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Owner Operator or Renter or what?

owner renter gear

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#1 Matt Thomas

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Posted 08 March 2017 - 11:35 AM

Hey all, long time lurker first time poster. 

 

I've been working a lot lately, and saving up as well. Now the time has come to invest in some gear (with cash not credit). I'm not here to ask what I should buy with what I have but if I should buy at all? I see that people look for owner operators or sometimes just a DP with camera system knowledge. 

 

Is there a benefit to investing a sh-ton into a pro level camera system vs renting per job or vise versa?

 

A bit of background to my area, smaller market city with a big gap from wedding videographers/low budget web to high budget full blown commercial operations. Would love to move into that middle area.

 

Thanks for any insight you can provide!!


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#2 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 08 March 2017 - 11:47 AM

One thing to take into account is what cameras they are shooting on those high budget sets in a "smaller market". If it isn't always Arri/RED and something lower like Sony FS5 everywhere (I've seen well populated areas settling for these), it could be a good idea to buy one of those expensive rent cameras (Alexa, Epic), use it for your own work as well as getting some rent-out income on the side. You'll stand out with the best camera in town, etc.


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#3 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 08 March 2017 - 11:48 AM

It depends entirely on the sort of work you do.

 

My view is that it can be very worthwhile to buy comparatively mundane things like lighting stands and basic grip equipment like a decent tripod. These things will last. Absolutely the best things I ever bought were five C-stands. They're annoyingly pricy, but there really isn't anything else that will do it.

 

Lighting is currently evolving very quickly and LEDs lack sheer power so I'd avoid those. Fluorescent and HMI still work unless you particularly need to impress clients with bleeding-edge gear.

 

Cameras need to pay themselves off in much less than a year.

 

All of this is very much modulated by the availability of rentals. I own a bunch of (fairly low end) stuff because I live east of London and most of the rental is in the west of the town, so it's a massive cross-city odyssey to get hold of anything.

 

P


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#4 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 08 March 2017 - 02:40 PM

I agree with Phil, it really depends on what you're doing.

I have a little bit of equipment at my disposal for personal projects and "light" pay gigs, where the client can't afford renting.

Owning a decent camera body, support and some lights, isn't difficult. The problem comes down to the glass and accessories, they literally eat you to death. Unless you plan on using DSLR style glass and using sticks all the time, the lenses and accessories can cost the same as a decent body.

The way I look at it, is the same way Phil looks at it. If you're going to invest in equipment, it needs to pay for itself in one year. You either buy great stuff and rent to pay it back (risky) or you buy OK stuff and have enough gigs lined up to make it worth your while.

This year I'm investing in a few cameras, after the success I've had owning a Super 16 package, that's constantly busy. I'm buying a 3 perf 35mm package and a lower-end 4k digital camera (Blackmagic Ursa mini Pro 4.6k). The idea is to have a well-rounded equipment room and make money from renting the stuff when I'm not using it. I have enough close cinematographer friends who don't own anything, so it works out for me in the long run.

Just don't go into debt over equipment. Only buy if you can afford to buy.
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#5 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 08 March 2017 - 02:48 PM

What kind of access to cameras, lenses, support, and lighting do you have now?

And what kind of jobs do you want to shoot in the near future?
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#6 Matt Thomas

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Posted 08 March 2017 - 04:20 PM

Thanks for all the suggestions! 

 

Phil, I think you are speaking to my heart. I currently have a decent DSLR set up and know enough that good lighting can make the images just as much as a camera can. Hearing you and Tyler comment on this idea is encouraging and convinces me to push back my dreams of RED a bit for maybe a lesser camera with a light/grip kit. 

 

Satsuki, I work for an agency and we rent most gear needed for projects. I've had access to nice cameras/light/lenses/support but it doesn't come around often. I want to continue to shoot commercial/branded content/mini docs, which brought me to this question in the first place. Buy an all around work horse camera or rent based off of project. 


