The Lens for Your Next Big Trip

South Rim

A question I seem to get pretty frequently is, “I’m going on a big 2-week trip to [exotic location], so what lens do you think I should buy?” My answer usually surprises them. I tell them don’t buy any lens at all.

Rather, rent a lens. Judging from the surprise I get when I tell people this, it seems that not a lot of people are familiar with how easy it is to rent a lens. You can rent pretty much any lens you want for as long or as short as you want. There are reputable places online so don’t need a store near you. A lens that would cost you thousands of dollars to buy can be rented for about a hundred dollars or so a week.

The Process of Renting Lenses

If you’re not familiar with the process, here’s how it works. There are two big rental companies online: LensRentals and BorrowLenses. I have used both of them many times and have always had positive experiences with both. Pick one and browse their selection of lenses. When you find the one you want, you set the rental period. It can be as long or as short as you want. Usually, you set it a day or so before you leave for your trip and then have it end on the day your get back. One caveat is that you cannot end on a weekend, so you may have to pay until the following Monday. Another caveat is that you have to be present and sign for the delivery, so if there is any chance you might miss the delivery driver you might want to give yourself an extra day. In any event, the lens is shipped to you on the scheduled day (sometimes they send it to you early, if the lens isn’t already rented, which is really nice). They will include the return address label as well. You just use the lens until the rental period is up, pack up the lens and put the return label on the box, and ship it back. Pretty easy. The shipping costs $25.

If you’re worried about breaking the lens or getting it stolen, you can buy additional protection.  The cost is actually pretty reasonable.  In the case of LensRentals, the damage protection costs about 15% of the rental, and the damage + theft protection costs about 25% of the rental.  If you purchase the protection and something happens, you’re only responsible for 10% of the cost to repair/replace.  While I almost never buy insurance or protection plans for anything, I find I often shell out for this protection to avoid the worry.

Buying versus Renting - Costs Comparison

Of course, you can also rent cameras and all sorts of other stuff as well. You can try out of a whole new system if you want. I starting doing this on occasion, and I now usually rent either a lens or a whole new camera system for any major trip I take. Doing so has probably saved me a fortune. For example, I once got very excited about tilt-shift lenses and was determined to get one. I rented it first and was bored with it in less than a week. I found them to be a pain and the results were not worth the effort. If I would have bought a tilt-shift, I would be out about $2,000, but as it was I only spent about $100. Bullet dodged. I had a similar experience when I got excited about medium format digital. Rather than buy, I rented first and then quickly realized the limitations. That would have been a really costly mistake.

Another clear case when you should rent or buy is if you are going somewhere to shoot wildlife. The best example is the African safari, but it could be anywhere. Supertelephoto lenses cost a fortune! There are plenty in the range of $5,000 – $10,000. How often will you use it when you get home? Probably not enough to justify that kind of expense. Since you will likely only need it for the duration of your trip, you are better off renting.

I know I am probably coming off as a cheerleader for these rental companies, but I just think it is a really good deal for most people. Of course, if you have a camera shop in your burg, they might do rentals as well, so check with them.