Monday, November 23, 2009

REVIEW: ZipLens.com (Lens Rental Review Series - 5 of 7)

 

LensRentals.com - Ziplens.com Joins Lensrentals!

 

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Rental Details

  • Lens Rented: Canon 135mm f/2 USM (Retail Cost: $1069.95)
  • Placed Order: Friday, September 18, 2009 at 4:56 AM PST
  • Reservation Date: October 7, 2009
  • Arrived: On Time – October 7, 2009 11:39 AM by FedEx
  • Due Back: October 15, 2009 (9 days)
  • Total Cost: $79.00 ($11.29 per day with insurance & shipping*, $8.78 actual value**)
  • Condition: Minimal wear and tear, and cleaned well. No lens UV filter included, but I hate those anyway.
  • Accessories Included: Lens hood and cap

* = Total cost / 7 days rental
** = Total Cost / 9 days actually in my possession

Company Information

  • Owner: Lee Cullivan
  • Years in Business: 3
  • Location: Brookline, MA

Q&A with Lee Cullivan

What countries do you serve?

US Only.

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...?

Yes

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

We pack our gear with a consistent foam surrounding and bubble wrap. These are in 2 sizes of corrugated boxes that we reuse.

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 as many copies of each lens as demand dictates. We've grown considerably over the 3 years starting from one copy of each lens, to up to 20 of the most popular.

Do you require a deposit?

No.

What type of accessories do you include with the rental?

Collars and hoods come with all lenses that would normally ship from the manufacturer with them, filters and bags are available upon request.

What is your insurance policy?

See http://www.lensrentals.com/page/faq#rental-insurance

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…)?

Some cosmetic damage is expected during usage.

Do you take advanced rental appointments?

We take reservations. No fee for cancellations.

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?

Extensions are available. Folks are subject to late fees (weekly rate divided by 7 per day late) but we are flexible and understand under certain circumstances cause people to miss deadlines.

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 send an email after each of these steps - order, reservation request (if applicable), shipment, return shipment.

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)?

Depending on where they are usually next day. I've personally driven four hours to hand deliver gear same day though.

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

We rent for Canon and Nikon dSLR only.

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

Our most popular rentals are the 70-200mm f2.8 - both Nikon and Canon.

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

We rely on reseller ratings/ blogs/ etc... for customer feedback.

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…)?

Upon request.

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

We provide all components of return shipping in the box - label, bag, instructions, etc... We've been told our return process is idiot proof.

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 do not charge late fees in these circumstances and always give the customers the extra time around holidays.

How long to you rent gear before you retire it?

Depends on the lens. Some lenses are more durable so they are rented longer. Generally between 20-30 times is my rule.

Do you sell your used gear?

Usually by ebay but I give friends and family first crack.

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

Probably not. Chances are the lens is slated for a reservation.

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

We don't offer any frills :)

Selection

Just the basics here – Canon and Nikon, and no big super telephotos. However, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as that’s most all of us will ever need.

Website

The first and most memorable impression I have of this site is that it was slow. It wasn’t painfully slow, but definitely the slowest of this series. This site appears to be a generic eCommerce template site that appears to have been used for lens rentals, so it lacks some of the specialized features seen in the other sites. With that said, it isn’t a bad template as much of what you need for the basics is there. It’s simple, clean and easy to read, but little more. Appearance-wise I’d put it ahead of CameraLensRentals.com, and almost ahead of LensRentals.com, but not quite. Functionality-wise though, it is below CameraLensRentals.com which I called the Honda Accord of web-sites. To continue this analogy, I’d call this the Honda Civic Sedan (i.e., less than the Accord and slower).

UPDATE: Even though I tried using different machines in different physical locations with different ISP’s, I was seeing a noticeable slowdown during the series. However, that issue now seems to be addressed as the site performance seems to be much improved today. My experience may have been a temporary glitch that no longer is an issue.

For reservations, there’s a statement on the web site which is easy to see (shown in tan in the left columns below) that reads:

To make a reservation please place your order and specify the reservation dates in the Order Comments section on the checkout page. We will verify the dates and confirm.

I tried it, and it worked, but I definitely prefer a more integrated experience. Fortunately, they will let you order out-of-stock lenses so this system, while crude, works.

