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Renting Photo Gear: Benefits and Pitfalls

By March 21, 2022April 19th, 2022No Comments

By Frank Gallagher, Blog Coordinator

At one point or another you’ve probably considered renting a piece of photography equipment. Maybe you know someone who did or who recommended renting. There are many good reasons to rent photography gear, and a few potential problems to watch out for.

Where to rent photography gear

You have a lot of options when renting. Borrow Lenses is one of several online businesses dedicated to renting photography equipment and, when you rent through the link on NANPA’s website, a percentage of your purchase comes back to NANPA. In addition to other online rental sources, many camera stores also rent gear.

Screenshot from BorrowLenses.com

Why rent photography gear?

Among many reasons to consider renting photography equipment, six stand out.

  1. Special gear for special occasion. You might have a special shoot coming up that requires something you just don’t have. Maybe it’s a trip to the Caribbean to snorkel and you need underwater housing for your camera. Maybe it’s a safari in Africa and you don’t have a super telephoto lens. Renting is a great option.
  2. Backup. If you only have one camera body and are going on the trip of a lifetime, you might want to bring a second body. It will be your backup if something goes wrong with your main camera. Plus, you can mount a different lens on it and be prepared for more situations.
  3. Try new gear. Considering switching to mirrorless or buying a new lens? Renting is an affordable way to try out new gear before you buy. Who wants to be stuck with an expensive purchase you find you don’t actually like? Rent it first and see if it fits your needs and likes.
  4. Use while yours is being repaired. Photography equipment is incredibly robust and rarely fails. However, if something is going to go wrong, it seems inevitable that problems will occur just when you need that piece of gear. Renting to the rescue! You can usually get rental gear shipped to you in a matter of days to use while your own gear is being repaired. If, heaven forbid, your gear is stolen, rentals can fill in the gap while the insurance paperwork is being processed.
  5. Something you won’t use enough to justify owning You might like to have a tilt-shift lens and a 600mm f/4 telephoto lens but, really, you probably won’t use either enough to justify owning them unless you’re a professional wildlife or architecture photographer. Rent one if you need one. A Canon RF600mm F4 L IS USM lens, for example, costs $13,000, but a 14-day rental is under 1,000. Not cheap, but way more affordable and it will get you the reach you need on that African safari or Costa Rican bird workshop.
  6. Convenience while traveling. You can get rental gear delivered to your hotel when traveling and avoid having to lug it through airports. If you’re at all worried about having to check your gear, with the possibility of it being lost or damaged, renting might be a consideration. And you might want to have that 600mm lens shipped to the hotel if it will be hard to fit in your carryon.

Potential problems with renting

Like most things in life, there are a few things to watch out for in order to avoid nasty surprises and make your rental experience the best it can be.

Order early. Place your order early, perhaps as soon as you know you’re going to need something special. The longer you wait, the greater the chance that equipment will be rented by someone else and be unavailable on the dates you need it. Most vendors don’t charge you until they ship and you can typically change details or cancel your order any time before the shipping date. 

If this is your first time renting, you may have to verify your identity, a precaution against fraud required by some vendors. This can take a day or so, so build in time for that.

Set delivery early. Make the delivery date for your gear between one and three days before you actually want to use it. This will cover unexpected delivery delays and give you time to test and familiarize yourself with the gear.  Your order will be delivered by UPS, FedEx or a similar service and may require a signature. Be sure to make appropriate arrangements.

Returning your rental. You will be asked to return the rented gear in the same packaging it came in and through the same shipping company. If it’s coming via UPS, for example, make sure there is a UPS store that is convenient for you to send it back.

Rental gear comes protected and well packaged. Often that means it’s secured by a foam insert inside a sturdy cardboard box. For items like a super telephoto lens, however, the packaging is even more extensive. Last year I rented a Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens that came in a metal Pelican case inside a foam insert inside a massive cardboard box. The combination weighed over 20 pounds! I would not want to be traveling with all that packaging, or have it taking up space in a hotel room but, for some people, putting up with the packaging might still be better than trying to fly cross country with that lens. So, ask about the packaging if it might be an issue.

What doesn’t come with your rental? You’ll receive most everything you’ll need with your rental, but check to be sure. A rented camera body will probably come with a battery, charger, and strap, but not necessarily a memory card or all the cables that connect it to other devices. And it won’t come with a manual. If you’re trying out a new camera that requires CFexpress cards and you only have SD cards, that can be a problem.  A rented lens won’t come with polarizing or ND filters, so make sure you have the appropriate filters you’ll want to use. Rental companies list what comes with the rental, so pay close attention and see what else you’ll need.

Check the settings. Rental cameras will most likely come with all settings returned to factory default. Check everything. You don’t want to wind up shooting JPG instead of RAW and you don’t want to fiddle with figuring out settings in that brief moment of perfect light or unique animal behavior. Set everything up the way you’re already familiar with and practice shooting with new and different ones.

One more piece of advice. If you’re renting to test out a new camera or other gear, make a list of the things you want to try in advance, so you can efficiently put it through its paces in the time you have. Know what you want to learn about it, what you want it to do, and what you want to compare with your current set up.

In sum

There are many valid and compelling reasons to rent photography gear and there are a lot of advantages to renting. Still, there are several distinct pitfalls to avoid. Steer clear of these and you’ll have an enjoyable rental experience. And, who knows, you might just fall in love with the $13,000 lens and wind up buying one. After all, it’s only money.

Frank Gallagher is a landscape and nature photographer based in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in providing a wide range of photograph services to nonprofit organizations. He manages NANPA’s blog and can be found online at frankgallagherphotography.com or on Instagram @frankgallagherfoto.