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Save Your Money, Rent What You Don’t Need

By Anthony Thurston on July 7th 2013


Photography is an expensive profession, or hobby, with new technologies and equipment constantly being released. It is very easy to get caught up in Gear Lust and spend money you don’t need to on gear that you hardly need. Ill admit to being in this situation many times, wanting a piece of gear that I only need for specific situations or on a limited basis.

If you have the disposable income for splurge purchases like this then you have a better argument to purchase, but if you are like me and disposable income is limited then renting is a much better option. If you rent a lens when you need a specific lens for a shoot then that saves you hundreds if not thousands of dollars over purchasing the lens, and frees up your money later for things you really do need.

For example, the Nikon 300mm 2.8G VRII is a 6,000$ lens that I would have no business purchasing. I only need it for night sports, meaning once or twice a week during Football and Soccer season. I am able to rent this lens at the local camera shop for $30 per day, so lets just say $60 per week (2 games in a week). It would take me over 200 times to rent the lens enough to have paid for it, much less than the amount of times that I will need it.

You see, that is the key to whether or not you should rent a lens – how much are you going to need it. In my opinion if you are going to need to use it often enough that you could pay for the lens itself within a Calendar year then you would be better off purchasing the lens than renting it. So for that Nikon 300mm 2.8, it would take me 200 “rents” in order to have purchased the lens which is a lot more than I would ever need the lens in a given year. Therefor it is a much better option for me to rent than buy.


(Shot with the 300 2.8 I rented – 1/2500 sec, 2.8, ISO 2000 on D300s)

Where do I rent?

So if you are going to rent where should you do it? That is more of a matter for your personal preference more than anything. I personally prefer to rent from my local camera shop, Focal Point Photography, than online rental outfits. I can go in and walk out with the lens, it is a little cheaper (in my case) and I know and have a good relationship with the owner.

You may not be so lucky though, maybe there is not a local shop in your area that does rentals. In that case you have several great online rental outfits to choose from. I will list and talk about a few of them below.

  • – Borrow Lenses is one of the most popular online rental outfits right now. A big reason for this is that they not only offer Lens Rentals, but also almost every kind of camera equipment you could need from bodies to lighting. They offer rental terms of 3 days, 1 week, 10 days, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, and 4 weeks.
  • – Lens Pro to Go is another big online rental outfit, they also offer lens and equipment rentals at affordable rates, though they are more expensive than other options. They also have a neat mobile app that makes it even easier than ever to rent and manage your rentals. They offer rental terms of 4 days, 1 week, and 10 days.
  • – Lens Rentals is another great option for online lens and equipment rentals. They have a really nice website that makes it easy to not just rent certain lenses, but also learn a bit more about them (what they would be good for, what they work well with, etc). They also have a very attractive rental term system where you can rent from 3, 4, 7, 10, 14, 21, 30, 45, 60, or 90 Days.

Final Thoughts

Next time you find yourself wanting a lens really think about it and how much you are going to be using it. Maybe rent it and test it out to see if you even like the feel of it. In the end renting can safe you a ton of money and leave your disposable income available for other things like marketing your business or investing in a newer camera body when it is released.

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Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Margarita Law

    Renting on camera and lenses for camera is a great idea because you do not have to buy it if you don’t always use it, unless you have lots of money and you has that hobby. For me, I just settle on renting them as I don’t use them more often. I use it only for special occasion and vacation.

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  2. apollo

    It’s kinda funny that every photographer in US recommends EVERYONE around the world to rent gear for their use. In here, we only have one shop where we can rent cameras and lenses and my god they are expensive. If I rent a Nikon D4 for two weeks, I’ve already used a lot of money, enough to buy own D4. It’s ridiculously expensive and definitely not worth it.

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  3. Jarppi

    As the market for used camera gear in the US is next to non-existent the idea of buying used gear or even selling your own does not even cross the writers’ mind. My reasoning for buying new lenses is this: Only buy professional good quality lenses that you can sell later and get money back anything from 75-90% off the original price paid depending on the condition of the product. Paying for rent for anything is a waste of money that you’ll never get back.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      I have only ever bought one lens brand new, everything else has been used. So yeah, the used market did cross my mind. In the case of the 300 2.8 used or not it is still cheaper to rent, as I mentioned in a comment below for as often as I use/need the 300 2.8 it would take my 7 years+ to have paid for the lens. Sure its money ill never get back, but its still money well spent in a case like that.

