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Kevin Mastman

Owning vs. renting cinema camera

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I wouldn't own a high end camera.

A lot of people, me included, have access to gear that they regularly give away, but naturally you won't get the high end stuff like that. You'll get C200, Ursa Mini, FS7. Which, as Mr Mawson says, are all very capable.

I am aware of both realities. These cameras are very capable, but they do not attract a meaningful rental income. Their performance is more or less irrelevant; it's about reputation.

It does irk me, in the end, that you could shoot a major motion picture on an Ursa Mini and nobody would know the difference. You could carry three bodies, be completely confident you weren't likely to somehow have all of them fail, and still be making a massive saving over something like Alexa.

 

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Posted (edited)
7 hours ago, Adam Frisch FSF said:

I would never own a camera these days. The time to make your investment back on it simply not enough unless it's dirt cheap. Friend of mine bought an Alexa LF last year for $120K. It's already more or less obsolete now that the Mini LF is coming out. It's hard to make $120K back in rentals in a year - that's $10K/month or rented out for at least 5 days/month. Not so easy, unless it goes on a feature (and there the discounts are so huge, you'll probably need it to be out 15-20 days/month instead of 5/month). Sure, it's rentals won't drop to 0, but they will substantially taper off with the Mini LF.

Yes this is the high end where its not probably a good idea .. unless you have the clout to insist on using your gear or you are working a lot on the same type of production..but all the 95% of other video production is actually the opposite ,and the only way to make a living wage.. you more than double your day rate and the gear is  alot cheaper than it ever used to be..   my first camera Beta sp 400AP was around $70K. 20 years ago.. my camera now, Sony f5 with 4K upgrade about $16,500..  Fs7II is even cheaper .. Pana Varicam LT is under $10K ...!!  there has never been a better time to buy a camera .. you will make your money back in months not years .. and most productions are becoming camera agnostic compared to the past.. if it has a s35 /4K sensor /TC in /XLR and a codec in the usual suspects .. your away.. servicing ,parts and backup in the field are your only concerns.. there is virtually no maintenance costs with solid state cameras too.. to me its the most absolute non brainer for any freelancer getting a certain level of work.. I don't know a single DP in the doc /corp market who doesn't have all their own gear .. many have audio too..its the only way to survive these days .. and the whole thing is a tax right off too.. what's not to love ..

Edited by Robin R Probyn
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Sure, when you're shooting docs for corporates or even smaller commercials, it does totally make sense to own. But for bigger productions, like larger commercials or features, it doesn't. Plus, you don't want to be the guy that stands on set with 100 crew staring at you and three producers screaming at you because you're gear broke down and it's gonna cost them an insurance day. With rental houses you have backups.

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I said this to someone today.

You can buy three Ursa Mini bodies and still have enough left over for a van to put them in, for the price of a modern Alexa.

There is a limit to the difference all the obsessive Arri quality control makes; in the end, three Ursas are probably more reliable than one Alexa, and they do considerably more.

Obviously it's not solely about spec. But I am often dismayed by the fact that good engineering is being done for a very competitive price and overlooked because... fashion.

Engineering talent and ability is not encouraged by this, which makes me very sad.

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7 hours ago, Adam Frisch FSF said:

Sure, when you're shooting docs for corporates or even smaller commercials, it does totally make sense to own. But for bigger productions, like larger commercials or features, it doesn't. Plus, you don't want to be the guy that stands on set with 100 crew staring at you and three producers screaming at you because you're gear broke down and it's gonna cost them an insurance day. With rental houses you have backups.

That's kind of the biggest difference between low budget and mid to high budget. On low budget, they can afford to be down an hour if something goes wrong. On a mid to high budget, they can't afford it. Honestly, it's the main reason why I want a 2nd XTR Prod because 90% of the features I've been offered, won't accept the concept of only having ONE camera available. There is no way they can be down for more than a few minutes at a time, not hours whilst someone goes looking for a new rental. Plus imagine if you're on location somewhere outside of a city, no way to solve the problems. I've had plenty of Red's go down for this to be a concern with digital cinema as well. 

I will say for the record, cameras do help you get "gigs", but it's rare you'd be using your rig all the time. They're great for that one off music video or helping a friend out, but for any serious production, they could care less what camera ya own. 

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On 7/4/2019 at 8:25 AM, Adam Frisch FSF said:

Sure, when you're shooting docs for corporates or even smaller commercials, it does totally make sense to own. But for bigger productions, like larger commercials or features, it doesn't. Plus, you don't want to be the guy that stands on set with 100 crew staring at you and three producers screaming at you because you're gear broke down and it's gonna cost them an insurance day. With rental houses you have backups.

Yes totally agree.. high end is a different story.. but I believe the OP was in the doc/corp work / low budget music video etc.. in this market ,its never been a better idea to own gear than these days .. I wish they had been this cheap and good 20 years ago.. its very affordable to even have 2 x camera bodies these days.. 

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Just wanted to chime in since I thought I might add a different perspective.

I work in documentary and unscripted TV full time. This includes nature, wildlife, action sports, human interest stories, and hosted programs. Almost always on-location. 

To be blunt, if I didn't own a camera package, I wouldn't get hired.

The nature of doc and unscripted TV tends to be quite last minute. Just this morning a producer from a major network asked if I could fly out in 2 days for a 4-day doc-style shoot, everything shot on location (i.e. out of the back of a rental SUV). This happens all the time, and only if I'm lucky will I have work booked more than 2-3 weeks in advance. Not my preference, that's just the industry trend.

So, this necessitates a ready-to-go-at-all-times mentality and equipment package. There simply isn't time to rent. Often times I am flying into some far-flung little city, because that's where the story is, and I need to have a reliable way of getting the gear there quickly and efficiently; no time to deal with a truck full of pelican cases. But in addition, my shoots can get stacked back to back, so the thought of making runs to the rental house before and after each shoot doesn't represent a good use of my time and energy.

Regarding the financials, I simply include the gear rental rate in my day rate. If they need interviews, I have an additional lighting and grip rental rate. Sometimes the production company wants to use their own gear, so I have a rate for that too. But in my experience, 9 times out of 10, they know that paying my rental fees and going "all in" will save everyone time and effort. No dealing with rental houses, no prep days, no extra insurance to manage, no equipment surprises, etc. And, sorry if this sounds cheesy, but there is something to be said for letting an artist use their own tools. 

Regarding actual cameras...the discussion these days isn't so much "what's your camera package?" It's more like "Do you have the FS7 or C300?" Again, totally subjective, but those are the 2 cameras that get the most requests. Simple and reliable workhorses, and they produce excellent results. If your answer is "no" then you're probably not getting hired. Doesn't matter if you own a "better" camera; they want the same camera they used last time. Or, they want the same camera the b-cam guy is operating, which is also usually an FS7 or C300.

Of course you also need a lighting package, and increasingly a need to know how to run audio, but that's a different story...

 

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The back up thing does stress me out when I'm supplying my own gear.  I keep my trusty old 60D in the car on shoots, its good to know you can limp through on it if the Black Magic spafs out.

On the fashion front I guess if Alexa is even 1% better, then on the high budget jobs thats worth the extra expense. At the commecials level its alot about image. I mean is the prod co and team that charges £500k for a 30 sec video going to be functionally better then a team that could do it £50k. Its a lot about having the balls to charge crazy prices and then the clients start to think its worth it.

Alexa plays to that image in a way the trust FS7 doesn't 

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