It’s a well-reported trend: The digital camera market is getting hit hard by smartphones.
And yet, after looking at another set of dim, noisy smartphone photos from a wedding reception last weekend, I can’t help but think there are still situations in which a digital camera — or at the least, a more powerful sensor — is a good thing.
It’s those scenarios that Lumoid wants to capitalize on. Lumoid is a new camera-rental company that’s targeting wedding-goers, new parents, vacationers and photo hobbyists. Its prices range from $5 to $25 per day per item, except for accessories, which are listed for purchase.
Lumoid is also a try-to-buy site, offering as much as a 30 percent discount on post-rental purchases — provided that you want to keep the camera or lens, or that you’re not ready to just go back to your smartphone at that point.
The company has been in the works for several months now, and was started by Aarthi Ramamurthy, who, after stints at Microsoft and Netflix, most recently co-founded an algorithmic bra-fitting site called True&Co (yes, I’ve tried that, too).
I’ve been exploring Lumoid over the past week, and ended up renting a few items: A 50mm Canon lens to try with the Canon 60D DSLR that I own, a Sony Alpha a7 camera and a 55mm Sony lens to go with the a7 body.
The Lumoid package arrived in two business days (in most cases, it will take at least three days, unless expedited shipping is requested). The company obviously puts care into its packaging, and the equipment showed up in good shape. One of the lenses was missing a back lens cap, which could potentially result in damage, but the lens still worked.
Overall I had a positive experience. I like the idea of the try-to-buy option, especially when it comes to things like camera lenses. For many consumers, I could see this being more appealing than holding a camera in Best Buy for 10 minutes before dropping a few hundred dollars on it.
Lumoid’s inventory is still thin, though. It doesn’t offer many smaller cameras for consumers or non-hobbyists who don’t want to deal with interchangeable lenses.
So how does Lumoid stack up to a well-known camera rental site like BorrowLenses.com? You’re not going to get a Canon PowerShot, Nikon Coolpix, or even the fan-favorite Sony RX100 on Lumoid (at least not yet); but you can find them on BorrowLenses.com. BorrowLenses has convenient pick-up locations in 10 different states and various cities across the U.S., ideal for when you’re in a need-it-now situation; whereas Lumoid gear could take a few days to arrive.
And at first glance, Lumoid’s daily rental rates look competitive or better. But it depends on each item.
I opted to rent the Canon lens, the Sony camera body and the Sony lens for four days. Lumoid charged $43 per day, plus mandatory insurance, which cost $24, a flat shipping fee of $18 and, finally, taxes. The total was $178.95.
On the Sony Alpha a7 camera body, I got a better deal on Lumoid than I would have on BorrowLenses: $17 a day compared with $73 for three days. But the Canon EF 50mm lens I rented from Lumoid was $14 a day on Lumoid, compared with $40 for three days on BorrowLenses.
For what it’s worth, both sites list Google Glass as a rental option (because, if you can’t find a camera you like, why not wear a face computer?). Lumoid charges $32 per day, and BorrowLenses lists it for $105 for three days.
Lumoid’s end goal is to find out more about what you like, how skilled you are, and what kind of events you’ll be attending, in order to get smarter about your camera rental suggestions.
For example, when you first go to Lumoid’s site, you can select from a list of events or settings you’re planning on using the camera for: Weddings, vacations, sports, kids or landscapes — and get a couple camera suggestions based on that, rather than having to search for “Canon” or “DSLR” or “mirrorless” and figuring out if it will work for you.
The company plans to use this recommendation engine to eventually expand into more consumer electronics rentals. Ramamurthy told me that Lumoid has even shipped an Apple TV box on request before, to a vacationer who wanted (needed?) it to entertain his kids.
Lumoid is also considering renting out activity trackers, so you can try one and see if you might actually stay committed to it before dropping $150 on one.
One feature of Lumoid that I didn’t have the chance to test — as much I would like to have “tested” this — was its promise to ship to a vacation location. So, for example, if I was heading out to Hawaii next week, I could request that Lumoid ship a camera to my hotel, and return it at the end of my vacation. Lumoid says it has also partnered with some surf-centric vacation locales to provide GoPros on demand.
Lumoid needs to stock up on different camera types before becoming a go-to camera rental site. But its plans to expand to other device rentals are intriguing. In the age of free try-ons, ride-sharing, dress rentals and other new forms of commerce, consumer electronics might just be the next thing we’re renting instead of buying.