Thursday, January 05, 2012

How to shoot photos on a budget with expensive gear

Now before I write any further, I do understand that the real geeky photographer within always loves new photo gear. There is no joy more enjoyable than being able to lay hands on expensive hardware. And I will be the first to confess, I am on that same boat dear reader.

I love the smell of a FedEx box that arrives with my favorite gear inside. In fact I find myself frequently checking the package status on this nifty little iPhone app called Fara till the package is delivered. But alas! it is not always possible, nor makes sense to buy expensive photography equipment and that is exactly the reason, I am sharing my thoughts on how to shoot on a budget yet not compromise on gear.

A while back, I was with a friend who wanted to do an architecture photography tour of the downtown Chicago. Now he is an established architecture photographer with expensive lenses at his disposal. However, I was hesitant to spend money for a Tilt-Shift aka Perspective Control lens, for a mere few days I wanted to shoot with him. This is when I started looking to rent a PC lens from camera stores because the 24mm f/3.5D ED PC-E Nikkor was around two big Gs and I knew I did not have that kind of money. Luckily my friend had a spare lens and I did not need to get another one.

However during that time I realized photo rental is a great way of trying out new hardware before you plonk all those benjamins on one big buy. I mean, all the reviews in the world would not give you the feel for an actual session with the lens and the 3-5 minutes you get in a regular camera store is definitely not enough time to get comfortable with any lens.

Here is where companies like really shine. They are probably the best gear rental online service in USA. I saw excellent reviews of them in yelp and did a quick search on forums and was convinced I had to try them. I ended up renting a Macro lens this holiday season because I wanted close up shots of my newborn son. Now macro photography is something I don't do regularly so I did not think I needed a dedicated macro in my camera bag. This Buy vs Rent decision making is something I encourage every photographer to do. It will allow you to try new lenses yet stay on a hard budget.

My experience with BorrowLenses was phenomenal. I got my two week rental on time through FedEx (you actually pay for the shipping and choose how fast you want to receive). As a bonus, they even extended my rental an additional week for no cost since they had a special running after I had purchased my rental. I was impressed with the customer service. Another important factor while renting lenses is the deposit. Most camera shop rentals require a credit card deposit or hold for the rental value. BorrowLenses does not. You only pay for your rental period and for most available gear and there is no deposit required. The do have a verification process for super expensive equipment but you kinda expect that.

The Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 ED-IF AF-S VR Micro is a phenomenal lens. I loved the great circular creamy bokeh due to the 9 blade aperture diaphragm construction. And as advertised, it is a great portrait lens. Sharp as tack and not very heavy. Now my three weeks with this lens convinced me that I definitely want this lens to be part of my arsenal and want to save for that. Here is a classical case of trying out a lens which someone was not very fond of in the beginning but later fell in love. If I had not rented the lens, I would never know if I would like it. For those out there who like to read a more thorough/technical review of the 105mm Nikkor, you should visit here.

Here is a portrait I shot using this lens.

Shot using a D300s on a 105mm f/2.8 ED-IF AF-S Micro Nikkor at ISO 200,  f/2.8, 1/160 sec

The entire rental for me was around 100 dollars and I got to keep the lens for three weeks. I was able to shoot nice closeups of my son as well as take portraits with a thousand dollar lens. Amazing isn't it?

So next time you are on a budget, your creativity does not need to suffer. Go ahead, and play with those lenses which your want to try out and you will find the keepers. When you decide to set sail, there is a link on my blog's sidebar that will take you to the BorrowLenses page. Give it a shot and let me know if it works for you.


Scott Seighman said...

I did the same a few weeks back, rented a 300mm/2.8 for the state championship football games ... only drawback is now I want the lens :)

Ribnar Mazumdar said...

I hear you Scott. That is a great lens and definitely a keeper.