Borrowing glass

Recently we were thinking about pros and cons of various lens renting services and solutions so I’ve decided to describe our experiences here.

As probably most of the photographers around we can’t afford to buy most of the lenses we would like to have. Many new lenses are simply beyond our reach and even the used ones often hold on to their value very well. And even if you already have bought some of them there is always that one more that will definitely make great images on it’s own the very moment it ends up on our camera. So to fulfill that need several businesses offer lens rental service allowing you to borrow the glass you really need for this weekend event or that vacation-of-a-lifetime. Borrowing lenses is also a great way to test one if you plan to buy it. Not sure if the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 is really worth the money? Borrow one and play with it for a week – that will help you make and informed decision.

Personally we used two of those businesses. Borrow lenses and Lens Pro to Go. Both of them offer a wide variety of lenses for both Canon and Nikon cameras. Both of them also offer some additional supporting accessories like tripods, heads, battery packs, even flashes and camera bodies. As a matter of fact if you had big enough budget you could equip yourself with very professional high grade hardware kit allowing you to shoot whatever you want. They also have quite similar prices and rules. As a standard you pay for two way shipping, your rental period starts on the day you receive your package and on you are supposed to pack the items in the same box and ship them back using prepaid label on the last day of your rental period. Easy isn’t it? Lens Pro to Go has been referred to us by someone else (I can’t remember by who right now), the prices were OK and we were using it without actually shopping around for other companies offering this service. Until at one point we wanted to borrow more than one piece of glass for 2009 Airventure trip. It was almost too late in the ordering process when I started to think (yes, that happens to me sometimes) and I actually canceled the process with Lens Pro. Why?

Lens Pro to Go utilizes a business model of all-inclusive prices. That basically means that if you go to their website and look for a Nikon 400 f/2.8 lens and see that it costs $460 for week (including insurance) that’s exactly how much your card will be charged for if you order this lens. Easy, isn’t it? But wait a minute – what if you want to borrow two of those (or anything else in addition to the lens)? Yes you’ve guessed it right – the total price will be twice that high. And here is the catch. As we all know shipping two items rarely is as expensive as shipping just one of them. Even more – shipping flash in bundle with relatively heavy lens will probably cost them nothing. So Lens Pro’s business model gives them huge additional profit every time you rent more than one piece. Not willing to pay that ‘wholesale penalty’ I started to look around and we found Borrow lenses.

At first glance Borrow lenses is a little bit more expensive than Lens Pro. But they are using traditional pricing model, meaning that the shipping cost is being calculated in the cart when you finish choosing all the items you need. So despite the fact that their prices for single item are a little bit higher than their competition when you select two or three items the total amount quickly makes them preferred choice…

Unless you consider the third route I’ve actually chosen in the end. Somewhere between looking at one or another lens borrowing company I’ve looked at the price of used lenses on the market. And the fact that they are holding the value so well got me thinking. Let’s see – weekly/10 days rental usually goes for more or less 10% of the price you’d have to pay for new item. That can quickly add up to nice change when you borrow two or three pieces. The though that hit me was – and how much exactly can such lens loose in value over the course of this week or two? Not much probably. So how about buying a used lens you need and then after using it for the assignment selling it again. Yes that has some risks involved too. You can got the lens stolen or it can break. But the same can happen to the rental and even if you are insured you usually have to pay not-so small deductible price anyway making your rental even more expensive. And if you break your own lens you can got it fixed ans still sell it while you won’t have anything whatsoever after paying for fixing rental. And there is of course that other problem – you have to put upfront quite big amount of money with only vague promise of return.

Nevertheless that’s what we did. I have found very nice lens I wanted to borrow and I bought it for about half the price of new on eBay. We used it for about two weeks (! count the rental fee here) around our Airventure trip and then I’ve put it back on the marked and sold for amount very similar to what I paid. And the buyer of course paid for shipping. So in the end I have the lens I wanted for two weeks and all it cost me was one way shipping, fees paid to eBay and PayPal after selling it again and few sleepless nights spent on thinking ‘what have you done stupid’ :-) . Huge savings in total. From now on I will explore this option first every time I need some piece of equipment. And this way has also one more advantage- you’ve already spent the money, haven’t you? So the glass can stay at home if it turns out to make oh-sooo-good images :-)…..

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