Tuesday, December 22, 2009

REVIEW: Ray Flash: The Ring Flash Adapter

Unless you’ve been in a cave, you’ve probably already seen or heard about the Ray Flash. Everyone is talking about it these days because it is an inexpensive way to get results that are similar to a more expensive solution like the Profoto Ring Flash Head, which is frequently used in fashion photography these days to soften the shadows on a model and also to create a trendy stylized look.

When I got my Ray Flash I was pleased to see that it was a lot more sturdy than it seemed in the pictures. This is actually one well built device that seems like it can withstand normal wear and tear very well. Granted, I wouldn’t toss it on the concrete or sit on it, but short of that it should hold up quite well.


One challenge with these things is due to the nature of what they do – because the flash goes around the lens (as shown – albeit crooked - above on a Canon 5D Mark II using a 580 EX II and a 24-105mm lens, the flash you use as well as the size of your camera body is critically important in determining the size unit you need.

If you shoot with multiple bodies that aren’t exactly the same size or using the same flash, this means you either need to dedicate the ring flash to one camera body (my preference) or get two. When I discussed this issue with ExpoImaging and inquired about an adjustable body, I was reminded that they did try this solution but it resulted in a 2 stop light drop, so for efficiency sake it was felt that a fix solution was the right way to go. After using this device, I would agree as more light fall off would be a very bad thing!

Visit the the Ray Flash web page on ExpoImaging’s web site for lots of great information, sample images and more reviews. However, be sure to come back here for a great discount on the Ray Flash!

Sample Images

I’ll admit that when i started this review I wasn’t a huge fan of the ring flash look so I wasn’t expecting to get any photos from it that I’d be very pleased with. However, this thing surprised and I got one of my favorite studio shots to date with it. All the sample images in this article were taken with a Canon 5D Mark II using a 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens, and I intentionally used a black paper background with a model in all black to help illustrate the impact of the ring flash lighting opposed to more traditional lighting methods. 

f/4.0, 1/125 sec, and ISO 800 – 580 EX II Flash Exposure Compensation: +1

This image was taken after I had gotten warmed up with how to use the Ray Flash. Specifically, I learned that you need to kick up the exposure compensation and crank up the ISO to get the light you need for it to work the magic that a real Ring Flash can give. This was something I really didn’t expect as it seemed the Ray Flash is very well designed to minimize the loss of light, but the reality is that you are asking a lot of it so some light loss is inevitable.

The image above was my favorite shot of the bunch and one that actually made me open my eyes up after the shoot and say “hey wow, I might really be able to use this thing!”. Seriously, I am not crazy about Ring Lights, so I thought this was going to be an article where I proved there were crap, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. However, one thing it did prove is that you have to watch the type of clothes your models are wearing (or not wearing underneath) as this bolt of light will shine right through the fabric as shown in this shot.  Nevertheless, the result here is that the shadows on the skin look fantastic and the hair is simply radiant which I really like! I couldn't have been happier with this shot, so score one for the Ray Flash here.

f/4.0, 1/200 sec, and ISO 400 – 580 EX II Flash Exposure Compensation: +1

This image had to be brightened quite a bit in Photoshop because my initial exposure was way off. I needed the settings of the previous picture (which was actually taken after this one) to get a proper exposure, so my original shot was way too dark. In fact, all of my original shots were a sea of black with some skin poking through. The good thing is that I shot RAW and was able to fix it. What this tells me is that had I exposed my shot properly, then this result could have easily occurred out of camera (as shown in the previous shot) and the net result is a nice shot that has enough shadows to show definition, but eliminates enough of the harsh contrast to still create a nice look on the skin. There is a good separation between the model and the black background, and once again the the hair looks radiant.

Image taken with just the On-Camera Flash

I’m pretty pleased with my on-camera flash especially, after reading On-Camera Flash Techniques. However, for this shot I thought I’d do the traditional point to the ceiling and pop the white card that most people do (and I do when I’m in a hurry) to see what kind of results I’d get.

f/4.0, 1/125 sec, and ISO 400 – 580 EX II Flash Exposure Compensation: 0

The first thing you notice with this shot is that the shadows are creating more depth in the image, and not in a flattering way. The skin tones are pleasing and the lighting is nice (especially on the top of the hair), but the catch lights aren’t as dominant either. Now this isn’t to say that I couldn’t have worked the shot to get the results I needed, but when compared to the equal effort I put into the ring flash shots, the result is that I liked the ring flash results better. The results under the eyes and on the neck, clearly show the advantage the ring light offers. You’ll also notice here that with no exposure modifications that ISO 400 with no flash exposure compensation was enough to light this shot very well. The only fault here is mine for not bouncing my flash in a more favorable way.

Image taken with Off-Camera Flash using Umbrellas

f/4.0, 1/125 sec, and ISO 400 – 580 EX II Flash Exposure Compensation: 0

Using two lights off camera on umbrellas I was able to eliminate some of the shadow problems and create a better result, but without the aid of a flash on the background the separation between the subject and the black background isn’t as defined as I would like. I also feel like this setup did a much better job with the shadows on the face to create a nice balanced soft shadow look like you get with the ring light, but without the light on the background (which in this case is a bad thing). Overall though, you can see that this solution (or one with softboxes, studio lights, etc…) can create a pleasing result without putting a bright highlight on your background which may not be desirable (as it is in this extreme black on black scenario).


In short, I liked this gadget. It isn’t something I’d say is a “must have” or something that I’d use 100% of the time, but it is a fun tool to play with. This article isn’t trying to convince you that it is better or worse than anything, but rather to show you how the results you achieve with it (under the same conditions) can give you drastically different results. Now in this case I did stack the results in the ring flashes favor by going all black, but that was primarily to show how it really can light up your background which in the case of a bright background may or may not be what you really want.

I should also point out that this device works with other flashes and camera bodies (i.e., Nikon), so be sure to refer to the information on ExpoImaging’s site for more information.

Yes, there are other devices by Orbis and Alien Bees, but that’s not what this article is about. It’s about my 2 cents on the Ray Flash which ultimately I enjoyed. I don’t think I’ll use it every day, but I can definitely say that I’ll be experimenting with it more often on shoots just to see how I like the results compared to my traditional setups. I haven’t tried the others, but others have so I encourage you to check out those comparisons via the link here.

Special Offer


Save 15% on all ExpoImaging Store products like the RayFlash or ExpoDisc when you enter ronmart09 in the “Enter Redeem Code” box and click Redeem in the ExpoImaging Store’s shopping cart as shown above.


I was provided an evaluation copy of the Ray Flash by ExpoImaging for this review and I will earn a commission when you use my discount code (thanks for supporting the blog).

NOTE: This site requires cookies and uses affiliate linking to sites that use cookies.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by making a donation or saving money by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

This blog is intended for freelance writing and sharing of opinions and is not a representative of any of the companies whose links are provided on this site.

The opinions provided are of Ron Martinsen alone and do not reflect the view of any other entity

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

REVIEW: ExpoDisc by ExpoImaging (Custom White Balance)



As as I allude to below in my introduction, I’m not a white balancing expert. This original version of this review was done based on how I would use the product based on my understanding of how it should be used. However, I work with a bunch of fine engineers who are quick to point out that my usage was incorrect, and they were right. Please revisit the images in this article again and see text to see how the results changed.


I’ll be the first to admit that before this review I didn’t give a rip about white balancing products, despite the fact that I always kept a gray card in my backpack. I thought the process was too much of a hassle, and I wasn’t sure that it helped all that much. More importantly, because I shoot in the RAW image format (CR2 for Canon, NEF for Nikon), I thought that I didn’t need to bother with doing a proper white balance because it is so easy to correct the problem in Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop or a host of other software products. Does this thinking sound familiar to you? Read on to discover how I learned more about why I should care and how this device made the process not only easier but also kinda fun!

