Rent (Not the Musical, the Camera Equipment)

This is a bit of a long post, so if you’re looking to skip to a certain section, choose one of the following:

  Who rents in NYC?
  Stop at B&H
  Actuations and Your Camera
  Adorama Rental Center
  Adorama: “What’s best for photographing a wedding?”
  CSI Rentals
  CSI: “What’s best for photographing a wedding?”
  Final Decisions
  Wedding Day? Meet Hurricane Irene…

For those of you that don’t know, I’ve been sporting a Nikon d60 for the last two years. It’s a great camera and I’ve had very few complaints about it, aside from the number of focus points (3) and the poor ISO (TONS of noise at 800 and beyond). A friend of mine asked if I would photograph her wedding! It’s my first official gig, and since I wanted to have a more professional grade camera without having to spend $2000 I don’t have, I looked into renting camera equipment.

     Who rents in NYC?

First came the research: who rents camera equipment? It turns out there are two major competitors in NYC: Adorama Rental Company and CSI Rentals. CSI Rentals only rents equipment (DSLRs, video cameras, lights, computers, etc.), while Adorama rents but has another branch that sells equipment as well making it more of a one-stop shopping/renting experience. Rather than just do the research over the internet or phone, I spent an afternoon in the city exploring the rental places.

     Stop at B&H

After arriving at Penn Station, our first stop was actually B&H. It’s hard not to check out, especially based on its proximity to Penn Station. I didn’t see any information about possible rentals online, and since I was in the neighborhood I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. I went over to the Used Equipment section, as that made the most sense to me. They said they didn’t rent their camera equipment.

      Actuations and Your Camera

I had one other question to ask, as I am in the market for a better camera body and was considering buying used. One thing you need to be careful of when buying a used camera body is the number of actuations. Actuations are the number of pictures you take with your camera. The best comparison I can come up with is the number of miles you put on your car. High mileage means it may need some TLC. To figure out how many actuations your camera has, some (as in not all, including me) Mac users can just to open a program on their computer called “Graphic Converter” in their Applications folder. Open your most recent image and then click the EXIF (Exchangeable Image File) tab. Simple as that! For myself and PC users, CNET has a few options. The one I went with for my Mac is Xee for Mac. It’s free, small, new, and really easy to use. PC users should check out Exif Viewer which is free to download. If you want to know what your actuation number actually means, check out Camera Shutter Life Database to give you an idea of the average actuations before biting the dust (my d60 has almost 49,000 and is still kicking!).

Anyway, I asked the person at the counter if they took the actuations on their used camera bodies. “No, we don’t do that,” was the reply I got. Whether that means “No, we don’t give out those stats,” or “No, we don’t take that into account when selling used equipment,” is hard to say. Either way, if you’re looking to buy used, get the number of actuations before you make your purchase.

     Adorama Rental Center

Next stop was Adorama. Adorama takes up about three or four floors of a six floor building. The first floor is the store while the sixth floor is the rental equipment. When you first exit the elevator, you’re greeted by their four or so employees. “Picking up?” they asked. “No, we have a few questions about prices. How much would it be to rent the Nikon d300s?” “We don’t have the d300s. We have the d300, the d700, and the d7000.” Needless to say, that information caught me off guard, I could have sworn the d300s was on their website (It wasn’t, I just checked). “Here,” the employee said, “why don’t you look through our booklet.” He handed me a small, passport styled pamphlet that listed their equipment and prices. For a weekend before taxes, you could rent:

  • d700 kit for $79*
  • d300 kit for $65*
  • d7000 kit for $60**
  • Nikon 17-55mm/2.8DX for $26
  • Nikon SB 900 Flash for $17

*Kit includes camera body, cables for uploading photos, 4 GB CF card, charger, and two batteries
**Kit includes camera body, cables for uploading photos, 8 GB SD card, charger, and two batteries

The prices looked great, but then I turned to the back of the booklet and read the “What Do You Need to Provide to Rent from Us?” section. Turns out that the price of renting the equipment wasn’t the only thing you need to worry about. When you rent their equipment, they place a hold on your credit card to fully replace the value of the equipment being rented. That means:

  • d700 kit holds $3006 ($2700 at Nikon and Adorama)
  • d300 holds $1794 (can only be purchased used, listed at Adorama at $999)
  • d7000 holds $1400 ($1200 at Nikon, $1199.95 at Adorama)
  • Nikon 17-55mm/2.8 DX holds $1200 ($1539 at Nikon, $1424 at Adorama)
  • Nikon SB 900 Flash holds $450 ($495 at Nikon, $479 at Adorama)

*Original prices based on Nikon’s and Adorama’s online stores.

That’s almost a $5000 hold on my credit card for the entire weekend if I go with the d700. I mean, my credit is good and all, I’ve got a decent limit on my card, but that’s still a bit daunting. “Once we receive your equipment back and if there are no damages or losses, the Security Deposit on your card is released.” (Taken from “Rental Policy” page of Adorama Rental Co’s Price Port) If that option doesn’t keep you warm at night, there’s always the Certificate of Insurance you can obtain for the full replacement value. In this instance, the hold on your credit card would be for the deductible. Adorama doesn’t provide insurance for their equipment, which may be why their rental prices are relatively low.

     Adorama: “What’s best for photographing a wedding?”

Anyway, I spoke with a different employee the second time around and asked him about the different equipment I was interested in. He pointed out that for the d700 and d300, the Nikon 17-55mm/2.8 DX would be the best zoom lens. I explained to him that I was shooting a wedding on the 28th and wanted to know his opinion on the best camera body to buy. “The d7000,” he said. “It’s the newest camera so it’ll have the newest technology, and a great ISO range.” The ISO comment hit home, as did the new technology. While the d700 and the d300 both use CF cards, the d7000 uses SD cards which I own. I began to think maybe the d7000 was a viable option given that the d300s wasn’t an option.

