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Evan A Olson

What are your thoughts on renting out your cine camera?

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I've been thinking for a while about financing or leasing a camera and then renting it out to agencies to pay for the monthly cost. I know at least 3 people who do this, but I'm unsure if it is a good idea. Do you rent out your camera? Did you purchase your camera with renting it out in mind?

A little ranting and thinking out loud here:

The hardest thing for me getting in to film these last 2 years has been dissociating personal cost impressions from business cost impressions. $100 in my personal account is a ton of money. But, $100 in my business account is now seen as next to nothing. I don't wait a couple of days to purchase a few hard drives for a project because of the sticker shock. The difference makes sense because business expenses are not expenses after revenue has been accounted for. In other words, it's not an expense on profit in my personal account.

With personal cost impressions in mind, people don't flinch when buying and making payments on a new car, even when that car is $12,000 on up. Why should I flinch when buying a cinema camera in the same price range, especially if it is a business cost, rather than a personal cost? To add to that, aren't higher budget cameras more likely to get rented out? And, if they are more likely to get rented out, does the money gained from renting it out offset the cost of leasing it to the point that it ends up being less expensive than a lower budget camera?

I'm torn between getting an Eva-1 or C200 or jumping and getting the recently-price-slashed Varicam LT or a Red.

This is not about "expensive camera = more work." It's about making work less like work. Shooting on durable cine cameras that have great color and are easy to edit in post makes me happy. I hate messing with loose Metabones mounts, poor codecs, gross colors, and "fixer" LUTs. All those issues are just barriers to the fun of camera work. Having a camera that pays for itself in renting it out to people while also giving me the joy of filming (that I'm guessing everyone here shares) sounds worth it to me.

Have you made this jump? Was it worth it? What should I be considering when thinking about this?

 

Edited by Evan A Olson
Clarification in title to avoid confusion

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It seems to me that if you continually rent out your equipment, then you will be a rental house without the equipment available for your own use. So, you might make a profit, but you'll loose the marketing advantage of having your own kit available.

From my experience, owning cameras can be good marketing, but not a good investment for making a rental profit.  For me, the marketing advantage was worth it, but I won't be buying anymore cameras as I no longer need that type of marketing.

To be useful as a marketing tool, you'll need to own the camera package that few of your competitors will have, and that can mean an expensive package. Even better would be to also have some type of unique accessories that others won't have, but I can't think of any right now 🙂  In other words, think about what kind of package will get you new types of work that you want to do, and that your competitors will not have, or will not dare to invest in.  Maybe some unusual vintage lenses? Something like that.

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I would never do it unless I really needed the money... or was going into the rental business.. you may not have it for your own shoots and "its a rental don't be gentle "...  there is a reason for that saying 🙂

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I personally wouldn't do it. Yes, it would be great to have your own high-end camera, but unless you have enough work of your own to justify the cost, you might be shooting yourself in the foot. How many people do you currently know of that are ready and willing to rent a camera from you, and how often would they realistically rent?

I've been asking myself similar questions lately. I worked for a production company for years and then started freelancing about a year ago, so I had to start piecing together equipment of my own. Honestly, buying a camera is my last priority, and for the number of shoots I do, it doesn't quite make sense for me. I've been investing thousands of dollars in lights and grip gear. That's still added significant value for me, and when I need a camera, I borrow or rent one.

Also, I personally wouldn't drop a bunch of money on a camera if you didn't have a decent lighting and grip package. So what if you had a Red? If you don't have lights your footage might not end up looking all that great anyway, and isn't that why you wanted to invest in a nice camera?

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On 8/2/2019 at 4:33 PM, Bruce Greene said:

It seems to me that if you continually rent out your equipment, then you will be a rental house without the equipment available for your own use. So, you might make a profit, but you'll loose the marketing advantage of having your own kit available.

From my experience, owning cameras can be good marketing, but not a good investment for making a rental profit.  For me, the marketing advantage was worth it, but I won't be buying anymore cameras as I no longer need that type of marketing.

To be useful as a marketing tool, you'll need to own the camera package that few of your competitors will have, and that can mean an expensive package. Even better would be to also have some type of unique accessories that others won't have, but I can't think of any right now 🙂  In other words, think about what kind of package will get you new types of work that you want to do, and that your competitors will not have, or will not dare to invest in.  Maybe some unusual vintage lenses? Something like that.

