The best used professional DSLRs to take your photography to the next level

Aug 1, 2021

Illya Ovchar

Illya Ovchar is a fashion photographer based in Budapest. For him, photography means painting with light, just as its Greek roots suggest. He can’t tell you the latest camera rumors, but he can go on forever about light. In his fashion work, Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light.

The best used professional DSLRs to take your photography to the next level

Aug 1, 2021

Illya Ovchar

Illya Ovchar is a fashion photographer based in Budapest. For him, photography means painting with light, just as its Greek roots suggest. He can’t tell you the latest camera rumors, but he can go on forever about light. In his fashion work, Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light.

Join the Discussion

Share on:

Most beginner photographers are often confused about equipment. Naturally, with so much choice, it is easy to get lost. However, you can replace all this confusion (and the high $$$ budget) with something simpler: an old but professional camera.

There is a lot to love about a new camera, don’t get me wrong—live-view, video specs, and perhaps even less weight. Naturally, there are great mirrorless cameras out there that make it all that easier to take pictures. An older DSLR may have a much more complex menu system and, for sure fewer features. Still, an old DSLR is a great companion and perhaps a fantastic way to dive into photography, especially on a budget.

There hasn’t been a bad pro camera since 2009. This goes for sensor, color depth, resolution, and so on. Of course, different cameras have different applications, but still, pretty much everything post-2009 can be used to create high-end professional results. Here are some cameras that are fantastic options despite their age:

1. Canon 5D Mark II

  • $452 good condition, 62k shutter count (MPB.com, Amazon – click the Used&New button)
  • Sensor 21.1MP full-frame CMOS
  • Sensitivity ISO 100-6400 (ISO 50-25,600 extended)
  • Continuous shooting 3.9fps
  • Video 1080p Full HD at 30fps
  • Rear display fixed 3.0in/0.9m-dot LCD
  • Viewfinder Pentaprism, 98% coverage

 

2. Canon 5D

The most affordable option is indeed the 5D. The sensor is full-frame, which means excellent depth of field as well as low light performance. Although the resolution may be low for modern shooters, it still is enough to print at 30x40cm with decent detail.  In a way, the 5D original is the purest pursuit of a digital shooting experience you can have. Just the camera, the sensor, and a CF card. No video, no fast shooting, and so on. It is an excellent choice for beginner portrait, studio, and product photographers. Some eCommerce studios still rock the 5d original because of its simplicity.

However, this isn’t a perfect camera as there have been some issues with it in the past. In particular, autofocus and low-light performance. Compared to sports cameras of that era (Canon 1D Mark III, Nikon D4), this camera really sucks. The autofocus is sometimes unreliable, with only a handful of points to choose from. Moreover, ISO only goes up to ISO 1600, which isn’t enough in many low-light situations.

  • $293 good condition, shutter count unavailable (MPB.com, Amazon – click the Used&New button)
  • Sensor 12.8MP CMOS full-frame
  • Sensitivity ISO 100-1600 (ISO 50-3200 extended)
  • Continuous shooting 3fps (17 frames raw buffer depth)
  • Video Not available
  • Rear display 2.5in, 230k-dot fixed LCD screen
  • Viewfinder Pentaprism, 96% coverage at 0.71x

 

3. Nikon D700

The Nikon shooters out there think of this camera as a legend. Some regard it as the best SLR Nikon ever made. Although it doesn’t champion some crazy resolution, low light performance, or frames per second, it is still loved by many. The reason for that love is how well combined the features are. There is not too much and not too little of anything- it’s just right. Nikon’s 51-point autofocus system makes this camera easy to use for action photography. However, compared to modern DSLRs, it lacks many chambers, such as the resolution of video features (of which it has none).

To some extent, this camera is similar to the Canon 5D. It’s pure, simple, and perfect for people on a budget. Although this wouldn’t be my first choice for any low-light event photography, it still could be a great studio, outdoors, or family camera. Pair it with affordable Nikkor glass, and you have yourself a professional combo for under $1179.

  • $446 excellent condition, 65k shutter count (MPB.com, Amazon – click the Used&New button)
  • Sensor 12.1MP full-frame CMOS
  • Sensitivity ISO 200-6400 (ISO 100-25,600 extended)
  • Continuous shooting 5fps (8fps with MB-D10 battery pack)
  • Video Not available
  • Rear display 3in/921k-dot LCD
  • Viewfinder Pentaprism, 95% coverage at 0.72x

4. Sony a7R

High resolution is something many landscapes and commercial photographers appreciate. It champions a whopping 36.4 MP full-frame CMOS sensor and has an ISO range of 100-25,600, which is more than enough to work in most situations. Moreover, you’re unlikely to shoot at high ISO if what you do is landscapes.

It is worth noting that the a7r is not an action camera. The AF system is only contrast-detect, which is relatively slow compared to hybrid AF. Another drawback is that this camera is rare to find nowadays, with more later models available but for a higher price.

  • $749 good condition, shutter count unavailable (MPB.com, Amazon – click the Used&New button)
  • Sensor 36.4MP full-frame CMOS
  • Sensitivity ISO 50-25,600
  • Continuous shooting 4fps
  • Video 1080p Full HD at 60fps
  • Rear display Tiltable 3in, 921k-dot LCD
  • Viewfinder 2.35m-dot EVF

5. Canon 5D Mark III

The 5D Mark III will close this list, as it is perhaps a viable camera for most work in 2021. However, if the 5D Mark II isn’t quite enough for you, the Mark III can be just right. Released in 2012, it took the 5d Mark II and sort of amended it. It has dual card slots, which many photographers require for backup, improved ergonomics, and a much better autofocus system.

