Thursday, November 19, 2009

REVIEW: CameraLensRentals.com (Lens Rental Review Series - 4 of 7)

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Rental Details

  • Lens Rented: Canon 200mm f/2L IS USM (Retail Cost: $4800)
  • Placed Order: Friday, September 18, 2009
  • Reservation Date: September 30, 2009
  • Arrived: On Time – Sep 30, 2009 6:06 PM by FedEx
  • Due Back: October 7, 2009 (8 days)
  • Total Cost: $357.99 ($51.14 per day with insurance & shipping*, [less $36.00 coupon])
  • Condition: Looked like I was the first person to use this lens.
  • Accessories Included: Lens hood, cap, and Canon Lens Case 200 for the EF 200mm f/2L IS

* = Total cost / 7 days rental

Company Information

  • Owner: Barry Jackson
  • Years in Business: 2
  • Location: Anderson, IN

Q&A with Barry Jackson

What countries do you serve?

We only service the United States. All 50 states.

Do you allow lens renters to travel out of the country with your lenses?

Yes, however the client must inform us when doing this.

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

We do under certain circumstances. If you are new client there must be a deposit put down for the full value of the items shipped. If you are a returning customer, we will ship to a hotel or travel destination at no problem, with no deposit. We call to the destination to confirm your arrival.

Do you rent anything besides just lenses?

We rent cameras as well as lenses. We also rent some smaller accessories. After the first of the year we will expand into lighting.

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

We can honestly that we have had two damage shipments. One was a busted UV filter on the lens and the other was a cracked lens hood. The filter was easily replaced the next day and the crack in the lens hood did not effect its use. These two represent .0006 percent of our shipments to date. So the chance of damage during shipment is little if any. We pride ourselves on the way we package our shipments and our customers rave about the packaging.

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 carry multiple copies of each lens and body that we rent. While we prefer not to disclose the amount of lenses and bodies that we carry, we have enough to meet our demand. As our demand grows, so does our inventory. We have been at this long enough to know what rents and what does not. Many of our customers were and still are excited to receive that brand new lens or body drop shipped from our distributor.

Do you require a deposit? If so, what is your deposit policy and when is the deposit returned?

We do not require a deposit on orders. We just charge the amount of the rental. The only time a deposit is required is when it is being shipped to a hotel or travel destination and you are a first time customer.

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)?

All of our lenses come with a UV filter, OEM lens hood and OEM lens pouch. We are the only company that offers lens hoods, pouches, and UV filters with every lens. Lenses that require a tripod collar also come with a tripod collar. We even offer a tripod collar for lenses such as the Canon 70-200 F4L.

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?

Yes, we offer a damage waiver on all our lenses. We do not offer damage waiver on camera bodies or flashes. The reason is too many things can go wrong with electronics, due to negligence when using batteries or other power sources. The term "rental insurance" that allot of people use can be misleading since you not actually purchasing "insurance" per se. The only "insurance" you will get, is the "insurance" that you will not have to pay full price for replacing the lens, if it is damaged or broken in any way. If an item or items are damaged the customer is responsible for 15% of the cost to replace the item or the cost to repair it, whichever is cheaper. We are not out to profit from someone’s unfortunate mishap. These things do happen and we recommend having the damage waiver. If any equipment is stolen, the customer is responsible for 100% of the cost to replace the item or items stolen. We recommend they get a police report immediately and contact us immediately.

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…)?

ANY scratches or scuffs to the glass on either side, damage from impact to the mechanicals that would cause the lens or body not to function is considered damage. This includes auto focus, focus, or zoom in or out. Water damage or moisture damage is also considered as the lens or body being damaged. Deep scratches and gashes to the body or lens barrel are considered damage. Light and minor scuff marks to the lens barrel or lens hood are considered normal use and will not be considered as damage to the lens or body. We will use the Nikon, Pentax, or Canon repair center as arbitrators for any major conflicts. If they tell us there is water damage, moisture damage, mechanical damage caused by impact, the customer will be responsible for repairs and maybe the cost of replacing the lens or body.

