FAQ - Getting Started


What is the Philly Lens Library?

The PLL is a Canon lens rental and consulting service run by me, Conrad Erb.

It not a library, in the sense of lots of books on shelves, and people who say “shhhh!”.

Do you have any relationship with Canon?

No. This is an independent rental service.

I’m a pro photographer and I know what I want.

Great. Please schedule your pickup and order your rental equipment so that it will be held for you. If you prefer, call me at 215-821-7161.

I’m a newbie and have no idea where to start. Canon has a zillion lenses and I can’t choose. Can you help?
Sure. Get in touch via this form, or just give me a call: 215-821-7161.

Who is this Conrad Erb?

Feel free to check out my work at Conrad Erb Photography.

Do you offer other lenses for rent?
No. We specialize in Canon lens rentals. I do have some Nikon equipment as part of a particularly technical photography project, but it’s not available for rent.

Where are you located?

Cedar Works Studio Warehouse, 919 Pentridge Street, Philadelphia PA 19143.

Who are the other rental sources in Philly?

Resolution Rentals and Videosmith based in Fishtown and Web Cam in Chinatown. For any photographers who are back in Philadelphia after some time, Calumet closed around 2014.

Why rent from the Lens Library? How you are different?
I have a wider range of Canon gear (for instance, a full set of the supertelephoto lenses; 500mm F4 IS L, 300mm 2.8 IS L and the 200mm 2.0 IS L).
- I have availability on Saturdays and Sundays, when the other rental shops are closed or have short hours (for example, if your camera dies on Friday night,and you need to be driving to your wedding shoot at 8am the next day…)
- I am sometimes available to handle emergency pickups outside of regular business hours (for instance, if your camera died at 10pm on a Wednesday, and you need to be on site with a client at 8am on Thursday…)
- I can offer a lot of guidance to new photographers based on my working experience.

Why should I rent from the other rental houses?
Well, Videosmith caters to serious videographers (Arri, etc.) and offers lighting.
Resolution Rentals has a good range of gear and brands, from prosumer to pro.
Webb Camera selection is a bit more limited.

Hold on. Why in the world would you put in links above to your competition?

Because I believe that the best business strategy is to play a long game, provide good information to customers, and earn trust instead of maximize the profit of every transaction (in time or dollars).

Businesses build the most value by providing solid information instead of trying to conceal.


I’m very busy and/or I don’t like to/cannot read/do not know how to use the internet. How can you help?
No problem. Call Conrad at 215-821-7161.

What is a good general purpose lens – one lens to rule them all?

All lenses are compromises, but most photographers start with a general purpose zoom, and the 24-70 L Mark 2 does not disappoint (or the equivalent EF-S lens, which is called the 17-55mm 2.8, and made specifically for crop body cameras). These lenses are fast (for a zoom), sharp and useful for many applications. I always have this lens handy, no matter what assignment.

The 24-105mm F4 IS L can be excellent candidate for travel. It’s a good compromise between a wide focal range, aperture and IS, at a very reasonable size and weight, while delivering high quality images.

If a prime: probably the 35mm L or the 50m 1.2 L. Sharp and lightweight. Remember that you can always crop “in”, but you can’t magically shoot wider than you shot.

For someone totally new to photography:

Keep it really simple: the 50mm 1.4. It is small and sharp and will help you get the basics.

For your first L lens: (a lens for someone getting more seriously into photography):

If you are just starting out, you probably already have a 18-55 or 28-80 equivalent zoom as a kit lens, so adding a 70-200 F4 L zoom is a great first L lens. It offers reasonable cost and size with great image quality for your buck.

If you are a dentist, of course, jump right to the 70-200 2.8 IS L Mark 2.

What about for low light work?

The L primes are all great candidates for super low light work. If they can’t do well, either you aren’t doing things properly (ie. shooting at ISO800 instead of 6400), or it’s too dark to do anything (most of the time, have a wedding ceremony).

And for weddings?

I have a lot of experience in this domain, and I bring around 10-13 lenses for my weddings, so it is hard to say what to use unless I can understand where you are now, and where you want to go. Depends a lot on your style.

I find these ones I use the most: 35mm 1.4 L, 85mm 1.2 L Mark 2, 70-200 2.8 IS L Mark 2 and the 24-70 2.8 L Mark2. But I usually bring another 8 lenses. Seriously.

For sports?

This depends a lot on what kind of sports (lawn bowling and mixed martial arts, of course, are both “sports). The 70-200 2.8 IS L Mark 2, the 300mm 2.8 IS L and the 135mm L. Very sharp, very fast focusing lenses. You will feel right at home next to the pros from Sports Illustrated. If you need extra range, we have the 500mm F4 IS L, or you can put a 1.4x or 2x extender on the 300mm 2.8 L.