What Is White Balancing?

At a super high level, White Balancing is the act of making an image represent the colors appear as they did to your eyes at the time they were captured so that your image is a faithful reproduction from the perspective of color from what you actually saw. Of course it is really a lot more complex than just that, so white balancing (a.k.a., color balancing) is best described on Wikipedia here (or for the super geeks, even better here on CambridgeInColour.com), but my crude definition will suffice for the beginner who isn’t ready to digest all of that information.

Why do you use a 18% Gray to White Balance? Shouldn’t it be called Gray Balancing?

If you didn’t read the detailed articles on white balancing, then I’ll break this one down in layman's terms as well. The idea here is that the color between pure white and pure black is a middle gray, which has been defined as 18% gray. Camera systems and software has been set up that if you can know the proper value of this color then all of the others from white to black can be calculated to produce a properly white/color balanced image. To do this on Canon systems, we take a picture of a 18% gray card and then tell our camera to use this value, and then set the white balance mode of the camera to Custom (white balance) to use this image. The reason we do this is so we can capture the tones in the environment which will contaminate the colors, so having that reference point that we know with 100% certainty is 18% gray, then the camera or software can adjust to accurately render the rest of the colors (or so the theory goes, other factors such as multiple light sources, exposure, etc… can come into play as well).

Why White Balance?
Auto White Balance ISO 6400 RAW Image Unprocessed Custom White Balance IS0 6400 RAW Image Unprocessed

The reason why we white balance is so our images out of the camera will faithfully represent the colors that were present at the time we captured our image. This is critical for in-camera JPEG images because the white balance can not be corrected completely via post processing (although some argue that you can do a “good enough” job). It is also very useful for videos (both camcorders and now the ever popular DSLR’s like the Canon 5D Mark II which shoot video). For those scenarios, not having a proper white balance can seriously compromise your final result. Taking the time to do this up front gives you an image with faithful colors that you can then choose to apply your artistic intent to. This usually results in making color adjustments to the image which results in an image that no longer represents a faithful reproduction, but you as the artist have chosen the final colors rather than being forced to live with compromised color due to a strong tone that couldn’t easily be removed from your image due to improper white balancing. Of course, RAW images can always be corrected after the fact, but a few seconds at the time of capture will result in exponential time savings for all of the images which no longer need white balance corrections.

A Word about Color

Whenever you deal with color accuracy issues on a computer, you can’t begin to have valid results until you have calibrated your computer monitor. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you purchase a calibration device that will help make sure that the white you see on your display is the same shade of white as anyone else who is using a calibrated monitor will see. If not, then your whites may be a little more yellow, your blacks may be a little washed out or show no detail. You may also get comments from people that your photos look a little dark or the colors from your post-processing look a little overdone. This happens because the default settings of nearly every monitor on the planet suck and are not suitable for photo editing, and sadly most of us don’t realize this until we print our images and think that the poor results are the fault of the print service when in reality our improperly calibrated display has caused us to ruin our photos by adjusting them to something that isn’t the true color represented in the image file. Here’s a list of devices that you can’t go wrong with (multi-monitor users will need to be careful to choose suitable products, as will Windows 7 and Apple OS X users for compat purposes):

If you don’t own a display calibration device, then get one now as it should have been your first purchase after your camera. There is no software based solution that can reliably do accurate color management as they only allow you to calibrate color to your visual taste – not accurate reference values. A hardware based solution is essential gear for any serious image evaluation on a computer.

ExpoDisc – The Perfect White Balancing Solution

I’ll admit that when I first saw the ExpoDisc, I was a bit skeptical because I had used a gray card before and felt it was sufficient. I’m also pretty handy in Photoshop and Lightroom, so I thought I had both the before and after capture white balancing scenarios covered. I saw little that this device could offer me beyond existing very inexpensive solutions (heck, my lens cleaning cloth is 18% gray!), especially since the ExpoDisc was rather spendy. Photography is loaded with gadgets for suckers who are willing to buy anything to help make their photographs better, when simple, and inexpensive (or sometimes do-it-yourself) solutions already exist. This seemed like it might be one of those gadgets for suckers, so I went in to this review with a healthy dose of skepticism. I came away from it very surprised, and I now find myself bringing my ExpoDisc with me when the only other thing that is in my hand is the camera itself (you know, times when you are going downstairs to take a picture of your kid doing something cute where normally it’s just the camera and that’s it).

Video Demo

Visit here for video demonstrations of how to use the ExpoDisc.

What about Auto White Balance (AWB)?

Auto White Balance on my Canon camera is pretty good. In fact it was so good, that I saw little reason to use anything else most of the time. I like the results it produced right out of the camera, so I saw little point in using anything else. On Nikon systems, I found the Auto White Balancing to be a little too blue for my tastes, but Nikon guys usually say Canon’s are a little too warm for their tastes so to each his own.

Anyway, the one place where both fail miserably is indoors where tungsten lights cast a nasty orange tint over everything on your image. It’s easy to correct in Lightroom if you are shooting RAW images, but what if you didn’t need to do that extra step? Wouldn’t that save some time, especially when processing a large bunch of photos? What if you are shooting in JPEG where you can’t change the white balance, wouldn’t it have been great to have all those shots properly white balanced? What if you are shooting in video and your basic editing software doesn’t support white balance changes? Wouldn’t it suck to have those images of your child forever with that ugly orange tint on them? Auto White Balance is good, but it’s not foolproof.

ExpoDisc vs Gray Card vs AWB

UPDATE: My previous December 9th test results were invalid. This section has been updated to reflect the actual test results.

The following images were all taken with a Canon 5D Mark II using Auto White Balance (AWB) when capturing the white balance image, and the camera was set to Custom white balance mode using the white balance image when creating the respective photographs. The images you see are the original in-camera JPEG images with no additional processing. All shots were taken with the 77mm filter thread 24-105mm lens at f/4.0 and ISO 100 at 0.5 seconds on a tripod using mirror lockup a remote shutter release. All white balancing devices were held as far away as possible from the lens to fill the frame (the 82mm ExpoDisc must actually touch the end of the lens filter area).

For the white balance images in the left column, you can click the the hyperlinked text to see an image of how I captured the white balance image.

In Camera JPEG – Canon Auto White Balance (AWB)

In Camera JPEG – Canon Tungsten White Balance

ExpoDisc White Balance Image
ExpoDisc Photograph
18% Gray Card White Balance Image
18% Gray Card Photograph
Cleaning Cloth and Gray Card Combo White Balance Image
Cleaning Cloth and Gray Card Combo White Balance Image

Auto White Balance (AWB)  CR2 (RAW) Image 

Digital Calibration Target with a Photoshop CS4 Curves Adjustment

ACR / Lightroom 2.5’s Auto White Balance Setting

Lightroom 2.5’s Eye Dropper White Balance (clicked on gray)

Using the small images shown inline here, it is nearly impossible to tell the results. However, if your monitor is color calibrated and you click on the images to view the larger versions (which you can download) you can see the subtle differences between them. My observations are as follows:

  • ExpoDisc – Slightly warmer with a little color cast retained. Perhaps a little too much red (see the JIF cap) but overall a slightly more pleasing result thanks to the extra saturation, and warmth.
  • 4x5" Delta 18% Gray Card – Slightly more neutral than the ExpoDisc with probably a more accurate result, but a little too sterile looking. Red have less pop.
  • CleanStar Cleaning Cloth 18% Gray Card Microfiber  - A mild green color cast that feels cooler than the ExpoDisc but warmer than the Gray Card.
  • PhotoVision 6" One-Shot Digital Mini Calibration Target – With my CS4 Curves Adjustment Layer (and the eyedroppers default values set to 7,7,7; 133,133,133; and 245,245,245 using a 5x5 sample size with the eyedropper tool), I clicked the target white, gray and black points with the respective eyedropper to correct this image. The black was the hardest to hit as it was easy to get way too much back. The result is an image with a slightly brigher feel and what seems like a little too much brightness on the top of the paper towels.
  • Lightroom / ACR “Auto” white balance setting – Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom have a more sophisticated Auto White Balance that nearly always beats the in-camera AWB for tungsten shots. The result here was a 2850 temp and +0 tint adjustment from the default CR2 RAW setting of 3150 temp and a + 5 tint.
  • Lightroom White Balance Eyedropper – I clicked on the gray portion of the Digital Calibration Target to get a 18% gray corrected value (which resulted in a 2500 temp and a +1 tint). This result was better than the CS4 Curves Adjustment (but its result will vary depending on exactly where you click) and Lightroom AWB setting, and it event performed better than the microfiber.