I see what you mean by not having the equipment available if it is rented out. That's a good point. The marketing advantage of "I have a camera package with X" is lost, especially if an agency calls looking to book it for a date that it's rented out. And if they call and realize that it is rented out, would they call back? They might just think, "Let's find someone more reliable." Not sure.

Do you know of any unique accessories that would give a marketing advantage (I know you said you couldn't think of any at the moment, but maybe one has popped up since then?). Buying a gimbal has gotten me work. I also put together a cine-modded Contax Zeiss set, but I have been very protective of that.

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On 8/2/2019 at 10:15 PM, David Ruck said:

I've been investing thousands of dollars in lights and grip gear. That's still added significant value for me

Everyone always needs an extra light. Or that one flag to give a little negative fill.

A few months ago, I bought an Aputure 120D II with a bunch of Bowens light modifiers. That light has given me so much value. Interviews before and after that light are like night and day. Before I was using a 2-panel setup through a silk-type cloth. With the 120D, I just put on a 48" beauty dish to get great soft and controllable light. A new camera couldn't have made the shots before the light look any better.

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4 hours ago, Evan A Olson said:

I see what you mean by not having the equipment available if it is rented out. That's a good point. The marketing advantage of "I have a camera package with X" is lost, especially if an agency calls looking to book it for a date that it's rented out. And if they call and realize that it is rented out, would they call back? They might just think, "Let's find someone more reliable." Not sure.

Do you know of any unique accessories that would give a marketing advantage (I know you said you couldn't think of any at the moment, but maybe one has popped up since then?). Buying a gimbal has gotten me work. I also put together a cine-modded Contax Zeiss set, but I have been very protective of that.

My first major equipment purchase was a Steadicam back in 1984, when few people would take a chance on such a difficult and expensive piece of equipment.  Within months I started getting calls, even from some major motion pictures. But it's still expensive, and now a common item.

Off the top of my head, maybe some specialized piece of equipment like an ultra high speed slow motion camera?  A technocrane, as it is very big and few would want to take one home at the end of the day?  You might think about "barriers to entry" (size, expense, complexity, difficulty to master) to try to find a unique niche.

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I run a successful rental business here in Hollywood. I use Share Grid and word of mouth to get my clients. I specialize in film cameras, so I have 35mm, 16mm and super 8 cameras of various kinds. I also have some tools and training to do basic maintenance so I don't have to outsource much of it, so ownership isn't too bad. I also have a complete ecosystem where I can discounted film, processing and transfer for most of my non-commercial clients. I also have a complete post facility, so I can do synching, grading and editing for clients if they need it. 

I've been at it for 3 years now and I've learned A LOT about the business. 

1) I could not be in this business without low-cost equipment. If I bought new equipment on a loan, I would never be able to pay that loan just on rentals alone. People who use Share Grid or Kit Split are going to rent from the lowest price people and there are so many out there with amazing deals, it makes no sense to try and compete unless you get a killer deal on equipment. 

2) No matter what, you need general theft and damage insurance for your own equipment. This is because believe it or not, the insurance that's used from Share Grid and Kit Split, does not cover intentional theft. Meaning, if someone were to walk away with your package and disappear, the insurance would not work. So you have to pay quite a bit of money up front for special insurance in order to deal with it. The way I get around this is by researching my potential clients heavily and if I don't feel right, I don't offer them the equipment. When you live in a media city, this can be easy, but anywhere else, it's a lot harder. So this is an added cost, on top of your loan payment. 

3) Most renters aren't very nice with your equipment. They throw things around, they drop it, they get it wet, they scratch the lenses, etc. 9 times out of 10, something I rent, has damage upon return. Generally it's the viewfinder on the film cameras because people use it as a handle or something. Sometimes I find a lens that needs a rebuild or a battery that won't charge. It really gets annoying because here you are offering a service and now you've got little issues that you can't charge their insurance for. Generally if something gets damaged, it's covered, but only if you catch it right away. Most of the time, damage isn't known until the next shoot when you put all of the equipment to the challenge of working full time. This has bitten me so many times and I just had to spend $1500 bux to get 3 of my lenses rebuilt because one of my renters months ago, damaged them. I don't know who... so I'm unable to get anything from it. 

