Is Buying a Factory Refurbished DSLR Camera Worth the Savings?

George Tinari

Refurbished products have sort of a bad reputation, and it’s understandable why. Refurbished generally means that someone returned a defective or used product, the manufacturer updated it with new, fixed parts and then re-released it. Because of skepticism surrounding products that at one point probably didn’t work correctly, refurbished products come with a discount and often a generous warranty.

Photo: Nayuki/Flickr CC
This walkthrough of refurbished pros and cons should help your buying decision. | Photo: Nayuki/Flickr CC

Cameras are a special breed of refurbished products, though. People who buy expensive DSLR cameras tend to make a purchase and stick with it for many, many years. They might update the lenses and accessories, but the body stays around for a while.

However, since DSLR cameras are so expensive (usually starting at around $500 and many are over $1,000) refurbished models might be good for people on a tighter budget. But what are the odds that you could run into trouble sooner with a refurbished camera over a new one?

The Search for Truth About Refurbished Products

I set out to research refurbished cameras and products in general to get a better understanding of them. My hunch was that the negative attitude around refurbished products is mostly misguided.

I, after all, was in the market for a new camera. I never owned a DSLR before, but because I only wanted one for casual use, I didn’t want to pay a ridiculous price for one.

Photo: niXerKG/Flickr CC
Photo: niXerKG/Flickr CC

Everywhere I looked during my shopping spree; there was almost one universal recommendation for beginners like me: the Nikon D3300. It’s selling for about $500 on Amazon, which was at the very top of my budget.

Not long after I found the product page did I find the refurbished model for $100 off. I immediately wrote off the idea before realizing that maybe I have a misconception about refurbished products. After all, the Amazon reviews are pristine. Plus, $100 off is a significant savings.

Nikon says this of all its refurbished products: “Refurbished Nikon products are restored to factory specifications after thoroughly being tested. They are carefully inspected, cleaned and any defective parts are replaced using genuine Nikon parts.” They also come with at least a 90-day warranty.

Buying new doesn’t guarantee your product will work any more than buying a refurbished one does.

Generally, this is how most camera companies describe their refurbished products. “Rigorous function and cosmetic inspections are performed by trained Canon technicians so that each refurbished product meets operational specifications and strict cosmetic standards that we have established,” says Canon of its refurbished offerings. Canon includes a more generous one-year warranty.

What to Keep in Mind

When it comes to buying a refurbished camera, there are several things to keep in mind. These tips should also help ease your concerns a bit.

Photo: Mister G.C./Flickr CC
Photo: Mister G.C./Flickr CC

Again, refurbished cameras come with a warranty. That means if the product is defective within a given timeframe, you get a fixed one or replacement. It’s also important to remember that camera manufacturers don’t want you to ever have to use that warranty.

It’s not in the best interest of their bottom line to have to ship you a new camera, so it’s very likely that the rigorous testing conditions for refurbished products are true. A working camera for you means an additional sale for them.

It’s better to invest in new lenses that can stay with you over time because a lens can make or break a good photo.

In the chance that your refurbished unit arrives defective, keep this in mind: brand new products arrive defective all the time. There is always a very slight chance you’ll receive a dud either way. Buying new doesn’t guarantee your product will work any more than buying a refurbished one does.

Finally, an important tip from an Amazon reviewer: “If you’re a beginner, you’re only going to move up and switch camera bodies… eventually so don’t waste your money. Buy refurbished/used.”

That’s very true. It’s better to invest in new lenses that can stay with you over time because a lens can make or break a good photo. Camera bodies are less important anyway.

It looks like all in all, factory refurbished cameras should be pretty safe bets. That’s especially true if the price cut is significant. Just check to make sure it comes with a warranty and invest in a brand new lens.

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George Tinari

Written By

George Tinari

George Tinari has written about technology for over seven years: guides, how-tos, news, reviews and more. He's usually sitting in front of his laptop, eating, listening to music or singing along loudly to said music. You can also follow him on Twitter @gtinari if you need more complaints and sarcasm in your timeline.