Which is best? That’s for you to decide. Click the images, download the originals and then use your favorite software to switch between the images and compare the differences. They are subtle, but they are there – and they’d remain there on your video or prints. For me, my favorite is the ExpoDisc because it left a little warmth in the image, and next would be the Ligthroom EyeDropper tool. My third choice (which is really almost a tie for 2nd) is the 18% Gray Card.

Here’s additional great before and after white balancing examples found on ExpoImaging’s web site. I encourage you to check them out.

RAW versus JPEG Test

I took an image with the white balance intentionally whacked out with my camera set to RAW+JPEG. The images above (from left to right) are the original RAW with no modifications, the RAW corrected in Lightroom by using the eyedropper and clicking on the gray part of the tripod head, and the last is the JPEG treated the same way. Notice how the RAW looks perfect, but the JPEG has a blue tone to it still? You can play with that JPEG all you want, but you aren’t going to get it to have the high quality results of the RAW image. Which would you prefer as your starting point? Now you see why having an accurate white balance is so critical when shooting JPEG only (or video)!

White Balancing and Video

In what is certain to be the most boring and lame video you’ll see in all of 2009, I proudly present my masterpiece video that quickly shows you the before and after results of white balancing using the ExpoDisc on a video:

Cool, huh? Sorry folks, it was 3:00 AM and I wasn’t able to whip up some cool video footage in time for the release of this review. You should get the point though that the ExpoDisc made a HUGE difference and applying the custom white balance was identical to what you do for the still images. If you are moving into the world of DSLR Videography, then you can improve the quality of your videos (especially indoors) using this one improvement alone. Even this crappy video taken at ISO 6400 with Canon 7D, at least shows some color quality improvements (even if it is a bit over exposed such that the black paper background now renders as gray).

Serious Videographers will be happy to know there is special version of the ExpoDisc designed specifically for high end video cameras.

White Balance and Metering Challenges

Lots of colors going on here, so the only choices are to introduce more gel’ed
flashes to try to get one color or to embrace it and make the most with what you have.

While ExpoDisc is great at setting a white balance reference point, there’s several problems you may still face that will require some post-processing help. For example, you might be shooting a flash which emits white light into a room lit with tungsten (household bulbs) light, so you have two colors introduced into the scene. White balancing for one, doesn’t necessarily help the area impacted by the other color so your only feasible solution is to use an orange gel on your flash to get one tone going on in the whole scene. A full discussion of how to accomplish this in this scenario or or in more complex scenarios outdoors (i.e., a building lit with tungsten light against a moonlit sky; street lights and house lights; etc…) is beyond the scope of this article, but you get the idea here. White balance is most effective when dealing with one tone across the entire image is incorrect, so that a reference point may be used to remove that tone and return everything to a proper color.

Having a correct white balance is also just part of the challenge in photography as your camera’s light meter will also look to expose the image to an 18% gray which may not result in a faithful reproduction of your image. This is especially common in black objects and snow, even if when you are perfectly white balanced. In the case of black objects, you might find that they tend to look a little faded on perfectly white balanced images. In the case of things like snow, you might find that it feels a bit gray instead of a nice bright white. For these, and other scenarios (like a cloudy day where white balance results in the drab reality) you might find that you’ll have to apply different techniques to get the best results in camera. This may include, but is not limited to, decreasing your exposure a stop (or –1 EV exposure compensation) to make dark objects (blacks) darker, increasing your exposure (+1 EV) to make bright objects like snow brighter.

The point here, is that products like ExpoDisc are a tool, but not a magic bullet. You may find that a cloudy day benefits from the Cloudy white balance (or even Auto White Balance) setting on your camera, much more than a properly white balanced image. You might choose to apply a creative white balance such as tungsten on a twilight evening shot to make the sky look more blue than it was in reality. Joe McNally has some great examples in his books The Moment It Clicks and The Hot Shoe Diaries on how to make creative uses of the white balancing system features built into your camera to express your artistic intent at capture time to avoid post-processing hassles.


After having the ExpoDisc for about a month, I find myself using it about 90% of the time before I shoot. Even though my original methodology for using it was inaccurate, the results were good enough to be a better starting point for me than the in-camera AWB setting. I like it more now that I better understand how to get the most out of it (by taking your test shot from the subject with the lens pointing back to where the camera will be).

Sometimes, I’ll look at the custom white balanced test image versus the Auto White Balance (AWB) test image and choose to go with the AWB image for artistic reasons (when shooting RAW only). However, for video or when shooting JPEG (or in my case RAW+JPEG) I always go with the custom white balanced version as I’ve yet to find a real-world scenario for the subjects I shoot where that wasn’t a good starting point down the road.

I think the price is a tough pill to swallow for some, but I’d say that some of its value can be recouped in time saved in post-processing (especially if you do video or JPEG only). You can also help spread out the cost by getting one large enough to fit your largest lens (the diameter of the front of your lens – not focal length mm). For example, most of my lenses use a 77mm filter, but my 16-35mm uses a 82mm filter size. As a result, I got a 82mm ExpoDisc and just hold it in front of all my other lenses, so this one ExpoDisc serves all of my needs.

This article does prove that there are other less expensive options that will get you reasonably accurate results, so for those of you who fall in this camp you can use the information in this article to help you decide what you do (or don’t do) with respect to white balancing. You should study the images and the tools featured here and get the one that is right for you, and don’t forget to consider your output target (i.e., 4x6 prints will be more forgiving than 30” LCD’s or huge city billboards).

Special Offer


Save 15% on all ExpoImaging Store products like the ExpoDisc or RayFlash when you enter ronmart09 in the “Enter Redeem Code” box and click Redeem in the ExpoImaging Store’s shopping cart as shown above.

REMEMBER when ordering, that you should get the largest size you’ll then you’ll realistically need. My recommendation for Canon shooters is to not get one smaller than 82mm, because if you ever shoot with the 16-35mm lens you’ll have to own it, and you’ll want a ExpoDisc that works with it. I’d never, no matter what brand you shoot with, get one less than 77mm (unless you can afford one for every filter size you have). You also don’t need to worry about step up/down rings as you can simply hold this in front of your lens as needed (be sure to keep your fingers out of the way <g>).

But I found this cheaper alternative on eBay, isn’t it the same thing?

No, there’s a science to this and few take the process of white balancing more seriously than ExpoImaging. In fact, you even get a card with hand written calibration values for your disc that were tested on a transmission color densitometer. This provides peace of mind that your unit has been tested to be accurate and within the specs required to produce accurate results. Before buying that similar looking disc elsewhere, find out if they’ll be including transmission color densitometer values with your unit so you can ensure it is going to actually do the job you are paying money for it to do – produce accurate results!

What about ExpoCap?