For portraits?

The 85mm 1.2 L Mark 2, the 135mm L and the 70-200 2.8 IS Mark 2. All ridiculously sharp, fantastic color. You can have an entire career just with the 85mm 1.2 L Mark 2 (just ask Philadelphia photographer Steve McCurry) but it will feel slow to focus (you are moving around a large amount of glass), Beginners beware.


The L primes are all very popular with filmmakers, and in particular, the 85mm 1.2 L and 135mm L. The bokeh on those optics makes it look like you are shooting with $100k cine lenses. If you are making a skateboarding movie, you will want the 15mm fisheye, of course.


Of course, the 24mm TS-E Mark 2 and 17mm TS-E tilt shift lenses. But if you are an architectural photographer, you already knew that.

Something that will give a different look?

The 45mm tilt shift can produce some hauntingly images (when used properly – it has a bit of a learning curve).

News photojournalism and documentary work?

If you are doing photojournalism, you know what you want to use. Everyone else, the three L zooms are often the starting point for most photographers the 16-35 2.8 Mark 2 or F4 IS version, the 24-70 and the 70-200 Mark 2).

For slow, low light work, the L primes are the obvious choice.

A lens that will make my spouse less upset at me for ruining the monthly budget?

Haha. Well, in that case, the 70-200 F4. Sharp, inexpensive for an L lens, and the long focal length will make your spouse look 10 pounds lighter. Who wouldn’t appreciate that?


What is the Canon L series?

The L series is Canon’s high-end/luxury lens line, designed for serious photographers and imaging professionals. The L series lenses are easily recognizable by the bright red ring on the front element.

What’s the big deal about the L lenses?

First – L lenses are made with very high quality glass, so the images they produce are very sharp, with excellent color, contrast and bokeh (bokeh is the creamy out of focus areas of an image).

The images that result look great right out of camera, and require very few tweaks in post.

Second, they are fast, in two senses of the word. They tend to have great autofocus capabilities, but pros use “fast” to indicate lenses with large apertures. L lenses will gobble up light because they are often in the 2.8, 2.0 or even 1.2 range. You can shoot with a fast L prime in conditions where consumer grade, 3.5-5.6 lenses would be completely useless (and you get a sharper and more compelling, expressive image).

Third, they feature a very high build quality. These lenses are built like tanks and can stand up to professional level use. The downside to this - particularly for smaller people - is that they tend to be heavier and larger than consumer lenses. The upside to this is that if you can use them as a hammer. Just joking.

Fourth, they are expensive. The basic L primes (85mm, 50mm or 35mm, depending on what you prefer) will run you over $1000. Each. The best L zooms will be over $2000.

Fifth, they look cool. Some people have fancy cars. Some millionaires have helicopters. Photographers with a bit of money to burn have L series lenses.

Are the L series lenses that much better than the Canon consumer lenses or the third party lenses (Tokina, Tamron, Sigma, etc.)?

The short answer – yes, but keep reading. There is a reason why nearly every professional photographer who shoots with Canon uses the L series lenses, and not the Tokina, Tamron, or Sigma version.
The longer answer, is that while third party lenses do not beat the Canon L’s, they can absolutely compete on the basis of excellent value. Specifically, from the early 2010’s onward, Sigma has been making some impressive gains in the quality of their lenses. Nearly all pros who shoot Canon use Canon L glass, but for many serious photographers, Sigma lenses can offer a significant savings with only a modest hit in optical performance.

There are so many lenses, and I don’t know which one is best for my needs. Can you provide a few recommendations?

Certainly. Give me a call, and we can talk you through it. My job is to give you good information, and not a sales pitch.

Why don’t you have any of the cheaper lenses, like the 35mm 2.8 or the 18-55mm EF-S?

They aren’t very useful for professional image-making, and they are easier to find. Your friends may have them. Buy your friends some beer and borrow their lens.

Do you ship or delivery rentals?

In special situations, this can be arranged. Most customers pick up from our Cedar Works location.



I’m a starving artist/photo student and I have a really quick question about lenses or cameras or photography. Can you help me?

Of course, I’m happy to chat for ten minutes: 215-821-7161. If I’m in an appointment or a commitment with a client, I’ll call you back. I got a lot of free help when I was starting out, and I’m usually inclined to pay it forward when I can.

I’m not starving, but there’s so much gear, and I’m a bit overwhelmed. Can you help?

Sure. Call me at 215-821-7161 and I can help simplify things for you.

I want to do what you do. Do you offer lessons, training or consultations for projects?