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 taken reservations and highly recommend them. We take reservations as far out in advance as the customer would like. There is no cancellation policy. We just ask that they give us at least 3-7 days notice if possible. We understand things happen and sometimes that is not possible. If a customers order ships and they call us to cancel the order, we will do a call tag on the shipment and the customer will just be charged shipping fees.

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?

Normally if a customer calls us and wants to extend we will gladly do it. We just ask that they give us at least a days notice before the item is to be shipped back. If it’s the same day, we can still do it. Any heads up is much appreciated and we will always be able to work something out. We understand that things change all the time and our customer’s needs are no exception. The charge for late fees is 1/4 of the weekly rate per day with a minimum of $15 per day no matter what lens or body a customer has rented. We hate to charge late fees as much as customer hates to get billed for them. If a customer needs to extend or they are going to be late, all it takes is an email or phone call. It really is that easy! The only people we have ever charged late fees to are customers who have not notified us in any way shape or form. We are pretty easy to work with.

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, a customer can place a reservation on that lens for a future date, or we have it listed when the next copy of our item is due to be back in stock. All return dates are listed next to each item.

Does your site offer any lens review or comparison features?

We do not. Normally we take care of this via phone calls and emails with customers.

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?

Once an order is placed, the customer will get a confirmation of their order saying that we are checking our inventory for the dates they requested. Our automated system will then send a return and email to them saying their order has been accepted. If we do not have the inventory for the dates needed, the staff here is dispatched an email and we start scrambling for the customer! We will do everything possible to make the rental happen. If we do not have what they need, we normally end up purchasing the items to help build our inventory. After that they will get an order acceptance email with the date they will receive the item(s) and their return date. The next email they will get will be the shipped email, letting the customer know that the item(s) has been shipped along with a tracking number. The next communication they will get is a reminder email the day before the shipment is due to be shipped back. This has specific instructions as how to return the shipment. We also do a friendly reminder phone call that day to remind them as well. We try to contact them as many ways as possible. We understand that our customers are busy and can easily forget! We are also set to launch our new text messaging system on October 1st, 2009. This will send a text alert to our customers cell phone to let them know the item has shipped along with the tracking number as well as send them a reminder text the day before their shipment is due to be shipped back. We will be the first company that does this.

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”?

A customer can rent 4 lenses at the normal week’s price and after that they can rent any lens free for 3 days. The only thing the customer pays for is the shipping. Restrictions do apply. The value of the free 3 day rental is equal to the lesser of their rented lenses. If they customer decides to rent it longer than the 3 days we just charge the difference between the 3 day and however long they need it price. Our customers love this! They feel like they are getting something back and this is just one way we show our appreciation. Many customers are already on their 5th and 6th free rental.

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)?

We can ship same day via standard overnight, priority overnight, or first overnight.

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

We rent Pentax in addition to Nikon and Canon. We are the only online company that rents Pentax.

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

The largest lenses we carry are the Nikon 80-400mm, Canon 400mm 5.6 and the Canon 100-400mm. After the first of the year we will be adding 500mm and 600mm lenses in both Nikon and Canon. The most common lenses we rent (the most) are the 70-200mm IS/VF (Canon and Nikon), the 24-70mm (Canon and Nikon), the Canon 100-400mm and the Nikon 80-400mm. We carry Nikon, Canon, and Pentax.

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

Yes, if a lens has a high failure rate, we explain that on the item description page. The only one we have had to worry about is the Sigma 70-200 for Pentax.

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 not include anything. We have found that 99% of the customers that come to our site know what they want. The other 1% we coach and teach them in any way we can. If this means sending them links for reference or helping them accomplish their goals…then that is what we do. We are here for the customer from step 1.

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

A return shipping label is included in the package. We ship with Fedex. The price you see at checkout is the price you are going to pay and that’s with round trip shipping.

Is there any other assistance you offer for returns?

We offer an assistance needed for your returns. If this means emailing you a new return label, helping you locate a Fedex location, assisting in scheduling a pick up, we will do whatever we can to help. We also send a reminder email as well as give a reminder phone call.