Great question – I asked the same thing to ExpoImaging as I thought the idea of just having my disc as a lens cap was a brilliant one. The short answer here is that the ExpoCap has been discontinued so if you want one, get it now as they will only exist while current supplies last (and you’ll notice popular sizes are forever out of stock). ExpoCap was very good, but not as accurate as ExpoDisc and the cost of making the cap was on the rise so the decision was made to discontinue it rather than having two products that were similarly priced with one (ExpoDisc) being substantially better than the other. If you have one, great – there’s no need to replace it, but if you are a first time buyer then go for the ExpoDisc – it’s the better long-term solution.


I was provided an evaluation copy of the ExpoDisc for this review and I will earn a commission when you use my discount code (thanks for supporting the blog).

NOTE: This site requires cookies and uses affiliate linking to sites that use cookies.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by making a donation or saving money by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

This blog is intended for freelance writing and sharing of opinions and is not a representative of any of the companies whose links are provided on this site.

The opinions provided are of Ron Martinsen alone and do not reflect the view of any other entity

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lens Rental Review Series Conclusion (7 of 7) – Updated 1/13/11



If you are just now joining this series, or you got a direct link to this article, please know that this is the 7th installment of this series. I encourage you to review the other articles from this series using the links provided here:

  1. Lens Rental Series: Introduction
  2. BorrowLenses.com
  3. LensRentals.com
  4. CameraLensRentals.com
  5. ZipLens.com (now part of LensRentals.com)
  6. LensProToGo.com
  7. Conclusion (this article)

Important considerations missing from the articles

I have updated all the articles in this series to include the all-important “selection” category. When I tallied up the (now deleted) scores in the LensRentals.com review, I realized that I had a MAJOR flaw in my system because the mental stack ranking that I had didn’t jive with the numbers. Is LensRentals.com just one point better than ZipLens.com? ABSOLUTELY NOT! In fact, pretty early on I knew I was going to have a difficult time choosing a winner because BorrowLenses.com and LensRentals.com were so good that I would have to dig deep to pick a winner. The inverse is true too, in that LensProToGo.com IS NOT a company you should stay away from and their score reflected the flaws in my system just as badly, and my not understanding their legitimate concern about fraud in my situation made matters worse. Without sounding all sappy, I really do mean it when I say that you can’t go wrong with any of these companies. Why? Because look at the facts – what is the most important things you need from a lens rental company?

  1. On-time or earlier delivery
  2. No hassle delivery and returns
  3. Flexibility if you need more time
  4. Flexibility to get the lens to where you need to be (i.e., drop shipments)
  5. Freedom to take the lens where you need to go – even if that is another continent
  6. Willingness to help you out if you have “dumb” questions
  7. A clean lens that is in working order that allows you to get the shots for your job

I can say, without hesitation (and the reviews all prove it), that every company in this series delivered on these major requirements. Read the rental summaries and you’ll see that every single company delivered the gear on-time or earlier, that the lenses were in clean working order and that I got a decent sample of shots for the series (with the only flaw being me – not the lens). Your takeaway from this series SHOULD NOT be “avoid company X” or “only use company Y” as that would be foolish. Instead, it should be more about “who has what I need, when I need it, for a price I feel is reasonable.”

Even in my worst case scenario where I had a 28-300mm lens that was at the end of its rental life (as there were legitimate concerns it could be stolen), the reality is that the lens worked very well and the glass was clean. The cosmetic appearance of the lens (or the case) doesn’t really mean jack, so I think it was pretty stupid now to include that score. I thought this was going to be the only way I could differentiate one from another, so it made sense at the time – but now I regret it. However, if this is something that is important to you, I can say with 99% certainty that if you simply contact any of these owners (and you have their names now) and say “I want the newest copy you have”, they’ll work with you. Customer satisfaction is #1 with every one of these guys, so tell them what is important and it’ll get done.

I had to actually write the subjective content of all but the BorrowLenses.com article twice due to an unfortunate hard drive failure. Maybe God was sending me a sign that my methodology was stupid. I should have listened and done things differently for the re-writes, but I didn’t. To Max, Roger, Barry, Lee and Paul my apologies for the flaw in my methodology. I have now corrected the articles to remove my meaningless points system.

This of course brings up another consideration that I did intentionally save for last, and that is price. I didn’t want to include pricing comments in the actual articles because I wanted to be able to have a table that showed an apples-to-apples comparison. I also wanted to point out that price alone shouldn’t be your only consideration. It is much easier to have that discussion in one article than piecemeal over several articles. As a result, I encourage you to include the feedback in this article to be the most important data to use to draw your own conclusions and use the individual articles as a good place to get a preview of what to expect (excluding one scenario where I think the perfect storm of bad luck hit).


The pricing information here was taken prior to the release of the BorrowLenses.com article to avoid any chance of last minute pricing changes. Given the fact that this article will likely live on for quite some time, you should do this exercise again yourself to determine what the current results are based on today’s prices.

Canon 24-70 f/2.8L

7-Days w/o Insurance



Total Cost


$ 60.00

$ 14.00

$ 26.00

$ 100.00


$ 57.00

$ 9.00

$ 27.99

$ 93.99


$ 85.00

$ 8.00

$ 0.00

$ 93.00


$ 60.00

$ 9.00

$ 25.00

$ 94.00


$ 60.00

$ 10.00

$ 28.00

$ 98.00

The important thing this table tells us is that you shouldn’t just look at the rental cost of the lens when making your decision because the fees on top of that can be substantial (40% in the case of BorrowLenses.com). LensProToGo.com is rather bold and hoping for intelligent shoppers by including shipping into their stated price, but the wise shopper will see that they offer the best price. I found this rather amusing since I’ve read on more than one occasion from club members that LensProToGo.com was too expensive, so consider X (where X is one of the others listed above). The devil is always in the details, so definitely shop around (remember, you can’t go wrong with any of these sites really). Also realize that there’s not a huge percentage difference here and that this site offers a discount coupon code for every site in this series, so take advantage of those discounts when ordering. Here’s some additional factors to consider:

  1. Insurance – Are you going to get it (and your answer should be yes as your personal insurance company will NOT cover you), and if so how good is that policy really? Read the Q&A sections in this series and you’ll get more information on what you are really getting when choose to pay for insurance (and in all cases you are out of luck for loss or theft). You should also read the actual policy as some sites might include water damage and another might include any type of water damage. Know what you are getting because lens rentals fall into a real gray area. In talking to a few major insurance companies they all agreed it wouldn’t be covered you didn’t actually purchase the lens (I know you don’t purchase rental cars either, but they are handled differently) so they aren’t obligated to (and won’t) cover you in the event of a claim, yet they can’t issue you a special policy because you aren’t the owner (a purchase receipt is required). The moral of the story is protect this gear better than you would your own, and still pony up for the policy as a little coverage is better than no coverage.
  2. Shipping Carrier – All of the lenses I rented came via FedEx except for the one by LensProToGo.com (coincidentally the cheapest?), who chose UPS. LensRentals.com’s preferred shipper is UPS, but they will (and did at my request) use FedEx upon request. It’s been my experience that FedEx is more reliable and has a better tracking system than UPS, so I preferred FedEx. For those who live in rural areas, the choice of carriers might be based on which one can get their faster – and if there are any extra fees (my parents live 100 miles outside of Houston and overnight means 2 – 3 days plus an extra $50 service charge). However, UPS has more physical drop off locations (you MUST return to a human, not a drop box) if you don’t choose to have the package picked up from your door (which I HIGHLY recommend – minimum 24 hour notice is generally required for this FREE service). However, FedEx bought Kinkos (now referred to as FedEx Office), so those in big cities will usually have a location within 15 minutes of their home.
  3. Availability – You might determine that company X is the best, but if they don’t have your lens when you need it then who else are you going to turn to and in what order? Hopefully that’s the biggest advantage to this series as I think you’ll notice late next February that all of these sites are likely to be in short supply. Have a plan B & C, and I can tell you that if you are a Canon or Nikon shooter and you aren’t looking for a fast super telephoto, then you’ve got 5 choices so you’re set. However, if you are looking Pentax, Sony or Leica gear then you’ve just got one choice.
  4. Other Factors – Hopefully you’ve seen from my experiences that there are many dimensions to a rental, so perhaps you like LensRentals.com because they offer a lightweight bag for that big 400mm f/2.8 or LensProToGo.com because they offer a tough Pelican case, or it doesn’t matter because you’ll carry the lens in your own bag. Maybe getting Twitter or text messages is essential to you. Maybe being able to order from your iPhone while you are on the road is super important, or maybe you are the type that just wants to talk to a human and hates the online stuff. There’s a service here for you! Don’t just consider price – consider the services that you need, and who best meets those needs.
  5. UPDATE: Your Full Order Total – As one of my readers (thanks Mark) accurately pointed out, the price you get for one lens rental versus multiple lens rentals in the same order can change the overall results as to who is really the cheapest. If price is a primary concern, then you’ll want to fill your cart with your real order order (including your actual insurance and shipping options) then apply your discount code (see the bottom of this article) for a overall final price to see who is really the cheapest in your case. Maybe for some orders it is Company X, and maybe others it is Company Y, etc… However, don’t forget the other factors above as price shouldn’t be your only consideration.
Isn’t it risky and a hassle to rent online? Shouldn’t I just shop local?

