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Are You A Commitment-Phobic Photog? Rent, Don't Buy

Greg Keraghosian
Associate Travel Editor
April 30, 2014

(Courtesy: Lumoid)

If you love photography but aren't sure if you're ready to drop $7,000 on your dream camera, now you can rent-to-own. Lumoid is a new a high-end camera rental company that will even ship to you while you're on vacation - anywhere in the world.

“The first time a customer said ship it to the Hilton in Hawaii, we thought, ‘Oh my God, this is a fraudulent order,’” said Aarthi Ramamurthy, CEO of Lumoid. “We asked why and the customer said they were traveling there and didn’t want to carry it. And we were like, ‘That makes a lot of sense, why didn’t we think of that?’”

To its credit, Lumoid is one of the first to think of and execute the try-before-you-buy model with shipping products. It works like this: You rent a camera or lens for at least three days, and the company ships it wherever you want. Camera-body rentals currently range from $8 a day for a GoPro Hero 3 to over $30 per day for a super-high-end camera like a Leica M9, which retails for around $7,000. Accessories such as the memory card and strap are included.

Lumoid’s search page includes browsing by brand and type of photography

If you end up wanting to buy the camera or lens you rented, you can use 30% of your fee as a purchase credit. The real sweetener is that you can use multiple rental credits toward a purchase within the same calendar year. After shooting, you could also choose to simply pay for the memory card and ship the rest back.

Daniel Bohner, one of Lumoid’s first customers, was playing wedding photographer on his road trip, and he wanted to try out the Canon 6D. Lumoid didn’t have the camera yet, so Ramamurthy ran to the nearest Best Buy to get one and ship it the next day. Bohner did end up buying it, and nowadays the company offers the Canon 5D Mark III as part of its Wedding Kit.

Other themed camera/lens kits include Wildlife, Road Trip and of course, Hipster (you probably haven’t heard of it).

While there are some other photography rental sites out there, such as lensrentals.com, the try-before-you-buy model is still rare. Ramamurthy calls her company a “Trunk Club for gadgets,” referring to the men’s-clothing company that ships curated outfits to customers and takes back whatever they don’t want.

(Courtesy: Lumoid)

Unlike Trunk Club, the gear offered by Lumoid isn’t always new, meaning the purchase price of a camera or lens will vary. In addition to keeping its own inventory, Lumoid supplies from used-electronics stores.

Ramamurthy said that about 18% of rentals have led to purchases so far. So far Lumoid has been focusing on photography enthusiasts, not professional photographers who often have other means to equipment.

“I’m no expert when it comes to cameras and lenses, but I generally love rent-to-buy ideas,” said entrepreneur Jared Hecht of Fundera, which helps startups get loans (he’s not associated with Lumoid). “I’ve been astounded by how few companies have taken the rent-to-buy concept and applied it to new verticals, so it’s refreshing to see someone do it in a sector where there is a high barrier to purchase.”

Aside from the practical consumer service that trying before you buy offers, there’s also the chance to play with a toy you couldn’t otherwise afford. As she did in her previous job at Netflix, Ramamurthy goes through reams of customer data to find out what they want to rent.

“Since purchasing a Leica costs the same as a year of college, I am really excited that they have the M9 available, which I plan to try out soon,” said Stephanie Trapp, a Lumoid customer.

More pricey gadgets should be on the way for the company. Ramamurthy said she started with camera gear in part because of her background as an amateur photographer, but said she also plans to expand into wearable gadgets such as Google Glass and Nike’s FuelBand fitness tracker.

Lumoid has been doing business since July, and it’s funded by Y Combinator.