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?

We don’t have a policy. Normally this means you are getting the equipment a day or two extra on us  For instance. All orders that were scheduled to be returned on this previous Labor Day, were given an extra day and did not need to be returned until Tuesday. If Fedex is closed for a holiday, you will get an extension on your rental. We have several customers that know how to work they system and we don’t blame them.

How long to you rent gear before you retire it?

We rent lenses for 10 months. No matter how many times we have rented them. At the end of the 10th month we rotate them out of stock via sales to our customers. We purchase everything new and we like for our customers to have a sense of comfort with some warranty left on the lenses. Sometimes warranties are not transferable and we offer our customers the opportunity for us to send the lens in for them if there are any problems. We replace all the caps, pouches, hoods, etc with new before well them. Everything that we sell with the bodies or lenses are OEM products from the manufacturer. If there are any major dings to the barrel, etc we will send this in to be replaced. We like for our customers to have a sense of getting a new lens at a great price.

Does your policy differ for different products?

Our policies are pretty much the same for everything we rent in terms of damage waiver, discounts, rental times, etc.

Do you sell your used gear?

We sell our used gear at the end of the 10th month of renting it. This keeps our gear fresh as well as offers our customers some great pricing on used lenses. We also sell everything we rent at any given time.

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

We sell everything we rent. We do not do a rent to own, but offer rental credit towards any purchase. Customers love this! Many want to try out a lens or two and end up calling or emailing saying they found the perfect copy of a lens. Our sales price is based on few factors. Date of purchase, rental income, cost to replace, and going market value. Either way we try to save our customers some money.

We also sell new Canon gear. Our prices are pretty tough to beat. We are an authorized reseller. We are not classified as a dealer because we do not have a storefront. We get our gear before B&H, Adorama etc. I had the 50D, 5K MK II, 17mm TS-E, 24mm MK II TS-E, 100mm IS Macro, 7D, etc before any of them. We also sell Canon video equipment as well.

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

We do not have the largest inventory, we have no had the most shipments, and we don’t pretend to be something that we are not. We are a small business who loves doing what we do. I created this business from the ground up. From the web design, to the shopping cart, to packing up orders, it’s all the result of one person’s hard work. I now have a couple family members who work for me. We love getting the thank you emails and testimonials from our customers. We love to hear the excitement from our customers that their wedding, vacation, school play, wildlife shoot, etc…was all made better because of us. That’s what makes us tick and what drives us to keep doing this. What you will get from us is family oriented customer service. We treat each one of our customers as if they were family. That is what we pride ourselves on. We are a family run business and making the customer a part of our family is what we do best. Our main goal is getting the customer what they want when they want it, and making it the best possible experience. All new customers get 10% off their first order. We could toot our own horn all day long, but we prefer to have our customers (new and old) do that for us.

Selection

This site lacks the super big glass, but it does carry three platforms instead of the usual two. It’s decision to carry the Pentax platform puts it in a league of its own. It also will be expanding its selection in the future, so stay tuned for more great things to come from this surprise star in this series.

Website

This is your Honda Accord of web sites. It’s functional and does the most important things that you need with relative ease, but there’s no frills or things to get you excited. I really wanted to complain about this site, but when I dug around and looked at features it had most of what I needed. It lacks the visual appeal of BorrowLenses.com and the fantastic feature set of LensRentals.com, but it had more features than some of the others featured in this series.

Packaging

AWARD: Best Packaging of Ronmart.Blogspot.com’s Lens Rental Review Series

CameraLensRentals.com got lucky here because this lens already comes with a great case (the coolest one in the review) , but they still put it in the middle of some very nice foam. They also did something that none of the others in the series did – they included a pen (with contact info of course). This is an old school thing that companies did when I was a kid, but I really liked this touch because it showed out of the box thinking (pun intended) on how they could make the return shipment as easy as possible. Sadly, they didn’t have the return date very well marked like BorrowLenses.com, but other than that this was a top caliber packaging experience – even if it was partially courtesy of Canon.