      CSI Rentals

CSI Rentals location is just rental equipment, and only a block away from their competitor. Walking in the door feels more like a warehouse, which appealed to me (my last job was in a warehouse). I walked in with the same questions on my lips, and was happy when they informed me that yes, they did have the d300s as well as the d700 and d7000. They asked what other equipment I needed and I told them about the lens the Adorama guy had recommended as well as the flash. The prices were as follows:

  • d700 kit for $99*
  • d300s kit for $95*
  • d7000 kit for $100**
  • Nikon 17-55mm/2.8 DX for $40
  • Nikon SB 900 Flash for $25

*kit includes camera body, card reader, user manual, cables, CD with software, 8 GB CF card, charger, and two batteries
**kit includes camera body, card reader, user manual, cables, CD with software, 8 GB SD card, charger, and two batteries

When it comes to a hold on your credit card, their online FAQ page had this to say:

In order to rent you need to supply a valid credit card that could carry the full value of the item/s rented. We generally do not secure a hold on your card for the item’s value as long as other requirements are met. Otherwise we reserve the right to request an insurance certificate or deposit for full value of rental items.

I explained to them what I needed and why and they said I wouldn’t need a hold on my credit card, just a photocopy of my ID, my address, and my phone number. Although there isn’t a hold on your credit card, there is a replacement fee. For the d300s, the 17-55mm/2.8 lens, and the sb 900, the replacement fee came out to $3,159.95. The actual prices for all three of these items add up to $3733.95 (based on Nikon’s online store). Not quite sure about the math there, but I appreciate it.

     CSI: “What’s best for photographing a wedding?”

For still photography, they highly recommended the d700 and the d300s. Unfortunately, the weekend I needed the equipment had every d700 already spoken for. I brought up the d7000 and they said it wasn’t as great for stills, and that if I wasn’t shooting video it was basically not worth my time. They also said there had been a lot of complaints over the d7000’s focusing system during video. I asked them if there were any other lenses I should look into for photographing a wedding. “Do you have a 70-200mm lens?” “Yes, it’s a Sigma.” They weren’t too happy about my mentioning that company, but they didn’t meet my lens.

     Final Decision

In the end, I chose CSI Rentals over Adorama. CSI Rentals had the camera I originally wanted (the d300s), and although their rates were a bit more expensive, they weren’t going to put a hold on my credit card. I also appreciated their advice and honesty about the different products they rent as opposed to the “newer is better” I received at Adorama. The replacement fee wasn’t really a factor, but I did find it interesting that a d300 which can no longer be purchased brand new costs as much if not more than the d300s.

I made an appointment to pick the equipment up on Thursday August 25th after 3:00 p.m., which is the start of CSI’s weekend rate. The process was quick and painless, and on the 25th, I was in and out in under a half hour!

     Wedding Day? Meet Hurricane Irene…

Just like every other Long Islander, when I hear the words “hurricane”, I think, “that’s nice.” Hurricanes just don’t have the strength to do any real harm when they make it this far north. Sure, my mother likes to regal me with the woes of Hurricane Gloria (September 27, 1985), but I figure that’s a once in a lifetime deal. Well, Hurricane Irene made a liar out of me. Twenty-four hours after I had picked up my equipment, I got the call: “The wedding’s being postponed.” It made sense, really. The wedding is taking place at the Crescent Beach Club which, as it name reveals, is right on the water in Bayville, NY. I went from relief (“I don’t have to drive/photograph in the middle of a hurricane.”) to panic (“I just spent $175 on equipment I’m not going to use this weekend.”) in under 60 seconds. I had to call the rental company, explain the situation, and return the equipment before mass transit shut down for the weekend. Unfortunately, they were closed for the weekend so I left a message. Saturday, I e-mailed. With the likelihood of actually returning the equipment before Monday gone, I photographed my apartment lit by candles. I couldn’t not use it, that would make the $175 burden even worse! I managed 40 pictures before it got old. $175 divided by 40 pictures was $4.38 a shot. Lovely.

Monday morning I walked into CSI Rentals with the notion that it couldn’t hurt to explain the situation. The worst thing they could do is tell me their business was hurt by the storm, too. So I told them, “The wedding I rented this equipment for had to be postponed. I have to rent the equipment a second time.” The owner said, “Do you know when?” “Not yet,” I replied. The most I was hoping for was maybe a discount on my next rental. He did me one better, “I’ll give you a rain check.” He printed out my receipt and wrote “Rain Check” across it while another employee made a note on my file in their computer. I can’t even explain to you how beyond relieved and elated that made me! I thanked them a thousand times before saying, “See you soon!” And it’s true. I can honestly say that CSI Rentals made my hurricane weekend less gray. If you’re looking for a great place to rent from, go to CSI Rentals.

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6 thoughts on “Rent (Not the Musical, the Camera Equipment)

  1. Informative post! Did you send CSI a thank you note? I bet they’d love to hear how much you appreciated their rain check, too.

    Since you talked about the d7000 video features, I thought I’d send you this video I came across on YouTube:

    The same guys shoot a 2.5 min video without the auto focus and it isn’t too bad, but a lot of comments below the video express issues with the auto system. Just food for thought. All in all I liked reading your post!

    1. I just wrote up a card today, it goes out in the mail tomorrow 🙂 I really liked the review of the d7000 you sent, and checked out the other 2DPhotography video listed (the one where they show you a video shot solely with the d7000). Glad you enjoyed the post!

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