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 donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

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…)

Yes

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

Yes

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?

No

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/

Selection

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.

Website

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.

Packaging

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. 

Strengths
  • 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
Recommendation

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

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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.

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). 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

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

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

REVIEW: Nik Software Viveza 2

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Read This First

I’ve already written reviews on Viveza for Photoshop and Viveza for Lightroom, so if you are unfamiliar with this product you may want to start with those reviews as this article assumes you are already familiar with its basic features.  

I also must point out that I did this review using a PRE-RELEASED version of Viveza 2. Features and user-interface elements are subject to change (both the addition of and remove of). The purpose of letting a small targeted audience use the pre-released builds is to identify the bugs and quirky behavior prior to the final release so that the developers at Nik Software can fix the bugs and the Program Managers can decide what to do about features that don’t necessarily work the way a customer would expect or hope. If any changes occur in the final release, I’ll be sure to update my review after Viveza 2 is available for sale sometime in December 2009. See Nik Software’s home page for Viveza 2 for more information.

Intro

When I first learned about Viveza I thought it was odd that there would be a stand-alone tool for modifying some of the basic controls for imaging (brightness, contrast, saturation, etc…). However, as I watched the videos I discovered that the magic behind Viveza and other Nik Software products is its great U-Point control technology which effectively builds complex layer masks just by you putting a point on your image and and adjusting the size of the area you want impacted by the changes. It’s a brilliant concept that can save hours over traditional methods, it’s no wonder that I’ve become such a huge fan of Nik Software’s products.

Sample Images

Before diving into the details, let’s take a look at a few examples of what Viveza 2 can do for those who may not be familiar with this product. I’ve included a few before and after examples of images processed using all of the old and new features of Viveza 2.

  Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

In the image above, I used the Lightroom add-in (included in Viveza 2). I started in Lightroom by correcting some blemishes and softening the skin a bit with a negative clarity adjustment brush. I then when into Viveza 2 and did some global darkening. Next, I did some additional darkening on the dress and select portions of the background. I also brightened her teeth, made her lips a bit more red, and warmed the tone of her skin to make it closer to her natural tanned skin tone. I also felt the image needed a little sharpening, so I just did a global structure adjustment. Time spent in Viveza – 10 minutes.

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

This photo wasn’t especially good when it came out of the camera, but I’m a sucker for old cars so I really wanted to see if I could do something to help kick it up a notch. Viveza 2 helped it a lot, and in ways that never would have been possible in Viveza 1. This image was cropped in Lightroom, and exported to Photoshop so I could use Dfine to remove the noise (it was a ISO 3200 image), and then imaged it only using Viveza 2.

I created a control point group for the taxi itself, and then brightened it up so that the yellow had the same punch it had in real life. I did the same thing for the chrome grill so that it would pop like it was new again. I then went around the edges creating a lot of control points to darken up the street and buildings. In some cases desaturated specific areas. I then brightened up the headlights, white walls on the tires and the taxi light dome. To finish it off, I did a global structure adjustment which made the grill and lights really stand out. When you hover over to see the before image, notice how much sharper and brighter the taxi is now. This was all done using Viveza 2, so a separate sharpening step wasn’t even necessary.

As you’ll see later in this article, I have a snapshot of the screen in Viveza where I had 45 control points scattered throughout the image. This one took a bit longer – about 30 minutes, but I think the results speak for themselves – it’s a vast improvement, and it turns out I could have done it from Lightroom without using Photoshop if I just would have run my Dfine plug-in for Lightroom first and then modified its output file in Viveza second. One advantage to using Photoshop though was the ability to create smart filters (by default, if you export your image as a smart object, all filters are applied as a smart filter. This allowed me to make my changes, and then when it was back in Photoshop if I wanted to make a change I could just bringing back up in Viveza 2 and pick up where I left off. This is super useful when you have 45 control points!

New Features

Besides a minor user-interface refresh, Viveza 2 has a few new features that are sure to please those upgrading from Viveza 1. The following sections describe some of these new features.

Grouping

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

One of the big new productivity features of Viveza 2 is grouping. This allows you to shift+click a group of control points and then create a single group out of them. Once you have a group, you can apply the same adjustments to all the members of the group. As shown above, I have a flower where I’ve combined control points 1 through 4 into a Group 1, so any changes I make will be made to the entire flower. Hover over the image to see the ungrouped control point list which allows you to fine tune each item after you’ve made your group changes. In this example I grouped to enhance the structure and then I modified them independently to add different levels of brightness to each area as shown in the final result below (hover in and out to see the before and after):

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Structure

Structure in Viveza 2 is actually the same as Structure in Sharpener Pro 3.0. This sharpens the smooth areas between hard edges, and as you can see in the landscape below it did wonders for the clouds and added texture to the grass and bricks. Mouse over and out of the image below to see the before and after:

 Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

Other New Features

Global Adjustments – You can now make any of the adjustments to your overall image, and then refine using control points to fine tune specific areas. One point to note about this is that global adjustments are not cancelled out by adding a control point to the image, which is new feature. This means that if you darken your image and put a control point down, the area impacted by the control point won’t resume to its original brightness.

