way to avoid making a big investment on lenses you may use very rarely. For instance, there is no need to spend over $1000 on a wide angle lens if you plan to mostly shoot portraits. So before investing in the camera body and lenses, check around to see what people you know are using to help with the decision making process.

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    Renting Lenses

    In my opinion, it is more about using the best lenses than buying the best lenses. For example, I often rent the Canon EF 24-105L for vacations as a walk around lens. Since I mostly use prime lenses, this saves me from spending nearly $1200 for a lens that would sit in my camera bag most of the time. Options for renting lenses include you local camera shop or websites such as Lens Rentals and Borrow Lenses.

    Be sure to keep in mind that the cost of renting professional grade lenses for weeks at a time will add up. So if you find a lens that you will use often, it may be worth making the investment and buying the lens before the rental cost pays for the entire lens.

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    Buying Used Lenses

    If and when you decide that a lens deserves a permanent place in your camera bag, be sure to check the used market before purchasing the lens new. In my experience, most DSLR owners take very good care of their gear and the used lenses I have come across have mostly been in excellent condition.

    I have purchased numerous lenses from local sellers on Craigslist and have friends with positive experiences from eBay. The key to buying from these sites is to know what to look for. Try to find sellers that have all the original packaging and provide clear pictures of the items for sale. If you meet a seller from Craigslist in person, bring your camera to test the lens and check the inside of the lens for mold and dust.

    Other options for buying used include online retailers such as KEH, B&H, and Adorama. I have no experience with these retailers but know they are all reputable sellers of used photo equipment.