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    • M. Saville

      Jarppi, as a highly active member of innumerable online communities, I have lost count of how many photographers have complained that they bought a lens they thought they would love, but then wound up never using. Even the $2,000+ lenses! I have come across innumerable buy-and-sell situations where people wind up taking a far larger “hit” on selling their used gear when they could have just rented the lens a couple times and realized it wasn’t right for them.

      When you consider that, I cannot consider the cost of renting to be a “waste”.

      Besides, you forget the whole issue of total cost. Do you have thousands of dollars just laying around? If you simply cannot afford to buy an exotic lens outright, then your only option is indeed renting.

      BTW, I don’t know what you mean about the US market for used camera gear being next to non-existent. It’s incredible! In fact I have been 100% buying used since, um, 2006?

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    • JARPPI

      I agree with you Anthony, to try out a lens before buying is a valid reason for renting especially if you can deduct the rental fee from from the actual purchase price afterwards.

      M. Saville: I am sure we have all been there, unfortunately not all purchases end up being “keepers”. Again, In the case of renting, I would only rent from stores that also sell and allow the deduction of rental fee from purchasing price.

      I consider a total price for a lens like this: Purchasing price (plus) repair costs (plus) lens-specific bags and accessories (minus) the selling price and added benefit of owning it versus renting one or owning a cheaper lens.

      I consider myself lucky at the moment, where there are no other equipment I consider purchasing other than long superteles. Currently I am managing the situation with a teleconverter until I can justify purchasing more expensive gear that adds real value to what I currently get and/or add income.

      About the used gear market in the US, I guess it’s OK if you are fine dealing with online sellers and taking a little risk with your money and not being able to see and test the equipment you are about to drop thousands of dollars for. Personally I would not spend more than say… 500 bucks for something I have not laid my hands on when it comes to camera gear.

      Incredible is a word I would only use for used gear market in Japan.

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  4. Joe Gunawan

    Grips are great to rent out, as well. Although I own two C-stands for my two Einstein strobes and 3 sandbags, I regularly use 6 C-stands for my fashion product photography (3 strobes on C-stands and the rest to hold up various fishing wires and bounce cards), as well as 6 sandbags in total.

    Samy’s camera rents C-stands at $5 a piece and sandbags at $2 a piece. Other grips that I would rent at times include a light boom at $10, a 12×12 overhead scrim at $40, etc. All of those equipment would be pretty costly for me to rent out, and I would have to figure out where I would store them at all times.

    So in my opinion, renting grip equipment is the better way to go.

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  5. Brandon Larkin

    I would suggest re-examining your costs when you say that LensProToGo is more expensive. In pretty much all instances where I have compared them to BorrowLenses, LensPro has been cheaper. They look more expensive up front because they include your shipping costs in the cost of renting the lens.

    For example, the 300mm 2.8 from Nikon that you talk about in the article, for a 7 day rental, is $330 (including shipping and the protection plan). That is $305 for the rental plus $25 for the protection plan. That same lens from BorrowLenses for 7 days is$271 for the rental, plus $39 for the insurance, plus $39.96 for the round trip shipping, for a grand total of $349.96. Plus LensPro ships in a Pelican case in most situations, which gives me a little peace of mind.

    Also, at least with LensProToGo, you are not limited to their predetermined rental periods. If you need it for a day longer or a day shorter, you just adjust the calendar in the cart for when you need it and you pay a pro-rated day rate.

    I’m not a shill for LensPro, but I have used them and have been very happy, especially since they tend to be cheaper than other options out there.

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  6. Jacob

    LOVE rental programs. I personally use them to fill in the gaps in my gear lists for whatever job I’m doing. Typically, I’ll rent a second body for a wedding (working on purchasing another sometime this year) or some off the wall item like a fisheye if I need a crazy perspective for a one off gig.

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  7. Björn Lubetzki

    It’s a neat advise “Rent your gear”, BUT depending on your Country (and I’m speaking for Germany in this case), you have to pay the original price of the item, you want to rent as an insurance. That means, if you want to rent a D4 with a 200-400 f4 VR II, you have to pay 11700€ as insurance up front (which you will get back of course). But seriously, who has that kind of money?? And you also have to pay the rental costs.

