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Lighting Package or New Camera??

Arri kino a7sII ursa mini investment cinematographer camera lighting package

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#1 Sam Oddo

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Posted 27 January 2016 - 10:16 AM

Hey Guys,

I'm an aspiring cinematographer and I am wondering how best to spend my money to invest in this field. At first, I was dead sent on buying on new camera (looking at the A7s II or the Ursa Mini); however, I have now begun to consider investing in lighting equipment, and opting to rent a camera whenever the need arises.  Basically I'm torn: For $3,000 I could buy just a camera body, or I could get an Arri lighting package (x2 150w, 300w, 650w, 1k) and two 4' 2-bank kino lights w/ ballasts off of Ebay.

 

My questions are:

Can anyone provide insight into what would be the best and most beneficial course of action? I also have another question based off of the Kino lights: is the output of a 4' 2-bank Kino the same as the output of a 2' 4-bank Kino? What are the benefits to either or? Lastly, is there a better investment I could make that isn't a camera or lighting equipment?

Thanks again, and any insight will be greatly appreciated!

-Sam


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#2 Jay Young

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Posted 27 January 2016 - 11:44 AM

This question gets asked literally daily on Reddit...

 

As an aspiring cinematographer, how is the new camera going to help you in that regard? 

Will the lighting package allow you to learn more, or get more work? Will the camera?   Why is your old camera not good enough?

 

I bought a camera to do specific jobs with, but on larger jobs, I usually just rent and bill the client - they don't care.

Lighting is always going to be useful.  In 20 years that Ursa Mini may not be so useful.

 

What do you want to do?


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#3 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 27 January 2016 - 02:16 PM

Yep, Jay is 100% right.

I have a cheap camera and cheap lights because even if I had a great camera and great lights, it's still never enough to do a lot of the productions. Plus, everything is changing so rapidly right now, as a cinematographer, you'd have to spend boat loads to keep up. People always want to shoot on the newest stuff and if you have 2 year old gear, they may not hire you. It's far cheaper to put a 3 ton grip truck and newest XYZ camera rental in your fee, then buying gear and having it sit around unused most of the time. Remember that cameras and lenses turn into boat anchors over time.
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#4 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 27 January 2016 - 07:12 PM

Lights & Grip x1000

Cameras are cheap these days, and more and more producers are deciding the camera that will be shot on without input from the DP anyway. So spend your money on the stuff that will actually allow you to make nice pictures with any camera - lights and grip for lighting control.
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#5 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 27 January 2016 - 07:21 PM

Light and grip, can't say it enough.

 

Lights endure. Cameras don't. And lights make more difference.


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#6 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 27 January 2016 - 11:31 PM

Light and grip, can't say it enough.

 

Exactly.  The majority of what I invested in consists primarily of lighting and grip equipment.  The only reason I purchased a 16mm camera and a Steenbeck were to shoot and edit my own films.  Then again, everything I purchase I do so with the intention of using on one of my own projects.  And it usually comes in handy for something else down road, as well.

 

Go with the ARRI lighting kit.  You can't go wrong.


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#7 Igor Trajkovski

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Posted 28 January 2016 - 08:35 PM

What are the benefits to either or? Lastly, is there a better investment I could make that isn't a camera or lighting equipment?
 

 

Education?

 

Some great workshop/seminar, say ASC Masterclass.

I think aside the technical&artistic knowledge benefits,
something like that can be a great morale and confidence booster.
Not to mention the networking.

...

Between the two mentioned choices i'll go Light and Grip too.

 


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#8 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 28 January 2016 - 11:15 PM

As someone who owned a van with a ton of lighting and grip, I'll say that being a DP and offering that is not always a great advantage.  Yeah, it's great in that you can bring whatever you want to your shoots when production may otherwise not be able to afford it. That's nice.  But don't actually expect any producers/filmmakers to be actually grateful or respectful or happy to be handing over nearly all of their budget to one person who's bringing everything who is also a key creative.

 

That really rubs people the wrong way.  They want it all sure, but they don't feel they should pay for it.  Even if it's a great deal. Many green producers have a really hard time giving a lot of the budget to any one individual person especially if they're giving it to a crew member in a position where they might otherwise generally leverage their "desire to shoot" the film against them.  

 

So you will likely be expected  to give away most of your stuff for the sake of the film.  Sad but that's the reality. Where a gaffer or key grip may be encouraged but not necessarily expected to want to cut a deal just to get the job. Not as much anyway.  So it's better for set techs to build a G&E package than a DP.  At least as far as investment is concerned.

 

But having all that stuff at your disposal is totally awesome.  I loved having good working gear all the time and always knowing it'll arrive on set on time.  I have to say though, I don't miss wrapping out every single piece of gear at the end of the day.  I love being able to leave a set with nothing but my light meter and not having to wait till all the units are struck and wrapped.  


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#9 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 January 2016 - 05:30 AM

Having to give away most or all of your gear is a modern hazard of filmmaking. I own a bunch of usable-but-second-tier stuff - chinese stands and source four PAR clones. It's functional but not particularly pretty. Owning real gear would cost many times more, often ten times more, and since I never expect to be paid a penny for it, it just doesn't make sense to spend the money.

We are already long since in a society which recognises the worth of nothing. Film crew are already expected to work for free or derisory wages most of the time, so the idea of getting paid for inanimate objects is pretty far-fetched at this point.

The reason to own light and grip is to improve one's work, not to make money. You won't.
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#10 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 29 January 2016 - 12:51 PM

Part of the job is managing your client's expectations. Ideally, you want to exceed them by offering good value but not by so much that they develop unrealistic expectations relative to their budget. They often need to be made aware of what things really cost. That's usually where I start and negotiate from there. And you have to be willing to say no. I've been pretty bad at this in the past, so it's something I'm actively working on getting better at.

