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Nelson JJ Flores

Purchasing Equipment

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Hi everyone,

 

I'm a local LA DP and I'm wondering what would be a smart investment if I wanted to secure more work for myself as a DP?

I mainly do narrative work, and very low budget indie projects. Looking to get into more music videos and commercial work, but still have a balance between the two realms.

I don't have the funds to purchase a camera, but I'm looking for something under $3K. I wanted to know from fellow DP's what investments they made and if it actually helped them acquire jobs in the long run.

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I don't know much about the LA market nor the sort of stuff you're after, but I've always found trying to buy work with gear is a dubious idea at best. You end up giving the gear away, and risk being seen only as a source of gear. Neither is a good long-term career option. I'd be very careful.

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In terms of investment, as Phil alludes to, it's better to buy gear when you already have the work lined up that will make a return on the investment within the year (before the gear obsoletes.) So if you are established in a certain market, and every other person is using a Sony FS7 or Canon C300, etc. for that market, it seems like a safe investment to buy those cameras knowing how many days you will be able to rent them out.

 

In terms of career, it's a harder decision because you don't want your choice in gear create limitations, and as Phil says, a lot of people will either want you or your camera or both for free. But if getting the camera is about building a resume and getting experience, then earning back the costs of the camera is not the main goal.

 

I started too long ago for my experience to be relevant, but after learning to shoot with my Super-8 camera, I started using 16mm cameras, rented or on student movies, and then started shooting 35mm on rented cameras, so I was never attached to a particular piece of gear. If I had invested in a Super-16 Aaton back in the 90's after film school, let's say, then I'd have been shooting more Super-16 features with it rather than the fewer 35mm features I did actually shoot. I just tried to be good enough that I was hired for my skills and not my equipment, but I'm sure I lost out on some early work, and for later work, I perhaps could have made some money getting into equipment ownership.

 

Today, it seems safer to invest in lenses rather than cameras.

 

But I'm not an up-and-comer, not starting out in this market where it is expected that you have a camera, even if it means getting exploited for it. I'd probably try not to think of it in terms of making your money back on the purchase, but then, it's not my money!

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Thank you guys! I appreciate the feedback, hopefully I can come to a decision. Ideally I would like to get more work variety in my portfolio so I can show to potential clients. Hence why I feel like gear might help me in some way. For now I'll just have to work on my negotiation skills to convince people to hire me, which is pretty difficult as is but I will try to learn and improve.

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People hire you hire because of your skills and experience. People who hire you because you own a certain piece of equipment, usually they are they type of cheap-ass people you want to avoid.

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Very true. Still, for someone trying to build a reputation you will basically need a box with a hole in the front, called a camera, and a lens on the front of it, and maybe a tripod. Try to get hold of a good kit that makes the images closest to what you are chasing, whether renting or buying. I'm in the same position, only older. I've found so far that the most cost effective solution is to own most of the things I need. But yes I would definitely avoid investing (or hoping to invest - you could likely lose a lot of money) in some big 'name' camera. Fashions are fickle and things come and go.

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Very true. Still, for someone trying to build a reputation you will basically need a box with a hole in the front, called a camera, and a lens on the front of it, and maybe a tripod. Try to get hold of a good kit that makes the images closest to what you are chasing, whether renting or buying. I'm in the same position, only older. I've found so far that the most cost effective solution is to own most of the things I need. But yes I would definitely avoid investing (or hoping to invest - you could likely lose a lot of money) in some big 'name' camera. Fashions are fickle and things come and go.

I'll go the opposite way here. If you're investing in equipment to market yourself, you'll need to invest in equipment that your competition doesn't own. And that usually means something unusual or expensive. Otherwise, the equipment will have little marketing value. If you are not a rental house, then you are marketing and that's a completely different business plan. Don't plan on recouping your investment in rental income. In fact, consider that you will receive no direct returns as a real possibility. Then you can decide if you want to make this gamble on your career.

 

So, if it's a camera system that you are contemplating, you might consider something like a camera with a large format sensor and lenses. Something that is out of the price range of most owner/operators, that can provide a unique result that one can not get with a common Red Camera for example.

 

If this scares the bejesus out of you then you can consider making your own short movie to show off your abilities, that shows something more than you are currently getting from the type of paid work you're doing now. In my career I've gone both routes. When I was young I invested in a Steadicam, when few had the nerve to invest in one. And, I wrote and directed a short film that was shot all on the Steadicam as my "calling card". This was quite expensive, but it worked out very well when I was just starting out.

 

Just some "food for thought" ....

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Like Phil Rhodes said, people get used for their equipment. The kids with the Ursa, C200, or RED get the jobs, many who know nothing about lighting, but have a camera and easy rig. I've seen it.

That's an expensive competition.

I instead invested in some lights. Cheap used tungstens and some baby stands and did free gigs with my DSLR until I got enough for a reel. It went up from there. I now own my lights and a descent fluid head tripod. Cameras go obsolete after a few years. Support gear, lights and lenses really don't.

If the BMPCC4K was available at the time, I would have bought that instead of my DSLR. But that's it.

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