4) If you don't live in a media city, don't bother. Honestly, it's not worth dealing with the one guy who hasn't ever used your camera who is making a music video and doesn't know much about it. Those people you do not want touching your equipment and sadly, that's the common denominator for non-high end digital equipment like the cameras you're describing. However, if you lived in a media city, where there was high demand for digital cinema cameras, you could get an Alexa XT Plus used, set of Super Speeds used and put together a $700/day rental for the kit and probably do some decent business, even without accessories. You could also place your camera and body at a smaller rental house, let them deal with the insurance/storage. Whenever you want the camera, you simply book it through them and get it back. That sorta thing does work well and I know many people here in Los Angeles who do that. I personally don't think it's worth the risk financially, but it's for sure a possibility if you own equipment people want. 

In summary, I do think you need to specialize. So maybe you focus on a low-cost body, but you have great lenses. Maybe you focus on having a great body and no lenses. Maybe you focus on having a complete kit with lighting and all the accessories. You can't do the mid range body and mid range lens deal, nobody will want it. 

If I had this all to do again, I would probably not bother renting. I think over the long term, I've made less money then it's worth for the wear and tear on the equipment. I also think I've been screwed by so many people, just the time it takes to deal with those things, is time I could be out making money. I think the cut-off for me is rapidly approaching $400 - $500 a day for it to be worth me renting and I'm already raising my prices to reflect that. I have a pretty long client list of people who always come back to me, so I can literally just go with those people from now on and never rent on Share Grid or Kit Split again. But it's taken me 3 years to get there and it's been a wild ride since. 

Ohh and P.S. I use my equipment for shoots all the time, the conflicts are no big deal. Simply tell a would be renter that the camera is booked that weekend. 

 

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16 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

I run a successful rental business here in Hollywood. I use Share Grid and word of mouth to get my clients. I specialize in film cameras, so I have 35mm, 16mm and super 8 cameras of various kinds. I also have some tools and training to do basic maintenance so I don't have to outsource much of it, so ownership isn't too bad. I also have a complete ecosystem where I can discounted film, processing and transfer for most of my non-commercial clients. I also have a complete post facility, so I can do synching, grading and editing for clients if they need it. 

I've been at it for 3 years now and I've learned A LOT about the business. 

1) I could not be in this business without low-cost equipment. If I bought new equipment on a loan, I would never be able to pay that loan just on rentals alone. People who use Share Grid or Kit Split are going to rent from the lowest price people and there are so many out there with amazing deals, it makes no sense to try and compete unless you get a killer deal on equipment. 

2) No matter what, you need general theft and damage insurance for your own equipment. This is because believe it or not, the insurance that's used from Share Grid and Kit Split, does not cover intentional theft. Meaning, if someone were to walk away with your package and disappear, the insurance would not work. So you have to pay quite a bit of money up front for special insurance in order to deal with it. The way I get around this is by researching my potential clients heavily and if I don't feel right, I don't offer them the equipment. When you live in a media city, this can be easy, but anywhere else, it's a lot harder. So this is an added cost, on top of your loan payment. 

3) Most renters aren't very nice with your equipment. They throw things around, they drop it, they get it wet, they scratch the lenses, etc. 9 times out of 10, something I rent, has damage upon return. Generally it's the viewfinder on the film cameras because people use it as a handle or something. Sometimes I find a lens that needs a rebuild or a battery that won't charge. It really gets annoying because here you are offering a service and now you've got little issues that you can't charge their insurance for. Generally if something gets damaged, it's covered, but only if you catch it right away. Most of the time, damage isn't known until the next shoot when you put all of the equipment to the challenge of working full time. This has bitten me so many times and I just had to spend $1500 bux to get 3 of my lenses rebuilt because one of my renters months ago, damaged them. I don't know who... so I'm unable to get anything from it. 

