With the way things are going, with the exception of Voigtlander and Zeiss, buying used is going to need to be an option for obtaining rangefinder lenses. In my opinion, buying used camera equipment is an unmitigated pain in the ass although I might be in the minority. There is a cadre of forum dwellers that seem to enjoy the sport.
It seems to me the market for used/vintage lenses is mature. Bargains are few and far between. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know how to search for sold listings on eBay. As a general rule, everyone knows what things cost and they are priced appropriately.
It is possible that you might swipe in at the last minute on an eBay auction and get a mint lens from some dimwit who didn’t know better or even from some poor soul who was forced into a fire sale because his dog needed an MRI but you are probably just as likely to give birth to Elon Musk and have your offspring make billions and pay for your lenses. Life lesson – common things happen commonly ESPECIALLY when it comes to eBay. There are two types of eBay sellers. Professional storefronts and individual sellers. My experience with professional storefronts is generally pretty good. I mention a few below with links to their stores. When it comes to individual sellers, things are 50:50.
As often as you will find bargains from individual sellers, you will find calculated or accidental misunderstandings depending on if your glass is half empty or half full. Although, I think most people are honest and they are not (overtly) trying to rip you off. The issue is that what one person calls “excellent ++++++++++++++++” someone else will call “BGN.” One person’s “cleaning marks” is another person’s “lens scratches;” and the words “slight haze on rear element doesn’t affect image quality” probably translates to “please don’t shoot this thing wide open.” In other cases, people might not really know what they are selling when it comes to fungus, scratches, haze, etc.
A few years ago, I could say that buying camera gear from Japan was a safe bet. These days, it seems that something has changed. Every camera and lens is graded as mint, and I have had to return a few items. The old adage that you can trust Japanese sellers might be dated.
If you are like me and you are too busy to make shopping a sport, you don’t enjoy the risk involved with trying to decipher the lens grading euphemisms on eBay, and you realize that playing that sport can be a high risk/low reward game, it might be time to exit the underworld and shop with reputable dealers. My main recommendation is to always first check stores with experienced and knowledgeable staff. Items will be more expensive at a real store but you are encouraged to pay the extra expense. I know your gut is that you would never buy something from a Leica Store but this is dumb. They all have a used section and they inspect and stand by what they sell. The extra cost from a Leica store, KEH, Cameraquest, etc. is worth every penny. You can ignore this advice but, eventually, you are going to get a dud, fight to return it, or send it in for service for the added expense and you are going to wish you just bought it from someone that knew what they are doing and not just some guy or gal in some forum.
As far as other recommendations go, here are the sites and eBay stores I used for this project.
- Cameraquest (Voigtlander): also has a ton of information on the site regarding LTM and m-mount lenses. The owner is very responsive to questions by email. There is a used section on the website but you need to search for it.
- B and H used department (get the Payboo Card): I don’t think you are going to find many bargains here but they undergrade a bit. I have purchased used from BH over the years. Never had any issues.
- PopFlash Photo. Follow them on Instagram. They are very responsive to DM on Instagram. If you need something, in particular, email them and tell them what you want so they can alert you when they get it.
- OC Camera
- Classic Connection
- Koh’s Camera
- Camera West (they also have an eBay store and list things that do not appear on their website. I have only good things to say about Camera West. I bought a camera from them but asked many questions. They are always helpful and patient.)
- Leica Store Miami: you might want to sign up for their newsletter. They are active and send good/useful information from time to time. Additionally, their youtube channel is exceptional.
- Leica Store SF
- Rangefinder Forum: I know I harsh on camera forums but that is largely because I don’t feel the format of the forum is conducive to learning. It doesn’t mean that a marketplace associated with the forum isn’t worthwhile. Things come up from time to time, everyone posting seems genuine, and the prices are often better than eBay. It is worth a look but like all forums – buyer beware. In my experience, the sellers on RF are more knowledgeable than in other places.
- Map Camera: Expect 50 pictures of each lens, they undergrade everything (meaning it will be better than you think when you get it), and somehow things come faster from Japan than Texas. Don’t bother negotiating. They are not having it. If you ever get a chance to go into one of the stores in Tokyo, you will understand who you are dealing with. Negotiation is not worth the time it takes to send the email. As a general rule Leica lenses are expensive coming from Japan. Conversely, the Japanese vendors, including MAP, more commonly have non-Leica brand lenses (Zeiss, Voigtlander, Canon, etc.) at better or equal prices when compared to other locales.
- Facebook Leica Classifieds: You will need to sign up first. This seems to be where high-end stuff goes to get sold by individual sellers. You need to constantly monitor it though. Things go fast. If you see something you want, jump on it. Scams are not uncommon. Buyer beware.
- Optical Brilliance: (a.k.a. Silverfrancy): As you know I am skeptical of eBay. Sometimes something seems a little too perfect and that makes me nervous. This is exactly what happened when I emailed Optical Brilliance about a lens they were selling. The images were too perfect, the location was Southeast USA rather than a city, and there was no corresponding website off of eBay. Because of all of that my hackles were up a bit so I emailed to see what is what. It turns out, my Spidey sense was broken that day. Mark is a Lecia aficionado who built a small business around his Leica passion. Truth be told, I messed something up with my purchase, he trusted me and made things work out in the end. Sometimes if something seems too good to be true it isn’t. That was the case with OB. It was actually that good.
Disclosure statement: I don’t get any discounts from anybody. If I walked into any of the stores or the owner of an eBay store mentioned on this page saw me in public, they would have absolutely no idea who I was.