Whether you’re a producer, cinematographer, director, or just an avid creator, you have probably contemplated the benefits of renting film equipment vs buying film equipment. Film equipment is expensive and for indie filmmakers or videographers, equipment is an important investment. The question is what type of investment should you make? Should you rent or buy?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer I can give you. This question should be answered on a case-by-case basis. You will have to weigh your situation and make the best decision for yourself. It’s important to note that renting and buying both have their pros and cons.
It is likely that both buying and renting will be an important part of your career. Depending on your client, the project, the equipment, and your needs, either option could prove to be better than the other. Notice how I said your needs, not your wants. The camera market today has enticing products for prices well below what is considered to be high end but it’s important to think of this as a business investment. What investment makes sense for the work you are doing short-term and long-term?
In this blog post, we are going to go through 5 questions to ask before deciding whether to rent or buy equipment.
Do you have a steady flow of work coming in? Do you gravitate towards using specific cameras or lights again and again? If you do, consider buying that equipment. Having constant, reliable work being offered to you frees up your options. Many times we decide to rent because we are unsure of what the next project will be or when the next project will be.
For the people that buy high-end cameras because you believe that will help you get more work. That’s a very risky investment that could easily work against you if you still can’t find enough work to offset that investment. Although, it’s always good to have some gear on hand to use in urgent situations. Whether it’s a mirrorless camera or a BMCC, sometimes a project will quickly come together and a rental house is just out of the question.
Are you shooting a commercial? Short film? Documentary? Feature film? What you’re shooting can determine if you should rent or buy. Shooting a feature film for 25 days means you will need a camera for 25 days. Calculate the daily rental price to see if the rental total is near or matches the retail total (including accessories). If it does, you can buy the camera, use it for the film, and then sell it after to get a good amount of your money back. Consider both the resale value and the demand for any camera you decide to buy.
Film equipment is a vague term. Are you looking at lights, lenses, G & E, cameras, etc? We put a lot of focus on renting cameras as that is a common rental/buy contemplation but there is a lot more equipment to consider.
Back in the early 2000s, a new camera could stay relevant for a decade but in today’s market, cameras depreciate fast. What was the hottest thing 2 years ago is now old news today. The camera you are buying should have robust capabilities that can fulfill your needs for a variety of projects. There are two things to consider before buying a camera. The resale value and the demand. Unless your camera stands the test of time, you’ll probably want to sell it eventually. But depreciation can heavily affect how much you can sell it for. The more expensive your camera is the more resistant it will be to depreciation. The brand also matters. A camera from ARRI is more likely to maintain its value over a camera from Black Magic. Entry-level cameras are known to depreciate extremely fast.
G & E
Stands, jibs, flags, they will always be valuable. Buying grip equipment can be a good investment… if you have room for them. Grip equipment is bulky and takes up a lot of space. You’ll need room to store and transport that equipment. Many professionals leave these headaches for the rental houses and just rent G & E equipment. Lights, on the other hand, are similar to cameras. New technology is coming out every year that makes lighting easier and more convenient. There are lights that depreciate in value and lights that will be used till the end of time (ARRI’s three fresnel light kit). A good light will always be useful on sets with controlled lighting.
Lenses are unique in which they each have individual character. Boca, flares, sharpness, a good lens can hold their value for decades. Some professionals actually stock up on lenses and rent different camera bodies to use with them. Some professionals do the opposite. Renting lenses is a great way to try them out before buying them along with other film equipment.
It’s true what they say. Time is money. That’s even more true if you’re a freelancer. Rental houses are an inconvenience to travel to and from. Depending on your location/home’s proximity to the rental house, it can take hours of your time prepping, dropping off, and picking up equipment. Instead, you could spend that time going from set straight to the editing bay or even getting a better night of sleep before a shoot.
Renting equipment, by nature, is always a short-term investment. There really is not much to it. You rent and then return the equipment. Buying equipment is a different story. A purchase can either be a long-term or short-term investment. If it’s short-term, you are probably buying because it’s cheaper than renting and you plan on selling at the end of the project. If it’s long-term, you are planning on using this equipment to use on multiple occasions as well as use it to get back the money you spent on said equipment.
A benefit buying has over renting is that you can rent your equipment out when you’re not using it to generate more revenue. You can rent it out to rental houses or use websites like KitSplit to rent out to professionals directly. If you are buying a high-end, expensive camera, make sure you have a plan to get your money back and then some.
Renting and buying equipment is incredibly valuable for both professionals and novices in the video/film industry. Although, renting can incur hidden fees like deposits, late fees, insurance and alternatively, owning gear is very expensive and could send you into debt. There is an alternative to owning and renting gear that is on the rise. One that gives creatives the freedom to rent high-end gear at an affordable price without any worry of unexpected fees.
Subscription-based rental houses.
Subscription-based rental houses allow subscribers to pay a small monthly or annual fee and in return get up to 50% off equipment rentals along with a variety of other benefits.
Film Gear Club is one of the businesses leading the charge for subscription-based rental houses. Film Gear Club or FGC is a delivery only, modern approach to the local "equipment rental production house". Subscribers of FGC get access to equipment from top brands like RED, ARRI, Canon for a fraction of the usual rental price. Subscribers also get their rented equipment delivered/picked up for them and subscribers have the option to have the rented equipment insured by Film Gear Club. All for one payment a month/year. Just like how we looked at all of the pros and cons of renting/buying, let’s look at the pros and cons of subscribing.
For creatives who are looking to shoot or work on projects consistently. Subscription-based rental houses may give you the affordability and flexibility to rent equipment without it being a hassle. You can learn more about Film Gear Club here.
There are many options when it comes to getting equipment. Whatever option you go with should be cost-effective and should best fit your needs. If you find yourself stuck, refer to these 5 questions and our pros/cons lists to help you decide what you want to do. Although, what is most important is that you are creating and learning.