To Buy Gear or Not to Buy Gear?
Film students are perpetually asking what the best production gear is to get at any given price point. Yet almost none of them stop to question whether or not they should be buying gear at all. Gear isn’t automatically a good investment for anyone at any stage of their career; like computers, production gear typically depreciates in value rather quickly, frequently giving you between 2-5 years to make a return. Often renting makes much more sense but is significantly underutilized. We’ve listed out the pros and cons of buying gear for each phase of a career, as well as our recommendation:
You’re just out of film school or maybe you’ve been working a full time job for a year or two. You’re absolutely sure you know everything. You’ve probably drooled over a B&H catalogue, but before you shell out for that camera you’ve been ogling, consider this:
- You get something to practice with
- You’re able to work on creative and personal projects without shelling out for a rental
- It opens up certain freelancing possibilities
- You’re probably pretty broke
- Even with gear, you do not command much of a freelance rate
- On higher end gear you’re unlikely to recoup your investment
- If you start off working with too much of a gear loadout, parts of your professional development will be stunted
Recommendation: A very basic DSLR (canon t2i level) and a couple of lenses, maybe a very cheap light kit.
This will give you something substantial to practice with and as well as something to use if you manage to pick up a few freelance gigs that require gear. You’re spending a small enough amount of money that it’s worth it even if you don’t get any just to develop you skills.
You’ve been in the industry a good few years and you’ve probably had some success as a freelancer at this point. You likely already own some gear, but if you don’t, you might consider this:
- You can charge more if you have your own gear
- Certain clients may see owning gear as a credibility booster
- Many jobs at this level do not require owning gear
- By renting, you can allow the project to dictate the gear rather than the other way around
- This period of your career can be full of changes and turning points- potentially making your gear useless
If you typically work on jobs with a team, Recommendation: Nothing.
In the event that your clients don’t have gear for you, you can always rent. At this point, gear is unlikely to open any doors for you.
If you typically work as a one man band or have your own team, Recommendation: A quality camera (Sony as7ii level) and sticks, a small but quality light kit, some mid range audio gear (lav and shotgun), and any support and rigs you use FREQUENTLY (sliders, gimbals, etc)
You could absolutely rent on every project, but if you’re working as a one man band or bringing in a team, you’re probably working for end clients who are unlikely to have any gear or relationships with rental shops. While you’re likely not able to charge what rental shops do for any given piece of equipment, by having your own gear you essentially open up a new revenue stream.
You’ve been around the block. You know what’s what. If you were ever going to buy gear you’ve probably already done it. But still, consider:
- High end gear will justify a high daily rate to certain clients
- If you want to be known as a ‘red’ or ‘alexa’ shooter, owning the camera helps from a branding perspective
- Your clients want your experience, not gear
- By relying on rentals you have more flexibility
At this point you’re not selling what you can do for a client, you’re selling yourself. You’re also more likely to manage a team instead of doing the heavy lifting yourself, making your gear superfluous more often than not.