At the beginning of your videography career, equipment becomes your number one priority. Maybe you’ve stumbled across an incredible story idea for a short film or web series that must come to life on screen, or you’re going to start that videography business you’ve always wanted. Whatever the case, you need to invest in some equipment.
And of course, money seems to be eluding you.
Fortunately, if you’re just getting started with an endeavor, you have more resources than you might think. Quite a few options exist for finding cheap or free video equipment; you just need to know where to look.
Before You Start Your Search…
You need to decide what level of professionalism you’re aiming for, because this will affect your choice of equipment (even amongst free or cheap options). You don’t just want to grab any camera you can get your hands on, which could result in poor-quality projects. On the other hand, don’t expect to find a discarded Red Scarlet camera in the freebie bin. Do some research if you don’t know already about what types and brands of video equipment are out there and which you would feel comfortable saying “yes” to using for a while; expect to start out with some less favorable options with the intention of upgrading when you have the money.
1. Networking is Key
Now that you know what you’re looking for, you can try to obtain some of it for free or cheap. The first place to look is within your networks. Check with family and friends who may own video equipment, and ask them to talk to anyone they know who may work with equipment. You may end up lucking out this way and not having to look any further. Usually, too, friends and family will only expect you take extra care of their equipment; at the very worst, they may charge you a small fee or ask you to return the favor someday.
2. Contact Local Establishments
If your connections don’t work, your next stop should be local businesses and establishments who work with or own video equipment. For example, many non-profits and churches have cameras, mics, and more for their own filming purposes. It doesn’t hurt to ask if these places would be willing to loan out the equipment. You will need a very clear plan for your project to convince them of your sincerity, and you will likely have to sign a contract that says you’ll pay for any incurring damages to their equipment.
3. Head to the Library
Because of the rise of digital media needs for businesses and personal branding, video equipment can also be found for free or cheap through local libraries, especially if you live in a large city. Many libraries have invested in professional cameras (not just your average, home-video family camcorder) along with compatible equipment that you can check out with nothing but a valid library card. Be aware of the due dates, though – library equipment can have a rental period as short as three days, so this is not a good long-term solution, especially if your goal is to start your own business. Library equipment can be an excellent option for someone making a film or web series, though. Just plan your shooting schedule around the rental period days, and realize that you may need to wait to get the camera back if someone else checks it out before you can again.
4. Check out Universities’ Digital Media Departments
Another great place to find free or cheap video equipment is local universities and colleges. Much like churches and non-profits, universities can also have their own equipment for promotional videos and other PR purposes. You’re especially in luck if your local university has a digital media department, a field of study that many colleges have been seeking to add or expand in. If you find a college that has a digital media department, you can often rent their equipment for a fair price. Students tend to get an even cheaper price with a valid student ID.
5. Rent Via Local or Online Means
As a last resort, head to your local photography/videography equipment store and see if their rental prices are within your budget. You can also choose to rent through online stores like BorrowLenses.com or LensRentals.com. The benefit to renting online is that you can compare various websites’ prices and see who’s competing to provide you the lowest price possible. Again, though, watch out for how long your rental contract is for and budget to rent again if you will need the equipment for longer.
Don’t assume you need to spend thousands of dollars when you’re first looking for equipment. Try some of the options above and you’ll quickly find that you can make a great head-start on your videography dreams for little to no cost. Always remember, though, that no matter the route you go when looking for cheap or free video equipment, your goal is to expand those dreams even more in the future.
Bree Brouwer is a freelance writer and blogger who loves producing short films, investigating culture, pursuing geek enlightenment, and shopping for deals like a true Dutchwoman.
[Image courtesy of andrewlaparra]