Unless you’ve inherited a small fortune (or more likely several), it is impossible to detain even a tenth of the latest equipment gathered, let’s say only once under the roof of IBC — and you definitely don’t have to.
When should you rent, and when is it wise to buy the gear you need?
For all the creators out there — depending on your shooting style, the variety of projects you have, and if it applies, what crew position you work in — here is some food for thought about when to:
- Buy new;
- Buy used;
- Borrow or buy from peers;
- Rent for short-term;
- Rent for long-term / Subscribe.
When to buy new gear
1. Your basic personal kit
If you’re a freelancer, a small or medium-sized production company, or an in-house media department within a company, handling video production full time, it is essential that you always have at hand your basic kit bag. This is the gear you’d normally use for example 20 days out of 30. The gear your basic kit contains is your go-to equipment for any phone call you receive and you just need to take off.
This equipment depends on your personal needs: on your workflow, type of projects, and shooting style — but no matter what, this is the gear that you know by heart. It can be a Sony A7iii video kit gathering: Sony A7iii with Half Cage, 3x batteries, Dual charger, Tamron 28-75mm f / 2.8 Di III RXD - Tamron 17-28mm f / 2.8 Di III RXD - Vari ND, Red Video Micro, 2XSD 128GB, Lowepro BP 250AW II — which is your best bet for YouTube or videos in general. Or, thinking about the current situation caused by the coronavirus, it can be a live streaming kit with say, a small sensor camcorder type of camera that has no time limits and can be used for an uninterrupted shot longer than 30 minutes. At this moment, owning this type of gear is essential for any business that wants to keep the relationship with customers alive, no matter the line of work.
2. Staying up-to-date
If your business is based on the newest technologies such as autonomous drones or virtual reality, and you have a drive for expanding the resolution and size of screens at the same time as technological innovations do, then you can’t do anything else but buy new (because nobody else has it anyway).
3. Renting excessively
Buying new or subscribing makes sense also when you’re renting the same gear over and over again. In this case, the rent ends up being just money stuck in each project, and instead of buying the gear for yourself, you just keep throwing money out of your pocket. Good examples are the external recorders which aren’t rented cheap. Take for example the Atomos Ninja V 4K which has a purchase price of €650 and a rental price for 30 days at around €220. Rent it three times and there you have the total purchase price.
In the same category can fall C-stands and flags. A Matthews Studio Equipment 20" Black C-stand bought upfront costs somewhere around €210, while the renting price is at €150 for 30 days. The money spent on this type of every-day-used equipment is worth to be invested and definitely not rented.
In this frame, the smartest thing is to buy your own, personal gear kit because:
- You use it so much that you wear it off yourself;
- You know it’s gear that brings you a return of investment;
- It has to be available for you at all times;
- You want to have the best possible results with it, so it needs to be up-to-date;
- You have the latest technologies at your fingertips that places you in the front rows of high-quality filmmaking;
- You can rent it further and have gear finance itself, while you benefit yourself from the highest-quality equipment;
- You can rent them further and earn back the investment.
- Big upfront costs;
- You end up being bound to a two or three-year-long financial plan, unless you choose to go for a long-term rental;
- If you choose to rent out further the latest gear, there will soon be others who’ll catch up and compete with you because the production is based on demand. Therefore, the renting price will lower quickly, and you’ll have to sink it too.
However, keep in mind the balance you need to maintain in order to have a successful business. When you think about cash flow and liquid assets, it all comes down to how much money you invest in your business, how much you need to pay the bills, and how much you need to take on new productions in the first place. If the gear is a necessity that allows you to offer some of the best experiences to your clients and returns your investment relatively fast, then it’s worth buying or subscribing.
When to buy used gear
Buying used gear can also be a solution for some of the points above: for your personal kit and for the same equipment you’re renting over and over again. Instead, in this situation it would only apply to you if you don’t need to have the latest and finest equipment out there. This plus considering that technology exceeds itself extremely fast, you can consider buying used gear a valid option.
However, if you decide to go for it, you have to make sure that you’re buying a good, fully functional piece of equipment. Inspect thoroughly and check vital elements so you don’t throw your money out the window.
- Lower price for good quality;
- Resale stores and online platforms offer refurbished equipment and make used gear perform as good as new;
- If bought in a rental house, you can test the gear yourself thoroughly, so you know exactly what you buy.
- You can’t reach the latest technologies, if this is a point of interest to you;
- If bought online, you waste time with delivery going back and forth if the gear fails your tests and you want to send it back.
In both cases, owning gear, whether it’s bought new or used, the main advantage is that you shoot on your own schedule. You don’t need to plan too much in advance, and you’re ready to go out the door at any unexpected offer that you receive.
So, if you’re the type of creator who values independence upon costs, then buying is a better solution for your needs.
When to borrow or buy gear from peers
Unlike buying second hand equipment from stores or online platforms, borrowing or buying from peers implies a far greater risk. Say you borrow from a friend a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV for another friend’s wedding. An accident happens and you’d have to pay your friend (apart from a ton of excuses) €1,082, not to mention the lens. Is it worth it? You decide. And buying from peers falls within the same arguable frame.
