The other day, I sold my old binoculars (7×35) at a higher price than I had anticipated on an auction website. Since then, I’ve been looking for a larger pair, such as 7×50 or 10×50.
At first, I wanted to get Nikon’s 7×50 SP, which are widely acknowledged for professional use. Also, for some reason, on auction websites, there are a lot of SPs in good condition compared with other models.
It seems that I can buy a nice pair of Nikon 7×50 SP at around $280, which is about one-third of their original selling price.
However, I changed my mind. To see so many used Nikon SPs in good condition for sale tells me that even though these are good binoculars, people don’t want to hold on to them for very long.
They weigh about 1.4kg, which after a few minutes, can be tiring to use (even painful to look up at stars in the sky).
The quality of the binoculars is not always the main reason to want to keep them for a long time. I have bought and sold a lot of pairs, and the binoculars I still have all serve me well for different purposes.
I want something useful and attractive, even if there are potential problems. I made up my mind to find wide-angle 10×50 binoculars instead.
I decided to buy vintage binoculars.
The Fujinon 10×50 FMT-SX was my choice, but I would need to wait for a long time until a pair appears at an auction. These are much rarer than the Nikon SPs on the market.
So, I turned my attention to a vintage pair of binoculars: the Zeiss DEKAREM 10×50 made in East Germany. Buying a vintage pair on an auction website is risky so I won’t recommend other people try it. But I decided to take the risk, just for fun.
If you ever decide to buy an old pair, you’ll want to know how to minimize potential problems.
1) The lens coatings are primitive.
In the past decade, lens coatings have improved considerably. As a result, light transmission has dramatically improved.
Because of the lens coatings, flagship models from the 1990s are less than the middle range models now.
If you want to get an older pair, made before 1980, light transmission is far less than the standard now.
2) Fungus and internal fogging.
Most used binoculars have some fungus or fogging on the lenses. Blurry pictures on an auction website imply that the owner wants to hide these problems.
Sometimes a dishonest seller will write a description like the following: I am not familiar with optical devices, so I cannot answer your questions about the lens conditions.
If you get a pair with fungus or internal fogging, you’ll need to find a shop that does binocular restorations. This will more than double your cost.
3) Be sure to check the seller’s ratings.
On every auction website, you can check the seller’s ratings and comments from past buyers. It’s important to read them carefully before buying used binoculars.
However, it’s possible that the information is not all true.
First, if the seller gets a bad rating, they might also give a poor rating to the buyer in retaliation, which may influence the buyer away from commenting frankly.
Secondly, people tend to notice minor problems after the deal. In many cases, they just accept it.
For these reasons, you shouldn’t rely too much on the ratings.
4) No matter how careful you are, you might get an inferior item.
Buying used binoculars on an auction website is a bit like gambling. I once bought a used Leica Trinovid 7×42 pair from a reputable dealer with a high rating. According to the description, there was no fungus or fogging.
However, I found fungus on one prism the moment I got the pair. I complained to the seller, but he refused to let me return them. He insisted that he hadn’t found any fungus before shipping.
I gave up and found a restoration shop to get rid of the fungus, which cost me over $200.
How I lost money by gambling.
I decided to buy an old Zeiss DEKAREM 10×50 pair for $270, which seemed reasonable to me, even taking into consideration the risk of getting a less than perfect pair.
I got the parcel a few days after the payment, and I carefully checked the binoculars.
Although the seller said there were no significant problems in the description, I soon realized there were.
First, the collimation was outside of the acceptable range, which gave me a slight headache.
Secondly, I found internal fogging in the right barrel. Because of this, the image is not very clear.
Thirdly, there is something wrong with the diopter ring.
Because of the problems above, I sent the pair to a restoration shop to get a quote. A few days later, I was told that it would be as much as $650!
Despite the high price, I decided to have my binoculars restored, including prism cleaning. The person at the shop promised to do all he could to fix them.
Now I’m waiting for him to finish restoring my DEKAREM 10×50 and looking forward to getting a great image. At the same time, I’m kicking myself for losing so much money in the deal.
You should learn an important lesson from my blunder: Buying vintage binoculars on auction websites is risky.
If you want to get a used pair, although the price is a little higher, you should choose models made within the last ten years. Otherwise, I suggest that you buy new ones.
Buying used binoculars on auction websites is like gambling. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t. To minimize the risks, you should know the following:
The lens coatings of vintage binoculars aren’t as good as newer models.
It is likely that you’ll find fungus or internal fogging.
You should carefully read the seller’s feedback.
There still remain unforeseen potential problems.
If you want to buy a good used pair and be sure of their quality, I recommend face-to-face transactions at pawn shops. Otherwise, you might lose money like me!