4) If you don't live in a media city, don't bother. Honestly, it's not worth dealing with the one guy who hasn't ever used your camera who is making a music video and doesn't know much about it. Those people you do not want touching your equipment and sadly, that's the common denominator for non-high end digital equipment like the cameras you're describing. However, if you lived in a media city, where there was high demand for digital cinema cameras, you could get an Alexa XT Plus used, set of Super Speeds used and put together a $700/day rental for the kit and probably do some decent business, even without accessories. You could also place your camera and body at a smaller rental house, let them deal with the insurance/storage. Whenever you want the camera, you simply book it through them and get it back. That sorta thing does work well and I know many people here in Los Angeles who do that. I personally don't think it's worth the risk financially, but it's for sure a possibility if you own equipment people want. 

In summary, I do think you need to specialize. So maybe you focus on a low-cost body, but you have great lenses. Maybe you focus on having a great body and no lenses. Maybe you focus on having a complete kit with lighting and all the accessories. You can't do the mid range body and mid range lens deal, nobody will want it. 

If I had this all to do again, I would probably not bother renting. I think over the long term, I've made less money then it's worth for the wear and tear on the equipment. I also think I've been screwed by so many people, just the time it takes to deal with those things, is time I could be out making money. I think the cut-off for me is rapidly approaching $400 - $500 a day for it to be worth me renting and I'm already raising my prices to reflect that. I have a pretty long client list of people who always come back to me, so I can literally just go with those people from now on and never rent on Share Grid or Kit Split again. But it's taken me 3 years to get there and it's been a wild ride since. 

Ohh and P.S. I use my equipment for shoots all the time, the conflicts are no big deal. Simply tell a would be renter that the camera is booked that weekend. 

 

Thank you, Tyler. Responses like these are the reason why I joined this forum. This is so helpful for me, and I hope your response will be helpful for other members later on.

I don't live in a media town, so Sharegrid and the general occasional email with "We need a camera for an indie pilot of a TV show that we're going to pitch to networks" as its gist are what comes through. Theft is also a concern... I do know a rental house in Boston that rents out other peoples kits for a percent of the daily rate. Based on what you said, if I do end up getting a camera, that might be the route. It's a bummer because I'll be in CT for another 2 years right in the middle between NYC and Boston.

Oh, and with damaged rentals? Someone I know rented a set of Sigma cine lenses for an industrial type shoot. He got the camera/lens too close to I think a saw blade cutting through stone. Some of those stone fragments chipped the lens glass.

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18 hours ago, Bruce Greene said:

maybe some specialized piece of equipment like an ultra high speed slow motion camera?

Hmm. I looked into this just now. It definitely has a cost factor to it. Base models for 1080p at 1k fps start at $29,000. To get 4k, the cost approaches $100,000. Maybe someday. The Z-Cam E2 can do 160 fps at 4k and 240 fps at 1080p for around $2000. Footage is pretty clean, too. Maybe a good start.

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3 hours ago, Evan A Olson said:

Hmm. I looked into this just now. It definitely has a cost factor to it. Base models for 1080p at 1k fps start at $29,000. To get 4k, the cost approaches $100,000. Maybe someday. The Z-Cam E2 can do 160 fps at 4k and 240 fps at 1080p for around $2000. Footage is pretty clean, too. Maybe a good start.

I don't think Bruce is saying to literally specialize in ultra high speed slow motion equipment. I think he's trying to communicate that it would be a good idea to specialize in something that very few others do where you're at. The question I think you need to ask yourself is, what's the vacuum in your market that you can fill? It might be slow motion, jib, etc., but do your research and see if it resonates with you.

 

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21 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

If you don't live in a media city, don't bother. Honestly, it's not worth dealing with the one guy who hasn't ever used your camera who is making a music video and doesn't know much about it. Those people you do not want touching your equipment

Thanks for sharing your experience Tyler. I too was toying with the idea of renting my gear out. While Phoenix has a fair amount of production, it's by no means a media city, and the Sharegrid/Kitsplit community here is small. I was on the fence, but I think you're pushing me to the side of not renting unless it's someone I know and trust.

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44 minutes ago, David Ruck said:

I don't think Bruce is saying to literally specialize in ultra high speed slow motion equipment. I think he's trying to communicate that it would be a good idea to specialize in something that very few others do where you're at. The question I think you need to ask yourself is, what's the vacuum in your market that you can fill? It might be slow motion, jib, etc., but do your research and see if it resonates with you.

This is such a hard question. "What's the vacuum in your market that you can fill?"