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#7 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 08 March 2017 - 06:57 PM

Right, I think I'm sorta getting at the same thing Phil said about the relative ease (or difficulty) of getting certain pieces of equipment.

So for example, in my neck of the woods it's very easy to rent most digital cinema cameras and spherical lenses, but very difficult to rent anamorphic lenses or film cameras. Since I want the option to shoot on film and also anamorphic, I invested in these things. It's not making me any money, but I think it's worth it.

I think buying any camera with the intention of making your money back is a whole separate topic and you'll get a wide spread of opinions on what to buy, new or used, or whether to even bother. But it mainly comes down to your own particular needs, budget, and comfort level. If you think you'll use it frequently and you can afford it, then why not?

As far as accessories go, I think there's more of a consensus that it makes sense to invest in items that you always use on every shoot and have a long shelf life. Especially if you can rent them out to other productions in the meantime. This should help you keep rental costs down on your own productions, since all you'll need to acquire to have a working package is the camera itself. So things like lenses, a good tripod, a basic filter kit, monitors, a few lights that you always reach for.
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#8 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 08 March 2017 - 08:01 PM

The other thing about cameras is that very low cost items can be very effective. It's possible to do entirely respectable work on a Blackmagic Pocket or an older-generation DSLR, especially Canon with Magic Lantern or a GH series with external recording. These options cost so little that it's more reasonable for many people to consider it a writeoff. Only works so long as you don't need to impress anyone, but then nothing short of Alexa, F55 or C700 really impresses anyone anymore...

 

P


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#9 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 08 March 2017 - 08:39 PM

I personally really like the idea of an A7sii paired to an external recorder for something cheap and easily ownable and which works beyond just x or y shoot to most shoots since it can be made so small (or used to stills). But i think that's market dependent. It's an ask I see in LA often.


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#10 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 08 March 2017 - 10:39 PM

In my experience always better to buy gear.. Im on my 5th camera now..and they have made me much more money than I as a renting DP ever would have.. in the Doc/Corp/web commercial world..which sounds the same as you.. choose the gear that you need for your work or work you want.. goes without saying.. all tax deductible and so much easier than having to rent.. you know its maintained and you get to know that camera really well.. they have never been so cheap.. and maintenance costs.. which used to be pretty high are just about zero now.. you cant lose really.. 

 

If your a taxi driver.. better to buy a car.. than give your money away to some else who owns one..   IMHO..


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#11 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 04:33 AM

Buying a camera depends on the amount of work you get with the camera. It's probably better to buy low end cameras, but always be aware that iit should be paid off with work within at least 6 months. Other equipment has a longer life, for example my old Ronford F4 still gets used on smaller camera shoots, It handles a FS7 without a twitch. 


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#12 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 05:21 AM

Sure if you have no work,.. its a bit of gamble to spend out on expensive gear.. but TBH in my case I bought a Sony BetaSP 400AP..(still the most expensive camera I have ever bought !).. when I didnt have much work.. but by owning that camera I did mange to get alot more work.. maybe it made me get my arse into gear.. or also that people heard I had the camera..  Sometimes you have to just go for it.. and make a calculated risk.. the trouble buying lights, stands,mattbox,s and filters.. and even lenses to some extent.. you cant bill for them separately .. and your basically supplying them for free..


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#13 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 06:50 AM

No offence, Robin, but how long ago was that?

 

These days, when you can do fairly reasonable work on very cheap gear, everyone has a good camera. It's not a calculated risk anymore, it's a guaranteed giveaway. You can't charge for any gear anymore, ever, unless you're on big stuff in which case you're being paid PACT/APA rates and making a fortune anyway - and that applies to two or three hundred people in the country here.

 

The UK has a special way of making already well-off people more well-off.

