When I entered this hobby, I thought the price of admission would mean it would take me the better part of a decade to get anything I thought was worthy of being printed or shared. People would talk about $1000 equatorial mounts like they were entry level and only to be used while you saved up for a “real” mount and there seemed to be a lot of elitism in some forums around gear and what can and cannot be used. These people could not be more wrong. I always like a good deal and so I went on the hunt for some. Sure enough, I did it, and currently not a single piece of gear I own was bought new. Even my adapters are 3D printed to save $20.
Absolutely! The deals that can be had on the used market will make you excited to hand over your money, as stupid as that sounds. You shouldn’t if you really don’t feel comfortable or are the kind of person that wants everything brand new no questions asked. I frankly don’t care too much if there’s a paint chip on my mount, if the performance is as good as brand new, what do I care? Buying used can be a great way to kickstart your journey in this hobby.
Where to look
The first thing you should know is that places like eBay and Facebook marketplace are generally bad places to look for used astro gear. Marketplace is fantastic for visual astronomers because there’s so much old gear nobody has touched in 20 years that they’re offloading and fantastic deals can be found. However, for photography you need your gear to be high precision and working correctly so I would stay away from these sources. The best places to look are astromart.com and the cloudy nights classifieds. In my infinite effort to save more money, I have never used astromart because it isn’t free to join. Cloudy nights has been an absolute joy to buy and sell on though. People are generally friendly, you can check reviews of people’s profiles so you know who you’re dealing with and people there have generally taken better care of their gear than on somewhere like eBay. The mount I’m currently using and bought used, a Celestron AVX, was bought on there for $575 while it retails for almost $1000. My scope I traded for by giving up my old reflector that I got for $175 and my camera I bought for over $300 off MSRP. With the experience I’ve had, I would really never buy anything new unless I really just couldn’t get it used. If you’re comfortable buying used and potentially meeting up with strangers to get your gear, I could not recommend this method enough.
What to look for
When you’re looking at used gear, there’s a couple things you should immediately check to make sure you’re looking at something worth buying. First off, don’t buy things from accounts with no reviews or accounts that are brand new as a rule of thumb. I know there are of course some very nice people with brand new accounts, but just to be safe I wouldn’t and if you aren’t well versed in the gear used for this hobby, I recommend you don’t as well.
Secondly, talk with the person you’re buying from over a chat before making an offer just to see if they’re knowledgeable about their gear or if they sound like they don’t know what they have. When I bought my camera, the person I bought from gave me example frames of dust spots on the sensor, dark frames to show noise and little quirks about the camera I really appreciated. I knew that was someone I wanted to buy from immediately and as expected the transaction went as smooth as could be and I still use and love the camera. If someone is every upfront that they don’t know much about the gear, don’t sweat it, it would only be worrying if they tried to hide it and you suspected it in their messages.
Third, only pay for things via PayPal goods and services or a similar method. if they insist on using PayPal friends and family, drop it immediately, they’re trying to scam you. Similarly bad payment methods are Venmo, direct bank transfer, Zelle, etc. You want buyer protection, that is not negotiable. I’ve accepted friends and family only if I’m meeting someone in person and most of the time I just took cash in those scenarios.