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The Complete Guide to Renting a Lens Online

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This post is part of a series called Lenses.
How to Shoot With an Extremely Shallow Depth-of-Field
The Magic of Wide Apertures: Technique, Lenses & Settings

There's no doubt that photography can become an expensive hobby or career. The market keeps producing faster, better cameras and lenses. You love to use professional quality lenses, but it's hard to justify such a purchase if only using that special lens a handful of times during the year.

Before you abandon those dreams of using high quality lenses, consider the option of renting a lens online. This article will help point you in the right direction, and explain what to watch out for when renting a lens online.


When Might You Want to Rent a Lens?

renting a lens online
Copyright Leonrw

There are a number of times when renting a lens makes sense. As mentioned before, it's often the short term project or a specific need. Such instances might include:

  • Being asked by a friend to shoot a wedding or party. Here, high quality glass will help bring back sharp shots if you already have the fundamentals of photography well learned.
  • A once in a lifetime trip to a far flung location, such as a safari in Africa, can be reason to pick out a high grade lens. A Safari is a time when a nice long 200mm to 600mm lens is very useful.
  • Experimenting with a fisheye or ultra-wide angle lens can be a lot of fun. They can also come in handy for shooting interior pictures when listing a house for sale.
  • Wildlife viewing often requires a long, long lens—particularly bird watching. If you have a trip in mind, a 600mm monstrous lens just might do the trick.
  • Your prized lens needs to go back to the shop for repairs but you can never 'live without it' for the week or two it'll be in the shop. Lens rental to the rescue!

Cost Considerations (Time vs. Money)

When reading the above bullet points, I'm sure some bells were going off in your head. Personally, I've rented a lens for a couple of those reasons—and the last one, parting with a lens that needs work but not wanting to live without it, can be a hard decision. As with a lot of desires in life, there must be a balance between time and money.

renting a lens online
Copyright PHPhoto

Most rental companies have a set number of rental periods. They are often available for three, five or ten days as well as weekly rental rates. Most also offer monthly discounts. If your project can be wrapped up in short order, you can save a bundle.

Maybe you want to rent a nice 105mm lens for some portraits and headshots for corporate clients. Scheduling the shoots back to back, on consecutive days, can make the rental worthwhile. The nice thing about renting a lens online is the cost is all laid out in front of you, so figuring out any possible return on investment is an easy sell.


Check the Shipping Charges

renting a lens online
Copyright LA Wad

Continuing on with cost considerations is a reminder to check the shipping charges. Not all rental companies are the same. Most will include return shipping costs but if you are in need of a rental lens on numerous occasions, the cost of shipping the lens back and forth may be more than simply keeping the lens for an extended period.

Also remember that the larger the lens rented, the higher the cost of shipping. Often you won't have a choice in how the lens is shipped (typically it is a 2nd Day Air arrangement) and the cost can add up for a 10lb lens. It's important to compare the different shipping costs and I will highlight those differences in the comparison chart below.


To Insure or Not Insure?

This next topic gets a bit stickier, as any insurance consideration often is. And like other times when insurance is offered, it's a gamble each of us needs to decide for ourselves. Perhaps your rental situation will not be likely to damage a lens, but accidents do happen. On the other hand I know first-hand the frustration of constantly purchasing insurance I never use.

renting a lens online
Copyright .EVO.

I asked Josh, from BorrowLenes.Com for a bit on insight from his standpoint inside the industry. “Insurance is purchased on probably 75% of all rentals. In terms of equipment damaged, we don't keep track of that as a percentage of rentals, but something as simple as a lens that gets dropped can cost $200+ to repair versus $15 for an insurance policy, so like any insurance it's not always needed—but when you have it, and need it, you will save a lot of money."


Getting the Most From Your Rental Time

A lens rental company will typically start the clock on your rental when you sign for the package (and you will almost always have to sign for the package). Some will even start the clock at the time of the first attempted delivery, even if you aren't there! Check the fine print before clicking “Submit".

Also, as the lens will arrive via UPS or FedEx or another carrier, it is often a requirement to have a physical mailing address and not a PO Box for delivery.

A typical rental company will ask you which day you would like your lens to arrive. Assume the lens will come at the end of the driver's route. This helps reduce disappointment when it's the one time the “before 10am" driver has a slip-up, leaving your model is standing around, bored, as you both wait for delivery.

It's good to have that partial day to learn about the new lens, and become comfortable with it. Higher-end lenses have multiple switches for manual focus, depth of focus and various image stabilization modes. Don't be stuck scratching your head during your shoot! Get to know your gear the night it arrives (most of us can't resist tearing open a package of new goodies the moment they show up anyway!).


Keep Track of the Packaging, Manuals, and Return Label

Your lens will arrive in a well padded, amply spaced box and needs to be returned in the same one. Make sure the box and all padding does not go missing during your rental. The same is true for the paperwork in the box. Some items, like the GigaPan unit, will come with a quick reference card and extra cables that can be costly if not returned.

Lastly, the invoice and return shipping label are best left in the box for safekeeping. Obtaining a new shipping label may end up costing you more when it is time to return the lens. Enclosing the original invoice will help ensure proper credit for the return.

renting a lens online
Copyright Eric M Martin

Be sure to check the package when it arrives. Almost all rental companies offer insurance on the shipment part of the lens' journey, even if you do not purchase the additional insurance. Inform the company immediately if there is damage to the lens.

Better yet, as with any package, if there is visible damage to the box, note it with the carrier when signing or simply refuse to sign and have the lens shipped back (if that is an option given your circumstances).


USA Based Online Lens Rental Companies

Below is a chart of lens rental companies that ship within the USA. I picked only one lens and rented for seven days, to save the chart from becoming too crowded with all the possible shipping and insurance options.

The shipping costs were based on round trip shipping to Seattle, WA. It is meant to present a general idea of actual costs between companies. The companies are listed in no particular order:

Company Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS Shipping Insurance Total
LensRentals.Com $71.00 $45(overnight) $19.00 $125.00
BorrowLenses.Com $68.00 $36(2 Day) $14.00 $118.00
TheLensPal.Com $61.00 $45.70(2 Day) $14.00 $120.70
LensProToGo.Com $95.00 Included $10.00 $105.00
RentGlass.Com $48.00 $28.20(2 Day) $3.68 $79.88
CameraLensRentals.Com $61.00 $29.99(2 Day) $8.00 $98.99
ProPhotoRental.Com $121.40 3 Day Included $15.00 $136.40
PhotoLensRental.Com $63.00 $34.62 via USPS None $97.62
TheLensDepot.Com $61.00 $37.19 (2 Day) $12.00 $110.19

Notes

  1. BorrowLenses offers pickup in certain California cities for $15.
  2. The Lens Pal offers overnight shipping for $129.70 and free pickup in Clermont, FL.
  3. RentGlass.Com's insurance has a $30 deductible. Shipping insurance is provided for free.
  4. ProPhotoRental.Com allows for custom time periods via a calendar.
  5. For ProPhotoRental, Faster shipping is available as well as pickup in Denver, CO.
  6. PhotoLensRental.Com only offers Canon equipment.
  7. I could find no mention of insurance options on PhotoLensRental.Com's site.
  8. TheLensDepot.Com offers overnight shipping for $57.19 and local pickup in Oviedo, FL for free.
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