Monday, November 16, 2009

REVIEW: LensRentals.com (Lens Rental Review Series - 3 of 7)

LensRentalsLogo2014

Rental Details

  • Lens Rented: Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS USM (Retail Cost: $7190)
  • Placed Order: Wednesday, September 30, 2009, 12:59 AM
  • Reservation Date: October 16, 2009
  • Arrived: 1 Day Early – October 15th, 2009 at 12:34 PM by FedEx
  • Due Back: October 26, 2009 (10 days, but 7 day rental price)
  • Total Cost: $402 ($57.43 per day with insurance & shipping*, $36.54 actual value**)
  • Condition: Showing expected minor wear and tear for a rental  lens that is 13 months old, and the case was showing wear that suggested it needed to be cleaned.
  • Accessories Included: Lens hood, cap, and Lightware Long Lens Case f/400 2.8

* = Total cost / 7 days rental
** = Total cost / number of days in my possession
 

Company Information – LensRentals.com

  • Owner: Roger Cicala
  • Years in Business: 3 (in 2009 when this was written)
  • Location: Cordova, TN

Q&A with Roger Cicala

Before I begin the Q&A I’d like to add the disclaimer that Roger was very instrumental in the success of this series as he did a great job of informing me who the top players were in the lens rental industry and encouraged me to include them in this series. This is a close nit community of small businesses who help each other out to make sure that their customers are never disappointed, and that isn’t something you see every day. This guy doesn’t seem to sleep and is a true professional, so I’d like to personally thank him for his contribution to this series.  Now, let the Q&A session begin:

What countries do you serve?

USA and Canada

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

Yes

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

For our renter’s protection we will not ship to hotels (in most states if the hotel loses the lens, the guest is financially responsible) but we will ship “hold for pickup to a FedEx Kinkos or UPS store.

Do you rent anything besides just lenses?

Camera bodies, tripods, ballheads, flash and studio lighting, background kits, carrying cases, radio controls, reflectors, memory cards, filters, audio equipment (mics, recorders, mixers), spotting scopes, lens adapaters, video cameras and lighting, monitors, hard drives and storage, etc.

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

Heavy duty box, memory foam, 2 layers bubble wrap, soft case. We find ‘shock damage’ is a bigger issue than ‘crush damage’ so multiple layers are in order.

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?

Depending on the item, we have over 100 copies of some lenses. Our average is 16 copies per item. Even on supertelephotos we have at least half a dozen copies. We also guarantee availability for items reserved 2 weeks in advance even if we have to purchase new copies.

Do you require a deposit?

No deposit is required.

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 hate UV filters (they highest profit item sold by camera stores), but will include them if the customer requests. All lenses come in a soft pouch, supertelephoto lenses in a backpack or shoulder-strap case. Lenses are shipped ‘as from the factory’ so a hood is included if the manufacturer includes a hood, not if they don’t. Lens plates (Arcas-Swiss compatible) are available at no charge and by request, but given the number of proprietary plates there’s no sense including them with every lens.

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?

Shipping is insured both ways so shipping damage is entirely our problem and we send an immediate replacement whenever that occurs. We offer optional damage insurance which covers any damage during the rental. If a lens is damaged during rental, we bill the customer for repairs after we receive the bill from the manufacturer. If a lens is lost or stolen, the customer is responsible for the actual used value of the lens (many places charge new value).

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…)?

We consider minor cosmetic damage inevitable and don’t hold the customer responsible.

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 offer reservations up to a year in advance. We do NOT charge a cancellation fee if the reservation is cancelled prior to shipping (again, different than most places who do charge a cancellation fee.)

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?

In this situation, we’d offer a grace period of a day. Longer extensions are available as long as we have copies of the lens available (we usually do).

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?

You can see our availability calendar at a glance for each lens which also tells the exact date it will be back. There is also RSS notification for availability.

Does your site offer any lens review or comparison features?

YES, both in the lens and in articles on our blog.

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?

The following are automatic: Order confirmed, order shipped (with tracking numbers), order due back tomorrow, we’ve received your equipment back. We also will tweet them to customers who use Twitter. Of course we call and email if there is anything out of the ordinary.

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”?

No

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)?

Overnight on weekdays and Saturdays.

Canon and Nikon are the big players, but do you rent lenses or equipment from other brands? (i.e., Pentax, Olympus, Sony, Hasselblad, Elinchrom, etc…)

Olympus and Panasonic (both 4/3 and Micro 4/3), Sony, Leica (starting November), JVC (video).

