Sometimes, those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities call for once-in-a-lifetime cameras — with out-of-this-lifetime price tags. That’s where renting comes in, offering all the camera without all the price in exchange for an expiration date.
LensRentals is the largest photography and videography gear rental company in the United States, offering lenses, cameras, camcorders, accessories and even drones. Besides renting out gear for special shoots, the company also offers a sort of try before you buy program, where if you really bond with that rental, you can buy it outright and apply the rental fees towards the purchase price.
I tried out two products from LensRentals to expand my gear list on an out-of-country trip, and found the service not only painless to use but quick and informative too.
The rental process
LensRentals has a wide variety of products available, all listed through an online portal. Finding the right gear is easy enough to find using the platform’s different categories or just by typing in a search term. Gear is organized into categories for photo bodies, video bodies, lenses by mount, photo accessories, and video accessories. Another category allows for browsing by brand, while packages designed for a specific type of shoot — from weddings to portraits — are also easy to browse.
All gear is listed with a price for a seven-day rental to give a general idea of the rental cost. If the item isn’t in stock, a colored note at the top will list when the gear will be available.
Clicking on the item brings up more options. Along with a quick review of the camera’s key features, the page lists a Q&A section and vitals, like what lens mounts are compatible. On the right, adjusting the date range instantly updates the price, with time frames between three and 90 days available. On the opposite side, LensRentals suggests related gear, including lenses, memory cards and extra batteries. If you add the item to the cart and keep browsing, the prices will automatically adjust to reflect the date range you selected for the first item.
The rental and checkout process is as easy as ordering something from Amazon. At the checkout page, you’ll be asked if you want Lenscap, which is insurance for damage to the gear. Lenscap offers two options, a damage-only option that applies to drops and bear attacks (helpful, considering I rented the Panasonic Lumix GH5 and actually shot a black bear with it) and Lenscap+, which covers both those scenarios as well as theft and natural disasters. The insurance is limited to $100,000 in damage.
The LensRentals system is designed to streamline the process while creating a positive user experience.
Shipping is not included, though Lensrentals does have an Amazon Prime-like option to subscribe for $99 to get free shipping for a year. A signature is required at delivery, so Lensrentals also offers the option to pick up at a FedEx location if you can’t sit at home to wait for the delivery.
The system is designed to streamline the process while creating a positive user experience. In fact, just before checking out, I received an alert that a number of customers had complained about an item I had on my order because of trouble connecting to the app. I decided to order anyways and, sure enough, I had to troubleshoot my connection with the Osmo+ gimbal. The notice was unexpected but welcome, since with a shorter rental, I wouldn’t have had the time required to mess around with the connection and get the gimbal functioning.
LensRentals online ordering system is well-organized and easy to use. Once the first item is added to the cart, all of the other prices change to reflect the same rental period and suggested accessory lists make it easy to make sure you add everything you need. And if you don’t, you might get a call — the day after my order, I received a call asking if I wanted to add any memory cards to the order. A quick “whoops, yes I’ll need those” and the cards were added on to my order.
The Rental Experience
Shipping camera gear always makes us nervous, but our order arrived on time and packed inside a durable hard case with foam inserts. Besides just keeping bumps and drops from damaging the gear mid-ship, the setup also made it easy to pack the gear for a road trip. A hard case isn’t something you’ll want to hike around with — in which case, LensRentals has a small selection of backpacks — but leaves out the worry of damage during shipping.
We were able to start shooting right away: Everything we needed was included in the box. Throughout the rental, LensRentals kept in touch via emails. Since we rented during the eclipse, I received a note warning that shooting the sun without a protective filter would damage the gear, something not covered by the rental insurance.
If I stumbled onto that lost lens cap within 30 days, I could send it back and get a refund.
A few days before the rental was due back, a reminder email arrived with a helpful checklist for everything that should be in the shipment, including batteries, chargers, and lens caps. Instructions for returning the rental were part of the first shipment, including new tape to seal it all up. We boxed it up, scheduled a FedEx pick-up online from the FedEx website, and sent the gear back.
A few days later, another email showed up noting that the gear was received, minus one lens cap. We knew we were missing the cap when we shipped everything back (there must be a hidden compartment in somewhere in the den filled with lost lens caps and mismatched socks), so we approved the $5 charge. Customer service was incredibly easy to work with and noted that if we stumbled onto that lost treasure chest of missing lens caps and socks within 30 days, we could send it back and get a refund on the extra charge.
LensRentals offers a simple web ordering system, and we were surprised both by the quality and durability of the shipment boxes. Customer service when we lost a lens cap was also superb. The selection also makes it easy to get everything in one place, from the actual camera and lens to tripods, lighting, audio, drones and even bags to put it all in if that included hard case isn’t going to work. An option to automatically schedule the return shipping pickup would be a nice addition, but the experience overall was hassle-free.
Owning a camera makes sense for frequent use, but rental systems like LensRentals let you get that project-specific or trip-specific gear, and helps new professionals compete with the gear of photographers who have been shooting (and investing in lenses) for years. Sure, that $2,000 lens makes sense for wedding photographers that have nearly every weekend booked, but for photographers just starting out, LensRentals makes it possible to rent the same $2,000 24-70mm f/2.8 lens for three days for less than a hundred bucks.
We wouldn’t hesitate to rent with LensRentals again. Now who wants to help find that lens cap?
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