 

But really, I digress. To reiterate, all of this depends on where you are and what work you do. I would not advise anyone to invest anything at all, not money or time, on film or TV work in the UK. Unless you are outrageously, improbably lucky, you won't make it back. If you're in the USA, as our original correspondent is, then there's a lot more industry to go around, a lot more money sloshing about, and people are more willing to spend money.

 

It depends, but the situation is vastly different even to when I started out, let alone when the BVW-400 was current.

 

P


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#14 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 07:12 AM

I rent out my low-end package on occasion - GH4, Atomos Ninja Flame, DR-60 M2, and basic shoulder kit for around $100-$125 per day, depending on rental length. Add in my full lighting, sound, and grip kit, and the whole shebang goes for around $350-$400 per day. It's mostly all lower-end gear though, and most of my rentals have been college students looking to make short films over a weekend. 

 

I make the most money with production services, though. I charge $500 to $800 per day to rent me + my gear. I like it better that way, because I'm not sending my gear to some random individual. I'm in Cincinnati though, so rates might be higher on the coasts. 

 

Basically, I'm glad I bought a lower-end system. My entire equipment stash has paid for itself at least 20x over just over the past year. As for buying a full cinema camera rig and support - you're talking about a much higher investment. Can you realistically make your money back in 2 years or less on the camera? If so, go for it. The other gear should last you a long time. 


Edited by Landon D. Parks, 09 March 2017 - 07:13 AM.

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#15 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 07:24 AM

he trouble buying lights, stands,mattbox,s and filters.. and even lenses to some extent.. you cant bill for them separately .. and your basically supplying them for free..

 

You still have to supply them if you're renting the camera, otherwise you need to rent them. Factor them into your overall daily rate, so that you know that you're getting so much per day to cover supplying them.


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#16 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 08:31 AM

 

You still have to supply them if you're renting the camera, otherwise you need to rent them. Factor them into your overall daily rate, so that you know that you're getting so much per day to cover supplying them.

 

 Yes ofcourse.. but they are never really going to generate alot of income from stands etc .. thats what I mean.. you are expected to provide them anyway.. but a camera/lens package.. you can charge more than your labour .. 


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#17 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 08:36 AM

No offence, Robin, but how long ago was that?

 

These days, when you can do fairly reasonable work on very cheap gear, everyone has a good camera. It's not a calculated risk anymore, it's a guaranteed giveaway. You can't charge for any gear anymore, ever, unless you're on big stuff in which case you're being paid PACT/APA rates and making a fortune anyway - and that applies to two or three hundred people in the country here.

 

The UK has a special way of making already well-off people more well-off.

 

But really, I digress. To reiterate, all of this depends on where you are and what work you do. I would not advise anyone to invest anything at all, not money or time, on film or TV work in the UK. Unless you are outrageously, improbably lucky, you won't make it back. If you're in the USA, as our original correspondent is, then there's a lot more industry to go around, a lot more money sloshing about, and people are more willing to spend money.

 

It depends, but the situation is vastly different even to when I started out, let alone when the BVW-400 was current.

 

P

 

Yes very true I guess things might be different these days.. with DSLR,s around.. but what if you bought say an Fs7.. and some decent lenses.. or a second hand F5.. even a F55.. could you not take that gamble to move up to do a higher level of work.. all the DP,s I know in the UK have their own gear..   shooting doc,corp work..  some lease I think.. but thats the thing.. camera,s are so cheap now.. its crazy not to buy.. the market for Fs7 users now.. .. used to be $60,000 plus digibeta kits..  now you only pay $15,000 new .. or less


Edited by Robin R Probyn, 09 March 2017 - 08:38 AM.

