Wow! Have you seen the prices of new cameras and lenses? Photography equipment is a major investment, so professionals and other advanced photographers are used to the idea of gear being expensive. This makes camera and lens rentals an attractive option for many photographers.
Why Rent vs. Buy
Here’s a typical scenario for many freelancer photographers: your skill level concerning a particular type of photographic assignment is more than able to fulfill the client’s (or potential client’s) needs, but in order to deliver the best images or make the job easier to get done right, you would really like to use this one particular piece of equipment.
However, that camera, lens, or other photographic gear is out of range of your current budget. Or, it’s an item that you really only need for that one use and you aren’t likely to need it again. Both of those situations are good reasons to look into camera and lens rentals.
Another valid reason to rent gear is to try out any new lenses or cameras that you actually are considering purchasing, but are unsure of whether it’s a good fit for you or your business. With the high cost of certain types of photographic gear, it makes sense to see if it really does meet your needs before sinking a lot of capital towards a purchase.
Costs of Rentals
What does it typically cost to rent a DSLR and lens for a week? Before answering that question, let’s examine purchase prices of some high end or professional level cameras and lenses currently available.
You may buy locally or already have a favorite online camera store for camera and lens rentals, that’s fine. For this exercise let’s simplify and just use Amazon. (As far as pricing comparisons go, please keep in mind the date of this article, as all pricing listed is subject to change and is included for reference only.)
Full-frame digital cameras, both DSLR and mirrorless, are on the lists of a wide variety of photographers from full-time professionals to freelancers to advanced non-pros.
How about lenses? Super telephotos, fast zoom lenses, ultra-wide-angle, and specialty lenses are made by the camera manufacturers and independent lens makers.
At Lensrentals, one of the photographic equipment rental outlets, these items are available for a one-week rental at very reasonable prices. The Nikon D5 at $311, a Canon EOS-1DX for $297, and the Canon EF 600mm f/4.0 can be used for seven days for only $471.
What Equipment Can Be Rented?
There are other rental options to consider as well. Photographic and video lighting can be rented. Camera drones are available from some outlets.
A common list of rental equipment for cinematic film making is available from many rental outlets. Interestingly, professional-caliber cinematography equipment, both film and video, has been regularly rented out for decades due to the extreme costs involved in that field.
Major motion picture companies may own their cameras, lenses, and lighting, but many independent filmmakers rent as a matter of course. You can even rent out editing gear and projection equipment.
One of the best things about renting either still or motion picture equipment is that renting gives you options to use the absolute newest gear as well as those items that you would probably not be able to afford otherwise.
Where to Rent
If you live or work in a major metropolitan area, there are probably some dedicated gear rental outlets nearby. Local camera stores are also excellent options for some of the more common cameras and lens rentals.
I have been in some locally owned and operated camera stores that I found while traveling through various small towns that will rent out their quality used equipment for very reasonable terms. Some of them will let you apply the rental costs to your purchase if you decide to keep the gear. Very much like rent-to-own.
Online is probably the route many photographers will go. Online rental sources have almost everything for rent that you could find for sale at a full-service camera store.
Here Are Several Online Rental Depots
Lensrentals is one of the largest online rental providers for photography, videography, and lighting equipment and accessories in the United States. Headquartered in Memphis, TN, they ship to all 50 states.
Lensrentals inspects and cleans every piece of equipment before and after renting, so you are assured of receiving a working camera, lens, or accessory as your rental. They don’t keep any gear for over two years, so you are also renting the latest version of what you need. Once the item is taken out of rental circulation, it goes up for sale at their sister site LensAuthority at greatly reduced prices.
BorrowLenses is another giant rental house. Located in Boston, MA and San Francisco, CA, they ship to all 50 states and also run several minor satellite locations for instant pick up.
BorrowLenses rents cameras and accessories, as well as lenses. Every item is inspected and cleaned to ensure the gear you pick up is in optimal working condition. One of the neat things BorrowLenses does is they partner with many local camera stores in a wide variety of areas, using them as pick up and drop off points.
This benefits local photographers needing to procure a last-minute item, too, such as batteries or a filter. Check out all the locations near you by clicking the Pickup Locations button on their main page.
LensProToGo rents to all 50 states and they even rent Apple iPad Pro tablets for you to use for your A/V, editing, or tethering needs. Seriously, if you need it on a shoot, you can probably find a rental house that carries it.
Many of the large online photo retailers also have rental departments, just search on the home page and you should find a link if they have rentals. Obviously, we’ve only listed the tip of the iceberg for online rentals.
How It Works
Whether online or in-person, camera and lens rentals are done in a process is a lot like renting a car. You walk in or go online, choose the gear to rent, pay for your rental upfront, and then take it with you or set up your delivery options. Many rental depots will have various shipping options from overnight to three days.
When you’re done, take it or send it back. An important thing to remember is to keep everything they give you. If it came with caps, straps, boxes, or whatever, keep it all safe and return all of the items.
Similar to car rentals, you should consider their insurance or protection options for camera and lens rentals. Some business credit cards may include coverage if you pay with them but do your own due diligence. Thankfully, insurance rates are relatively low, giving you peace of mind when using the really high-end stuff.
The length of rental contracts from rental depots varies from three days to over 90 days, depending on the specific options of which place you’re using.
If you are using the gear for a job, renting for the time period of your actual need may be the best option. If you are renting for personal reasons, make it long enough to gain the most benefit from the rental.
If you’re late on the return, or if you have damaged the gear without having adequate coverage, be prepared to pay additional fees or damages. Again, it really is just like renting a car.
If you are using the rented equipment for business purposes, keep all the required documentation to hand over to your accountant or input into your tax program. Local regulations covering business expenses are available online and locally.
Several places, including some local camera stores, have loyalty programs for renters. These may include discounts, waiving of certain fees, or notice of special promotions or new items available.
Are Camera and Lens Rentals Worth It?
Most definitely yes! Besides the budget-friendly aspect of renting extremely high-end gear instead of buying, you also get to use the latest cameras and lenses on the market.
Whether for personal curiosity and fun or to fulfill the needs for that particular photoshoot, camera and lens rentals are an excellent option for photographers of all types, but especially for working professionals.