Kingdom Camera Rentals is the newest specialty rental service catered to Walt Disney World guests, and unlike similar services for strollers, golf carts, and RVs, this one is right up my alley. I had first heard about Kingdom Camera Rentals a few months ago, and was intrigued. Admittedly, I have not been a big proponent of camera or lens rentals in the past. I have felt that after the cost of the rental, plus the time, hassle, and the cost of shipping, most of the time you’re just better off buying whatever you might want, hoping you like it, and reselling it if you don’t (my one exception was exotic glass, which is almost always wise to rent).
I say “in the past” above because Kingdom Camera Rentals changed my perspective about rentals, at least partially. I still don’t think it’s a wise idea to rent a 50mm f/1.8 lens that retails for about $100, but I do like the idea of renting. Especially equipment that you aren’t sure you will want to purchase, can’t afford to purchase at the present time, or won’t use regularly.
My rental order consisted of a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Nikon 16mm f/2.8 fisheye lens, Nikon 35mm f/1.4 lens, Nikon 40mm f/2.8 macro lens, and a Manfrotto CF tripod. Don’t worry, I’ll have reviews of the first three lenses in the near future. To satiate you in the interim (or tease you, whichever the case may be), I absolutely loved the first three lenses (especially the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, which I previously owned for 2 days and found lacking…what was I thinking then?!), but the Nikon 40mm f/2.8 macro didn’t do much for me. Total, for the duration of the trip, my order would have come to $230 (in the interest of full disclosure, my order was comped–but this review contains my own unbiased opinions and I gain nothing by you using their service). Not bad considering I had about $4,757 worth of gear.
Before we get into my experience with Kingdom Cameras, specifically, the question of when you should rent lenses is an important one to ask and answer for yourself. Even if you don’t plan on using Kingdom Camera Rentals for your rental purposes, this is something you might want to read. On this topic, the Nikon 40mm f/2.8 macro lens is an interesting lens. The lens itself only costs about $275 new, so I normally would consider it a bad candidate for rental. Comparatively speaking, a lens like this is cheap enough to just purchase outright. Lenses priced at this level you should just buy and resell on Craigslist in the event that you don’t like them. At this price, it’s not much of a risk, especially if you do your research and minimize the chance that you’re buying a lens you don’t want. Certainly not as risky as buying a $2,000+ Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 that you may find after one day of carrying is way too heavy for you.
A lens like the 70-200 is a greater risk in that you might have difficulty reselling it on Craigslist, and be out a large chunk of change thanks to seller fees if forced to resell it on eBay. Although the Nikon 40mm f/2.8 macro is on the cheaper end of the spectrum, in this one case, I might recommend renting it…because it’s a specialty lens. After using it for about twenty minutes, I realized that macro lenses flat out are not for me. That lens could have been the greatest macro lens in the world, but macro is not my style. On the other hand, lenses like the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 or Nikon 55-200mm VR should not be rented to test out. These are ordinary lenses, and it should be easy to tell whether or not you’ll like them simply by reading reviews and having a general understanding of lenses. Certainly, you can’t guarantee that you’ll like these lenses before using them, but you can get a pretty solid idea. I know a few people who have rented the same lens four or five times in the same year, and suddenly realize that they could have just bought the thing. With cheaper lenses, I’d almost always recommend trying to find a way to buy instead of rent. Sure, you may end up regretting the purchase and selling it, but if you do enough advance research, chances are that you can minimize the occurrences of this happening.
Now, if you’re renting lenses because you really want them for a trip and can’t otherwise afford them right now, or are renting for convenience, even cheap “garden variety” lenses aren’t bad rental options. That’s my caveat about renting lenses in general.
Assuming there’s a nice, shiny (since lenses don’t shine, we’ll use this as a synonym for expensive) lens that you want to try at Walt Disney World, Kingdom Camera Rentals should be your go-to source for lens rentals. The reason that will likely matter most to you is cost: in my comparisons, Kingdom Camera Rentals was no more than $1 more expensive than BorrowLenses on any of the lenses (when including shipping at BorrowLenses) that I compared, and in most cases, was cheaper than BorrowLenses. I’ll note that this is without even considering the 20% off code Kingdom Camera Rentals is offering exclusively to Disney Tourist Blog readers. Once you consider that code, Kingdom Camera Rentals handily beats the competition.
Even if BorrowLenses or one of the other sites beat Kingdom Camera Rentals by a few bucks, I’d still go with Kingdom Camera Rentals for one simple reason…THE SERVICE. This is not to say other rental companies have bad service–I’ve actually heard very good things about all of the major ones. Kingdom Camera Rentals just has exceptional service. Which other rental company is going to hand deliver your equipment to your hotel? Which other rental company will give you a direct phone number for the owner? Which other rental company will work around your schedule for picking up the gear? To my knowledge, none, and all of these things are pretty huge. I’ve already read a couple stories online from customers of Kingdom Camera Rentals who had their vacations “saved” when Kingdom Camera Rentals quickly delivered gear to them after mishaps with the equipment they brought on vacation. Just read the “Posts by Others” section of their Facebook Fan Page to get an idea of what I mean. That kind of customer service is huge.