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the argument that you should just go to your local camera shop because it is safer and cost the same, I wouldn’t be up at 2:15 AM writing blog articles! The reality is this though, when you are local is your camera shop going to bring the lens to your door and pick it up for you? They might, so ask, but my money is one the fact that you’ll have to go there. In my case that means a trip to downtown Seattle between the hours of 8:30 AM and 5:30 PM to a place like Glazer’s Camera.

For those of us who actually work for a living a trip to Glazers is a bigger hassle and a good 45 minute trip each direction (plus don’t forget about the cost of paying for parking and gas) assuming there isn’t major traffic. My reward for shopping local is that they require a 100% deposit (no deposit required from all participants in this series), you have to pay sales tax, and the best part is that they cost more!

For example, on 11/28/09 a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 cost $30 per day which if you rent for a week you multiply that times 4, or $120. Given the 10% tax in Seattle, plus let’s say you luck out and only have to pay a meter $2.00 for parking and you only use $3 worth of gas, that brings your grand total to $137. Of course your credit card will be charged a deposit for the cost of the lens, which in this case is about $1300, so for about $1,437 on your credit card and your time (which for many will be at least $20 per hour) you get to shop local.

Now let’s compare the local camera shop rental experience with sitting in your underwear at your computer at 3:30 AM like I did when I placed most of my orders. It never took me more than 5 minutes to complete an order, it was delivered to my door, and I can call to have the package company pick it up at my door – for free. No sales tax, no deposit, no gas, no parking, no traffic and no hassle. This means, that the prices you see on the table above are the bottom line and they blow away the price of my local camera shop. Do this comparison with your own local shop, and I think in most cases you’ll find similar results. Of course, if you live in the same city as the companies featured in this series, most will offer local pickup should you so desire.

The only advantage I can see to shopping local is if you need the lens for a short time or you need the lens right now. All of the services in this series can do overnight, but prices go up for weekends and Sunday’s generally aren’t going to be possible.


Do you need Sony or Pentax lenses? Do you have a fourth-thirds system and want to try a new lens before you buy? Are you into video more than photography and need gear? Questions like these will play a big role on your choice of a primary rental company, and this is a place where some sites excel more than others. The base line is that all companies carry a good selection of Canon and Nikon lenses, but what about other stuff? As the table below shows, if you are looking for Pentax gear then CameraLensRentals.com is your place, but just about everything else under the sun is carried by LensRentals.com.  ZipLens.com just covers the basics, but for most of us that’s all we need.

Sony Pentax Cameras Studio
Support Video Other

























You can find more details below on what the columns titles mean, and an empty box means that that company doesn’t carry the item in that column. Pluses are used to differentiate a site that carries more than the others (more pluses, means more selection).

  • Super Telephoto - In this case (my definition may differ from individual sites) is a 400mm f/2.8 lens or bigger.
  • Sony – Lens, body, flash, etc… rentals
  • Pentax - Lens rentals
  • Cameras – BorrowLenses.com had the big brands, but LensRentals.com had Leica, Sony, Nikon, Canon, Panasonic and Olympus Four-Thirds systems, and more.
  • Studio Lighting – Online gear rentals. BorrowLenses.com had Profoto, White Lightning, and more. LensRentals.com had that and more including video lighting.
  • Support – Tripods, monopods, etc… All but ZipLens.com had something here, but LensProToGo.com was above average and LensRentals.com offered significantly more.
  • Video – Pro video cameras, lenses, accessories, camcorders etc… LensRentals.com was in a league of its own her with a massive selection
  • Other – Too much to list, but LensRentals.com had the largest offering followed by BorrowLenses.com then LensProToGo. CameraLensRentals.com offered less, but still some useful gear. Items included underwater housings, memory cards, quantum flashes, pocket wizards, light meters, and so much more.

In this category, LensRentals.com stands alone as the undisputed winner, followed by BorrowLenses.com and LensProToGo.com. If was giving out points here, LensRentals.com would have had a 3 point advantage in this category.

The Final Ranking

As I’ve said over, and over again, all these sites are good – even the smallest of them all – ZipLens.com was very professional, helpful, and delivered a great customer experience. If you are just looking for common Canon or Nikon gear, ZipLens.com has everything you need so the extras offered by the other services aren’t terribly important. However, if you need a wide variety of gear then look no further than LensRentals.com – the winner of this series. My final ranking is as follows, and I encourage you to read the recommendation paragraphs for each participant as to why they were given their ranking:

  1. LensRentals.com – An amazing selection (including even video and rare out-of-production lenses), tons of inventory, a reservation system that all others should license and use, great customer support, and a business owner committed to exceeding your expectations. You can’t go wrong with LensRentals.com. Go have some fun renting Leica’s, Four-Third systems, super rare lenses like the Canon 50mm f/1.0 (no, that’s not a typo!), and much more. You can spend hours just drooling over all the choices!
  2. BorrowLenses.com – The best designed web site in the series, and the most proactive customer service I’ve ever seen. My next rental will be with BorrowLenses.com based on how they will go the extra mile (in my case, drop shipping from B&H before daring to disappoint a customer). I lost sleep over trying to decide who #1 & #2 would be in this series because they were so close, but the tie breaker went to LensRentals.com’s killer web site features (especially the reservation system) and their massive selection. I should also point out that this site was the winner based on my points system, so if you liked my old system then consider them your #1 choice.
  3. CameraLensRentals.com – This was the shocker of the series as I hadn’t even heard of this company before taking this series on, but Roger of LensRentals.com insisted I ask them to participate. Boy am I glad I did because I was very impressed on multiple levels from this company. I am also pleased about its expansion plans which I think will only further serve to give the leaders another competitor to lose sleep over. If you are a Canon or a Pentax shooter, I’d say this should be your first choice for lens rentals. I should also point out that this site had the second largest point total in my points-based system, so I think their third place position is definitely not a distant third.
  4. LensProToGo.com has the potential to be in the number 2 spot based on its large selection and best prices of the series. The lack of some key web site features are really holding it back from the top spots, but in this series the competition is fierce so it’s like comparing exotic cars – they are all good, but which one you prefer might come down to a subjective choice of one over another. If you are SCUBA diver with a 5D Mark II, go check out the very cool underwater housing they have for you to rent – it rocks!
  5. ZipLens.com made me wish I didn’t have to stack rank, because this is a good little company. Other than a slow web site (which seems to have been addressed now) and a smaller selection, I couldn’t find much to knock these guys for. The reality is that most of us shoot Canon and Nikon anyway, and few are going to need huge, fast super-telephotos, so this site will meet your needs. They delivered on time, as promised, in a used lens that was cleaned very well prior to delivery, and had the most idiot-proof return system (no tape required). I enjoyed working with this company and encourage you to give these guys a shot.  (UPDATE: LensRentals.com has acquired ZipLens.com).


