Woman looking at the back of a camera inside a rental facility.

Why All Photographers and Videographers Should Rent Gear

“Are you even a professional photographer if you don’t own all the lenses you need to shoot a wedding?” That was an actual comment from a Facebook thread I was on recently. You might think that BorrowLenses, being a rental company, came to me to write this piece but in truth I came to them to set the record straight: Professional shooters definitely don’t always own their own gear and there are good reasons why.

There is sometimes this weird stigma surrounding renting gear – like the attitude of “if you don’t own it, you’re not an official photographer/videographer”. Not only is that inaccurate, but that general attitude contributes towards irresponsible spending as a business and that snowballs into high turnover in our industry as a whole.

Renting gear is smart and is actually a really standard practice, especially in the videography world. There are certain lenses that I would love to own but I just can’t justify the price tag based on how often it gets used, how often the job gets booked, the space and weight it takes up, and/or its priority of my spending budget. Let’s face it, you could buy yourself a roundtrip ticket across the world for the price of some photo gear!

Before you buy, consider renting. Below are my top 5 reasons why renting gear may be better than buying.

The Numbers Make Sense for Renting

It really boils down to paying for fixed vs. variable expenses. Fixed expenses are annual (or semi-annual) costs. They are independent of any job that is booked (ex: a $3,000 per year gear budget). Variable expenses are per-job costs. They are dependent on the specific job (ex: renting that 70-200mm only when an outdoor portrait session is booked).

The average L-series Canon lens is about $45 to rent for 3 days. To buy one can run upwards of $2,000. For something like a 70-200mm, you can rent it 45 times before you reach the purchase price. Same goes for camera bodies, which run about $100 to rent. The average high-quality body will set you back over $3,000 and you’d have to rent that camera over 30 times to spend that much.

Imagine if you booked more than 1 session or assignment during your rental period? That makes it practically a steal to rent vs owning. Before you purchase something new, think about how many times it will get used. 44 times? In how many years? 1 year, 2 years? Does your current gear no longer suffice for nearly ALL of your assignments coming up? Is new gear worth it when you have to consider paying yourself a regular salary?

Prioritize Your Expenses to Promote Sustainability & Growth

Even if you have an incredible year financially, it will likely be beneficial to continue to rent some of the gear that won’t be used often. Prioritizing other sustainability-driven expenses (i.e. paying a virtual or real assistant, outsourcing editing, professional services, etc) will allow for long-term focused growth.

And remember, just because you’re renting it now that doesn’t mean you can’t buy it next year. While prioritizing expenses can sometimes feel limiting, it’s actually providing your business with more opportunities. Incorporating real strategy into budgets and pricing is about maximizing efficiency and momentum (if you need help here, please see my post Photography Pricing Guide – How Much Should You Charge?). It’s about aligning the 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year business goals. And often the impulse to own ALL. THE. GEAR. is really counterproductive to the end-goal of successfully staying in business a decade from now. In other words, renting gear is crucial for business financial flexibility!

Yes, it’s important to prioritize your big-budget items, but this kind of flexibility also allows you to experiment with the smaller expenses. When you don’t spend $5K per year on gear, you can use some of that to hire an assistant/second shooter for a session or two. Maybe you’ll find that having help loading and unloading all that gear is totally worth the extra $150 cost per session (local market depending). I mean, can you really put a price on still having a working back when you’re in your 70s?

Gear is Cleaned, Calibrated, and Maintained More Regularly at Rental Houses

Let me be honest for a second: I am HARD on my gear. I take my camera body and lens out in the Oregon drizzle all the time. I bring it to the beach, throw it in my camera bag uncapped (or my backpack, or my purse), and because I’m a bit of a slob, I’ve spilled my lunch on it more times than I care to admit. The up button on my camera body stopped working about 3 years ago, and one of the little adhesive strips on the side is now held on with gaffer tape. I can’t even count how many times I’ve dropped my Speedlite – on my own and on a paid gig. It’s always awkward when that look of dread flashes across your client’s face as your, well, flash slips through your arms.

Hand using microfiber cloth on lens.

