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How to buy Nikon bodies and Nikkor lenses in Japan

Ebay is, and remains, the greatest market place for used photographic equipment. 

I, like most, have had my share of unpleasant experiences dealing with Ebay and Ebay sellers. So this article is certainly not an endorsement for Ebay.

Collectors are often taken back by the flow of excellent condition Nikon bodies and lenses offered from Japan.   Prices in Japan vary extensively and so does honesty and knowledge among the sellers.

So why are there so many excellent condition cameras and lenses in Japan?  This is easily answered by cultural differences.  Products like camera equipment were expensive for most and the Japanese culture has historically always been focused on minimalism.  Consequently camera gear was respected and treated with care, even when it became older or obsolete. The older Japanese generations were not so much driven by consumerism; possessions were usually cherished and not quickly replaced.

But the superficial aesthetic condition of the Nikon equipment may hide an ugly problem.  Japanese homes rarely had air conditioning.  Central air as we know it in the United States is still not widespread in Japan, many homes rely on ductless systems that cool one or few rooms at the time.   This combined with the typical Japanese climate, has exposed lenses and camera bodies to high levels of humidity over extended periods of time.   Most AC systems (except for swamp coolers) have the great effect of lowering humidity levels and creating a good environment for preservation.  

Vintage optics are prone to fungus in Japan. Fungus is a mold like growth that feeds on older glass coatings on lenses and in viewfinders.  Its growth is propelled by long time exposure to humidity.  
The problem is widespread, and some of the sellers are very good at belittling the problem. Some will use terms like “tiny fungus” or “small fungus, does not affect picture” if they even identify it at all.  Because of the widespread problem, I cannot recommend the purchase of lenses in Japan.  An exception would have to be a rare find where you can afford or be prepared for a cleaning (removal of fungus).

When it comes to honesty, Western buyers are easily swayed by the 100% feedback and modesty or humble form of writing: but buyer beware!  I have done numerous purchases in Japan and have less than a 50% satisfaction rating.   Japanese sellers are well aware of the expense of shipping something back, some will quickly pretend not knowing how Ebay works and make claims that they have never had a return or had to pay for a return or generate a return label. 

Many cameras are professionally photographed, but take the time to study the photos in detail… no quick glances!   If something does not look right, even the smallest detail, than it usually is not.  Some sellers are quite cunning; minimizing problems by showing bodies at certain angles or only when reflecting light in one way or other.   If you suspect that you see a ding/dent, you most likely are.  Flaws are often presented in such a way to minimize them or hide them.  If all sides are showing except one, assume that a problem will be present on the side that is not shown.

Always look for screws that show damage, which is a clear indication that the Nikon was opened and repaired.   Even more important, look for any signs of rust, even the smallest amount. Look especially at the screws for rust signs.  If you see a rust spot, click away.  If the camera has gotten to the point of exhibiting rust on the outside, there is no way of telling what a rusty mess it can/will be on the inside!

Do not rely on a perceived notion of Japanese culture; honesty and honor (or honorable trading) varies from seller to seller.   I had a seller sell me a mint Nikon F2A which looked flawless and in like-new condition, just to find that the body had dings that had been removed with Photoshop, the DP-11 finder was filled with fungus and did not function at all.  This was the most radical of cases, but I had many sellers advertise the cameras as fully functional just to find out that fungus or a major problem was not disclosed.

Cameras can be retouched, sometimes crudely with a Sharpie, others are completely repainted.  There are no issues with these practices as long as they are properly advertised.  Japanese sellers are more likely to professionally clean a body or lens and retouch it just to obtain a better price.            

Packaging is problematic, most Japanese sellers use flimsy cardboard boxes that do not hold up to transit abuse. No matter how much I requested that they use proper packing materials, I have never received a properly packaged item.  I had a mint Nikon F2AS (last production month) arrive crushed with one side bashed in, just because the seller did not provide adequate packing materials. That was only one of several shipping mishaps.  It is a total lack of respect how these collectibles are shipped!

While some sellers are true professionals, many sellers are the equivalent of estate sale opportunists. These know very little about photography equipment, even if they sell only camera gear.  The word is out in Japan that there is money to be made on Western collectors and that attracts all sorts of opportunists.   

So be prepared and armed with caution before putting in that bid in Japan.  Many of the sellers are honest but the dishonest ones or often cunning and difficult to weed out.

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