Whats the deal with Lens Rentals?

Lens rentals are placed in the market as a way to use the expensive high-quality lenses without the need to purchase them. You can use it to try-before-buy, for experimentation with a speciality lens or if you have a big project coming up you can pretty much rent everything you need.

I had heard about renting lenses back home in New Zealand, but it was never really easy back then. Now living in London, there is a highly competitive lens rental market. A perfect time to try lens rentals. After a week of deliberation and browsing through a number of different rental services (supplying London), I ended up at lensesforhire.co.uk. With a domain name like that they should be able to give me what I am after!

The Situation

At the time I had a 5d Mark iii with a canon 24-105 f4 IS, a 70-200 f2.8 IS II. Not many things I couldn’t cover with this setup. As I do a lot of landscape and now street photography a wide angle lens is an important piece of kit. Also, I personally love the interesting perspectives that you can get with a super wide angle.

I also do a lot of shooting at night. For landscape shooting, I would prefer the “16-35 f4 IS” but f4 is too slow for handheld night shooting. I really wanted to see what one extra stop of light would do to my handheld photography. For some time now I had been looking at the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 II. It has very mixed reviews and is a rather old lens now (circa 2007). How would this lens work for me? The perfect weekend photography mission.

The Process

The ordering process is about the same as any website with a shopping cart. You choose the lens you like, add it to your cart, fill in the documentation (less than I expected) and pay for your lens. You can choose the time period and the dates that you would like to rent the lens for.

They ship it to you two days before your rental begins. You receive it one day before your rental (the more you pay the earlier in the day you receive it). Your rental begins at midnight the day that you receive it. Of course, you can start shooting immediately (often meaning that you can squeeze in another half a day of shooting). Your rental runs for the period of time you select (minimum 3 days). The day after your rental ends you can either send the lens back yourself or pay a premium for it to be picked up at your door.

At the time there was a half-price sale on all lenses. That made my total including shipping, insurance and a 4 day rental (excluding the cost of returning the lens) was £41. Around 1/20th of purchasing the lens for myself.

The Product

As box opening videos are the bane of youtube I imagine that a written description of a box opening must be just about as boring to read as it is to write. So I will show you a few photos and leave you with my overall impression. It was very well packed (as you can imagine they want to look after their inventory). They also made it as easy as possible to return with labels and packaging included.

The Result

I had 4 and a half days to try this lens. During this time my goal was to take as many photos with this lens as possible in order to make the process worthwhile. At the end of the day, this is not so much a review of the lens and more a review of the rental process. But this is a photography blog! So I have to include some shots that I took. Here are some of the results:

The Verdict

I guess there are a few questions here that need to be answered.

Did I like the lens?

It is an amazing lens. Exactly what you expect from an “L” series lens. As you can imagine, when it is wide open there is some blur around the corners of the frame. Also, at 16mm there is a considerable amount of distortion. But that is what you get with wide angle lenses, a different perspective. My only gripe was that at f 2.8 it wasn’t as bright as I thought it would be in low light situations. My camera was pushed to an ISO of 6400-10000 continuously.

In terms of quality of product received, it certainly was a well used. There were a number of scratches on the body and hood, but both the front and rear elements were in great condition. I did have some issues with the zoom and focus rings were loose. There was a little bit of travel before it would catch and perform the expected function. While this didn’t hold me back at all, if I was to buy that exact lens I wouldn’t be paying a lot for it!

Did I like the rental process?

The rental process was smooth. I chose to use the “self-return” process which meant that from London Central it cost around £10 to return the lens. Making my total for four and a half days, £51 all up. They have a “pick up” option but this was £19 and it is impossible to specify the time. Difficult if you have a day job. But, ultimately the choice is yours.

Was it worth it?

As I had heard very mixed reviews about the lens it was fantastic to screw it on the old snap box and take it on my weekend walks. The pixel peepers will tell you that it is super soft in the corners (at f2.8). When you look at the Flickr stream for photos taken with this lens it is hard not to be impressed. Personally, it was great to see my real world experience at a fraction of the cost of buying the lens.

Canon 16-35 f2.8 II Flickr Stream

But I do have to say that if you do have some money in the bank. Renting lenses could be a fruitless exercise. You could be better off buying a decent quality used lens and keeping it. If one day you do decide that you change your mind you can just simply sell the lens again. There is (and will always be) a high demand for professional quality lenses. So if you have the money to spend: buy a good quality used lens and sell when you are done with it.

Finally, if you are a professional and have a project that requires speciality lenses and you know that you can make a return on the investment (renting the lens) then I would highly recommend this process. They have all manner of tele lenses, tilt shift lenses and amazing macro lenses. These are the type of lenses that you really have to be serious about photography in order to own. Especially if you only plan on a weekend project.

Would I do it again?

I really had to think when I asked this question. The idea of trying the lenses before buying is fantastic. But if you are not making money from the photos then it really is hard to justify. I learned 16-35 ii lens is an outstanding performer, that isn’t as bright as I thought it would be. If I ever get the craving for a new lens again I will be very tempted to try hiring it first!

How can it save you money?

After renting this lens I really learned that the expensive lenses are really worth trying out to see just what they can do. That being said, you can walk around taking super sharp boring images for a whole weekend. That doesn’t mean you will become an awesome photographer! Some of the best photos of all time are taken with cameras that have much worse quality than one of the latest iPhone cameras! It is the content that makes the shot. Use gear rental to quench “gear lust”, then look past it and focus on your content.

Final Words

If you have ever wondered how the lens rental process works, what the cost is or what is available, I hope that this article provides you with an insight from someone who gave it a crack. It is a great process, and you have a lot of possibilities to try rare and expensive lenses at a fraction of the price. Better yet it can really quench a severe case of gear lust without breaking the bank.

Just make sure that the fraction of the price you are paying is not too large in comparison to the price of buying a used lens and selling it a half a year later.

If you have any questions let know in the comments or on the social channels below. Make sure to check out my Instagram to see what I am working on right now. Thanks for reading and I look forward to next time.

Ben Kepka – Cultured Kiwi Photography