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Renting Vs. Buying - Red Dragon - advice please


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#1 Gene Sung

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Posted 27 November 2014 - 08:36 AM

Some background on myself and I priced a basic Dragon package around $45K

I'm a Los Angeles based upstart-ish DP who mainly shoots network promos, show main titles and a few lower-end commercials. I get about one or two decent TV DP gigs a month (adequate crew, scripted, fair pay, lower end shoot budgets around $15k to $40K per day - sometimes higher) and a smattering of crappy shoot jobs - events, some reality and event jobs. I've been shooting on a FS700 + 7Q for the past two years and worked my way up from ULBs, to some legit jobs.

I make OK money from shooting, but I make good money doing Motion Graphics to fill in the gaps, so I can swing a Dragon financially without stressing much, even if my shooting cash flow does not quite justify a Dragon. Alexa's are too expensive for me.

I know if I want to step up to the better jobs, I have to learned the higher end cameras like RED, F55 or Alexa; as cameras like the FS700 + 7Q, C300, etc... can only get you so far. I was thinking of investing in an Epic Dragon since it will probably lead to a bit more work and possibly working on higher end jobs.

My questions are:

1) Do you guys mainly rent? Or are you an Owner / Operators? I'm especially interest in guys in my position - starting to get some decent network / commercial jobs, but still having to do crap jobs to make money. I know the more established guys like David Mullen don't have to own, but please give me your 2 cents as well. Much appreciated.

2) For those who invested in a higher end camera like RED, did you guys start getting more work because of the camera? I know you reel is super important, but having a nice camera can't hurt.

3) For those who rent the more expensive cameras, do you guys ever run into issues like broken cameras, not finding cameras in a pinch, etc...? What are the downfalls of renting?

4) For those who own, did you think it was worth it to buy? Has it helped your career? Obviously some major pluses like learning the camera really well; but any minuses besides the crazy up front cost?

5) Obviously, renting is way cheaper but I'm having difficulty getting any practice on the higher cameras to really learn them. Any ideas on how to learn a system like RED or Alexa in a decent amount of time? Owning allows one to learn the system really well, but a very expensive way to learn. I'm down to AC for sure, but that's tough to get into also.

6) An alternative might be getting a slightly better camera like the new Sony FS7 (which has the same menu as F55, so I will basically know the F55) for the lower end, and rent RED, Alexa, F55 for the better jobs. But yeah... I'm having trouble getting enough time on higher end cameras to really learn them.

Sorry for this insanely long post and thanks so much for any advice as buying a RED is a huge decision.

Gene Sung
www.builtbyUgene.com
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#2 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 27 November 2014 - 04:11 PM

Hey Gene,

I would say it's a mixed bag. most of the DPs I know who have climbed the budget ladder did own cameras, but some have not. Some went deep into debt to get started and came out the other end after many years with a good career, while others never picked up the work to pay their investment off and ended up in another career. The ones who made it by talent alone generally took years longer to get there, but today they are usually working on higher budget stuff. You'll have to find your own path.

I think if you are good at swinging deals on affordable gear based on your existing relationships with rental houses and individual owners, then you won't need to own. This is where spending a few years as an AC, electric, grip, or rental tech and networking can really help you out. Since you are in LA where there is a surplus of gear and studios, you really should have no problem getting good deals.

The upside of renting is that the responsibility of maintenance and service of gear is on the vendor. All you really need to rent is production insurance, which the production co should have. So if a camera body goes down, a lens requires collimation, HMI stops working, etc. the vendor should just supply you with a replacement. Of course, you'll get variable quality of service depending on the size of the shop. At Panavision, you should get full service. From an owner op with a single camera package, you should not expect much service at all. You'll often get the best value at medium sized shops, since they have enough gear to give you options, but are still small enough to care about your business.

The downside is that you don't get to pocket the additional camera rental in addition to your day rate, and you can't cut a production co deals on gear that you don't own.

Should you even be doing that? Difficult question. On the one hand, giving deals on gear makes you more attractive to low end producers since you can give them more value for their money. But they will come to expect it from you, and since you can never again charge them for what they're used to getting for free, you'll never make your money back.

Most producers tend to stay within their budget level, so a low end guy will always be low end. This is not a path to bigger, better paying jobs, it's a dead end. The way into bigger jobs is to hook up with bigger producers who will need to see that you can do the job at that level and expect you to charge accordingly.

However, we all need to start somewhere so if buying gear and giving it away for cheap gets your foot in the door and helps build your reel so that you can get those bigger jobs, then it might be worth it. Just don't expect it to be easy.
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#3 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 27 November 2014 - 05:09 PM

Another thing I will add is that generally nowadays the production co you're working for already knows what camera they want to shoot on. They will specifically request a C300, Epic, F55, whatever. You can try to talk them into using something else, but generally it's because they have a quick turnaround on the job and already have their workflow in place. They don't want any variables in post, just a quick ingest, edit, and turnaround. So if you don't own that specific camera, then you or the company will have to rent one anyway (or possibly find another owner op to replace you). On low end shoots, YOU the DP are the most replaceable element. Sad but true.
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#4 Gene Sung

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Posted 28 November 2014 - 11:06 AM

Thanks for the response Satsuki. Gives me more to think about.

This is a tough choice as I definately don't have a trust fund; and for the first time in my life between shooting and doing motion graphics work, I can actually afford to buy a higher end camera.

Lots to think about.
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#5 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 28 November 2014 - 12:20 PM

If you can afford to buy one camera, you can afford to rent many; and often.

I am of the mind that unless you have a way to pay off your purchase quickly; any spare cash would be much better spent in savings given the feast or famine nature of this industry.