Customer Support

When I got this lens I wanted to try out using the buttons on the focus ring which allow you to, among other things, set a pre-determined focus point. I had my wife send CameraLensRentals.com an email on the 2nd to last day of my rental to ask them if they had a manual or instructions on how to do this. They replied with a hand-written set of instructions how to do it. When they discovered that my wife only got these instructions on the last day of the rental, they pointed out that there wasn’t another customer waiting for it so they were happy to extend the rental free for another day. Unfortunately I had already packaged up the lens so I had my wife decline the offer (which I now regret because this was such an AWESOME lens).

Favorite Shots with the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM

I think everyone has there list of things they would buy if they ever won the lottery, and for me I have a new item high atop that list –  the Canon 200mm f/2L IS USM! WOW, is this an amazing lens! It has the fastest Auto Focus, the best Image Stabilization (IS or VR to Nikonians), and sharpest image of any Canon lens I’ve ever used. When I first heard about this lens, I thought people would be insane to pay $4800+ for a 200mm lens when the 70-200mm is so good, but now I understand why this lens exists. It is simply an amazing piece of glass, and for fashion photography 200mm is king on the 70-200mm.

Conclusion

My rental experience was outstanding. This may not be the biggest shop in town, but the ordering experience went very smooth, the email notifications were great, they had the lens I wanted, and it showed up in mint condition. It’s pretty hard to argue with that, and say they didn’t earn the score they got – they did. The customer service was excellent and their commitment to getting repeat business is very obvious. CameraLensRentals.com doesn’t want to rent you a lens, they want to earn a new repeat customer – and it shows. I loved working with this company and my rental experience was definitely first class from start to finish – even if it was served up via a generic web site (which they are very proud of btw – they say performance over beauty is king in their book).

Strengths
  • Please the customer attitude that will go out of the way to earn your long-term business.
  • Best packaging seen in this whole series
  • Web site has the most important features (inbound/outbound tracking features, reservations, order lookup and more)
  • Three day rentals available (for those in the 1 – 2 day shipping proximity of Anderson, Indiana)
  • The only authorized Canon reseller, which means your odds of getting the latest or mint condition Canon lens are high.
  • Short rental life for lenses before fresh replacements are brought in.
  • Rents Pentax lenses (something several of my readers are really excited about)
  • Rents Sandisk Extreme IV CF cards (fun to try out if you are wondering if they make a difference)
  • New optional Text Messaging system ensures you’ll get a reminder when it is time to return your lens (I LOVE THIS!)
  • Nice used-gear policy (warranty still left)
Areas for Improvement
  • Honda Accords are functional, but they aren’t cool – neither is this web site. It could benefit from some of the great features found at LensRentals.com and the sleek UI of BorrowLenses.com (which is easy and performant if you know how to do it properly using cascading style sheets).
  • PDF versions of the manuals linked to the lenses (and other cool links like LensRentals.com does) would be a big plus
  • Details about lens availability from the lens rental screen would be useful (again, see LensRentals.com for a model of how to do this)
  • Should consider renting Sony lenses
  • CF card rental is a good idea, would love to see a wider selection of some of the state-of-the-art UDMA screamers coming out on the market from Sandisk and Lexmar.
Recommendation

This is the company that the bigger LensRentals.com and BorrowLenses.com need to watch out for because Barry is doing everything right and my rental experience was fantastic. This was the shocker of the series because I had low expectations based on the appearance of the web site and the fact that I had never heard of them before. If you are Pentax shooter, they are the only game in town. Canon shooters will enjoy a higher probability of getting a newer or gently used lens, and the ability to rent the latest gear usually before you can get your hands on a purchased copy! You won’t regret renting from CameraLensRentals.com.

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

 

CameraLensRentals.com is offering a 10% discount to my readers when you enter the site using this link, enter the discount code RONMART in the box shown in yellow above and click Apply. (Please note the image shown is an example for where to enter the code and does not reflect the current discount amount)

Disclosure

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). If you place an order using the discount code or clicking links, I will get a commission (thank you for supporting this blog).

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

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