I hope you enjoyed it and learned something about some companies that you might not have heard of before. I’d love to see your rental feedback as comments on the individual site articles and your pictures on my flickr group to show off the fun you had with your lens rentals! Please support this blog by remembering to come back and use the links and codes here, and share blog links on all the photography sites you visit.

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Please Help Other Readers

Please share your feedback on each of the individual product sites in the form of a comment about your rental experiences. My opinion is only one opinion, but there’s strength in numbers, so add value to these articles by sharing your experiences to the articles!

But what about <some other lens rental company>.com?

Anytime I do a series, I always get a bunch of these types of emails and comments. These were the sites I chose to review based on my limited knowledge of who all is out there. I’m sure there are more, and RentGlass.com has expressed interest in participating in the future. If you are the owner of another rental site, you are welcome to contact me to discuss the possibility of a review.

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This blog is intended for freelance writing and sharing of opinions and is not a representative of any of the companies whose links are provided on this site.

The opinions provided are of Ron Martinsen alone and do not reflect the view of any other entity

Friday, November 27, 2009

REVIEW: LensProToGo.com (Lens Rental Review Series – 6 of 7)

Rental Details

  • Lens Rented: Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM (Retail Cost: $2500)
  • Placed Order: October 1, 2009 1:24:37 PM PDT
  • Reservation Date: October 23, 2009
  • Arrived: On Time – October 23, 2009 at 12:44 P.M. by UPS
  • Due Back: October 30, 2009 (8 days)
  • Total Cost: $120.00 ($17.15 per day with insurance & shipping*, $15.00 per day actual value**)
  • Condition: Heavy wear and tear. The lens was clean and in working order, but close to being retired. My other rental with LensProToGo.com was the exact opposite as it was a brand new lens, so the morale of the story here is don’t judge a company by the age of a lens. See the paragraph below for more details on this issue.
  • Accessories Included: Lens hood and cap stored in a Pelican 1400 case. No lens UV filter or lens plate included, but both available upon request.

* = Total cost / 7 days rental
** = Total Cost / 8 days actually in my possession

READ THIS: Here’s why I got an old lens

As you might expect, fraud is a problem in the lens rental industry as someone with stolen identity and a stolen credit card can rent a lens and then never return it. When dealing with first time customers, it is natural for the risk level to be high which is why Paul had asked me to call in. When I refused, he still put the customer first (assuming I was legit rather than avoiding to send the lens altogether – a risk on his part), but he managed his risk by sending his oldest copy of the 28-300mm. He has two new copies he could have sent me, but my refusal to talk to him meant he had to prepare for a loss so sending an old lens was his way of doing that. I totally understand this as I would do the same thing if I were in his shoes. I would encourage new customers to call in between the hours of 8:30 AM to 6:30 PM EASTERN to make sure that the risk level is reduced so you don’t end up with an old lens.

Company Information

  • Owner: Paul Friedman
  • Years in Business: 3.5
  • Location: Concord, MA

Q&A with Paul Friedman

What countries do you serve?

Just USA

Do you allow lens renters to travel out of the country with your lenses? (i.e., safari’s, international sports competitions, etc…)


Do you drop ship rentals to hotels, kinkos, ups store, etc...?


Do you rent anything besides just lenses?

Yes, cameras, flashes, tripods, monopods, pocket wizards, light meters, underwater housings, gyros.

Lens damage in transit is naturally a big concern for renters, so how do you pack your gear?

We ship our gear in Pelican cases. Damage in transit has never happened.

Some companies have one copy of each product, so that once it is rented you are out of luck. Others have multiple copies of each item. While I imagine this would vary from product to product (i.e., perhaps only one 400 f/2.8, but a dozen 50mm f/1.4), what would you like readers to know about your selection and availability?

We have a huge selection of lenses. For some we have dozens and dozens of copies. As our demand continues to grow, we’ll keep buying more!

Do you require a deposit?


What type of accessories do you include with the rental? Do you include any filters (i.e., UV filters)? Cases? Do you include lens plates on lenses with tripod collars? Do you include hoods, even on lenses that don’t come with hoods from the manufacturer (i.e., Canon L has hoods, but EF-S lenses don’t)?

We include a UV filter free of charge if one is requested. We also include Wimberley type plates free of charge on request. Most lenses do come with a hood and tripod collar as well.

What is your insurance policy? Do you offer supplemental insurance? In short, what happens if a lens is damaged during a rental? What if a lens is lost or stolen, how is that handled

The rental insurance will cover repair or replacement of a lens if it is damaged. You will then be responsible for paying the deductible which is 10% of the replacement value. If you do not purchase the optional rental insurance, you will be responsible for the cost of repairing or replacing the damaged lens.

Example:  You rent a lens that has a value of $1,000 and do NOT purchase the rental insurance.  You then damage the lens while you are renting it and the lens requires repairs totaling $300.  You are responsible for the entire $300.

Example:  You rent a lens that has a value of $1,000 and DO purchase the rental insurance.  You then damage the lens while you are renting it and the lens requires repairs totaling $300.  You are responsible for paying the deductible of $100 ($1,000 x 10%).

How does your policy differ for lens damage from minor cosmetic (i.e., a scuff, a scratch, etc…) to major (i.e., broken button, dropped on concrete major damage, broken IS/VR, etc…)?

Cosmetic damage is just normal wear and tear. We always want to be proud of the gear we send out.

Do you take advanced rental appointments? (i.e., someone going to Antarctica or a Safari would want to reserve a rental months in advance to ensure they would have the unit they needed when they left for their trip). If so, what is your advance rental policy, including cancellation policy?

We strongly encourage reservations and accept them up to four months in advance. A $50 cancellation fee is applicable to camera bodies and super telephoto lenses.

If someone is renting a lens and needs more time (i.e., missed a flight, extended trip, etc…), can they call or email to extend the rental at the normal daily rate? What are your late return policy and fees?

Yes, nearly 40% of all of our customers rent for longer than the original rental period. Just call or email us. If you are late with a lens, we charge the appropriate pro rated rate.

If a desired lens is unavailable, can someone get on a waiting list via your web site and be alerted when it is going to be available? Can the see at a glance on the web site when the unit is due back?

Yes and yes. We do have an automated email notification system. However, if a lens or camera is not in stock, we strongly encourage customer to pick up the phone and call us so they can reserve one.

Does your site offer any lens review or comparison features?

Yes, we have reviews as well as links to other reviews.

What is your process for communicating with the customer from the time an order is placed until the time the rental is returned and the transaction completed?

We are extremely thorough with customer communication. When an order is placed online, the customer immediately receives an email receipt. When the order is shipped, the customer receives an email with the tracking number from UPS. He or she also receives a thank you note via email with some details about the rental. One day before the customer is due to send the gear back, he or she will receive an email from us thanking them for the rental, reminding them that the gear is due to be sent back tomorrow and an offer to extend the rental for another week for $x.

If a customer is frequently renting the same lens, do you offer any special program for them to “rent this lens again” or any “frequent user discount”?

We do offer a discount to our most frequent customers.

How fast can you get a lens to a customer that needs one in a hurry (i.e., photographer has a lens failure and needs a replacement ASAP)?

Tomorrow – to anywhere in the US

Canon and Nikon are the big players, but do you rent lenses or equipment from other brands?