I think the biggest issue for me is location. It's easy to find people who work "locally" in Connecticut out of Boston or NYC. Cameras, lenses, grip trucks, whatever are mostly out of the state. Will definitely have to think more about this. 

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6 hours ago, Evan A Olson said:

I don't live in a media town, so Sharegrid and the general occasional email with "We need a camera for an indie pilot of a TV show that we're going to pitch to networks" as its gist are what comes through. Theft is also a concern... I do know a rental house in Boston that rents out other peoples kits for a percent of the daily rate. Based on what you said, if I do end up getting a camera, that might be the route. It's a bummer because I'll be in CT for another 2 years right in the middle between NYC and Boston.

Yea I'm from boston, spent 23 years there before moving to Los Angeles. It's a city in a vacuum; a microscopic community where very few people do any work and keep it between themselves. Generally bigger shows that go there, either rent from NY or from Boston Camera. 

6 hours ago, Evan A Olson said:

Oh, and with damaged rentals? Someone I know rented a set of Sigma cine lenses for an industrial type shoot. He got the camera/lens too close to I think a saw blade cutting through stone. Some of those stone fragments chipped the lens glass.

Whoops! EEEK! That's what insurance covers. 

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On 8/2/2019 at 10:23 AM, Evan A Olson said:

This is not about "expensive camera = more work." It's about making work less like work. Shooting on durable cine cameras that have great color and are easy to edit in post makes me happy. I hate messing with loose Metabones mounts, poor codecs, gross colors, and "fixer" LUTs. All those issues are just barriers to the fun of camera work. Having a camera that pays for itself in renting it out to people while also giving me the joy of filming (that I'm guessing everyone here shares) sounds worth it to me.

It's completely fair to want an easier time in post with color science that looks good out of the box (ie ARRI), but an expensive camera does equal more work in regards to other things you'll have to do. (I know you mean more jobs, haha) In my experience, all cameras have their problems (yes, including ARRI) and upgrading will solve old problems and introduce new problems.

It sounds like you're wanting a smoother post-production process with your color science, so I'd recommend a few things before shelling out for a new camera:

  • Incorporate ACES into your color work-flow
    • The Academy Color Encoding System was developed by AMPAS (Oscars) to standardize and simplify the color science of all cameras.
    • It's tricky to understand at first, but its strengths are in unifying all aspects of post-production, archival, and consistency.
  • Use external recorder's for higher bit depth and bit rates
    • Atomos, Convergent Design, Video Devices, etc. These companies have excellent external recorders that receive an uncompressed signal from your camera and then record it as a high fidelity codec (mostly ProRes 422, but some can do higher codecs or RAW)

---

I would like to add that the rental game today is a losing battle if you don't have capital to keep up with new technology demands. There's always a new camera every 6 months and everyone will want to shoot on it. Bigger markets like LA/NYC are totally viable options for owner/operators, but smaller markets are usually dominated by a one/two rental houses and one/two owner/operators.

It's not a bad idea to own a camera like a Panasonic GHx or a Sony A7x, but once you enter the EVA-1, FS7, or C200 realm, you're going to have to determine if your return on investment will pay off given the work you're currently receiving, the potential for new work, and the potential for competition.

 

 

Good luck on what you decide!

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2 hours ago, AJ Young said:

Use external recorder's for higher bit depth and bit rates

  • Atomos, Convergent Design, Video Devices, etc. These companies have excellent external recorders that receive an uncompressed signal from your camera and then record it as a high fidelity codec (mostly ProRes 422, but some can do higher codecs or RAW)

 

So true. I've done some color grading on internally recorded GH5 footage and GH5 footage that was recorded on an external recorder. Night and day difference! Now, if you could only record externally without the need for HDMI on one of those little cameras.

I hate the user interface of the GH5, A7, etc., but they really do make a pretty picture, and they give you a ton of flexibility shooting in log. For a while, I rolled my eyes at shooting on DSLR, but these days I think you really need to ask yourself if you can honestly justify jumping to something like an FS7 depending on the type of shooting you do.

AJ, I think you made some other great cases for sticking with something affordable and bypassing camera rentals.

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3 hours ago, David Ruck said:

AJ, I think you made some other great cases for sticking with something affordable and bypassing camera rentals.

It's totally fine, and completely normal, to rent a higher end camera, but to own one is the option I'd recommend avoiding.

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