Admittedly, I was initially a bit apprehensive about meeting someone while we were on vacation to make the hand-off since vacation time is finite and you never know if the person with whom you’re meeting will be late, chatty, or otherwise cause you delay. Plus, when dealing with the unreliable Disney’s Magical Express (like we do), it’s tough to plan a time for the gear to be dropped off to you. My fears were quickly allayed on this. Kingdom Camera Rentals was responsive to my schedule, and the whole drop-off process took about 4 minutes. I got the impression that the business is located less than 10 minutes from Walt Disney World, so I can’t imagine that delay is ever a problem. Pick-up went similarly flawlessly (although I was a little late!).
I touched on this a bit above, but besides using Kingdom Camera Rentals to rent expensive lenses that you should test before purchasing, there are a few other very compelling reasons to use them that I discovered. The first is to rent an exotic lens that you’d like to take out for a spin, but that you know you wouldn’t use enough to justify buying. The caveat here is that you need to BE CAREFUL when doing this! I did this and I now unexpectedly am trying to rationalize my “need” to purchase a lens that I know I really don’t need. If you rent an exotic lens that you think you don’t need, don’t be surprised if you end up with a case of lens lust. You’ve been warned.
Another reason is convenience. We rarely fly with checked bags–usually just a carry-on and a personal item (even on our 9-day trip to Europe!) each–not because of the cost, but because checked bags are a pain in the neck. Renting with on-site pick-up allows you to save space in your luggage, which can be vital. Heck, you might even save enough space that you’re able to avoid a checked bag fee. From that perspective, can you really afford not to rent camera gear?! (That’s a justification for you to give to the significant other if you need some ammo to convince them that you need to rent some gear! ;))
The final reason is one that’s a bit foreign to me: to get your feet wet with a DSLR set-up before venturing down the rabbit hole with the rest of us crazies. It’s hard for me to fathom that some people would be unsure whether they want to use a DSLR. I mean, I realize there are people out there who are unsure, but they make about as much sense to me as the 2012 renaissance of Furbies. Who wouldn’t love a DSLR?! In any case, these packages are a good way to test drive using a DSLR before taking the plunge, and they’re “all inclusive” in that they include the DSLR, a lens, memory card, and case. Some even include a tripod. The more logical (from my perspective) appeal of these kits is for people who know they want to purchase a DSLR, but it’s just not in the budget at vacation time, so they rent instead–because excellent vacation photos are always important. Always!
Not everything with Kingdom Camera Rentals is perfect. Although their inventory has expanded considerably since launching (and likely will have expanded more between the time I write this and the time you read it), they still are a start-up, and still don’t have the inventory that some of the big rental companies have. Presently, they only carry Nikon and Canon equipment, which means no third party lenses. If you’re wanting to test a lens that you might buy, this could be problematic, but if you’re just looking to use a nice lens for a trip this shouldn’t be too big of a deal since first party lenses typically are nicer than their third party counterparts. Let’s be real: you’re not going to shed too many tears that you got “stuck” with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 when you only wanted the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8. Still, I hope as they grow they add some Tokina, Sigma, and Tamron lenses.
Another potential downside is the current lack of shipping. While I far, far prefer the the hotel pick-up and drop-off system now that I’ve used it, I could see some people wanting to use Kingdom Camera Rentals outside of Walt Disney World or perhaps wanting their gear a few days early to fiddle around with before the trip, and that just isn’t possible without shipping. However, I suspect this would interest very few people, so it’s barely even worth mentioning.
Overall, Kingdom Camera Rentals far surpassed my expectations. I have always been a bit apprehensive of renting certain photography equipment due to the economics of it, but it’s now easy for me to see the appeal. What’s not to love about using some expensive gear that you either can’t afford to purchase or wouldn’t want to purchase? The prospect of using some drool-inducing gear plus great customer service that is tailored for Walt Disney World fans makes Kingdom Camera Rentals a service I highly recommend. As they continue to grow, I think they’ll become a truly great resource for Disney photographers, and that truly excites me!
Note: on February 5, 2013, Kingdom Camera Rentals became a sponsor of this website. This review was written prior to then and without compensation for the review. None of the content of this review has been changed (besides the addition of this note) since the review was originally published in December 2012.
If you’ve used, or plan on using, Kingdom Camera Rentals, please share your thoughts in the comments!