1. Determine how
old the camera is. Units over about 6 years or so run the risk of
developing leaky capacitors. Check for this by sniffing inside the
camera, looking for a "fishy" smell. And check with the
manufacturer. You could learn what Bill Celnick did.
Bill wrote: I
was considering buying a used SVHS portable VCR from Panasonic. I
used their web site to contact tech support who told me what years
that particular model was made, and, very importantly, informed me
that replacement parts were no longer available. So if you buy it,
and can't service it, you're taking a big gamble, and what seems to
be a great deal is a waste of money.
2. Check exterior
cosmetic appearance. Scratches and dings may indicate a unit that's
been used hard or carelessly. Check that all case screws are present
and accounted for. Lettering that's worn away may simply be due to
handling, and is not necessarily a problem.
appearance of lens. Is a clear filter installed? This indicates an
owner who's concerned about keeping his lens in good shape. Breathe
gently on the lens to fog it. Does the fog clear relatively evenly,
or are dust particles or fingerprints present?
4. Check inside
the tape compartment. Use a flashlight and a magnifier if necessary.
Check for lint, dirt, dust, or discoloration on any of the metal
parts in the tape path, especially the capstan (a shiny metal post
next to a dark rubber driver wheel), and on the tape drum itself.
Ideally, the compartment's parts should shine like fine jewelry.
5. Record some
tape. Shoot indoors and outdoors. Listen carefully to the camcorder
as it records, rewinds, and plays. Do you hear any noises indicating
things are rubbing, or gritty?
While playing with
the camera, put it in manual focus. Zoom in tight on a subject and
focus. Zoom out. Zoom back in. Repeat. Is the object still in focus?
Many consumer cameras have a hard time holding focus through the zoom
range. Put it in autofocus. Does the camera "hunt" focus
excessively? Try this in good light and in low light.
Does the camera
have the features, and the manual overrides you want? Particularly
handy are earphone and external mike inputs, and manual focus,
exposure, and white balance controls.
Play the tape back
with the camera hooked to a color monitor or TV, and also play the
same tape back in a deck or another camera. Picture and sound OK?
Stable? No noise bars or other indications of mis-tracking?
rechargeable batteries will have to be replaced. Replacements can run
from $40 - $90. Figure on replacing the lithium "watch
battery" as well.
7. Ask about the
camera's repair history. A camera that's been serviced is not
necessarily a lemon, but if it's been into the shop two or three
times for the same problem, I'd worry. Ask to see repair receipts.
I'd also wonder about a camera that's NEVER been serviced. Plan on
paying a couple hundred for a cleaning and alignment if this is the case.
8. Is there an
extended service warranty on the camera, and is it transferable?
9. Check for dead
pixels. These are most easily seen in low light with gain set at
maximum, and appear as tiny, non-moving white or colored rectangles
which can't be removed by cleaning the lens or the viewfinder.
Sometimes they're easier to see on a separate monitor. You might be
able to live with a couple near the edges of the picture, but in the
center they are most annoying. The cure involves replacing the CCD
10. Extras such as
lens filters, tripod, case, spare batteries, tapes, mikes, etc. can
sweeten a deal. Realize that you'd have to buy these things yourself,
and figure cost accordingly.