My point is here is that once the honeymoon period of my beautiful, new lens wears off, so does my level of concern for its safety. And while I try my best to get my main pieces inspected, cleaned, and calibrated once a year, it’s been about 2.5 years since my last appointment. Can you feel my cringe and embarrassment through the screen as I type that? In truth, even when buying gear, it isn’t a one-time expense. If you’re better than myself and getting your gear cleaned as often as you should, it’s another annual expense to add to the list.

Rental gear, on the other hand, gets professionally looked at between every customer. And, yes, some models see a lot of customers but most rental houses – BorrowLenses included – keep a deep enough inventory (and turn that inventory over quickly for new stock where possible) so that no one camera/lens is receiving too much wear and tear. Every time I get my hands on that beautiful, graceful, and beastly Canon 5D mark IV, I marvel at just how clean both the outside and the focal point are – even if I can see some noticeable use or superficial wear and tear. With rental gear, I know I’ll get a well-functioning piece of equipment.

Renting Gear is More Convenient Than Ever

I’ve shot the majority of my booked weddings locally, but I’ve also been hired for a handful of destination weddings. Three of these were in deep rural areas. It literally took all day just to fly and drive to each. Yes, I carried-on my main gear, but you know what I did so I could have two camera bodies and that heavy 70-200mm? Yup, you guessed right –– I rented them! And I had them delivered to the destination location! It saved me precious packing space, extra checked bag fees, and also saved my back during the long commute.

Rack full of boxes which are full of lenses, in a warehouse.

Renting used to be a bit of a hassle, actually. Firstly, you had to be lucky enough to live in a big enough city that had camera stores with rental departments. The selection was often not even online and you always had to call or pop in to get something. But online rental is huge now, with BorrowLenses being among the biggest. It is now incredibly convenient to just reserve your items online when you need them and have them shipped to your house, to a local pickup location, or to a UPS store.

Having the ability to have gear just show up at the doorstep the day (or two, if you’re wise) before the gig, and easily send it back the day after has made my life so much easier. Even before social distancing and self isolation were realities we all now know, I didn’t have time to run errands all over town. I’m a busy mom and a full-time business owner. Convenience is key!

Why Wouldn’t You Want to Test Drive Gear?

It used to be that photographers/videographers were at the whim of what gear was available at the local camera shop. If they were out of stock or didn’t sell your preferred brand, you were out of luck. Buying gear was necessary to ensure we had the right tools for the job. But now we can try it all before we commit to buying the one we want forever.

Lenses on a desk.

Sure, some have argued that you can now buy cameras and lenses online and take advantage of generous return policies but that requires a lot of up-front cost. It’s much safer to just rent the item formally if you want to test drive it. Not sure if you should make the jump to mirrorless? Try. It. Out. Can’t make sense of all the reviews for a portrait lens? Rent it first! See for yourself which one you like the best. Nothing is as it seems – you have to feel it in your hands to really know.

I also just learned that BorrowLenses has an exclusive feature that allows you to search by a specific date, which allows you to see what gear is available for the date you need it in real time! So whether you’re looking to experiment with some new gear during a few weddings that you’re shooting, or you just need to know what zoom lens you’ll be able to book for that wedding in the future, renting is your solution to fill those creative juices – without breaking the bank.

Can you see why I’m a rental fangirl now? Want to join my band of groupies?

But really, I go this in-depth and get this passionate about creative businesses spending responsibly because I want to see the industry as a whole thrive! I work really hard to counter any damaging stigma with facts and analysis. Running a business is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes practice and intention. Smart spending is part of that practice.

And now that we all know why renting gear is so smart, what are you going to rent next?

Courtney Zerizef works with photographers, videographers, and other creative businesses to help them build and grow healthy, sustainable businesses. She founded Homeroom with a vision to "break the association between artist and starving". Courtney has received her Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Willamette and she now gives talks nationwide, produces educational content and consults with creatives all over the US and Canada. She resides in Portland, OR with her husband, their one year old son, and their dog.

1 Comment

  • Nick

    There’s something to be said for having your own camera and renting lenses. Having your own body means every time you go to use it it’s set up the way you want it. It’s set to Dual Raw recording with the * as your back-button-focus and the neutral picture profile has been flattened out for checking your photos after you take them.

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About BL

BorrowLenses is an online camera gear rental service that started in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2007. We offer a wide selection of camera gear ranging from camera bodies, lenses, lighting and accessories. We make it easy to rent gear by shipping your order straight to you.