I get a bit despondent at times when I see new ebay members making buying mistakes and paying more than they have to for what may be an inferior item. This is usually because they have not yet realised the various ways of determining a real bargain from the so-so. Hopefully what I say here will help clarify matters somewhat.
The first thing to realise is that the cameras and lenses sold on ebay range in age and quality.
Newer cameras can usually be relied upon if sold as working, but not all. Older cameras may have problems, some almost certainly will.
With older cameras, most models will be well overdue servicing. In some models this is not a problem, others a nightmare. Some models will fail quite quickly and need repair if not serviced. This is usually not a disaster, as most respond very well to repairs or servicing, but it is usually a good idea to buy a one already serviced.
(I assure you that I get many cameras sent to me for repair bought as a 'bargain' on eBay, which after servicing cost more than ones can be bought with the work already done.)
It is imporant to realise that the fact that a camera or lens has been serviced or reconditioned, does not mean that it is in any way inferior. It is not a sign that they have been abused. Just the opposite.
Like a car they do need servicing periodically in order to keep them in tip-top running order, and like cars they suffer if neglected.
So if you are looking for older cameras make sure you read-up on the model you are looking for and undestand what the common faults are, and preferably buy a serviced example.
The next thing is to understand the different kinds of sellers and what that means.
One way of buying older cameras (often the best) is to choose your seller carefully. Business sellers can be found who will back-up claims of relaibility and function with a guarantee. These are to be preferred. A proper business seller is constrained by the law in ways that private sellers are not. So they are safer to buy from, and not always the most expensive.
But check their credentials, and I mean don't just look at their feedback! This is important, as I explain below.
The private seller.
This is someone who is selling their own property. Commonly these items are sold at auction, but fixed price sales are also used. There is little difference from the buyers point of view.
The first problem asscociated with private sellers stem from the fact that buyers have little protection in law if something goes wrong. You only have eBay, or Paypal protection to help you, and there are circumstances where this won't help you at all.
Another problem is that they often are not actually selling something they know much about. They may have inherited it, or simply not have used it for a long time. They often do not know much about the faults and problems that can develop in cameras and lenses as they age. An item can look exceptionaly clean and well cared for but still have age related faults.
Neither do they know what to do about it if they do discover a fault. I don't know much about cameras but... is a common enough phrase, on ebay. Take it at face value. It's probably true.
The Business seller
These come in three basic varieties.
The "I'm not running a business" business seller.
The first may come as a surprise, as these are those who pretend to be private sellers. This is illegal as it effectively ducks under the laws which are designed to protect customers. Ebay finds this difficult to control as for one thing, they cannot prove that a seller is running a business.
However, if the seller looks like they are running a business, it is safe to assume they are. Check to see if they are registered as a business seller. If they are not, walk away from the listing. This person is breaking the law. You won't be getting the bargian you thought you were!
EBay / Paypal only enforces a refund in certain circumstances. Unfortunatley being sold a camera that is not as good as you expected is not one of them.
One good way of spotting these is the seller who would apparently qualify as a Powerseller but does not have powerseller status and has a 'private' account type. This is because when your selling reaches a certain level, eBay will invite you to join the Powerseller program. This has some pretty useful benefits, but you must register as a business seller to qualify. Anyone who refuses Powerseller status has issues!
They may not actually be conducting a trade, but if that's the case I have to say that there are some people with big attics! Again the rule applies, if it looks like business, it is business. If they don't admit it, there's a reason. In my opinion, not a good reason!
Also don't be taken in by powerseller status. On it's own it's not a good guide. A feedback rating of 98% is not good. Trust me!
The "I'm running a business but it's only a hobby" business seller.
A business seller must comply with various laws and regulations. One of these is that they display their real name and address to customers before the customer comits to a sale. Only in this way can you be sure of legal recourse should the need arise. Some sellers will say that because they are only doing this as a hobby, and working from home they prefer not to reveal this information, as is their right as a private citizen. The trouble is of course that when they went into business they lost that 'right'. You as a customer have a greater right to know who you are trading with.
This extends also to personal names, and the address must be the actual trading address. Not a PO box number or other device.
Again a business seller who does not do this is breaking the law. Avoid such sellers.
In fact there are a raft of regulations which apply, such as the right to cancel an order within seven days, sellers may not refuse the postage element of the total price of a refund, charge a restocking fee, or make compensation for postal loss depend upon postal insurance etc.
A rule not often understood is that for a fixed price sale, a cancelation may be made after the item has been recieved (within a time limit) and the seller must refund, without waitng for the item to be returned. (Of course if it never does come back the refund can be reversed, but still...) In fact unless the sellers terms state that the customer is responsible for returning the item, the seller must arrange collection!
If they do make it the customers responsibility they can also stipulate that the cost of returnig the item is paid by the customer. This is normal practice. It does not apply to faulty goods though. Where all costs are borne by the seller. Ebay / Paypal cannot help you recover any postage paid when you return faulty goods. Something to watch out for! (It may be reasonable for the seller to ask you to bear the initial cost in this case, and refund the postage when it arrives.)
A seller who does these things may not of course be deliberately breaking the law, but it does not inspire confidence exactly.
However there are exceptions to these rules, and these can be exploited by unscrupulous but otherwise legitamate sellers. I will get to those in a minute.
Of course there is the third kind, the honest to goodness business seller.
These are not rare on eBay, but they can get lost in the mix of private sellers, and goons. You can find them simply by noting that they are showing their name and address, not making illegal stipulations in their terms and conditions etc.
The third thing is the selling method!
Auctions look attractive, you could pick-up a bargain then again....
The problem with auction sales is that they are not always cheaper, and again they are a way of ducking out of a sellers responsibilities.
Often a 'business' seller will stipulate that an item sold at auction is 'sold as seen'. Don't fall for it. It's a way of shifting junk, and is of questionable legality.
Even a traditional auction cannot sell items 'as seen' if the bidder is not personally present to bid. (Such as bidding by telephone.) It has not been tested in court for eBay sales though, so you will see it. If you do it's very likely dodgy. The fact is it is perfectly possible on ebay to sell junk legitamately, all they have to do is tell you it's junk!
It is safer to buy at a fixed price. This gives you much more protection than at auction, and is often cheaper too!
The fact is that it is too easy to get sucked into an auction and get carried away with the bidding. I have only this week seen three examples of a particular lens sold by auction for prices (not including postage) of £75 to £95, when I have exactly the same on offer at a fixed £69 including postage, fully guaranteed, and in better condition too.
So if you do choose to bid for an item at auction remember three things.
1. You are not as well protected in law, or by ebay whether you buy from a business seller or private.
2. Always check fixed price examples of what you are looking for. (Preferably from legitamate business sellers!)
3. Never bid more than you can buy at a fixed price. It's just plain silly to throw away your rights in this way. Do not be tempted to put in that extra bid just to 'win' the item. You haven't 'won' anything, just paid more than you needed to!
I hope these pointers help new buyers sort out the real bargains on eBay. They are there, but eBay purchases can be dissapointing too, and by following the simple rules above you should avoid the worst of the pitfalls.