  • $1030 good condition, 71K shutter count (MPB.com, Amazon – click the Used&New button)
  • Sensor 22.3MP full-frame CMOS
  • Sensitivity ISO 100-25,600 (ISO 50-102,400 extended)
  • Continuous shooting 6fps
  • Video 1080p Full HD at 60fps
  • Rear display2in Clear View II TFT, approx. 1.04million dots
  • Viewfinder Pentaprism, 100% coverage

 

Closing Thoughts

Whether you are looking to upgrade to a full-frame camera or just starting in photography, these are some great options to consider. By far, one of the best ways to buy them would be through websites such as MPB, Adorama pre-owned, B&H used, and even Amazon has a small “buy used” link on most cameras. However, if you feel like you can spot a bargain on your local classifieds, by all means, go ahead! Personally, I try to negotiate the price down, which is why I buy mostly from local photographers.

Filed Under:

Tagged With:

Find this interesting? Share it with your friends!

Illya Ovchar

Illya Ovchar

Illya Ovchar is a fashion photographer based in Budapest. For him, photography means painting with light, just as its Greek roots suggest. He can’t tell you the latest camera rumors, but he can go on forever about light. In his fashion work, Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light.

Join the Discussion

DIYP Comment Policy
Be nice, be on-topic, no personal information or flames.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

15 responses to “The best used professional DSLRs to take your photography to the next level”

  1. Mueller Avatar
    Mueller

    Canon 5D shouldn’t be on that list. Get a 7D instead.

    1. kevin S Avatar
      kevin S

      I have the Canon EOS 7D Mk II and i am not overly thrilled with it, my EOS 6D takes a better picture.

      1. Paul flynn Avatar
        Paul flynn

        I have 7d, real happy.
        Serves me well.
        Paul Flynn

      2. Mueller Avatar
        Mueller

        My 6D is a champ as well. My 5D had a horrible backfocus issue with no way to adjust it.

    2. emjaysea Avatar
      emjaysea

      Canon shouldn’t be on the list at all, they haven’t innovated in over a decade.

      1. Mueller Avatar
        Mueller

        Don’t be a fanboi…

  2. mark g Avatar
    mark g

    Why the 5D I and II when you can get a 6D that has well documented l excellent ow light performance.

    1. Pierre Lagarde Avatar
      Pierre Lagarde

      This is an “internet’s weird habit” it seems. Everybody knows 6D is a better choice in real life, but web publishers from here and there keep on trying make their readers believe you’d better buy a 5D2. Maybe a hipsters trend… don’t know. It’s cool to love disliked oldies and save the planet by buying second hand gears nobody would buy otherwise ;).
      Only some reasons I see is 6Ds may be more easily worn out, as sensor is said to be less durable, and most people who owned them kept and used them for a very long time before deciding to sell them. Though, to me, 6D still stands as a better choice than the outdated 5D2, even with its single card slot.
      BTW, I wouldn’t choose any of the cameras listed here as a second hand DSLR (or maybe only the D700, out of curiosity).
      Special mention to Sony A7’s cameras, which are not DSLRs anyway (looks like Sony’s marketing is still having effects on people ;) ). They are simply a no go before their third iteration, whatever their price and shape are, and an overall no go as a liable second hand camera.

      Personally, I won’t buy any second hand DSLR cameras other than (and before) Nikon D810, D7200, D850, D500 and Canon 6D or 5D4 (even 5D3 would be overpriced for what you got, most of the time, and probably worn out by the pros who mainly bought them… but if you feel lucky, why not). Sorry, I really don’t know about Pentax. No offense meant.

      Of course, most of the cameras listed in this article are older and cheaper than may be my personal choices. Still, they may also be too prone to problems and way outdated, to my sense. With some of them, you’re even at the risk of ending with nothing usable for your money and never getting to any presumably “next level” of anything (“next level” sounds like a quite condescending expression, by the way, especially advising with such a cameras list).
      IMHO, you’d probably better get interested in a film camera, if you want oldies for a low price.

  3. Hush Avatar
    Hush

    Where is the 1D mark 1v great camera

  4. emjaysea Avatar
    emjaysea

    Canon doesn’t have but two cameras in the DxO Mark top fifty sensors. Anyone buying old used canons to improve their photography must already be shooting with an even older Canon. I wouldn’t recommend one to my worst enemy.

  5. Sabrix Winefield Avatar
    Sabrix Winefield

    A7R is not a DSLR, and where’s the D3s ? It revolutionized low light photography and has arguably the most rugged body ever built.

  6. Justin Case Avatar
    Justin Case

    Nikon D750. And it should have been in the top 2. What were you thinking?

    1. salttram Avatar
      salttram

      IKR?

  7. Jeff Abel Avatar
    Jeff Abel

    The MINUTE the FX D700 was available for under $1000 I bought one – Ken Rockwell called it one of the best cameras ever, and while I can’t prove THAT, it takes beautiful pictures. I paid about $800 for it and now you can get one for $300! It was so awesome to sue my old Nikon glass at it’s proper focal length on a digital camera…

  8. John Beatty Avatar
    John Beatty

    what XX cameras I have now work great and only need to replace if/when they are not. I do believe in buying used but only from reputable dealers.