This past trip was my first foray into the world of lens rentals. Up until this point, I’d never really considered it, although I’m not sure why. I guess in part because I’ve always felt that, if I had a real need for a lens, I’d be better off just buying it and adding it to my kit.
But that’s not always practical, especially when it comes to Canon’s big white telephotos, many of which cost more than a good used car. Or, in my case, when I needed a travel-sized telephoto for a long weekend. (Or if you want to test a couple of comparable lenses before picking one to buy, as a friend of mine is planning to do.)
My experience began with a Google search (big surprise), which netted me a half-dozen different rental shops. They’re all essentially the same, differing only a little in terms of what stock they carry, and what their prices and policies are. The basic premise is simple: the cheaper the lens, and the shorter the rental period, the cheaper the overall rental is. Most seem to start with a 4-day period. For the 70-300 IS I rented, the total price for 4 days was about $60.
The pricing can be a little tricky, because the shipping charges are built into the final cost. But when you initially price a lens, you may only see the rental fee at first. So that $40 rental fee looks great, but then you have to add in the round-trip UPS cost. It’s still very reasonable, but the first number you’re quoted isn’t necessarily the full price.
Almost all the shops I looked at also offer some form of insurance, usually for just a few dollars extra. You have to carefully read their terms regarding this, as it’s different for each place. For one, the insurance limits you to 10% of the total cost in the event the item is damaged, while another may state that you’re responsible for a percentage OR the repair cost, up to a limit. And nearly all of them refuse to include water or sand damage – or theft – under the insurance. For a few dollars extra, I think it’s foolish not to get the insurance – accidents happen, and gambling the $9 fee is better than gambling a multi-hundred (or thousand) dollar lens replacement.
The actual process is easy, and seems to be the same for all of them. You place the rental order, specifying what day you want it to arrive on and what day you’ll ship it back, and they send you the lens, along with the return postage slip. You use it and, when you’re done, put it back in the original packaging, slap the pre-paid label on it, and send it back. It’s easy as pie.
I used LensRentals.com. Their price was good, and some of the terms were easier for me (more on that in a minute). The lens arrived in a box, filled with that solid gray foam. The lens was is the middle, in a padded Tamrac case. Even if UPS had kicked the box (which I’ve personally seen them do), it would have been safe. The lens itself was very clean and well-maintained and worked perfectly. When I was done, it was packed and shipped back with no hassle.
The terms I mentioned before have to do with the shipping. A few of the shops have policies saying they only ship to your credit card billing address, and if you want to send to another address you have to add it to your CC file, and someone has to sign for it, etc. I shipped the lens to my office, where I knew someone would be there to sign for it. LensRentals didn’t have any problem with the different address, and I didn’t have to do anything with the CC company. A small thing? Maybe, but it as one more hassle that I didn’t have to go through, and that was part of the deciding factor for me.
So that’s my experience. Would I rent again? If the need arose, definitely. Would I use LensRentals.com again? Absolutely. Do I expect to do it often? Probably not, but sometimes special needs to arise. And it’s good to know where to get gear when you need to.