No, but if the market share for any of the 3rd tier players rises, we will consider adding them into our inventory.

What’s the largest lenses you rent (i.e., 600mm, etc…)? What’s the most common lenses you rent? What brands do you carry?

We carry Canon and Nikon. The longest Canon lens is the Canon 800 f/5.6L IS and the longest Nikon is the Nikon 600 f/4 VR. The most popular lenses are of course, the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS and Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VR.

Does your site share experiences with your customers about the reliability of lenses (i.e., failure rates of brands, models, etc…)?

We don’t in any formal way, but we often have conversations with customers and are always very frank in any type of evaluation of gear.

Do you include any user education materials with your rentals (i.e., how IS/VR works, how to use a tilt-shift/perspective control lens, how to use a macro, etc…)?

We do provide this kind of content on our blog and have been adding in content as we receive requests from customers.

Do you provide return shipping labels? Is return shipping and/or insurance included in the price

Yes, we provide a prepaid UPS return label in all of our packages. We provide third party umbrella insurance on all of our packages. The prices on all of our gear, except on super telephoto lenses, include round trip shipping.

What is your policy for holidays and weather events? (i.e., week rental ends on a holiday weekend, Christmas, etc…) or a snowstorm closes the airport for the city so the lens can’t return on time?

They get an extra day for free if the end of their rental period falls on a holiday or there’s a weather event. We tend not to penalize our customers for events and dates beyond their control. We treat our customers the way we would want to be treated as customers.

How long to you rent gear before you retire it?

We generally keep a piece of gear for about 20 rentals and then sell it. Our goal is to always have fresh gear at all times that both functions and looks near new.

Does your policy differ for different products?

This policy does differ a bit. We generally sell cameras faster than the average lens. We also tend to keep super teles for a bit longer period of time as we have found that they generally get treated with greater care by our customers.

Do you sell your used gear? If so, when and how?

We have an annual sale of used gear in early November, going on right now. We sell directly on our site and communicate the start of the sale to all of our customers via email and Twitter.

If a customer wanted to buy the lens they were renting, would you let them?

In terms of a customer wanting to buy a lens they are renting, most often that’s not possible. It is possible when a customer has a lens that is at our near the end of its cycle, then we can accommodate the customer.

Anything else you would like to add that you feel sets you apart from other rental establishments?

We have the best service in the industry, period. When the phone rings, we answer it. We return emails. We overnight gear on a daily basis. We ship to the location our customers need. And when customers have questions about the gear, we spend the time on the phone with them to determine which would be the most appropriate choice for them. Our goal is not only to have the best service in the industry but to provide our customers with the best experience of any company in any industry. And so far, we’re succeeding: http://www.lensprotogo.com/testimonials/


This is just a two platform (Canon and Nikon) site like all but LensRentals.com and CameraLensRentals.com, but it carries everything for those platforms plus a large selection of accessories (including a very cool underwater housing shown above). This site is definitely more than just lenses, despite the name, so you can usually find everything you need for a big location shoot.


This is a great looking site when  you first visit. The logo and banner image are first class and way more professional looking than anything in this series. Perhaps this is why I always believed that LensProToGo.com was probably the biggest and best rental company on the web. Perception is a powerful thing, so I think LensRentals.com, BorrowLenses.com, and ZipLens.com could benefit from hiring the designer that did this logo and header banner as this is first class design.

Sadly, looks are deceiving and perception didn’t mean reality.

When I tried to place my order for the 28-300mm, I was surprised to discover that  it wasn’t possible to make a reservation for it. instead I was given an option to be notified when the lens became available (as shown in the screen shot  on the top right below – I used my mystery shoppers email for the actual submission). Unfortunately I was never notified, so after two attempts at using this form I finally gave up and sent a mail to customer service asking if I could reserve the lens. Unfortunately it took a couple of emails to actually accomplish that because Paul Friedman, the owner, was requesting that my mystery shopper (my wife) call in to reserve the lens. Since she didn’t know anything about what I needed, and since I couldn’t call, this presented a challenge that almost caused me to blow my cover. Paul finally gave in and took the order through email. After replying back all went well and the order arrived on time as promised.

UPDATE: See the Here’s why I got an old lens section at the top of this article to understand that the hassle here was really about risk assessment to protect against fraud, which sadly does occur in ways very similar to this (i.e., customers refusing to call in). As a result the risk assessment was super high for my rental.

In talking with Paul after my rental was done, I found out that there is a glitch in the system at LensProToGo.com in that there has to be at least one lens in stock before you can see the order reservation screen (shown in the bottom left below). I thought this was a little odd as the time you most likely want to see it is when lenses are out of stock, but that’s the way it is.

My biggest complaint about the web site here is that there’s no way to log in and see your current or past orders. You can’t get a receipt online, check the status of or cancel your order, get tracking information or anything. This is a HUGE shortcoming compared to the others in this series, and one that I found to be a major drawback. Upon request to Paul you can get a receipt mailed to you as shown in the bottom right below, but I think this site is behind the times and needs a customer login system desperately. You can create a customer record when placing your order and fortunately don’t have to re-enter that info if you visit again, but this isn’t a fully functional system like the others offer.

We live in a fast paced digital world, so customers should be able to do everything they need online from the website without having to call in. I should be able to track my order, see my future reservations and order history, and I should be able to reserve online – especially when no lenses are in stock.

In the end, this site was the most disappointing web site in the series because even though its performance was much better than the much slower ZipLens.com site, it didn’t have nearly as much functionality. As one of my development managers once told me, “I’ll take slow and feature rich over fast and broken any day of the week” – that pretty  much sums up my thoughts here. 

UPDATE: I spoke with Paul about this and he agrees that the site features are a big weakness that need to be addressed. In fact, he’s in the process of building an all-new web site for release next February that will address these shortcomings. Hopefully this article is will help to ensure that the most important features are included, so this should be an upgrade worth checking out when it comes online.


Impression: Very Good (4) – (AWARD: Easiest Return Packaging - Ronmart.Blogspot.com’s Lens Rental Review Series)

Pelican cases are legendary for the level of protection they offer, so I was pleased to see that LensProToGo.com chose to use a Pelican 1400 case to transport the lens. This made packing and unpacking a breeze. Returning the lens was awesome because you just put the lens in the case, drop it in the box, seal the box and attach the included pre-paid sticker. What could be more simple than that?

The only thing I can find as an area for improvement here is the fact that the case was pretty beaten up which doesn’t make for a good first impression. I suspect that the lens and this case went into service together, so that’s probably why it looked so bad (this lens had the appearance of a lens that had been in service for a few years). It worked properly though and definitely protected the lens, so there’s not much to fault with it. However, if I were Paul I would probably rotate these boxes out a little more frequently if the lenses are going to stay in service for so long.

Like others in this series (except BorrowLenses.com), the enclosed letter failed to include the return date which I found to be very frustrating for reasons described earlier in my web site comments.

Note to ALL lens companies:  Please add a return date in big, bold 32+ point font on your invoices and include that with your orders. Your customers will thank you for it!

Customer Support

My initial contact (via my wife’s email) with Paul to reserve the lens put me off a little bit as I grew up in the day where you didn’t question the customer. If the customer says, I can’t call so can I just do it in email, you say – sure no problem – here’s what I need.  That didn’t happen (see the website section for more info), so if I were a normal paying customer I would have just ended my transaction there and moved on to a different service. However, I needed to review this site so I pressed forward and Paul agreed to handle the transaction via email.

UPDATE: See the Here’s why I got an old lens section at the top of this article to understand that the hassle here was really about risk assessment to protect against fraud, which sadly does occur in ways very similar to this (i.e., customers refusing to call in). As a result the risk assessment was super high for my rental, so I now believe Paul’s skepticism was totally justified.