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#18 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 09:57 AM

Yes very true I guess things might be different these days.. with DSLR,s around.. but what if you bought say an Fs7.. and some decent lenses.. or a second hand F5.. even a F55.. could you not take that gamble to move up to do a higher level of work.. all the DP,s I know in the UK have their own gear..   shooting doc,corp work..  some lease I think.. but thats the thing.. camera,s are so cheap now.. its crazy not to buy.. the market for Fs7 users now.. .. used to be $60,000 plus digibeta kits..  now you only pay $15,000 new .. or less


Many of my peers have done this. C300 Mk1, C300 Mk2, and FS7 have been especially big money makers and have helped a lot of ACs get their foot in the door as operators and DPs in the last few years. Same thing with the Red cameras ten years ago.
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#19 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 10:00 AM

could you not take that gamble to move up to do a higher level of work.. all the DP,s I know in the UK have their own gear..   shooting doc,corp work..  some lease I think.. but thats the thing.. camera,s are so cheap now.. its crazy not to buy.. the market for Fs7 users now.. .. used to be $60,000 plus digibeta kits..  now you only pay $15,000 new .. or less

 

You could take that gamble, but it's not significantly cheaper to put together a package for high-end work. If you're shooting for big BBC shows they'll want Amira, C700, F55 or something of that ilk, and a Canon CN17, or something. It's still 60k to do the sort of work that used to be digibeta.

 

As to FS7... sure, and shoot what on it? I don't know how long it's been since you worked here a lot, but camerawork in the UK these days breaks down into essentially two levels:

 

- Very nice broadcast stuff on which everything is paid for twice and everyone gets treated very nicely while making lots of money,

 

And:

 

- Freebies which run 16 hours until 3am in December shooting some awful music video in the basement of Battersea Power Station, up to your knees in oily sludge with burning paraffin-soaked rags in barrels smoking the place out because it looks cool.

 

For a while now there's been practically nothing else. The paid option is open to essentially nobody; it probably generates 5-6 jobs a year nationwide in terms of full time hours, as people enter and leave the industry. The freebie option never pays for anything, not you, not transport, not gear, so why would anyone put half a heartbeat's effort into it?

 

As Satsuki says, this is very variable worldwide and in the US there seems to be a healthy amount of business for people at the FS7 level. The UK is a wasteland, in every sense of the word.

 

P


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#20 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 10:19 AM

 

You could take that gamble, but it's not significantly cheaper to put together a package for high-end work. If you're shooting for big BBC shows they'll want Amira, C700, F55 or something of that ilk, and a Canon CN17, or something. It's still 60k to do the sort of work that used to be digibeta.

 

As to FS7... sure, and shoot what on it? I don't know how long it's been since you worked here a lot, but camerawork in the UK these days breaks down into essentially two levels:

 

- Very nice broadcast stuff on which everything is paid for twice and everyone gets treated very nicely while making lots of money,

 

And:

 

- Freebies which run 16 hours until 3am in December shooting some awful music video in the basement of Battersea Power Station, up to your knees in oily sludge with burning paraffin-soaked rags in barrels smoking the place out because it looks cool.

 

For a while now there's been practically nothing else. The paid option is open to essentially nobody; it probably generates 5-6 jobs a year nationwide in terms of full time hours, as people enter and leave the industry. The freebie option never pays for anything, not you, not transport, not gear, so why would anyone put half a heartbeat's effort into it?

 

As Satsuki says, this is very variable worldwide and in the US there seems to be a healthy amount of business for people at the FS7 level. The UK is a wasteland, in every sense of the word.

 

P

 

 

I have a mate shooting for BBC ..Country file or something like that with an fs7.. Im shooting next week for the Beeb with my trusty F5.. Im sure their drama is F55/Amira.. and very hard to get those jobs.. but I know quite alot of people shooting F5/fs7 /C300 for the Beeb and corps.. but yes I will be.. and they are using CN7.. which is still a bit of tin.. but the new fujinon zooms are very cheap.. full cine zooms 18-55 and 50 -135.. I think.. those and a second hand F5/fs7 would be less than £10,000.. and you would be totally set up 4K for any decent corp/doc shoot..  haha sounds like music video,s haven't changed much.. except we did get paid.. sometimes only just :).. standard practice to keep the rushes hidden and get cash end of the day ..


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