Renting Photography Equipment Instead of Buying

Renting Photography Equipment Instead of Buying

Photography as a hobby can be rather expensive, especially when you want a high-quality camera and lenses. You can spend thousands and thousands of dollars without blinking. But you can also rent equipment, and there might be a few good reasons to do so.

Starting with photography doesn’t stop with buying a camera and lens. Perhaps it’s enough for the first couple of months. But then, you realize it’s impossible to shoot birds in the garden or animals at the zoo. You need a longer tele lens. If you like to shoot flowers, a macro lens will be something you long for. Perhaps you like to shoot portraits, so a flash will give you more possibilities. Before you know it, you’ve spent thousands of dollars, and the wishlist may even grow longer.

Photography equipment is expensive. If you can't afford it, why not rent it?

My First Wedding With a Digital Camera

Back in 2006, I was asked to shoot a wedding. It was about one year after I bought my first DSLR camera, a Canon EOS 20D. It wasn’t my first wedding, though. I had already shot weddings for some years with my analog camera, so I knew how the Canon EF-S 17-85mm lens, with an aperture between f/3.5 and f/5.6, could make it difficult in less-than-ideal light situations.

Nowadays, I have the equipment I need for a wedding. But in 2006, I didn't. Renting the necessary lenses and a second camera gave me the solution.

At that time, I had already bought the expensive Canon EF 70-200mm f/2,8L IS lens, and I didn’t have any money to buy another f/2.8 lens. Nevertheless, if I accepted the wedding shoot, I had to get myself the proper lens. So, I decided to rent the equipment I needed.

Renting photography equipment wasn’t normal at that time. But I managed to find a small company that offered the equipment I needed. This way, I was able to rent a second Canon EOS 20D, an EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens, and a couple of flashguns. It was enough to bring my wedding photography into the digital age.

My first DSLR. I rented another one for the weddings I did together with a couple of lenses and a flashgun.

The following year, I continued to rent equipment if I needed it. I found it to be a cheap way to use expensive lenses and cameras. Despite the benefits of renting, I did buy that wonderful EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens after a while. I had learned how much better this lens performed compared with the EF-S 17-85mm IS lens and decided to make it my normal walk-around lens.

A Good Reason for Renting a Lens

Those days are long gone. I have been lucky to make some money from my photography, enough to invest in the cameras and lenses I need for my photography. So, there is almost no reason for me to rent photography equipment anytime soon. But not everyone is in this position, and unless you’re a wealthy person, most photographers will have to save a lot of money over a very long time before another expensive camera or lens can be bought.

Let’s imagine you like photographing birds and wildlife. For that, you need a long tele lens with a focal length somewhere in the range of 500mm or 600mm. You see all those photo enthusiasts with lenses that cost as much as a car. How can you determine if such a lens is worth saving for? Simple, just rent one for a weekend.

This is the EF 800mm f/5,6L lens, which cost more than $10,000. If buying isn't an option and you need one only occasionally, you could rent one.

Try it out, and find out yourself if you want to carry a 4.5-kilogram lens on your photography adventures. Perhaps you discover how inconvenient such a lens is, and maybe a much lighter lens is a better choice. Who knows, perhaps you would like to use that 500mm lens only once in a while. Why not rent it for those occasions. It’s much cheaper to rent it a hundred times, instead of buying it.

A Reason for Renting a Camera

My first digital wedding is a good example of a reason to rent a camera. If you need a second camera body once in a while, just rent one. I know a lot of photographers have a second camera body but almost never use it. Sometimes, you see these cameras appear in the secondhand market. It says: “as good as new, only used as a backup camera.” Why not rent one for those rare occasions when you need that second body?

If you rent a second camera, make sure you always try to get the same model you already own. Don’t choose a completely different one, because it will become a big frustration if you don’t know the controls. After all, there is little time available to learn the new controls and settings. That is why I choose a second Canon EOS 20D instead of the wonderful Canon EOS 1Ds back in 2006.

Are you thinking about medium format, but you're not sure? Renting a medium format camera can help you decide. 

If you’re in the market for another camera, renting can also be a good choice. This way, you can try it out for some time to find out if it is to your expectations. There is less risk of spending too much money on a camera that isn't to your liking. 

Reasons for Renting Studio Equipment

Do you like photographing models? It’s fun to do, and shooting outdoors with ambient light gives a lot of opportunities. But sometimes, it’s also fun to use strobes or even studio lights. On those occasions, it might be wise to rent the necessary flash equipment, complete with a background system, a good battery pack for the flashes, and light modifiers. Buying those things will cost a lot of money. If you use it only occasionally, renting is the best option.

If you don't own studio equipment, you can rent it. Just remember, sometimes, it can be wise to rent a complete studio including the equipment, just as I did for this band promotion shoot.

Bottom Line: When to Rent and When To Buy

Although renting equipment is a money-saver, it will become more expensive in the long run. Renting the same sort of equipment over and over means you are using it a lot. By that time, you have discovered it’s your kind of photography. You know what you want, what you need, and it will be great to have it on hand at all times. Because renting means planning, making appointments, and losing time when collecting the equipment or returning it. In that case, it might be wise to buy it for yourself.

I own most equipment I need for my photography. But when I want to use some exclusive lens just once, I’m sure to rent it. So, if you meet me on a safari in Africa, I probably will be shooting with a large and heavy Canon EF 500mm f/4L lens. It won’t be my lens, but it will be a rented one.

How about you? Have you rented photography equipment? Please share your story in the comments below.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Nando Harmsen is a Dutch photographer that is specialized in wedding and landscape photography. With his roots in the analog photo age he gained an extensive knowledge about photography techniques and equipment, and shares this through his personal blog and many workshops.

Log in or register to post comments

A good article, if you’re just starting out it takes time to figure out what you need and it can be expensive. Just about every shoot I’ve had contains a Digital Capture kit fee whether I rent or own the gear. Once you get a couple bookings you can have a short list of must have gear and then buy them. Some photographers don’t own gear, they prefer to rent and just bill a client for the rentals but I prefer to own it.

Thank you for your comment, Tony Clark
Perhaps the only downside of renting, is the time involved when you need to collect or return the equipment.

Yes, there is a price to everything. There are Rental Houses and online vendors that offer delivery, you will also have a tax deduction for those expenses. Only you can determine if it's a legitimate business expense or not.

The tax deduction also applies for buying photography equipment. Otherwise it would be a great way to safe some money on that.

As I said initially, what’s your budget?

I own all the stuff I need (probably more than I need to be honest) and rent extra bodies or lenses and bill for everything.
Non professionals often have better / more gear than pros. They only need to convince themselves and maybe a spouse that they want and can afford a 600mm lens for their hobby.
Back in my studio days my landlord was a photo enthusiast. Luckily I was using Hasselblads and he had pretty much everything from SWC, 500cm, ELM and 30mm to 500mm and I was welcome to borrow whatever I needed as long as the rent was paid on time.
I shoulda bought the SWC when he offered it to me because he used it 3 times and it "wasn't for him"

Good point. The best equipment is often owned by hobbyist rather than professionals.