And, as a camera owner, putting it out on rentals away from oneself is only a recipe for stress, worry, and costs for repairs.

I have on occasion been hired because I own a camera; and while some of those shoots were quite pleasant, most were not. I also don't think any camera has launched me further in my career, honestly. If anything, I think it's been my general knowledge, personality, and abilities which have moved me forward. Of course, to say I have a career is still a strange idea to me, though I am continually paying bills, mostly on time, from just shooting.

 

I don't think one really thinks of the full cost of a rental package. In truth, you're looking at close to 100K to get something which producers would in any way pay a reasonable price for, especially for a Dragon. And while you may cash in by getting it FIRST,  the brutal truth is that you're at the back of the line for delivery. And, since Red is really a mass market camera, you will quickly see the day rate the body can bring diminish due to market saturation and the business acumen of many others who will own, but without the skill and network, figure their best way into the marketplace is to undercut the rate of everyone else-- even down to free.

 

If you need/want a camera to have on hand for smaller projects; that's fine-- but there are myriad systems out there which come in substantially cheaper than even the battery and charge for a Red. Personally I have a BM Pocket. It's cheap, it worked with my pre-existing kit, and the things I buy for it now will transition to future digital cameras (monitors and A/B Batteries for example), and it's already paid off after 2 shoots to the point where I don't need to worry about paying it off an whenever it rents again is pure profit (or when I sell it won't be at a loss).

 

Also, these days, with companies such as lensrental and borrowlenses (both .com) it's so easy to rent that it makes less and less sense to own in my own opinion.


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#6 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 28 November 2014 - 04:15 PM

One area where it would make sense to buy is if you are planning on being a one-stop shop for visual effects work. Use the camera to acquire plates and other elements, transcode in your studio, do all the compositing in house, and deliver final product. That would definitely save you money.
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#7 Gene Sung

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Posted 28 November 2014 - 04:22 PM

Hi Adrian,

Thanks for responding. What you said makes a lot sense. I'm seeing full Dragons kits from places like Brainbox - cine lenses, good sticks, all accessories, etc... renting for $1000 a day for a package that probably almost $100k. That's crazy cheap and I'm not sure how they are even making money off that.

I think I'll just upgrade from my current camera to a moderately price camera like the FS7 and rent for the bigger jobs. I do need a decent camera as I often shoot a lot of my own art projects and I just like to shoot constantly just for fun, but at $8K that's not going to kill me.
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#8 Carlo Zappella

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Posted 19 January 2015 - 09:52 AM

Does anybody know that if I were to rent a Red Dragon for 3-4 Months I might as well buy it? Or do rental houses give you that much better prices if you rent for such a long time?


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#9 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 19 January 2015 - 01:13 PM

Rental houses will discount for long term rentals.

Normally it's a 3 day week(sometimes 2 day week) , and a 2 week month. Depends on the rental house of course.


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#10 Gene Sung

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Posted 19 January 2015 - 01:29 PM

3 to 4 months, you might consider buying.

 

Shorter projects, the rates in LA are very cheap from smaller rental houses. From Brainbox you can rent a full Dragon Kit with Zeiss Ultra primes and a bunch of other stuff (about $120K in gear) for $1000 a day or $3000 a week. You can get a more basic Dragon package for about $600 a day or $1800 a week.


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#11 Carlo Zappella

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Posted 20 January 2015 - 05:41 AM

True, but in Austria (where I live and the filming will take place) there is I think one dragon camera and that's owned by a private dude who rents it out sometime.


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#12 Steve Sprague

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Posted 03 February 2015 - 01:31 AM

Could you still do your production with a less expensive camera?


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#13 Freya Black

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Posted 03 February 2015 - 03:52 PM

It's been said lots of times but I'll say it again. You are way better off buying lenses or support than a camera. The camera will be out of date by the time you get it for the most part. Better to buy a cheap camera like the FS7 or Blackmagic Pocket or maybe even the Cion and get Cooke S4i minis or something with the money saved. Then when the production wants to use a different camera then you still can use the lenses.

 

There are too many people out there already with high end camera packages anyway so you will need something else to compete!

 

Freya


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#14 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 03 February 2015 - 06:43 PM

Many of those high end cameras, going off of Freya's comment as well, come with "cinema" lenses-- sometimes a L Series Canon zoom, which is a laughable addition to many a Dragon i've seen.

Though, i must say a set of Rokinon DS Cines, while still stills lenses, are a very cheap way to have a set of glass you can rent out quite often it seems-- and a quick thing to pay back.


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#15 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 03 February 2015 - 07:15 PM

I actually went with your option #6 and bought the FS7.  But it was mostly because I have easy access to rent a Dragon or Alexa and still get a good DP rate.  I've always been a fan of the F55 so I might be biased but I have to say I love the FS7.  I was nervous about the rolling shutter but it's actually not bad at all.  The 4K internal X-AVC S-Log2 or 3 is incredibly easy to grade so post is easier for most clients than the 4K raw from the F55.  The body is way more solid and ergonomic than the FS100/700 series. 

 

Buying a $50K camera seemed excessive since I'd never rent it cheaper than those I can get it from and it seemed like it would take a while to get my investment back wherease the FS7 has almost paid for itself already.  Also I really wanted to upgrade my accessories to Bright Tangerine Mbox and Follow focus and those are not cheap.  

 

Despite the criticism of the FS7's ergonomics and viewfinder placement (a cable extension is on the way I hear), I've found it's great.. Finding the sweet spot for exposure on different skin tones on any camera is tricky but when you get it right, the FS7 delivers.


Edited by Michael LaVoie, 03 February 2015 - 07:17 PM.

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