Monday, November 30, 2009

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

 

Recap

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).

Price

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

Insurance

Shipping

Total Cost

BorrowLenses.com

$ 60.00

$ 14.00

$ 26.00

$ 100.00

CameraLensRentals.com

$ 57.00

$ 9.00

$ 27.99

$ 93.99

LensProToGo.com

$ 85.00

$ 8.00

$ 0.00

$ 93.00

LensRentals.com

$ 60.00

$ 9.00

$ 25.00

$ 94.00

ZipLens.com

$ 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.

Selection

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.

  Super
Telephotos
Sony Pentax Cameras Studio
Lighting
Support Video Other
BorrowLenses.com

Yes

Yes+

Yes+

Yes

Yes++

CameraLensRentals.com

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

LensProToGo.com

Yes

Yes+

Yes+

Yes+

LensRentals.com

Yes

Yes

Yes+++

Yes++

Yes+++

Yes+++

Yes+++

ZipLens.com                

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).

Conclusion

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.

Special Offer Summary

This information is subject to change (including expiration), so be sure to check the Discount Coupon Code page for the latest information. You are welcome to link my blog to other sites, but please don’t post these codes directly to coupon sites as that is the quickest way to get the codes cancelled permanently (i.e., use it, but don’t abuse it).

Product

Discount

Code

BorrowLenses.com  (review)

5% Off RM5

CameraLensRentals.com

10% Off Use this link AND
enter RONMART when you check out

LensRentals.com

5% Off Click Here

LensProToGo.com

5% Off MART5

ZipLens.com

10% Off ronmart

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.

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

10 comments:

Mark Olwick said...

It would appear that lensprotogo "free" shipping would get very expensive when you rent multiple lenses as you'd be paying full shipping for both.

With lensrentals.com the shipping is adjusted automatically as they'll be coming in the same box.

I love lensrentals.com.

Jordan said...

I've tried lensrentals.com and they were absolutely great all the way around.

I'm trying CameraLensRentals.com right now. First impression is that they have good prices. Second impression is that "Oh crap I don't get to review the order at the end." I didn't realize that clicking to proceed after entering my CC info would place the order. I assumed I'd get a chance to review everything just to make sure. So, I guess I have a 35mm f/1.4L coming to me next week. Sweet?

Thanks for doing this series, Ron.

ZoneDancer said...

Ron, thanks for the Review/Series. I definitely want to do some rentals again. Glazers left a bad tast in my mouth last time as I had to pay the excessive deposit (on my debit card).

Paul Friedman said...

We offset the pricing when shipping multiple items by providing an 8% coupon code "RON8OFF2" for two items and 10% coupon code "RON10OFF3" for three items or more.

Feel free to give us a ring at 877-578-4777

Thanks,
Paul at LensProToGo

r4i said...

I just came across your blog and wanted to drop you a note telling you how impressed I was with the information you have posted here.
Keep up the great work, you are providing a great resource on the Internet here!

Danny said...

I like all these companies, I think I rented from Pro, and found their reviews of their own experiences with the lenses really helpful... and it meant that they love this stuff and care about their lenses.

Also, one might consider their physical location, if you're renting from the westcoast vs from the east coast for example. Not sure if all the shipping is overnight or 2nd day (in which case their physical location doesn't matter any more), so check that.

Lastly, I called one of them and guess what, someone answered! Wow, that was cool, interacting with a small shop where there's people answering the phone. Westcoast vs. eastcoase matters here, if you want to talk to someone on the phone.

Cheers,
Danny

Gustavo said...

Ron:

I used BorrowLenses and the discount Code didn't work. I told them I went through your blog, but might want to look into it.

Cheers
Gustavo

Ron Martinsen said...

Hi Gustavo,

Thanks for reporting that problem! The issue has been resolved and should work now.

Thanks,
Ron

aLeoLady said...

Thank you so much for your review. It was excellent and informative. Based on your review, I just rented a Canon 100-400 L-series lens from Borrow Lenses and it was a very simple process - and I was surprised that the 3-week rental came in less than $200. Will let you know upon my return from Panama & Costa Rica how all went. Regards. M-J

c w a l k e r j r said...

note that Borrow Lenses now carries K mount.