Try before you buy

In my days as a ski instructor, I used to get asked alot by my friends which skis they should buy. My advice was always the same always: “Do a demo day and try them out. Or, if you can’t get to a demo day, then just bite the bullet and hire them.” People hate that advice because it involves effort. But if you want to put in zero effort into your gear selection then you’re not really putting serious effort into your endeavour, whatever field it is in. So my advice on which camera to buy is similar: “Try before you buy.”

Peter Thomson Photography

It's worth spending time to get the right gear for street photography.

The time and money that you spend on renting camera gear will be repaid in better purchasing decisions and educating your taste in what you like and why. So, how can you get access to street photography gear to try out before you buy:

Friends, family and fools
First stop is to try and borrow gear from your friends. You may find that there is more gear available to borrow than you expected. Try friends of friends and putting the word out that your are interested in gear. The advantage is that it’s free (although it’d be polite to buy them a beer or loan them some of your kit in return). The disadvantage is that you won’t get much choice, so the kit available might not be stuff that you’re considering buying.

Professional Photography Gear Hire
Professional hire companies serving photographers are overwhelmingly stocked with Canikon DSLR kit and studio photo shoot gear so not much there for a street photographer. Occasionally you’ll luck into a small company with a little micro four thirds gear for rent but it’s usually an old model. If you’re in the USA then Lens Rentals has a good range of Micro Four Thirds kit.

Film Industry Hire
Professional hire companies serving the film industry often have micro four thirds lenses as part of the kit for GH2s. The rentals can be expensive but if there is a company close by and you can get a deal from them then you’ll get access to some seriously high-end gear.

Review samples
Manufacturers often offer journalist review samples that blogger. You can contact their PR departments via the “media” contact page on their websites. Some camera shops have demo units that you can try out. Ask around your small local camera shops.

Loan programmes
Local groups and clubs sometimes have loan gear. This can be a great source of street photography gear for you to try out. It’s also a great way to meet people that are interested in the same type of photography that you are.

E-Hire UK
In the UK we are lucky enough to have a partnership between Olympus and the old four thirds format E System User Group. That club has evolved and now includes both four thirds and micro four thirds. The gear hire part of the collaboration is administered by a PR company called the Write Group. I’ve hired some of the gear that I’ve reviewed on this site from the Olympus E-Group hire and I can highly recommend it.

They have the full range of Olympus Micro Four Thirds Cameras. The excellent micro four thirds primes in 12mm, 17mm and 45mm. Along with wide zooms like the 9-18mm and the longer kit lenses.

It’s best to join the E-System User Group first and get to know the community a little. Read some of the threads about lens hire and comments on the new cameras. You can dive into the hire list as a PDF from their information page.

Why I hire
I have a process that I followed with ski gear when I was an instructor and have since applied to photography:

  1. Decide your five year plan for building a tool kit (Jared Polin has a great video on this step).
  2. Prioritise the order you need to build the kit in so that you get the most versatile items first.
  3. Read reviews and choose 2 best products that are candidates for your next step.
  4. Try them out (most people skip this step).
  5. Buy.

Try and keep your trial gear focussed on either things you’re considering buying or on kit that will help you learn. For example, it will be a long time before I invest in the 12mm Olympus wide angle prime. But I learnt a lot about framing and depth of field from spending time with it.

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