*** From the Archives ***

This article is from September 9, 2013, and is no longer current.

The Benefits of Renting Camera Gear


In January, my son Patrick and I made the trip to the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico for a chance at getting some beautiful photos of the tens of thousands of birds that travel the Pacific Flyway, an avian superhighway that runs from Canada to South America. Besides the Sandhill Cranes and Snow geese, we had plenty of company. Photographers had been lining up since before dawn, waiting for the birds’ morning flights. This is an event of telephoto lens one-upmanship, and had it been a competition for longest lens, we would have won.

The showpiece of our equipment was a Canon 600mm f4.0 telephoto lens on a Bogen video tripod. You can’t hand-hold a lens of this size—it’s 17.6 inches (448 mm) in length without its lens hood, and it weighs 7.3 lbs. (3.92 kg). It is a 12-power magnifier on a full-frame sensor, providing a 3°30’ field-of-view. It’s astonishingly fast to focus, it makes lovely wide-open images, and it has no perceptible vignetting. Such a lens is also quite expensive: US$12,799.

The best thing about this lens was that I didn’t own it.

It was rented from BorrowLenses.com, a San Francisco Bay Area lens rental firm. These rental houses are nothing new; the motion picture industry has survived on rental equipment for decades. The “new” thing about BorrowLenses and others companies like them is that they cater to the young market of advanced amateur and professional photographers who need a specialty item for a short period of time. Almost all of their transactions are done online, and almost everything they rent goes out and back by FedEx.

BorrowLenses.com shipped the lens to my hotel in New Mexico. The cost was about $500 for a long weekend. Shipping and insurance increased the total to about $600. I used it for four days, taking thousands of photos. My son shot video, and we both came back grateful for the experience. At about $150 per day, the lens was a bargain—we got the use of the lens and we didn’t have to own it.

I had rented the same lens a summer earlier when I drove to the Bonneville Salt Flats to photograph cars racing-by at speeds in excess of 300 mph (482 kph). On that visit I used the 600mm lens with both video and still cameras. There is hardly a greater contrast than the Bosque del Apache where the loudest thing you will hear in a morning is the squawking of Snow geese.

The Benefits of Renting Lenses

There are many reasons you might want to rent a lens or a camera, the most common being that you need a special lens that is too expensive to own. Another reason is to have a back-up for an important event like a wedding or a family reunion.

I have also rented equipment from BorrowLenses.com to try before making the commitment to buy. One such rental was a GigaPan robotic camera head that I rented last year for high resolution panoramic images. I used it to get acquainted, then I shot a few nice images, and was hooked. I liked it so much I ended up buying my own. At $900, I wasn’t sure I wanted to own one until I tried it.

My most recent rental was a Canon 400mm f2.8 lens that I rented to photograph concerts last month. The rental rate for a week was $600 including insurance and two-way shipping. I thought of it as a $100 per day executive decision, and it made it possible for me to get photos that I would never have been able to take with my own equipment. The seven-inch front lens element gathers so much light that I made “portraits” from 50 feet with only the light of a music stand.

Lens rental houses suggest that renting is better than owning because you can rent a lens a number of times without spending the same amount as the purchase price, and always have the latest and best equipment. This is true; the 400mm lens I rented was the most recent offering from Canon, and it’s hard to get. Though I would love to own a lens like this, I can’t afford the $12,000 price. I could rent it 21 times for that much money.

Brian Tetrault from LensProToGo, a Concord, Massachusetts lens rental firm, suggested a few more reasons to rent in a recent webinar. He recommended renting a camera while yours is in for repair, trying cameras and lenses you have never tried before, and renting that special tool you only need one time. His firm rents underwater camera cases for the top professional cameras. These, he said, are very expensive to buy, but the rental fee is very reasonable.

Tetrault also made specific reference to wedding photography, where the failure of a camera would cause a documentary disaster. A rental camera, even if never used, would be well worth the cost of the rental.

Some camera rental companies offer customer pick-up instead of shipping. BorrowLenses will arrange for a rental pick-up at their main location, or at other locations in the Bay Area, Southern California, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washing, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Virginia. This can save money on shipping.

Mr. Tetrault of LensProToGo also mentioned that renters are allowed to take rented equipment out of the country without violating the company’s rental policies. This may be true of the other firms who rent this equipment – but if you plan to do so, be sure to ask. And, any of these companies will help you get the equipment where it needs to be by shipping directly to your shooting location, saving baggage fees.

Renting camera equipment is a great deal for the professional and amateur photographer alike. You can get the equipment you want for the time you need it, and then return it simply and easily. Prices are very competitive. If you can’t buy that $12,000 Canon super telephoto, rent one for a few days.

My son Patrick with his Red Epic digital cinema camera on the big Canon 600mm telephoto lens. He was shooting high-speed video of the cranes at Bosque del Apache.

This close-up photo of a Sand Hill Crane was made with the Canon 600mm lens. I used the auto-tracking focus feature to keep the bird in focus while I followed it in flight.

The loveliest feature of the long telephoto lens is its wide-open optical quality. This image was taken at f4.0 and a shutter speed of 1/500 sec. The out-of-focus mountains in the background make a nice contrast to the crane.

This is me at the Bonneville salt flats with the big Canon lens. With press access, I was less than 100 yards from the cars at the four-mile mark. They passed me at incredible speed.

Danny Boy was traveling at break-neck speed at Bonneville, and after passing the timing marker it popped a drag chute. These photos show the cars at their best because the chute shows action.

I rented a Gigapan Epic Pro robotic camera mount from BorrowLenses.com for a week. When I determined that I really liked it, I bought one.

This telephoto shot was made with the 600mm Canon lens at the Very Large Array in western New Mexico. These antennas are each 82 feet in diameter, and nearly 100 feet tall. There are 27 antennas in the array, which is spread over a nine-mile pattern.

My son with his Red Epic shooting sunrise at the Very Large Array in the New Mexico desert. The telephoto makes very nice images on video because of its huge aperture.

Top rental companies in the U.S.

7730A Trinity Rd
Suite 110
Cordova, TN 38018

130B Baker Ave Extension
Concord, MA 01742

ATS Rentals
15 W Main St Box 260
Piper City, Illinois 60959

1664 Industrial Road
San Carlos, CA 94070

Camera Lens Rentals
231 Federal Drive
Chesterfield, IN 46017

Lens Giant
143 Cadycentre #120
Northville, MI 48167

10254 W 87th St
Overland Park, KS 66212

Top Lens Rental
21151 S Western Ave
Ste 100
Torrance, CA 90501

The Lens Depot.com LLC
2785 Wrights Road Suite 1101
Oviedo, FL 32765

Hawaii Camera
3408 Waialae Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96816


Brian Lawler founded Tintype Graphic Arts in San Luis Obispo, CA, in 1973. Since 1992, he has worked as a consultant to the graphic arts industry, specializing in prepress and color management subjects. He is an emeritus faculty member in the Graphic Communication Department at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) where, for 22 years, he taught color management to more than 1,500 students.
  • KKramer996 says:

    Great tips for renting camera gear, thanks!

  • Jeff Evans says:

    I am interested in making a video for a local band and want to rent/buy a solid camera to get the job done. I didn’t realize that not only can you use a rental for shooting, but also testing out to see if it’s right for you before purchasing. I will have to make sure I look into this before making any decisions. Thanks for the good information!

  • kishorn says:

    Good Article
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