If you are in the market for a new camera, you know that shopping for the right kit can be an overwhelming process. A new camera can get pricey quick, and when you make the investment you want to make sure that you are getting exactly what you want.
I’ve been shooting with an old Sony NEX-3 mirrorless camera for a while now. I took this camera with me on the John Muir Trail, and a lot of the pictures you see on my website and my Instagram feed were shot with it. Overall, it has been a fantastic and affordable camera to learn on. It’s allowed me to experiment with a variety of interchangeable lens without having to lug around a monstrous-sized camera kit. However, one of my goals for the year was to work on improving my photography, and I’m now at the point where I think I’m ready for an upgrade.
So now I’m facing the choice of moving to one of Sony’s newer compact mirrorless systems, which get rave reviews, or if I should bite the bullet and get a full frame DSLR, which is much bigger, heavier and often more expensive. (For a more detailed post about the differences between compact point-and-shoot, mirrorless, and full frame DSLR cameras, see this camera guide by the Digital Photography School.)
You can read all of the reviews you want, but there is nothing better than getting a feel for a camera in your own two hands. So when I recently learned about a few online companies that rent cameras by mail, such as LensRentals.com, I thought this would be a perfect way to test out the gear I’ve been eyeing before pulling the trigger.
They also set me up with a Tiffen 72mm Variable neutral density filter – something I had heard of but never used. This filter allowed me to take long waterfall exposures even in the bright sun. Check out more of my Havasu Falls pictures here.
With the tall landscapes in Paria Canyon, I thought this camera and lens would be a great combo, and I was also able to experiment with some night photography which I am also new to. Visit my Paria Canyon photography post for more photos that I took with the Nikon.
Throughout this process, I found that there are three main benefits to renting a camera before buying it, as it will help answer the following important questions.
3 Reasons to Rent a Camera before Buying
1) Is it your camera or your skills?
It’s easy to swoon over people’s Instagram photos and think, “man, if I only had a nicer camera I could take pictures like that.” In some cases this is true. Some cameras don’t do well in low light, have slow autofocus, or take pictures that aren’t sharp enough. But there are some things that are totally in the photographer’s control, like composition, which have nothing to do with how fancy the camera is. Renting a camera gives you a chance to see whether investing a new camera will really make your pictures better, or if perhaps you’d be better off investing in a short photography course to make better use of your existing equipment.
2) Do you really want to lug that thing around?
That Nikon D810 and the lens I rented weighed about 7 pounds, and that didn’t include the spare battery. Carrying this around on a 4 day backpacking trip may sound crazy, but I wanted to know my threshold. Would I get tired of carrying it after two days? Or maybe it wouldn’t be so bad? It all depended on how the pictures turned out. My take after my Paria trip is if I’m going somewhere really spectacular that I may never return to, it’s probably worth the extra weight. On the other hand, if it’s a simple hike somewhere I’ve been many times before, then I may prefer to stick to a smaller camera or even my cell phone. Renting a camera gives you a chance to really learn your limits and how important those shots really are.
3) What kind of lens makes the most sense?
Depending on the type of trip you are going on, renting camera gear allows you to tailor the kit to your needs. For instance, for my Paria trip, I knew I wanted a wide angle lens with a wide aperture so I could capture the whole canyon and try to get some starry sky shots. For my Havasu Falls trip, I also wanted a wide angle, but the maximum aperture wasn’t as important. Alternatively, if I were going somewhere with wildlife, I would have chosen a telephoto lens. Renting camera gear and different lens helps you get more familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of different lenses and the types of scenarios when you would use each one.
Where to Rent Camera Gear
I used LensRentals.com and was very happy with the process. They have a thorough website with tons of info about the different options which range from inexpensive point and shoots to top of the line DSLRs. Their phone staff are also extremely friendly and can provide guidance, helping you choose the right equipment. All cameras and lenses comes with a carrying case, and they also have a variety of accessories including tripods and filters.
Shipping is very easy. You can choose USPS or FedEx at checkout, and you can order your camera up to two days before your trip with overnight delivery. When it comes time to return it, you just pack it in the box it came in and drop it off with the prepaid shipping label.
Finally, if you like your rental camera so much and decide you want to buy it, Lens Rentals has a Keeper program where you can apply a small portion of the rental price to your purchase.
Depending on the model, renting a camera can get expensive for anything longer than a couple of days, so it’s not something to do all of the time. But if you have your eye on something new or your current camera isn’t adequate for a cool upcoming trip you have, I definitely recommended renting one and giving it a whirl.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. An affiliate means that if you make a purchase, I receive a tiny bit of compensation at no added cost to you. I only recommend products that I truly love, and any purchases you make help keep this blog going. Thanks for all of your support, and if you ever have any questions about any of the products featured on my site, please email me. Thanks! Kristen