Shadow AdjustmentsThese are like the Highlights and Shadows adjustments you can do in Lightroom or Photoshop, and they can be useful in recovering lost details in places like hair, grass, etc… when you darken a specific area.

Warmth – This warms or cools our overall image, which is great for adding a little extra sun back into your sunset, or adding a little digital tan to skin.

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Expanded adjustments may be disabled – This is a really nice improvement (shown above) because it allows you to both check the impact of a given adjustment to the area impacted, and/or will prevent you from accidentally sliding the wrong slider. I actually wish all of the sliders had this!

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Levels and Curves – You can now do global levels and curves adjustments using a tool similar to what you’d find in Lightroom and Photoshop. I’m still not quite sure why this was added, but it’s there if you want to make this adjustment while your tweaking your image in Viveza.

Single Setup for 3 Products – When you purchase Viveza 2, you now get three products – The 32-bit Photoshop add-in, the 64-bit Photoshop add-in (woohoo), and the Lightroom add-in (works with both 32 & 64-bit) all installed at once. This is a huge improvement over Viveza 1 which didn’t have a 64-bit version and it required you to install two copies – one for Lightroom and one for Photoshop.

64-bit Support – WOOHOO – 64-bit users can now take advantage of editing with more RAM in their 64-bit Photoshop. The performance and reliability are excellent as well!

Maximize Support – It’s sad to call this a feature, but its absence makes it cause for celebration! You can now press the F key to maximize and restore your window – woohoo!

Choosing the Right Tool for the Job

Viveza has lots of power, for sure and when you need it you’ll be thrilled you have it in your toolkit. However, it isn’t always the right tool for every job. There are times where the Adjustment Brush with Automask in Lightroom (or a mask created with the Quick Selection Tool in Photoshop) will be faster are more effective. In fact, I’d say always try those options first, and when they don’t do what you need, or you realize that you need a complex selection, then turn to Viveza.

A good rule of thumb is if there’s lots of details and you only want to impact a small portion of it or a single tone, then Viveza’s the right tool. For big solid areas with little detail, then traditional mechanisms might be a little faster (excluding cloud and sky enhancements). Another good tip is if you start to create too many control points, as I’ve done below with 46 control points, and the image keeps looking worse than when you first started!

For those with Advanced Photoshop Masking Techniques

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As you evolve in your quest to master the beast that is called Photoshop, you start to learn about complex masking techniques such as Channel-based masking and masking using a complex combination of selection and masking tools as discussed in Photoshop Masking & Compositing. Once you learn these you harness the power of what you can do with your imaging, so people in that camp might wonder if it is really worth it to bother with Viveza. As someone with those skills I can say without question - YES!

Complex masking scenarios are easier with knowledge, but still time consuming and that is where Viveza rocks. You may have the skills to accomplish the same thing, but in many cases it will take from a few seconds to a few minutes at most to get the results you need, and that’s far faster than most can create their masks alone.

Buy Viveza 1 before Viveza 2 releases and save $72.49!!!

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Save 15% on all  Nik Software with the discount coupon code, RMARTINSEN

A word to users of Color Efex, Viveza 1.0 and Capture NX 2

If you read my review of Viveza 1.0, I explained how Viveza was an improvement over what you could do with U-Point technology using some similar image enhancement features in Color Efex. Since that article, I have written a review of Capture NX2 where I also discuss why Viveza is an improvement over NX2’s Color Control Point. If you have either of those products, you know the power of U-Point technology and Viveza 2 will improve your workflow even more, so I highly recommend you at least try the demo. 

Conclusion

When If first downloaded the demo copy of Viveza, I didn’t get it. I just couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and I didn’t understand how U-Point controls worked. My demo expired, I uninstalled it and decided that it was a crappy product. Later, I saw a webinar sponsored by Nik Software that showed me how it worked, and I was so excited that I rushed out and got a copy. After using it for a year, it is now a part of my regular workflow and an important tool in my imaging tool chest. I highly recommend Viveza 2. I’ve already uninstalled my 1.0 version as the pre-release has spoiled me to the point where I can’t go back to version 1.0 now.

Tip for Photoshop Users

If you open your image as a Smart Object in Photoshop (either via Export as Smart Object… in Lightroom, Bridge or in Photoshop), and then use Viveza you’ll have the added benefit of your changes being applied as smart filter. This means you can go back and double-click on your Viveza filter and pick up where you left off, make changes, and return to Photoshop again. Best of all, your file size doesn’t grow to a massive size when you use Smart Objects/Filters since you only have one layer. I highly recommend you try this out – it’s an easy way to go back and tweak your changes later and save disk space – you can’t beat that!

Disclaimer

Nik Software provided me with a free evaluation copy of Viveza 2 so that I may provide testing feedback. I chose to write this article without being asked by Nik Software (but after getting permission), and I will get a commission if you save money using my discount coupon code. Thanks for supporting this blog!

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

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

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 donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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