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

800mm f5.6 Canon, but we carry the longest (other than Canon 1200) lens each manufactuer makes. The 70-200 f2.8 lens is the most common for each brand except 4/3.

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

Yes. We warn on the lens page for lenses with high failure rates: http://www.lensrentals.com/rent/canon-ef-s-17-55mm-f2.8-is/for-canon for example. We also publish our repair data twice a year: https://www.lensrentals.com/news/2009.11.01/lens-repair-data-35

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 have links on each lens page to a PDF of the user manual, third party reviews of the lens, instructional videos where appropriate.

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

Yes and yes.

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?

If shipping is closed, the return date rolls over to the next open shipping date automatically.

How long to you rent gear before you retire it?

At lensrentals we rent gear for 20 weeks rental or 2 years in stock, whichever comes first. Camera bodies and flashes are 15 weeks or 18 months in stock. Non photo items like tripods, etc. are basically used as long as they remain in good shape, but speaking practically they rarely last as long as lenses or camera before breaking.

Do you sell your used gear?

We sell our used gear on our home page, and supply a 90 day warranty and 3 day inspection period during which it can be returned for refund.

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

We don't sell our lenses to the customer unless it happens to be close to the sale time. The exception are Zeiss and soon Leica lenses where we do offer that because of special offers we have from those manufacturers.

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

Simply our selection and size (we have 3 customer service reps and 3 tech support reps available on the phone every day for example). All the rental houses offer great customer service.

Selection

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

Holy cow, these guys have everything! Leica, check. Sony, check. Video cameras (including high-end pro gear) and lighting, check. Rare legendary lenses that aren’t made anymore, check. If you can’t find what you need here, you must shoot on the Pentax platform (which CameraLensRentals.com does carry) because they’ve got just about everything else mere mortals could want (sorry no Hasselblads). Nobody else in this series can touch their selection, but BorrowLenses.com comes the closest (and in some categories you might prefer their selection choices).

Website

AWARD: Best Web Site Features of RonmartBlogt.com’s Lens Rental Review Series

With some strong user-interface design, this site would have no comparison as the features it offers were unmatched.  I loved how I could see how many copies of how many unique lenses were being carried by LensRentals.com, because it assured me that they’d probably have what I needed in stock. Even better, when I tried to rent an lens, there was a fantastic calendar feature that showed me how much inventory there was for the day I needed the lens. There were great links for accessories, the manuals (WOOHOO), consumer and user reviews, plus a nice write up that included Roger’s take on the lens. In short, the information available to you is outstanding!

When you place your order you get links with inbound and outbound tracking numbers (partially removed below), a PDF receipt (great for client reimbursement/tax records), and much more.

Secure transactions and in-box receipts that even show you when you lens was originally purchased set this site apart as a high-tech leader, and one that I really enjoyed working with.

Twitter, iPhone & RSS Support

One area that really set LensRentals.com apart from the competition was that it embraces technology like no other. This includes keeping you up to date on your order via Twitter (if you so choose) and iPhone friendly pages that allow you to place your order directly from your phone. In fact, there’s even a RSS feed for latest news (with useful info about lens repair data) and items for sale.

Packaging

Any package that arrives with its contents undamaged is classified as Good in my book. However, if I had a 400mm f/2.8 lens I think I’d probably take a little more care to pack it more securely than LensRentals.com did in this case. While the Lightware case did offer some protection, given the weight of this lens it seemed a bit thin, but definitely sufficient enough for around town travel. However, when you put it in a box and just ad another inch or so of padding, it felt like one good drop could destroy the sensitive electronics innards of this pricey beast, so I was a bit nervous about this lens safe return. Fortunately it arrived and was returned safely, so I guess LensRentals.com knows what they are doing, but in my book I expected a little more protection, hence the Good rating.

UPDATE – A response from LensRentals.com about the case chosen for shipping

A Pelican or hard case for [this lens] would add $21 to your shipping cost (and actually if the box was 4 inches greater in circumference it would have added $13). By very long experience (about 600 round trip shipping's on supertelephoto lenses) we've found that they never break. Zero in 600+ during shipping.

Customer Support

How do you know when a company is doing everything right from their web site? – When you don’t need to contact customer support!

Seriously, I had to go out of my way to test this aspect of LensRentals.com, because everything I needed was online. They have a larger staff than the competitors, so if you do need to call on them they are ready and willing to answer your questions. From my experience, I found them to be super helpful and willing to work with you to ensure a great rental experience.