    I was thinking of renting a Leica M9 for the wedding of my brother. He has one “official”/dedicated photographer/friend who will take pictures, and I don’t want to show up with my D700. So I thought, why not get a small camera, you always wanted to test. That way I would have made the day memorable in two ways (the wedding and the chance to use a Leica M9). BUT, I had to pay 6000€ (and didn’t even had a lens at that point), just for the insurance. After that I had to pay rental costs, which were horrendous. So in the end I decided to take my D700 with me, with a 85 1.8 and a 50 1.8 and use it as little as possible (really don’t like it to be “naked” or in other words, without a camera).

    Renting is great in Countries, that have functioning renting services, but the Germany renting services unanimously suck.

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  8. Matthew Saville

    Buying a lens and then selling it is all fine and dandy, if you have $6,000 to spend all at once. However you are assuming that everyone has that kind of cash, and/or cares to put such a huge expense on their credit cards.

    The only time the buy-and-sell tactic becomes viable is in the lower dollar range. If a lens costs “only” $600 or maybe evne $1200, and you need to rent it 10x per year at $30-60 per rental, (depending on if you can get it locally, or need to rent online) …then that’s $300-$600 you could easily recoup by buying and then re-selling the lens.

    Renting is also admittedly impractical for camera bodies, since these are far more expensive to rent. Even the older generation bodies such as the Nikon D700 and Canon 5D mk2 can cost $125-$150 to rent, so after just 3-4 rentals per year you’re just flushing money down the drain if such a camera body can be bought used for around $1500-$2000.

    Beyond that range, however, it does become extremely impractical to just buy and sell lenses whenever you need them throughout the year. As Anthony mentioned, you might only need a huge telephoto monster for a couple / few months per year, and just a couple / few hundred dollars worth of renting, NOT the thousands that it would cost to rent a lens every single week for two years.

    Personally, I have only ever needed a lens like the 300 f/2.8 just once a year, for an extra-special event or for an Air Show. It absolutely makes sense to rent.

    So yeah, do the math. How many times per year might you need a piece of gear, how much would that cost, versus what your loss might be on buying and selling the gear used. Sometimes the math works out, sometimes it doesn’t.


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    • Anthony Thurston

      Thanks Matt, apparently I was not clear on how much I was using the lens in a year. But your right, sometimes the Math works and renting is the better option – other times not so much.

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  9. Laurent Staes

    I disagree. You need to take the resale value of the lens into account as well. Renting the 300mm twice a week, costs you 60×52= 3120 dollars. So after about 2 years, you’ll have spent as much on renting as you would have if you bought the lens. If you bought it though, you can still sell it. Let’s say you can sell it at 4500 dollars (I don’t know the resale value of this Nikon lens, being a Canon user), you’ll have reduced your total cost over those 2 years by 4740 dollars! So no, renting is not a good idea for something you need twice a week.

    Renting is an interesting option if you need a lens one time or maybe a few times but not on a regular basis, twice a week. Even then, you’re probably better off buying the lens second hand and reselling it afterwards, but then you’d need the funds. Renting can also be interesting if your client pays for the renting cost (directly or indirectly).

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    • Koko Valadez

      Have to agree completely here with Laurent. Its a hefty price to pay to do a renting as you need for lenses. Renting although can have its perks to test run a lens before dropping the cash down on it though. Renting it as often as you describe would not be the wisest ideas especially if can care for your gear and resell later when you decide you don’t want it.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      see my response. Maybe I was not clear enough, but I am not renting the lens twice a week all year… and not even twice every week sometimes games overlap and I can get two for one on the rental. Based on my current usage it would take me 7+ years to rent the 2.8 enough to have bought the lens. In that time they will likely update the lens at least once… maybe even twice, so I get the added benefit of using the latest lens technology (or using the same lens at a reduced rental price – thus saving even more money)

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    • Koko Valadez

      Yeah. on a higher ticketed item that would make sense but as mentioned in another comment if you were to use a cheaper lens more frequently you really are flushing money down the drain. The perk is that if you use a wide range of lenses in that price range then renting is great and dandy though, that is for sure.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      The whole point of the article is about renting lenses that you do not use often, instead of buying them. So while your point is correct, it is sort of outside the scope of the post.

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    • Koko Valadez

      My bad! Sorry about that! I lost focus when responding on my last reply.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      You assume I need the lens every month of the year. Football and Soccer seasons are only 2-3 months, and not every game is going to require the 2.8 (My F4 works well enough for day games). So really your math is quite a bit off, maybe I did not make it clear that I was only renting for the few months of each season.

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