Manufacturers are constantly trying to tempt you with the new and updated versions of their products. Plus, video-making trade shows such as NAB are annual feasts of new delights to challenge your wallet.
It can be easy to develop gear lust, wanting new gear simply because it exists. Yet, unless you have bottomless pockets and can afford to buy everything you want, it’s important to spend your money wisely. So, how do you know when it’s the right time to replace your gear?
Check your kit
It’s sensible to review your equipment on an ongoing basis, checking the condition and being aware of items that are wearing out or coming towards the end of their useful lives.
If you look after your lenses they will last a lifetime and many vintage lenses command a high price. However, when starting out it’s likely you will have invested in some lower cost items, such as lighting equipment for example, which might be showing its age now. Plan to replace those items before they fail and let you down on a shoot.
What are you missing?
Does the equipment you have still meet all your needs? Just because something is nice to have doesn’t mean you need to have it. Have you been unable to get the footage you need for any of your projects? Slow motion shots are becoming de rigueur in promotional films and music videos. If your camera can’t shoot at higher frame rates, then you won’t win those jobs. Are you losing clients to your competitors because they can offer something you can’t?
As your business grows, client perception can become an issue. Clients may question your credibility if you set up with a DSLR and battery powered LED lights, irrespective of the quality of your end-product.
Consider the impact a purchase may have on the other equipment you own. Shooting in 4K is becoming the norm; however, it’s important to be aware that 4K footage has four times the data rate of HD. This means you will need in-camera media with four times the capacity and a similar increase in drive space for both editing and data storage. Will your editing system be powerful enough to cope with your 4K footage, or will that need upgrading as well at further expense?
While 4K is increasingly becoming the standard format for acquiring footage, the majority of final materials are still delivered in HD.
If your clients are requesting that projects are delivered in 4K, then you may have no option. However, while 4K is increasingly becoming the standard format for acquiring footage, the majority of final materials are still delivered in HD. Buying a 4K camera but shooting in HD at first will give you a degree of future-proofing, plus the advantages of newer technologies, while still ensuring compatibility with your existing post-production workflow.
Making it pay
It is important to be sure that you can justify any equipment purchase on economic grounds. Will you bring in new clients or additional work that you otherwise wouldn’t have won or couldn’t have pitched for? Make sure you work out how long it will take for a new kit to deliver a return on your investment. You may decide that you will be better off continuing with your current set-up in the short term, even if your income is lower.
What comes first?
Often, you will need to prioritise your purchases – if you want a new camera, a lens and a gimbal, which one do you buy first? Again, you should look honestly at need vs want. Gimbal shots look impressive in your showreel, but if most of your income comes from shooting interviews with the camera on a tripod, then a lens in the focal length you can’t currently cover would get more use. However, if you make music videos and are losing work because your handheld tracking shots aren’t as smooth as those of your competitors, then the gimbal may be the more urgent purchase.
Sell your old kit
While it can be tempting to hoard kits, you should always see if you can sell something to offset the costs of the new item. Do you need to keep all of your prime lenses if you are buying a new zoom that covers the range of some of them?
Online auction sites make selling kits easy but you could get less than you wished for and the site fees will impact on your profit. Websites such as Craigslist offer the chance to sell to someone local, saving you auction fees and shipping costs, but be prepared to negotiate on the price. Many photographic dealers will consider trade-ins, which can be more profitable than selling kits for cash.
Be honest about the kit you have. What do you have but never use? If your slider has sat on a shelf and not been out for the past two years it can be sold to help purchase something new – and it should have probably have been sold two years ago when it was newer and would have commanded a higher price!
Try before you buy
Video-making equipment is never cheap, so when you have asked yourself all the questions and decided that the time is right to make that purchase, take some time to make sure you are buying the right thing. Read reviews online (Videomaker.com is an excellent place to start!). Speak to other users of the kit in person or through online forums. Visit a dealer to get a hands-on demo.
For bigger purchases, such as a new camera body or cinema lense, consider trying it before you buy it. It’s better to invest a small amount in a weekend hire to see if you get on with the kit before you commit a much larger sum. Better that than buying hastily and then trying to resell after a couple of months because you don’t get on with it – you will lose a fortune!
With careful planning and measured purchases your kit can expand and develop as your business grows, while minimising the impact on your pocket. But remember that video-making is meant to be fun so allow yourself the occasional new kit treat from time to time, budget permitting
Pete Tomkies is a freelance cinematographer and camera operator from Manchester, UK. He also produces and directs short films as Duck66 Films.