“It's not the camera, it's the photographer”. That statement gets bandied about a lot, and to some extent it's true – if you know your craft, you can make good photos with just about any camera gear. However, having the right tool for the job makes everyone's life a lot easier, and can produce even better results in the end. The problem with specialty gear is that often you only need it to get a certain type of shot, and then it spends much of its lifetime buried in a camera bag or closet. Maybe you're jonesing for a fast telephoto prime for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Africa, but can't afford to purchase one. Or perhaps you've been saving your pennies (and twenties) to finally buy a professional lens and want some assurance that it's the right fit for you and your photography before shelling out over a grand for it. In all of these cases, renting equipment can be a great solution.
Enter LensRentals.com, an online photo/video rental house that stocks just about every lens and camera imaginable, plus accessories like tripods, studio lighting, and even iPads. If you're in need of a piece of gear, chances are they have it sitting on the shelves waiting to ship. If you aren't sure exactly what to rent, the staff there is very friendly and knowledgeable and will help you find the appropriate gear for your needs. Just about everything on the site has a practical hands-on review with it, letting you know exactly what you can expect of your rental.
About a month ago, I got asked to take souvenir shots at an event as a fundraiser for a local school's drama club. I knew that I would need some sort of lighting setup to guarantee quality, since the photos will be taken indoors under fluorescent lighting (not very flattering). Most of my work is done using natural light, so I don't even own a flash. I went to LensRentals.com and reserved a two monolight kit, which included everything I needed to set up a portrait session. Their website lets you reserve equipment up to a year in advance, so booking it a month early was no problem. After creating an account and punching in my credit card, I got a confirmation e-mail for my order and also a DM on twitter, since I had given them my username when setting up my account (optional). A few minutes after placing my order, I realized that I needed a hotshoe to PC adapter since my camera doesn't have a PC-sync port built in. I replied to my order confirmation e-mail asking to add one to my order, and got a reply from the owner by the end of the day saying it was taken care of, followed by a new order confirmation showing the change.
The week of the event, I got an e-mail saying that my equipment had shipped, including a FedEx tracking number. Note: a signature is required on all deliveries, so don't plan on shipping it to your empty home like I did. (I contacted FedEx and had them hold it at the distribution center, where I picked it up that evening. Crisis averted.) The equipment arrived in good shape (did not look like beat up rental equipment), and after a quick test I was ready to go. The photos turned out great, and I got a few comments about how “professional” it was. The day before my rental was over I got an e-mail reminder with return shipping instructions. I packed everything back into the original shipping box, slapped the return label on (included with your rental), and dropped it off at FedEx. Lens Rentals tracked the shipment back to them and let me know when it arrived, completing the rental and leaving me with plenty of warm fuzzies about the whole experience.
Would I use Lens Rentals again? You bet. My whole experience with them was very professional and helpful. I got the equipment I needed to do the job right, and made a good impression on the customers. Dealing with FedEx was a bit of an inconvenience, but now that I've gone through the process I'll be prepared for next time. Considering there aren't any local places to rent equipment, it's far better than the alternative (which for me would be driving to New York City).
If you need something for an upcoming shoot or want to try out some different gear, I highly encourage you to give Lens Rentals a try. When you see the results, you'll be glad you did.
Editor's Note: LensRentals.com is an official sponsor of the Shutter Photo Anniversary Competition, 2011. LensRentals.com was unaware of Simon's involvement with the competition or Shutter Photo Magazine. For that matter, Simon wasn't even aware that he'd be writing this article until after his rental became known to us (via twitter). As such, we feel that all parties involved acted unbiased and in a manner typical of their nature.