Home -> Articles -> Renting Camera Gear

Renting Camera Gear - Reasons and Tips

written by Greg Cope

Years ago I would notice local photographers walking around with their 600mm lenses, or see photos online taken with expensive gear, and I would ask myself: would I ever be able to shoot with something like that? It wasn't until another bird photographer I met at a local preserve suggested camera gear rentals - a thought which had never crossed my mind until then - that I realized how useful this resource could be. After some research, I realized that renting camera gear is great way to transiently reinforce your photography gear and accessories. Below I break down several times when camera gear rentals could be useful, after which are some tips and costs breakdowns.

Long Eared Owl, 300mm Canon. After trying out this lens for a few days, I realized that - relative to my other gear - it was a lens I wouldn't use much if purchased.

Evaluating Camera Gear - If you are considering the purchase of an expensive camera, lens, or accessory, renting the item(s) gives you a chance to test out the gear beforehand. Many stores might let you slap on a lens to your camera to try it out, but renting lets you try it out on-location, as there can be big difference between in store photos versus on-location photos (for example high contrast photos of a white wedding dress, or a photo of a moving subject, or a photo requiring hours of exposure). Further, when looking to purchase camera gear but are undecided between two or more items, rentals allow one to compare multiple pieces of gear side-by-side, on-location to find the best gear item for the job rather than relying on a salesman's advice, online camera reviews, or actually buying the item before truly trying it out.

Periodic Encounters - Gear rentals allow one to quickly increase your camera gear list in times when the necessity for more gear is only periodic or short term. Consider cases where backup gear is wanted (or needed) for an event you don't ecounter frequently. Photography gear rentals give you access to lenses, cameras, and accessories which you would otherwise not use, but for these times may be wanted or required. Rentals also provide a backup system when needed - a backup camera not only provides insurance against camera failure, but also allows you to have 2 (or more bodies), perhaps each equipped with a different lens to negate the time consuming process of switching lenses. Rentals can also help while traveling - renting gear for delivery at your travel location prevents the need to travel with or ship all your gear.

Extra Bang - Rentals can give you access to camera gear out of your normal budget - large format cameras, long lenses, specialty lenses, etc... For instance, a 500mm lens is way beyond my budget for a lens I would use as frequntly as I would use it. Renting allows me access to the lens on those occassions without breaking the budget. Of course, one needs to weigh the factors: rental costs for 3 days is ~ 2-4% list cost of a piece of gear new, thus if you plan to rent that item many times you end up approaching the list price. Consider the re-sale value of the item relative to the list price or rental costs, and consider used equipment - at times it may be cheaper to buy new or used (and re-sell for cheaper) - so why not buy?

Rental Agreements - Renters should carefully read rental contracts. These contracts will typically lay out the rules - late fees, deposits, what happens in the case of damage - and should be read carefully. Some things to consider:

  • When taking possession of equipment, completely inspect the item(s) for damage. This prevents any previous damage being blamed on you.
  • Verify and thoroughly understand the return date and return process to avoid any accidental late fees.
  • Investigate insurance options in the event the rented camera gear is damaged, lost, or stolen.
  • If returning gear in person, get a receipt or other documentation proving return of items.
  • Many gear rental companies reside in big city areas and offer pick-up locations, negating the need to pay for shipping.

Conclusion - While rental rates and camera gear prices vary from company to company, a quick comparison of camera gear rental companies and current market prices for said gear show rentals in the range of about 2-4% of the list cost of a new purchase (for ~3 days). Given the circumstances, this in many ways can be quite economical and worthwhile for short term and infrequent camera gear usage.