Probably one of the biggest questions I get is “what camera gear should I buy?” Usually, my first response is a question in return: “What are you going to do with said equipment?” Now, I know asking a question to answer a question can be annoying, but there is a purpose for this. Because often enough, most people who want to purchase camera gear can save themselves money, headache and stress by renting instead. So you may ask “Should I rent or buy?” Good question! Let’s dive in and find out.
To Rent or Buy?
I’ve developed some points to consider regardless of which category you fit in as a camera op: production leader, cinematographer, field audio op, it doesn’t matter. This also pertains to all types of production: commercial, narrative work, broadcast, event, even web based productions. Even you still-photographers, don’t feel you’re left out of this either. I think these points cover all facets of production.
Let me first state that the productions I lead differ greatly in scale and budget. So you may think I will be biased in my reasoning. However, I have lead many multicamera shoots with a large budget, but have also had experience running a small boutique wedding film company for a few years. So, my wide range of experience has given me a fairly unbiased perspective on this topic.
Renting has several benefits. Let me list them out for you.
1. You get to “play the field!” Renting allows you to utilize many different cameras depending on the scale, type and budget of your production. I’ve been fortunate to have been able to use and familiarize myself with Canon’s 5D mkII, 1D MkIV, 7D, C300, Sony’s F3 and RED’s MX, Scarlet and Epic. I also get to try out many lens varietals such as Zeiss Superspeeds and CP2s, Cooke Panchros and S4′s, and the Angenieux old series and Optimo line.
So as you can see, in the camera world, “playing the field” isn’t such a bad thing!
2. Cash flow! Not tying up your money in gear allows you to spend your cash elsewhere. If you’re a freelancer, you know the financial responsibilities that come with the territory. You have business and income taxes to take care of. You have to pay for insurance, transportation, rent (if you operate out of a studio or need office space for editing), and numerous other expenses that are all due in a timely manner.
3. It keeps you out of debt! Unless you’re wealthy, chances are you don’t have $60k on a new fitted RED Epic or even $20k to plop down on a new Sony F3. So that means most people are having to finance their equipment… which naturally goes down in value as soon as you open the box. So let’s do some simple math. These are of course just generalizations:
Lets say you paid $20k for a new F3. Now, without adding the costs of extra batteries, extra SXS cards, a case and all the supplies you need to operate the camera, in order to pay the camera off in 2 years, you’d have to pay close to $900 per month at a low 5% interest rate. You will also accumulate another $1,100 in interest (money that could have gone to other supplies.) And in 2 years, how much is that camera worth? Not to mention the maintenance costs and the other supplies I mentioned before. Plus, in two years, you’ll still have to be using technology that is most likely outdated. The newest cameras that come out at NAB every year almost always put a dagger in the cameras that came out the year before.
4. Options! Renting allows you to have options. Along with the ability to try out different cameras and lenses, you also get to learn what camera packages work best for various types of productions. (That in itself is worthy of a blog post… hmm…). You learn which camera is best suited for live productions, music videos or documentary work; which camera packages require more or less accessories; and which lenses have a cooler tone versus which have a warmer look. Renting gives you the ability to learn the answers to these situations and more!
5. Access to the newest features. Rental houses have to stay up to date with their line of gear choices in order to be competitive and stay in business. Often, when the new cameras are introduced to the industry, rental houses are first in line to purchase. This is a win, win for those who rent regularly. The lessee is able to utilize the newest cameras and the rental house is able to make their money back on their new purchases in a timely manner.
6. No cases, no space, no problem! Owning your own gear means not only having to purchase the items, but you have to purchase the cases and accessories as well. You also have to find space to store the gear. When I owned my own gear I had cases for everything. I spent thousands of dollars insuring my gear was well protected. It also took up about a third of my office space and because I worked out of my home, areas of my garage too!
Renting gives me my office and garage space back! I don’t have to worry about storing the gear itself nor where to store those cases. If you like a clutter free life, renting definitely helps maintain your sanity!
Now let’s look at some reason to purchase your own gear:
1. You know your gear! Owning your own gear allows you to learn the equipment inside and out. Because you get to have extensive time with it, you will have opportunities to get to know all the features and maximize the camera’s potential.
2. You’re on, go! Another benefit to owning your own gear is you have the ability to mobilize at any time. For those last minute requests, if you’re already not working, you can quickly pack up your gear and move. Obviously you don’t want this to happen often, but then again, you don’t want to have to pass up on getting paid just because you have to spend time reserving and picking up gear at the rental house. I’m on both sides of the fence on this one, to be honest. I rarely get calls where I have to mobilize quickly. Often I’m not available anyway for those last minute calls so I’d say this would apply to those of you who are trying to get yourself established in your industry and for those who do event and broadcast shooting. Both of these fields lend themselves to owning your own gear anyway.
3. Potentially higher profit. Some operators offer their services with or without gear. This allows the producers to choose whether they want to be specific in the gear they want for their production or find that the operator’s owned gear is sufficient and saves time in pre-production. If the producers decide your gear is sufficient then they pay a higher rate and that money goes into your pocket versus a rental house.
However, the opposite can happen. A producer may decide that the gear you spent all that money on isn’t sufficient and will choose to rent anyway. Thus, your gear will sit at home, or in the studio and not garner any extra income. If you’ve had to finance your gear, this is no good. So when, or if you decide to purchase, make sure it’s gear you know you can add to your services that producers will want to utilize.
4. You have the cash! Naturally, if you’re doing well enough where you have the cash, by all means, enjoy it! If all your other expenses are covered, and spending the money will not jeopardize any other areas of your business, or risk you income, then feel free to own your own gear. Just keep in mind, you still have to maintain it, safe keep it, and store it. Make sure all those extra expenses are factored into the purchase price.
Which Route Do I Choose?
I wanted to just give you some quick scenarios to help you decide which route is most likely the best choice for you.
You should rent if…
- Your productions vary often in production style
- Your productions vary often in budget size
- Having the latest technology and features is important to your work
- Having different camera and lens options is important in your productions
- You don’t want the hassle of safe keeping and storing your gear
- You don’t have the cash flow available to make large purchases
- You wish to stay out of debt if you do not have the cash
You should buy if…
- Your productions are often similar in production style (event, web and broadcast style production often fall into this category)
- Your productions are often similar in budget size
- Knowing your gear inside and out is vital to your production
- You often find yourself taking jobs at the last minute or with not enough time to plan for rentals
- You have the finances to stay out of debt and pay for the equipment with cash
- You have enough cash to purchase the equipment without jeopardizing the rest of your business expenses
Following these guidelines will help you decide which is better for you. Even as a proponent for renting, I’m still tempted to make a purchase when I see the articles of new gear coming to market. But I have to remind myself of these scenarios when my mind starts heading down that path and often, that helps to curb my desire. But as I stated earlier, renting may not be for everyone. The question for you is, is renting or buying best for you? Feel free to discuss!