My biggest gripe was that the order look up system didn’t have the return FedEx tracking info, but it at least had the outbound tracking, so that was good. You could get a receipt, modify unshipped orders and more. I did hate that you had to choose from a dropdown for your order history (a dead giveaway this is a “one-size fits all” template).

Packaging

This was the only company that had a bag around the box and for the return trip included another bag to wrap the box in. I presume this is done to keep the box in good shape so it can be reused again, which I suppose is a good environmental move. The bag did raise eyebrows at FedEx (sorting machines hate bags), and I was a bit nervous to have my name only on the bag in case the bag got destroyed (so I left a copy of my invoice in the box itself to be safe). It didn’t include a case or the fitted foam like the other sites, but the packaging seemed sufficient for a safe round trip.The return instructions sticker was very nice and unique, but the box didn’t include an obvious reminder for the return date (but an email on the return day worked well). I loved how the box folded so I didn’t need to tape it, which I suppose is the main advantage of the bag.

Customer Support

Given the nature of this series and my experience level I didn’t need to contact customer support, but to evaluate it for this review I contacted support and pretended to be a novice asking about Nikon 45mm f/2.8 Perspective Control-E Nikkor Aspherical Manual Focus Lens and Lensbabies Lensbaby 3G. I spoke with a guy named Stacey who was helpful and courteous. While he wasn’t able to answer all of my questions off the top of his head, he was eager to help so he dug up the information (including opening a box to look at the lens) and gave me some useful information. It was definitely much better than your typical “call center” experience, but not like the support you get from the BorrowLenses.com, LensRentals.com or CameraLensRentals.com where they have all of the answers right on the spot. This is obviously a small company though (which he admitted) so I was pleased that I was able to get through quickly and ultimately get the information I needed. He was quick to point out gotchas of the lenses (manual focus, manual aperture, lens baby challenges, etc…), so a novice would be well armed with good data before making a rental decision.

Favorite Shots with the Canon 135mm f/2 USM

This lens is only 2nd to the 200mm f/2 in my book in terms of sharpness and killer bokeh. I used it on a nice fall day for a variety of shots. Outdoors this was a decent working distance lens on a full-frame camera, but it might be a bit more challenging on a cropped sensor where it becomes a 216mm lens – albeit at a sweet f/2! It was the perfect lens for this day and now is one that is way high up on my must own list!

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Conclusion

It’s clear that this is your Mom and Pop shop offering no frills, not one of the big hitters like LensRentals.com or BorrowLenses.com.  That’s not a bad thing, but it does mean minimal selection from just the two top players – Canon and Nikon, and no camera bodies. Hot new lenses aren’t likely to show up here quickly, and for the big glass you have to go with big boys. That aside, if the lens you are looking for is out of stock, and they have it here, then you are going to have a good experience just as you would with the others in this series. They pay close attention to order instructions, take reservations, and deliver as promised for a competitive fee.

Strengths
  • Small Business charm
  • Delivered on time and as expected
  • Good email communications
  • Does all of the basics well
Areas for Improvement
  • Annoyingly SLOW Web site performance & annoying HTTPS prompts all the time
  • They need to add return tracking info link in order history
  • The order history drop down list has got to go – I want to just see my orders when I click on order history
  • An improved reservation system would be helpful, but what they have now is at least functional (albeit more subject to human error)
  • Add more inventory – during the series I kept an eye on a bunch of my favorite lenses in both Nikon and Canon categories, and it was pretty common to see Out of Stock. There are strong competitors in this market, so having items in stock is essential to success. 
    Recommendation

    I enjoyed my rental experience with ZipLens.com. While it is true that they are no-frills with the smallest selection of the series, most people will be shooting Nikon or Canon and renting things besides big super-telephotos, so they are likely to have what you need. I have no reservations recommending this site to anyone and I am positive you’ll have an excellent rental experience from beginning to end.

    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

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     ZipLens.com has been gracious enough to offer you a 10% discount off any order when you enter the coupon code ronmart as shown above in yellow.

    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

    1 comment:

    dsi r4 said...

    Nice review. I was searching for the same. It will help me a lot. Keep up the great work, you are providing a great resource on the Internet here!