Pawn Shops are hit and miss… but when they’re a hit, they’re a freaking HIT.

The image above greeted me at a local pawn shop during one of my bimonthly visits to all the pawn shops in town. It was listed with an “as-is” tag, and listed at $99.99… A hundred bucks, even for a broken 24-70L is a great deal, since they can be sold for parts on eBay for $200-$500.

So I ask to see it, noticing that it only looks like the filter was cracked, not the front element. The employee says it’s been popular, and a few people have looked at it so far that day. I asked if they had any Canon cameras on hand to test it out, but she says it’s “completely broken, doesn’t work at all.” Unable to test it, and it being an “as-is” product, I ask if she can do $50 cash.

She says Okay, and I go home to test it out.

Step 1: I removed the broken filter (It was a nice B&W one too!) – lo and behold, the glass is in great condition. There’s some scuffs on the filter ring, but it’s overall in great cosmetic condition.


Step 2: Confirm the “it’s completely broken, doesn’t work at all” – Oh hey, the MF/AF switch is set to Manual Focus, let’s put it on Auto and see what happens?

Zip, whirr, beep. Autofocus works like a champ.

So, did I just get a fully working Canon 24-70/2.8L for fifty bucks? It seems so! This is why I visit pawn shops as often as I do. There are rarely any good deals there. Literally right next to this lens there was a Nikon D3000 for the low low price of $549.99, and the shop I visited prior to this had a Canon 20D with an 18-55 lens for $1,199.

But there are often some great great finds. I usually buy camera gear at pawn shops to flip for a profit, and have found some really amazing deals. Got two Speedotron Black kits (a 2403cx and 4803cx) with (2) 102 heads each for a couple hundred. A Nikon 16mm f/2.8D fisheye for $60. Three Profoto ComPact monolights (a 600ws and two 300ws) for four hundred. And many countless other great deals.


“But wait,” many people say, “all that shit’s probably stolen! No way these pawn shops are selling these high priced items so cheap!” – While this may be true, and some may shy away from buying something they may find shady. However, pawn shops are supposed to register high value items with serial numbers into various databases that sync with police. This has worked in my favor after a racing bike of mine was stolen. So I don’t worry about how or why the items are priced the way they are, I just take advantage of the situation when it works in my favor. I check online “stolen camera” sites when I get a great deal, and after tens of thousands of dollars, and hundreds of items, never had a hit.

I’ve become friendly with a few employees at these stores, and know why some of these items were priced low. The Speedotron kit was sold by someone who had acquired it from an estate sale, sold it to the pawn shop cheaply, they marked it up a little and put it on the floor. The ProFotos were used in-house to photograph high end purses and such, and they decided iphones were good enough now. And the new Canon lens I just got? It was part of a kit they bought, an employee fumbled it while taking it out of a bag, and they decided to eat the loss and sell it “broken”.

It’s pretty rare, but great deals are out there at pawn shops. Sure I’ve got to pass by two dozen DSLRs that are marked up 8x what they’re worth, and a ton of useless junk… but occasionally you’ll find those AlienBees for a hundred bucks, a Canon 70D for $350, A Norman pack and head for $40, or a ton of other great deals like I have recently. Another great find was a T3i (this was right when the T4i had come out) for $229.99 – talked them down to $150… it was sitting next to an XSi for $449.99.


If you’ve got pawn shops along your commute, or nearby, hit them up occasionally. I have 4 along my daily ride home, and changing my route just a little I can hit 5 more another day. I may go weeks and weeks without finding anything nice, but it doesn’t take much time out of my day, and on a good day I make a couple hundred bucks, or get a new toy.

This article has 4 comments

  1. Jay Reply

    I picked up a Canon 60D body this spring for $400 marked down from $650. It still had the plastic covering the lcd screens! Unlisted was the Tenba pack with 2 additional batteries, Canon battery grip, 2 580ex flashes and pocket wizards for the flashes. I was smiling all the way home. Love the reviews and tips!

  2. Pontiak Reply

    I bought an old JVC CCTV camera for 1 dollar at a flea market recently.
    Why? Because it had a 55mm Nikkor-O f1.2.

  3. BM Reply

    Not nearly as nice a 50$ L Glass, but I did pick up an 85mm Micro Nikkor 3.5 VR II for 70$.

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