I am happy to offer consultations.

I’m a beginning photographer, looking to get into photography more. I heard that Canon has been falling behind compared to Nikon and Sony. Is this true?

If you are starting out as a photographer, the answer is mostly no.

Let me back up: for professionals, there is a fair argument to be had that after years of dominance in the consumer market, Canon is facing very strong competition from Nikon, and more recently, Sony. There’s also absolutely no question that both Nikon and Sony have started to lead the very top of the market in terms of technical sensor performance.

That being said, Sony is still generally seen as a bit of a crossover product for video-heavy users instead of pure still photography tool. Nikon has excellent offerings for new photographers, of course, but any camera purchase also means buying into the larger lens ecosystem, and Canon shines in this department.

The fact is that beginning photographers should make their purchases based on what makes sense to them (what’s intuitive? what’s not? what ergonomically works? what doesn’t?) and value. Most beginners don’t know (or care to know) what dynamic range is, what signal versus noise means, what a clean 4k at 6400ISO looks like, and they don’t need to, either. Most beginners want to pay well under $1000 for an entire setup, and only dentists are happy to plunk down a few grand for the top-of-the-life body.

For beginners, therefore, the choice between Canon, Nikon or Sony is largely irrelevant. All have excellent offerings, and both Canon and Nikon, in particularly, live in a very healthy camera ecosystem.

In fact, most beginners are well advised to focus less on performance specifications of their equipment, and more about their performance and results as a photographer.

I grew up shooting on a Pentax K1000, then an Olympus OM-1 and OM-2n, a Yashicamat 124G twin-lens reflex, and finally moved to the Canon 10D. All dinosaur cameras in features, but they all did what a professional photographer needed: aperture, shutter speed and high quality glass. I shot professionally starting with the OM-1.

So, as of 2019, is Canon leading the sensor wars? No. Does it matter to beginner photographers? No.

Consider it this way: Honda and Ferrari are both in the car racing business, and you drive a Honda Civic to work. Do you need a Honda race car? Probably not. You don’t drive a Ferrari, and you probably never will.

Few photographers truly exceed the capability of their cameras, and ever fewer beginners can do that without putting at least a few hundred hours behind their camera.

Canon, Nikon and Sony all offer great products with good bang-for-the-buck that most starting photographers will not find limiting at all. I happen to swim in the Canon ecosystem.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to have a career in photography?

Absolutely. I have a few pieces of advice.

Keep in mind that a career in photography looks very different now than it did when I started shooting commercially (circa 2000), and different again now versus before Instagram.

#1: The proof is in the doing. Do. Do. Do. You don’t need a mentor.

#2: Practice a ton, and actively learn using the incredible tools at your disposal. It used to cost me around $0.50-$1 per frame to experiment on film, and wait a few days for developing. It’s infinitely cheap now. The amount of information for learning about photography is literally at a new peak every single day. The only true cost is your time. There’s little excuse to not be a technically perfect photographer.

#3: Differentiate photography as a business versus photography as personal expression. It’s important to see that they aren’t the same thing. The term “vanity project” exists for a reason. There’s a huge difference between shooting as a hobby and shooting professionally. If you want to shoot professionally, that’s fine, but it will probably mean killing your hobby.

#4. Be your own worst critic. Edit, edit, edit. If other people tell you how amazing your work is, and you aren’t satisfied, then you are - perversely - on the right track. Go review your work from a few years ago, and if it suddenly isn’t as great as you remember, you are on the right track.

#5: If you want to use photography to make an impact on the world, please be forgiving to yourself. If you are disappointed with your work, celebrate the fact that you have high standards. Young/early-stage photographers are generally the most eager to express themselves, and if their work doesn’t measure up to their internal barometer, they sometimes give up far too quickly instead of realizing that their taste and ambition is the secret sauce. If you don’t trust me, listen to the public radio legend Ira Glass:

Any other pieces of free advice?


Learn how to backup your images well before your first hard drive fails. It will fail, I promise you. It’s a matter of if, not when.
 If you have a long career, it will happen a few times.

Spend some time learning about business structures and taxes before you start. Just because your business earns a dollar does not mean that you earned one dollar. If you get this wrong, the government will be your worst friend.

You talked about “the long game” as the best practice for businesses. Just curious, any other business wisdom that you recommend?

Sure. Seth Godin has been sharing his simple but helpful ideas for entrepreneurs every day for years and years. For something more linear, you can’t go wrong with Josh Kauffman’s Personal MBA. I seriously brought it on vacation once!

Hey, I read to the bottom! I’m ready to rent/consult/do a thing!
Awesome. Give Conrad a call: 215-821-7161.