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To Buy or Not to Buy Video Equipment

 rent-equipment-or-buy-rental-contract
To Answer the Question: When Should You Rent Production Gear Before You Buy?

With new and exciting gadgets coming out seemingly weekly, it's hard not to get caught up in all the hype. But let's face it ... gear is expensive. There, I said it. We all know that the cost of cameras has been steadily decreasing. Anyone with a few thousand dollars can buy a professional quality DSLR and begin to shoot great looking photos and videos using the camera's automatic settings alone. This is great for vacations and birthday parties.

But when doing professional quality video production, whether it's film, TV production, Web video or action sports videos , the auto function isn't enough. What's more, the camera by itself doesn't make the production - it takes shot planning, blocking, lighting, etc. There are many tools, beyond the camera, that are needed to bolster the production value of your videos. Some of these tools include: camera lenses, dollies, media, jibs, audio recorder and lots of lights for different situations. This is including the labor to operate all of these tools. What's more, many of these items are bulky and require storage space in excess of a small utility closet.

So we must sift through the options and navigate the fancy new-gear landscape to figure which is best: to rent or to purchase a piece of equipment. Below are a few examples of situations that you'll likely experience over the course of your video producing career.

Your Funds are Low

Whether you are just finishing school or you are separating from an ad agency or production facility - the equipment for the productions you've worked with were supplied to you by the organization. Now that you are out there building a career on your own, you realize that your dwindling bank account is all the money you have in the world. No matter what the specifics of your situation are, your limited funds shouldn't prevent you from pushing forward.

 camera-on-jib

We've all been there, be it our personal life or our video production companies. Being broke is never a good thing. This is a great time to look into rental options. You retain the ability to pitch and complete projects without laying too much money out of pocket. Now I know, while there is much to be said about the cost-per-day value of purchasing over renting, laying out 10-20 thousand dollars is a big investment. Of course, many companies offer financing and this method allows you to make smaller monthly payments, you are still paying interest on equipment that can add up to thousands more and removing the cost benefit of purchase over rental. Additionally, if you don't get some paying clients soon, the low monthly payment can become a huge burden.

Let's not forget that you are responsible for maintenance, repair, etc. Whereas, a rental house has staff to maintain and keep equipment functioning properly. Let's face it, your time would be better spent acquiring client's, editing your show reel or even spending time with your family rather than teaching yourself how to re-solder connections in a lighting fixture.

You're Just Starting Out

Let's assume that you've secured your first client. Congrats! It is important to realize that having your first client is a monumental step toward creating your future but, at the same time, it is essentially the same as being broke. Until you have begun working for the client and receiving checks, your petty cash is what is keeping the roof over your head. Even if you are well funded prior to taking any clients, it can be a burden to your cash flow to purchase all of this up front. A full complement of video production equipment, audio gear, grip, lighting and expendables can run in the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the level of production you plan on doing.

The simplest business formula to adhere to is Profit = Revenue - Expenses. Video production companies rely on two things more than anything else - creative people and paying clients - without them, you won't get very far in your attempts to run a successful business. If you are just starting out, it goes without saying, that you will need to be very thrifty with your costs and until you have a roster of clients that are regularly spending money. There is no need for you to lay out huge sums to have the latest and greatest just to impress a client. More importantly, it is difficult to anticipate client's needs in the years to come. In this case, renting some of the compulsory equipment for professional video production value can be a lifesaver.

You Have Clients with Specialized Needs

Your newest client, an adventure sports company, has just commissioned you for several projects during the course of the next 12 months. They have given you an idea of what the content will include. You rapidly determine that you are under equipped. Do you need to run out and purchase everything that their description seemed to include? No, It is truly not a business savvy decision even though it seems again, like it may be impressive to the client.

table-top-dolly

In the video production realm there are many specialized pieces of equipment that are excellent for specific purposes. Some of these may include: stabilization rigs, car mounts, jibs, cranes, high-powered lighting or even specialized cameras with the ability to over-crank the captured frames per second for super slow-motion shots. All of these pieces of equipment quickly run into the thousands of dollars range. It goes without saying that, it is much simpler and cost effective to rent a car mount for a couple hundred dollars for one or two days to shoot your driving sequence. It is a tough spot to be in when you are making a huge monthly payment on equipment that is so specialized that have to try to convince clients that there video would be much better if they had this specialized equipment's features in their video.

