Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lenses on eBay: Two Negative Experiences

Sorry for the long delay in posts. Life has gotten really busy in both of my jobs, so post frequency will likely decrease during the rest of February. The Sigma 600mm review is ready to be written, I just need to find the time to do it.

In my post A Guide to Buying Lenses on eBay, I mentioned that I'd had a few problems buying lenses. Oddly enough, out of the six lenses I've purchased, it has only been the last two Canon FD lenses that I've had trouble with: a Sigma 600mm f/8 Mirror and a Canon 100mm f/4 Macro.

Sigma 600mm f/8 Reflex

As I mentioned earlier, this was an impulse buy that I didn't fully research before bidding. More specifically, I didn't directly ask the seller if the glass was clear. I knew that the seller was inexperienced and would have normally asked, but I had decided not to buy it and only changed my mind less than a minute before the auction ended since the price was so cheap. FYI, I got the lens for $78 + $14 S/H, a very good price for the FD-mount version.

But, not asking the fungus question ended up coming back and biting me in the... derrière.

95% of the time, lenses on eBay are fungus free even if they don't specifically mention it in the listing. In this case though, the lens really was in great condition, except the main mirror had some spots of fungus on it. The outside of the lens is pretty much mint, which is probably why the seller didn't notice the fungus on the inside (I assume).

Here's a (soft) overview image to give you an idea of scale. The fungus/mold dots are on the upper part of the mirror (which is reflecting the blue sky in the middle of the image. There's two spots on the very edge and one lighter spot farther into the mirror between the other two.

Here's a detail image with better focus. Again, there's a nasty one on the left (almost looks like it ate through the mirror) a light one in the center and another light one on the right edge.

When I tilted the lens in the sunlight, I got a real idea of the damage. The dark spot on the left fans out quite a bit, the center one is larger than it seemed, and the one on the right is much larger than it initially appeared (note that a lot of it is obscured by the shadow edge). Note how the fungus spreads on the mirror (or any lens) outside of what you can see. From what I've heard, often fungus often etches the mirror permanently.
BTW, I know the lens looks super dirty, but in reality it is very clean. This angle (with the sun beating on it) really shows EVERYTHING. Also, the best way to avoid fungus is to store the lens as dry as possible (like adding a desiccant to your camera bag). The best way to remove it is... well, I'm still working on that.

So, after I realized the fungus problem, I was a little torn. On one hand, the seller stated the lens condition was 'mint' and fungus is obviously not a mint situation. I was also willing to keep the lens; the fungus shouldn't substantially damage image quality. And, in my mind, the seller obviously didn't know the fungus was there. I did withhold posting positive feedback because I knew that was my only leverage in this situation.

So, after some debate, I decided to ask for a partial refund. I actually felt quite bad doing it since it seemed a bit like feedback blackmail, but the lens condition is obviously not mint. FYI, if I'd actually asked if the glass was clear and the seller told me it was (like usual) then I would have very forcefully asked for a large percentage rebated.

In this case, I sent the seller an e-mail directly to her account:

Hi xxxx,

I received the lens last week and it is in great shape as you said, except... It has a small amount of fungus/mold on the main mirror. I've attached images to show you what I mean -- in 6569 you can see the three-four spots of mold, and in 6573 you can see the spread of the mold across the mirror for the spots.

I honestly think you didn't know about the fungus (which usually grows if there is moisture in/on the lens and it is stored for a long time). But you did list the lens as MINT in the listing and I definitely would not have spent so much if I had known about the fungus. Fungus is hard to get rid of, often permanently damages the lens, and significantly lowers the resale value. In this situation, I doubt it impacts the image quality much, but I'm going to have to take some steps to kill it and clean it up.

I'd still like the lens, but I'd like to ask you for a partial refund based on the condition of the lens, maybe $15. Are you willing to do this?

Thank you for your time. I apologize to hassle you with this and I firmly believe you had no knowledge of the damage.


PS If you have other lenses from your Dad's collection I recommend checking them for fungus too. Often, growth can be avoided by putting a silica gel in with the equipment to absorb moisture and changing it every once in a while.
I got no response, but a few days later, I got a message asking for feedback which indicated she hadn't received the e-mail above (SPAM filter). So I resent it through eBay and she immediately wrote me back:
$15 is VERY reasonable. I appreciate you getting back with me, as I had NO IDEA of the mold issue. It was stored in a very dry, dark place, but I can't speak for how it was stored prior to me inheriting it from my father. He's always so good about those things. Anyway, thanks for getting with me to work things out! Just send me an invoice for the $15.00 and I will be more than happy to pay it right away! Thanks again!
So, after that, everything went smoothly. Ultimately, I paid $92-15 = $77, including shipping, for a slightly fungus-damaged lens. I'm quite happy with the way things turned out (maybe I should have asked for a larger refund?) and I gave her positive feedback. My plan with the fungus is to keep an eye on it and if it gets any worse, I'll open the lens and figure out how to clean it. At this point though, it isn't worth the risk of damage to clean it. I did irradiate it in the sun for a few hours so hopefully that will stop the growth.

Canon 100mm f/4 Macro

The other eBay problem I've had is with a Canon 100mm f/4 Macro (FD-mount) I purchased Jan 20th for $50 + $15 S/H (a really good price).

The problem is, it hasn't arrived yet. Here's the tracking info on the lens:
Label/Receipt Number: 0479 7634 5650 3603 3692 Detailed Results:
  • Acceptance (APC), January 22, 2008, 1:06 pm, MONTROSE, CO 81401
  • Undeliverable as Addressed, January 25, 2008, 4:15 am, MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA 94043
  • Processed, January 29, 2008, 10:05 pm, DENVER, CO 80217
  • Processed, February 08, 2008, 5:03 am, SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94188
  • Processed, February 11, 2008, 6:57 pm, DENVER, CO 80266
Yeah, seriously. So it got here, had a bad address on it or something, went back to Colorado. Sat around somewhere for almost two weeks, went back to SF, then went back to Colorado. What the hell is going on?

The seller told me he'd send it out as soon as it got returned to him. But it has yet to arrive back after three weeks. I have to assume the seller screwed something up when he sent it out (he said a bunch of other items he mailed had similar problems) but I have to place some blame on the USPS too. I'd call them to track it down, but the seller is the only one that can do that. The seller did offer me a refund, but at this point, I'm fine waiting for the lens since I got a really good deal on it.

That is, assuming the lens doesn't get stuck in CO for another couple of weeks.

Update 2/19: The Canon 100mm f/4 finally arrived (I had gotten notice on Friday that the seller had received it from the USPS and sent it out again). I expect the problem was the seller put my house number as 722 instead of 772 (which is surprising, since he included a shipping list with the correct address, and you'd think he'd correct the address after the first delivery problem). I'm lucky it found my house the second time around. The condition is pretty rough, but for the price, it seems good. I'll clean it up and post a review in the next few weeks once I've spent some time with it.

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