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Identifying Used Camera Equipment, Part 1 - Lenses

Looking to sell used equipment? Green Mountain Camera appreciates all used equipment! Please go here to find out how you can turn your used equipment into cash.

At Green Mountain Camera we love camera equipment, and that's why we are a camera store that still buys, sells, and trades used cameras and equipment. The latest and greatest technology is always fun, but there really is nothing like a classic. And, although we sell a lot of new cameras, we like to think that our core business is dealing with used equipment. Learning about the history of photography in a hands-on way is what keeps us going and gets us excited to come to work in the morning.

Not everyone gets as excited as us when it comes to camera equipment, however; and we understand. We deal with a lot of individuals who inherit, or are given, equipment, and these individuals just may not be interested. There are also those who love to take photographs, but don't know a lot about the camera equipment they have. And, it can sometimes be difficult when such individuals contact us and try to explain what camera equipment they have, or have inherited, and want to sell or trade. In an attempt to help with this communication, and also educate anyone who is interested, we have created this series of posts. This first post will concentrate on understanding the three main markings that can be found on most any modern lens.

One of the biggest hurdles in communicating about camera equipment are lenses. For a lot of people, when they look at the markings on the rim of a lens, it is plain gibberish. Here is an example:

Minolta AF 35-70mm LensI grabbed this lens from our parts/repair bin, which happened to be close by, and it is a great example. There are three main things that are important to us for identifying and evaluating used equipment. The first is probably the most obvious and easiest to find--that is the manufacturer. The manufacturer of a lens is usually prominent and often repeated on the lens in a couple of locations. In addition, people are often familiar with the brand names (Nikon, Canon, Minolta, etc.) to be able to easily identify the manufacturer. In the case of the above lens, it is Minolta.

The second important factor is the focal length of a lens. Some lenses are fixed focal length (non-zoom) and others are variable focal length (zoom), like this one, and the lens even says "zoom" right on the rim. This lens has a variable focal length of 35-70mm. If it was a fixed focal length it would simply be something like 70mm, with no dash or other number. The smaller the number for indicating focal length, the larger the field-of-view of the lens (simply put: how large of a scene you can fit into your composition), and the larger the number the smaller the field-of-view. Numbers larger than 50mm are typically referred to as telephoto and effectively "magnify" or "brings things closer".

The third important factor is the maximum aperture. People are often confused by aperture. Why? Because the larger the number, the smaller the aperture, and the smaller the number, the larger the aperture. What is important for a lot of photographers, and certainly for the value of the lens, is the maximum aperture, and, therefore, the smaller number. Like focal lengths, lenses can have either a variable or fixed aperture. The above lens has a variable aperture. The aperture is usually always indicated by a "1:" and then a number. The "1:" indicates a ratio, and that is exactly what an aperture implies. People will often refer to the aperture of a lens by "f/" or "f:", which is essentially short-hand for "f-stop", but indicates the same thing as "1:". Going back to the above lens, the full aperture marking is "1:3.5(22)-4.5". You may be wonder what the "(22)" indicates? This indicates the smallest possible aperture for this lens. Although this is not as important for a lot of photographers, there are many photographers who want greater depth-of-field, and this will certainly be an issue for them.

Side topic: How does an aperture vary? For a lot of zoom lenses, the aperture is variable. As a zoom lens' focal length is changed, the aperture varies. As the focal length is made more telephoto, the aperture is made smaller (the number becomes larger).  Most of the time, fixed aperture zoom lenses, at least if they have a relatively small fixed aperture, are more valuable.

There is a another marking on this lens that is not important for its identification and value, but is useful to know. The circle-looking symbol with a diagonal dash through it, and then a number, is the filter size indicator. In this case, it is 49mm, so this lens uses 49mm threaded filters.

Here is the same lens marked for quick reference:

Minolta AF 35-70mm Lens MarkedWhat happens if your lens looks like this?

Nikon AF 70-300mm LensNot to worry. Somewhere on the lens you will be able to find similar markings to the Minolta shown above.

Nikon AF 70-300mm Lens Marked

You may have also noticed with both of these lenses that "AF" is indicated. This marking connotes that these are auto focus lenses. In some circumstances, this too can be important for identifying a lens. It is possible that a manufacturer made a manual focus lens and then updated it years later to be auto focus, and maintained all the other same attributes, like focal length, aperture, etc.. So, if known, it is helpful to indicate the lens is auto or manual focus.

This concludes our first post about identifying used camera equipment. In this post we talked about the three main things to look for about a lens to help identify that particular model. In our next post we will continue with lenses, and talk about Nikon lenses and the different types (pre-AI, AI, AI-S, AF, AF-I, AF-S) and camera compatibilities. We will also discuss how to look at and through a lens to discover its physical condition, which can greatly impact its value. There may be more hiding inside a lens than  you think.

Looking to sell used equipment? Green Mountain Camera appreciates all used equipment! Please go here to find out how you can turn your used equipment into cash.

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