You Have Limited Experience

Nothing is better than hands-on experience. In the last few years, two cameras have made more waves than most others, Canon's 5D Mark II and the RED ONE (the original RED camera). Remember that these are two different cameras, at different price points, with different functions and capabilities. Price aside ... Do you know what the differences are? Can you say which is more useful to you? It's a valid debate, but if you are shooting a documentary-style video and the camera will be sitting on your shoulder for 10-12 hours in a day, all the opinions become moot. (An assembled RED ONE weighs about 30 pounds.) The point here is that if you are not sure what to expect from a camera. It makes sense to rent a few different options for your productions to get to know the capabilities and find which works best for you.

led-lights-hanging-from-ceiling

Here's another example. Inevitably in our careers, we are faced with a project that is on a larger scale or more complicated than we have done previously. Even if you have years of experience shooting, for example, stock footage and then you are asked to do a segment with multiple speakers and need to use individual lavalier microphones and need a multichannel audio mixer with your recorder. What do you do? Say no? Of course not. Being new to anything can be very daunting. But if you are not experienced with using this type of equipment, renting the mixer and mics is an option that allows you to say yes, without purchasing equipment that your regular business doesn't need and therefore, will come to rest on the shelf.

You Work From Home

This is a common situation for many freelancers today. Many of us, in an attempt to keep costs low, opt to work from home. It's easy and convenient. That extra room would just be sitting there, right? It's the perfect editing bay and client review station . The problem is that the aesthetic "wow" factor that your clients experience is decreased by the crates of stingers (power cables) and lights. And that partially collapsed dolly in the corner won't allow for another viewing chair, so your client's partner will have to stand in the doorway to see the finished product.

OK, I know that this is may not be everyone's case, but the point is your equipment can easily become a bit of a burden. If you should choose to work from home. Renting equipment as needed can be lifesaver if space is limited.

Client Sticker Shock

Part of running a business - any business - is justifying costs to the customer. When preparing a bid or budget for a client, it is customary to include equipment charges and costs. This is a preemptive strike against wear and tear on your gear. Remember that equipment doesn't last forever and if you own a piece of equipment and use it often, eventually it will need replacing. It's up to you to figure a per item rate that is acceptable or a flat rate that includes your entire package. You certainly can't charge a client $1,700 extra dollars for the new camera lens you purchased because you thought it was a great deal and a complement to your equipment stock. Remember the client, with very few exceptions, generally doesn't care about the specifics of the equipment as long as the end result meets the expectations.

tripod-head-legs

However, if you require the lens for a very specific purpose, it is important to let the client know that you will be needing additional gear to achieve the quality they're seeking. Let's assume that the client requests that the video include closeups of jewelry or something equally small. A macro lens for shooting extreme detail is a necessity. These are specialized and to rent camera lenses of this type can help you avoid negative response when it comes to showing the itemized bill. It is very easy to show a client an equipment charge of $60 to rent camera lenses than to justify a much greater charge brought on by your need to pay off a piece of equipment.

Remote Shoot or in Foreign Lands

You've been hired to cover the progress of a hiker in some remote mountain top locations. The weather is bad and the conditions are miserable. Even though the gear is covered from the elements, you notice the camera lenses are starting to fog and there is moisture building up on the display. More so than the other situations, this is definitely a situation where it is best to rent equipment. Here are two reasons why.

camcorder-with-much-equipment

First, if it is your gear and your have another job booked a day or two after your return home and you don't have time to properly clean all your gear, you are sunk and will be forced to quickly rent gear anyway. If you hadn't anticipated this, you may be in trouble. Whereas, if you know you will be roughing it for a few days, renting a camera for your out of town shoot ensures that your gear will be waiting safely at home.

Secondly, the cost of shipping equipment to a location can be very expensive. In some cases, it can outweigh the cost of renting by a significant amount. In many places around the world, there are rental houses that provide equipment and staff that may be cheaper than those near your residence.

Case by Case Situation

As you can see there are a number of situations that warrant renting instead of purchasing and this list is by no means exhaustive. It is likely you will have numerous opportunities to visit this decision and should you choose wrong, it isn't the end of the world. It is all part of the business-owning process. Whatever the situation is for you personally, there are limitless justifications for both the purchasing and renting arguments. What might work for you currently, may not work in the future. What worked for someone else, may not work for you. You can make the determination as you come to that point in your career.

Use each new experience as a chance to grow your video production career as well as your reputation for making decisions that are cost effective and provide you the most options to create the highest quality content for your clients.

Sidebar: Rental Houses

With the dropping prices in cameras and additional equipment, there have been rental houses dotting the landscape. Many of these have the ability to ship to locations that may not be able to support a local rental house. While some of these may include accident protection, others may require the renter to provide insurance against damage. Remember, this is important to include in your cost estimates for equipment when preparing a bid for a client. You don't want to eat into your profits because you forgot to include insurance. When deciding which company works best for you, always do the research. It might cost you some effort, but it can save you a lot of time and money down the road.

Below is a list of some rental houses that ship inside the U.S. as well as a few in major metropolitan areas.*
www.abelcine.com
www.atsrentals.com
www.budgetvideo.com
www.csirentals.com - New York
www.magnanimous.biz- Chicago
www.prohdrentals.com- Los Angeles
(*Not an exhaustive list. None of these companies are affiliated with the author or Videomaker.)

Steve Everson is an award winning film and video producer with extensive experience in pre-production, production and post-production.

Tags:  January 2013
Steve
Everson
Wed, 12/05/2012 - 8:00am