Favorite Shots with Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS USM

Who doesn’t dream of being a sports photographer on the sidelines with the huge lens capturing the image of the game winning catch, or the final strike out of a no hitter? This is the lens the real pros use, so it was a delight to get to see what it was like renting it. As you can see from the images below, the bokeh is sweet and will allow you to perfectly isolate your subject. it also allows you to have a safe working distance from the action so that you can capture images as if you were a fly on a wall watching events unfold.

Into backyard astronomy? Here’s a great chance to get a super sharp lens that is sure to impress without having to pony up the major bucks required for huge glass. In all, this is a great lens to rent, but given its cost and size it is pretty hard to justify owning it, so getting it from LensRentals.com is a match made in heaven! Here’s some fun shots I snatched with this awesome lens:

Conclusion

The best selection, fantastic features available on this web site and the attention to detail paid by Roger to make sure your experience will be fantastic. I’d also like to point out that I only paid for a 7 day rental, but I got 11 days partially due to my timing (tip: rent on Fridays!), which made the value I received in this rental quite excellent. LensRentals.com not only got my lens to me when promised, they got it there a day early so if I needed it for the morning of my reservation date I’d be good to go – that’s very cool and worth remembering when time is critical. 

Strengths
  • Feature rich web site that is what all others should aspire to – everything you want to know is available making support virtually unnecessary.
  • Fantastic selection and numerous copies to make sure you don’t have to wait.
  • Hard to find rental products (like Canon’s infamous 50mm f/1.0L, Leica camera bodies, Ziess lenses, etc…)
  • Killer calendar control shows lens availability
  • Receipt shows the purchase date of the lens so you know exactly how old your lens is (which might be a useful data point when considering a purchase)
  • As of December 3rd, 2009, LensRentals.com had a lifetime ResellerRankings.com rating of 9.98 from 998 reviews, so your experience is likely to be a great one.
Areas for Improvement
  • While the website is functional, its design leaves a lot to be desired. Attention to usability would help tremendously.
  • The addition of a Re-order Now button like BorrowLenses.com would be a welcome addition for frequent renters.
  • A feature to help users remember that lens plates are available and assistance in selecting the right one (especially when renting big lenses) would be a great new feature.
  • Better packaging material above and beyond the lens case, or a switch to more durable lens cases such as ones by Pelican, would make for a much more secure ride for the gear.
  • Attention to not just cleaning the lenses but also the carrying bags would have made a better first impression in my case.
Update December 2014

I’ve rented several times from LensRentals.com and have had the same great service I discussed in this review. I’ve been super happy with all of my rentals from them and still highly recommend them!

Recommendation

AWARD: Best Online Camera Gear and Lens Rental Company

This is the winner of my series for many good reasons – they have a massive selection on a wide number of platforms (including video), huge inventory of the items they stock, the best features of any web site (especially the reservation system), great customer service, and a business owner hell bent on making sure your experience is second to none. As expected, after reading my review comments Roger had his people out scrubbing every case in their inventory, and was chatting with me about web site improvements! He listened to the feedback and chose to use it as a tool to improve his business, and I have no doubt he’d do the same with your feedback as well.  You can count on LensRentals.com to deliver a consistent first class rental experience.

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

CLICK HERE to get the latest details on my Discount Offer for LensRentals.com.

This code will change so please visit the Discount Coupon Code page to get the latest code and this page for instructions on how to use it.

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 promotion code, 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

7 comments:

Jason said...

I rented a 14mm nikon from them, fast shipment. they arranged pick up at my local fed ex. all good. lens was clean. I would rent from the again.. awesome way to test expensive toys to see if i really need them:)

Anonymous said...

Great company, I have rented from them many times. One of the best.

Jerry said...

Doesn't look like LensRentals have a field on the checkout page for a promotional code anymore, but putting Ron's discount code into the "Special Instructions" field worked.

Note: I'm not sure if it was actually the discount code, or the fact that I clicked on the link at the bottom of this review and LensRentals.com applied the discount based on the referrer.

Ron Martinsen said...

Hi Jerry,

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. This was a miscommuncation between lensrentals.com and me (mostly my fault).

You were correct - the code must be entered into the "special instructions" and they will honor it.

I need to update the screen shot to reflect this!

Ron Martinsen said...

This has now been updated - thanks!

Maddy said...

Hey this is really nice information. I was looking for something similar like this. Thanks for this useful information about Discount lenses.

Maddy said...

I was looking for information of Discount lenses or similar to this one…and m really happy that I got it here at least…checked your website and the product recommended by you…thanks for the information…