So if they have a smaller budget, I try to have appropriate options. I recently put together a small set of affordable Zeiss Contax primes and put Leitax EF mounts on them. They've gone out on their first two jobs this week since there was no budget for cine lenses. They look good and are ok to pull focus with, but I make it clear up front that this is the budget option and there will be compromises as a result.
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#11 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 January 2016 - 01:20 PM

Good grief, for most people, a properly modified set of Contax would be the heights of luxury. I usually end up with awful servo-only stills glass.

 

If you make people aware of what things cost, they just keep staring at you and saying "no."

 

P


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#12 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 29 January 2016 - 06:39 PM

Honestly, lighting in of itself is only part of the problem. That's why I tend to rent a complete grip truck when working on anything with a budget. There are so many other things you need when shooting, trying to have a complete inventory of gear can be somewhat crazy. Here in LA there are gaffers with trucks who will work for $350 - $500 a day no problem. That's a STEAL in the grand scheme of things and well worth not bothering to own anything. Obviously, if you're shooting your own stuff constantly for no money, well then there maybe a need. But for the simple fact of owning (stockpiling) gear so you can maybe get more jobs? Not worth the effort in my opinion.
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#13 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 January 2016 - 06:44 PM

Agree entirely. Nobody will ever be impressed that you own lights. They will be impressed if you own camera equipment, of course, not that it's as important.


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#14 Bruce Greene

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Posted 29 January 2016 - 07:46 PM

What ever you decide, I think it's best to think of owning equipment as marketing rather than a profit center.

I invested a lot of money in a digital cinema camera 10 years ago when it was quite expensive. Everyone warned me that cheap 4k was coming soon and that I would loose my money. They were correct. Total rentals came to only about 25% of the cost of the equipment.

That said, I shot 5 features with this camera and built a reputation and learned a lot about digital cinema. I view the marketing investment as a success. It certainly allowed me to move from operator to DP.

Today, everybody has a camera. They can be inexpensive. I would invest in lenses that others can't afford that won't loose too much value. That + a cheap PL mount camera. When you need a better camera, you can always rent just the body.

But don't count on the rentals to pay for the equipment in full.
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#15 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 29 January 2016 - 11:14 PM

Good grief, for most people, a properly modified set of Contax would be the heights of luxury. I usually end up with awful servo-only stills glass.
 
If you make people aware of what things cost, they just keep staring at you and saying "no."
 
P


The lenses I have were $150-$350/each on eBay. The Leitax mounts are like $60/each. Add in a few caps and step rings and you're done. You can zip gear them if you want but I don't. That's pretty darn affordable...
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#16 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 30 January 2016 - 02:01 AM

The lenses I have were $150-$350/each on eBay. The Leitax mounts are like $60/each. Add in a few caps and step rings and you're done. You can zip gear them if you want but I don't. That's pretty darn affordable...

Hmm, maybe I should put my Asahi Takumars to work...


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#17 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 30 January 2016 - 03:48 AM

That's a very reasonable deal, of course, although my interest in buying stuff I'll have to give away largely ends at the £1000 mark.

What are the downsides?
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#18 JD Hartman

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Posted 30 January 2016 - 07:20 AM

Honestly, lighting in of itself is only part of the problem. That's why I tend to rent a complete grip truck when working on anything with a budget. There are so many other things you need when shooting, trying to have a complete inventory of gear can be somewhat crazy. Here in LA there are gaffers with trucks who will work for $350 - $500 a day no problem. That's a STEAL in the grand scheme of things and well worth not bothering to own anything. Obviously, if you're shooting your own stuff constantly for no money, well then there maybe a need. But for the simple fact of owning (stockpiling) gear so you can maybe get more jobs? Not worth the effort in my opinion.

 

Kind of depends what in the (what size) truck.  It's been said, "If you give it away, it wasn't worth anything to start with."  That holds true for your time and skills as well.


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#19 Miguel Angel

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Posted 30 January 2016 - 09:13 AM

I have had a Redone MX for 1 year and a couple of months and I sold it a week ago and although it was never rented to any productions it allowed me to learn more about the way I like lighting and framing. 

 

I decided to sell the camera but not the lenses because lenses are something that not everybody has (I have a set of spherical and a set of anamorphic) but I'm sure that I will end up selling both because at the end of the day, your equipment is not always the equipment that the production needs. 

 

On a side note, the last two short - films I worked on were the last ones that I did for free (because I had been booked a couple of years ago) and when I told the directors that I had sold the camera they said: well, we will rent one. 

 

What astonishes me the most is that they never thought about giving me any rental fee for my camera or my lenses but when I told them that I had no camera then they allowed part of the budget to go towards a camera rental fee. 

 

So I'd say, get lenses! and as Bruce said, a super cheap pl camera.

 

You can always rent a better camera for any job when you need it. 

 

Good thing about lenses is that they never lose value! 

 

Have a good day!


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#20 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 30 January 2016 - 03:37 PM

That's a very reasonable deal, of course, although my interest in buying stuff I'll have to give away largely ends at the £1000 mark.

What are the downsides?


Image shift and lack of focus marks, mostly. Also, the declicked apertures need a bit of grease. They work great on interviews or stuff where there's not too much focus pulling involved.

Frankly, I mostly bought the lenses to work with my rehoused Iscorama so I was more interested in the optics than the mechanics, since with the Isco you set the taking lens to infinity and leave it there. But well, I have no idea when that Isco will ever return from the lens shop, it's been over a year since I sent it out. So in the meantime, I'm using them as is and I've been quite happy with them so far.

Stuart, go for it! Love my Pentax SMC primes, they are definitely more warm and vintage-looking than the Contax glass. I think they make great portrait lenses.
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