My lens arrived on time, but with less communications than any other site. I suspect since I didn’t  go through the order system on the web site (and it was handled via email), I never received detailed order confirmations, tracking numbers, shipping notifications, etc… that I received from all the other sites. I did get a notification from Jenni on October 20, 2009 2:33:26 PM PDT that my order had shipped via UPS but it only mentioned the lens and didn’t include tracking information. Since signatures are required, I thought this was really odd.

UPDATE: I discussed this issue with Paul and it is unclear where the system broke down here as the process didn’t change between my first and second orders. However, the second order had a reasonable level of communication. We are investigating the issue and I’ll report back once the issue is understood.

In the end, the lens worked fine when I had it and the shipping and return went smoothly. It was a much different experience than all of the others in this series due to the fraud risk assessment, which primarily occurred because I chose a lens that was out of stock and the glitch in the web site that required a call in for that scenario. I ended up contacting Paul about it at the end of the rental and he was horrified that I had the misfortune of renting one of his oldest lenses which was due for retirement, but under the circumstances he was trying to minimize his losses should I have turned out to be a fraudulent user who ended up stealing the lens. We agreed that I’d give him another shot, but the element of surprise was gone so I’d have to run with this experience in the series.

I can say that my subsequent rental went much better, the email communications were better and I had a brand new Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS USM macro lens in a brand new Pelican 1400 case. I’ve talked to others who have rented from LensProToGo.com (plus they have testimonials) and they confirm that they’ve never had the negative experience I had, so you shouldn’t expect the experience I encountered – especially if you take the time to just call in to prove that you are a honest renter.

I will write a follow up article on my 100mm rental experience at the conclusion of this series which I encourage you to come back and read.

Favorite Shots with the Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM

There’s very little data on the web about the Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens, but from what little I’ve seen I thought it would be great to own one of these. After all, an “L” lens with an astonishing 28mm to 300mm range means you really only need to carry one lens when travelling. While it is a big lens, I will typically carry my 24-105mm f/4L IS USM in addition to my 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM or my 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM so it would actually be lighter and easier to only carry one lens. Isn’t this the dream of many photographers? The one great lens that does everything well?

Of course, life is never that simple and we know that the physics of light suggests that trade-offs must be made to accomplish what this lens can do. The net result is that it is much better than most “one-size fits all” lenses I’ve seen, but definitely not as sharp as most L lenses in Canon’s line-up. Physically it looks and works exactly the same as my 100-400mm, so I suspect that Canon uses the same external shell and just uses different glass and labeling for these two push-pull style lenses. My 100-400mm is significantly sharper than this lens, but as you can see from the images below that with a little post-processing it is no slouch either. It’s also VERY cool for scenarios like the last two pictures where I was standing in the same spot and two the picture on the  bottom left at 28mm and then the picture on the right at 300mm (it’s a close up of the building in the left side of the 28mm picture) – both hand-held without changing lenses. A decent landscape and super-telephoto lens in one – what a cool lens to have in the bag!

Click the images below to see larger versions that have been post-processed only using Viveza 2.0 directly from Lightroom 2.5.

You could probably do macro work with this lens if you wanted to Get one duck or all the ducks in the shot
The Color was good from this lens Not much bokeh here with this lens almost wide open
28mm landscape. Notice how the small building on the left is blown up to full frame at 300mm while standing from the same spot! 300mm zoom from the same spot as the 28mm shot. This building is the small one on the left side of the 28mm shot.

Conclusion – Updated 11/30/09

This is a classic case where you need to walk in another man’s shoes to fully understand all the issues here.

At first glance (and my first iteration of this review) I was pretty harsh because I got an old beat up copy of a lens and I had to argue with Paul to avoid calling in. However, I now understand that fraud is a problem in this industry and first time renters who refuse to call in are a high risk category for lens theft. Loss control resulted in me getting the oldest copy of a lens (reserved for scenarios like mine) rather than the nice new copies they have in stock, which is the more typical customer experience. He didn’t know why I couldn’t call in (mystery shopper scenario) and I didn’t know why he insisted I do (he’ll now let customers know it is for fraud risk assessment). We both learned something here, so I encourage you to understand the context and realize the value in calling in.

With respect to calling in, I had some trouble with this as I kept getting voice mail telling me to leave a message. It turns out that the (soon to be corrected) voice mail message fails to point out that business hours are between 8:30 AM to 6:30 PM EASTERN, and with me being on the West Coast, I was calling outside those business hours. I didn’t know this, so I thought it was difficult to get through, but that shouldn’t be the normal case when you call during business hours unless all lines are busy. A new line is also due to be added to reduce the odds even further. Take note of the time and your time zone when calling in to avoid this being an issue for you as well.

The important part, is that despite the risk assessment, I still got my lens on time and everything beyond some missing email (still under investigation) went well. Taking the time to call in during business hours would have made a huge difference in this rental experience. Learn from my mistake when dealing with any of the rental companies in this series as it is fair for them to be cautious when things don’t seem right (which in my case, Paul accurately sensed something was up – but fortunately he didn’t guess it was the mystery shopper).

LensProToGo.com has an excellent ResellerRatings.com rating, and I trust the ratings there. Understanding the fraud risk issue now explains why my original experience was inconsistent with a majority of LensProToGo.com’s customers. I strongly advise you to give them a shot as my second rental experience was much better, and more consistent with the feedback from the testimonials and ResellerRatings.com. Stay tuned for my follow up article after the series where things went much better. 

  • Uses Pelican cases for shipping which is both durable and makes shipping super simple
  • A good selection of Canon and Nikon gear, plus a decent selection of Lighting and Support items
  • Prices include shipping (except super telephotos) so you know exactly how much something is going to cost (other sites add this after the fact which usually adds $30+ to the cost)
  • Offers a great underwater housing
  • The things that work on the web site, work well and the visual appearance is much better than all but BorrowLenses.com
  • Reasonable supply of inventory means that most items will be in stock
Areas for Improvement
  • Online order system where customers can log on and track their order history is a must. There is a login system when placing your order, but it only seems to be a tool to store your contact info so that you don’t have to re-enter it on future orders. It needs to be much more than that.
  • Reservation system needs to account for out of stock items
  • Some items like Underwater Housings don’t offer insurance
  • When you go through the order system you can’t go back if you make a mistake
  • No obvious way to cancel orders online
  • Update the voice mail recording to note that business hours are between 8:30 AM to 6:30 PM EASTERN so that west coast callers understand why they are getting voice mail

It’s been my experience that ResellerRatings.com ratings pretty much on the money, so when you see a good rating from a company like LensProToGo.com you can feel pretty confident that you’ll be in good hands. This company has a large selection and the best overall prices (see the conclusion article), so when doing your own price comparisons don’t let their big rental price scare you. Other sites can end up being up to 40% more than the quoted price after your credit card gets charged, but with LensProToGo.com the quote price is the final price, and it’s a good value.  Be sure to look for its new web site in February which will address most of my areas for improvement. I’d also recommend that you learn from my experience - a short call with LensProToGo.com will help reduce the risk assessment for first time renters, and ensure that everything goes smoothly.

Learn more about others in this series:

Please read the Lens Rental Series- Introduction (1 of 7) to learn more about other companies renting gear and providing discount coupon codes as well as my thoughts. Stay tuned to the conclusion as this series is more than just about the numbers you see in the conclusion here.

Special Offer


LensProToGo.com has been gracious enough to offer you a 5% discount off any order when you enter the coupon code MART5 as shown above in yellow.


This lens was rented under my wife’s name (who has a different last name) and email so this company would not be aware I was renting from them. This blog was reimbursed for the rental charges after this order was completed (lens returned). I was also given another free lens rental afterwards which I will review at a later date. I will receive a commission if you use my

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