Stop Buying Cameras, Rent Your Gear

Do you remember the last camera announced at NAB? Hint, it’s from another company that’s never made a camera before. The camera that’s resonated with people the most has been the AJA CION (pictured above). It embraces a lot of things people have been clamoring for, the most apparent being the body shape (finally a camera that looks like a camera!). And it will be released, probably with at least a few hurdles in the production line, and it will face even more as they beta test their product with the general public. Ok, maybe that’s a bit cynical, but after some negative experiences with their Ki Pro line, I’m probably not too far off.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t use that camera, or even the Blackmagic URSA (picture after the jump).  You should absolutely learn how to use it to the best of your ability, and your knowledge in the use of that camera should be used to promote your work and yourself going forward. But you don’t have to buy it. You don’t have to shell out 10 or 15 thousand dollars to be their beta tester, you don’t need it. There are of course a few exceptions, and we will cover those first before we move forward to explain why you should sell most of your gear and just rent everything else when you need it.

Blackmagic Design's URSA

Blackmagic Design’s URSA

Ok, I actually kind of love the Blackmagic URSA (I seem to be the only one) pictured above, especially at the price. But, I learned my lesson with the very first round of preorders for the original BMCC. I will let someone else shoulder the burden of supporting a fledgling company, I do that all the time on Kickstarter, and they usually disclose at least some of the risk. Anyway, so there a few types of working cameramen that can or should buy whichever camera they please, but those are the people probably still shooting on the cameras they had purchased a few years ago.

The Working DP

Canon C-300

Canon C-300

You have a steady gig with a few rotating television shows, as well as a few narrative jobs sprinkled in when you feel like stretching your creative freedom. You know exactly what the shot should look with your camera, and you know how to light for your sensor and your glass.

The Hired Gun

Sony F55

Sony F55

You’re one of the few go-to guys (or girls) in your area, and you tend to do more commercial work. You appreciate the episodic television shows in the area that are keeping others out of your line of work shooting Red Bull ads, ESPN sit-downs and the occasional stuffy-but-lucrative government contract.

The Documentarian

Sony F3

Sony F3

Perpetually in production, you’re looking for a camera with a solid record time and possibly XLR inputs on the camera just in case your sound guy falls off a cliff while shooting a travel show in Bali.

Shooting A Feature Guy


Credit: Hurlbut Visuals

These people are hopeless for the most part. Have some of a script, get a gear boner, blow all your “budget” on gear, shoot a sizzle trailer for indiegogo or the like, miss funding but still collect what you can then fall off the radar for a year. These people could probably keep the camera companies in business on their own.

So that’s a rough look at the archetypes of working cameramen in my area that I’ve just now thrown together. I left out the ENG guys, the event guys and studio broadcast guys with a mountain of film equipment sitting in their closet at home just in case. So the above people are the ones, if any of us, that should be buying a camera. All but the “shooting a feature guy” will wait until the camera has been tested, and broken in, and will seek other’s opinions before they take the plunge. And before that, they will probably rent the camera, or they might take a long contract that either uses their existing gear package or they buy one outright for the production. That’s the most important part after all.


Rent the Camera that fits your Production

Wait till the job comes, then rent a package (from a trusted rental house) that fits the needs of the production. Many productions will rent the gear you want on your behalf if they trust your judgement, which they probably will if they’re coming to you to be the point person of their production. If they want to go through you, and rent your gear, fine. Rent what you need, then charge that amount to the client. It’s that simple. That’s how you become a versatile cameraman that will be shooting on a Phantom one day, and an Alexa on the next, without a 10k debt hanging over your head because you pre-ordered a camera and all its matching gear, but the producers never heard of it (and it’s not an Alexa, C300, or Epic). It will take at least a year for all of the new cameras to make their way into the market and become battle-tested by some pros and get the street cred that will eventually trickle down to the people who allow you to budget for said camera on whatever production you’re on.

But, art?

I didn’t forget about you, shooting-a-feature-before-I-pay-my-rent guy. I get it. It’s fun to always have a camera on hand, and to do personal projects when you get a chance. Hold on to whatever camera produces the image you like the most, or is the most fun shooting. My BMCC got the boot on eBay, but I’m holding on to my Magic Lantern’d  Canon because it’s such a pleasure shoot with.

As I decided to leave behind the sure thing and step out on my own into the wide world of freelancing, I thought "Why not up the workload a bit and post about every hurdle you encounter?" And here we are.

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  1. Marc Laliberte Else

    Buy glass. You always need glass in front of what ever camera you use.

    • This is very true, glass retains it’s value much better than most other gear, although companies like Sigma have shown signs recently of shaking things up.

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