I’m a gearhead, and always have been. It’s an engineer thing, I guess, but photographic equipment is inherently interesting to me. I like playing with different kinds of equipment, and experimenting with new techniques. I also find myself wanting for specialized equipment from time to time, such as a very long telephoto lens.
A few weeks ago I decided that I was curious about tilt-shift photography. It’s a fairly esoteric type of photography that’s used for architectural photos, landscapes, and special focusing effects. Tilt-shift lenses are expensive, though– the cheapest Canon, the TS-E 24mm f/3.5L, runs around $1200 mail-order. That’s a lot of money for something I probably wouldn’t use very often, and it’s way more than I’m willing to spend on my curiosity.
What’s a budget-constrained gearhead to do?
For about $50, I could rent the TS-E 24mm for a week, and I did. None of the photos that I took with it were terribly interesting, but that wasn’t my goal. I really just wanted to play around with it and get a better understanding of how tilt-shift photography worked. Buying a lens for that purpose would have been cost-prohibitive, but renting was an affordable alternative.
Renting equipment is a great way to try something out before you buy it. Do you really want that specialized macro lens, or a fisheye? Rent it and try it out before you plunk down a lot of cash. Lenses are the most common things to rent, but you can also get camera bodies, lighting equipment, tripods, and more. I discovered my favorite tripod by accident, when I rented it for a weekend.
I especially like rental for long telephoto lenses, since I don’t need one very often and they’re terribly expensive. My next rental will be the Sigma 800mm f/5.6 super-telephoto lens. I have it reserved for pickup next week, and I’ve timed the rental so that it occurs during the next full moon. If all goes well, I’ll be updating “How to take a picture of the moon” with some new examples. Wish me luck!
So maybe you want to rent equipment yourself. How do you do it?
Most big cities will have at least one camera shop that rents equipment. Check your local yellow pages, call around, or search the web to see what you can find. The advantage of this is that you can often pick something up immediately. Supporting your local camera shop is also worthwhile. The downside is that local rentals have a tendency to be a bit on the expensive side.
Another option is one of the internet-based rental houses. Several of them have sprung up in the last couple of years, and I’ve personally done business with a few of them. They have their inventories online, and ship equipment to you when you rent it. You keep the packing materials, and at the end of the rental period you repackage the gear, put the return shipping label on the package, and send it back. Doing this takes longer than renting locally, but you often get a better selection of equipment than you can get locally, and the prices are better.
As I said, there are quite a few different internet-based rental companies. All of the ones that I’ve done business with have been very good, but I’m particularly enamored of BorrowLenses.com. They have an excellent selection, their prices are competitive, and I’ve gotten spectacular service from them. Additionally, they are local to the San Francisco bay area, which is a huge advantage for me– I can order things online, then swing by their shop and pick it up, thus saving myself shipping charges. I even enjoy their Twitter feed, which contains interesting information for photographers as well as occasional sales.
Rental is a great option for short-term needs, trying something out before buying it, or just playing around. I highly recommend it as an alternative to buying.