- The low price;
- Can be beneficial when you personally know that the person you buy from is a gear expert who treats equipment with maximum care.
- Not 100% safe;
- You don’t have insurance and you’ll have to pay back the gear yourself if anything goes wrong;
- If interested in buying, the gear most likely hasn’t ever been refurbished and perhaps not even tested recently;
- Opposed to serious renting houses, the lender won’t be able to offer a back-up in case something happens to the gear.
When to choose short-term rentals (1-30 days)
Renting can translate to having permanent access to the latest and most suitable gear necessary for each project, while paying a tenth of the buying price for technology you wouldn’t normally afford. It is discussed that, in the future, access-based consumption will overtake ownership and that the sharing industry will be more and more flourishing. Now, depending on your working style, short-term rentals can be the best choice in the following situations.
1. You handle a variety of projects with various needs
Let’s say for one travel project you’d like an Arri PL mount to cover the Super 35 mm format, then for the wedding projects you have, you’d like to start using GoPro Hero7 to see if it’s something that works for you, and afterwards you’d like to try a Canon 5D Mark IV for a food photography project. And if this trend is continuous, the expenses you’d have if you were to buy every single specialised gear would murder your budget and any future income you’d have.
You can avoid this by either renting from local shops or from online platforms. However, each comes with their advantages and disadvantages.
- They are specialised for bigger productions;
- You walk out with the gear the same day you go there.
- They are expensive;
- They don’t usually fit the indie filmmaker with a smaller budget.
- They are cheaper;
- Some platforms offer insurance;
- Some platforms offer a much bigger supply than just one rental company, making it faster to find the gear you need in your area;
- You receive useful personal guidance from the owner of the gear.
- Some platforms take too long to deliver (adding 3-5 days).
2. Think out of the box
Don’t limit your creativity and production to the equipment you own. It’s a great disadvantage you’d make to yourself. Perhaps you think about shooting mostly at night for a new project, and the first thing that comes into your mind is “my camera is not suitable for that” so you start changing the script. Stop that. The idea is to stay true to creativity and just rent for example a Sony a7R II to do the job.
- Both rental shops and online platforms offer professional advice;
- Compared to borrowing directly from peers, the gear is 100% tested and touched up after every use;
- In case something happens to the gear, reputable renters will be able to offer you a back-up, so you don’t risk losing the project you’re working on.
- Short-term rentals are more expensive than long-term ones;
- You don’t get to know the gear well enough in advance and you end up experimenting on set;
- Gear packages are usually customised for the owner’s shooting needs — so make sure they have what suits your own style and needs.
When to choose long-term rentals / subscription (30+ days / monthly access)
These types of rentals are the ones that allow you to discover the gear, test, experiment, adjust, and finally decide what suits your style and your needs. You can think about passion projects in this setting without blowing up your expenses. In any case, before actually buying new gear if that’s your final goal, it’s still best practice to rent and try out different equipment as much as possible to see how and if it fits your routines.
In the current market, no matter how you get hold of gear, there are always some downsides for you, as a creator. However, long-time rentals under the form of subscription gather several options within one service and, most important, they offer flexibility. A subscription does not apply to you if you can afford to pay money upfront when purchasing new gear and want to hold it from day one after purchase, and neither if you love to shoot with the same camera for 5+ years.
This option is most suitable for you if: you handle film production or photography full time; you have a variety of projects, with a variety of needs, and you need constant access to different types of equipment; you want to test as much gear as possible until you find the one that is most suitable for you.
- You don’t have to pay big upfront costs to get hold of the latest technology;
- You don’t bind yourself to a two or three-year-long financial plan;
- You can upgrade the rented gear to the next generation of technology;
- You have the possibility of renting the equipment further;
- You can buy the gear if and when you decide that’s something for you;
- The money you pay for subscription counts as money paid for the gear you rent — so you can end up buying the gear through the subscription;
- You can make the subscription pay even entirely for itself if you’re successful in renting the gear further;
- You have global insurance for the gear you rent, and also for when re-renting it;
- The subscription becomes cheaper through
- If you want to upgrade the rented gear, the money you’ve paid until that time doesn’t count as financial base for the next equipment you rent.
Above all, renting from rental houses or online platforms compared to borrowing directly from peers offers the benefits of having insurance and a certain process they follow in the cases when something doesn’t go as initially planned: be it accidents, changing your mind, realising you need something else, or others as such. The same applies to when you think about renting out yourself and you need back-up so that everything goes smoothly and you rent out with confidence.
Making a (very) long story short, think about what makes sense for you and your working style before jumping to action. What are your needs? How do you work? Which gear are you faithful to during (almost) all projects? Is access to gear more important to you than having a limited amount of gear, but being totally under your grasp at any time? Do you afford to pay the whole sum at once, or is subscribing and paying in time better for your budget? Ask yourself questions that will help you fall under one of the categories above. In many cases, a combination of the ones above is a good solution.
In any case, I hope that now you have more confidence when taking decisions about how to get hold of and use gear.