Thread: Should Cinematographers buy/own gear?

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  1. #11  
    Senior Member Zack Birlew's Avatar
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    Dec 2006
    California and Las Vegas
    I'm struggling with this myself as I'm looking at lighting as the next frontier for equipment purchases. However, I've had great luck on the low end using Philips LED bulbs with certain inexpensive bulb fixtures, 5000K balanced LED work lights that seem to constantly disappear from the market shortly afterwards, and some of the newer inexpensive LED solutions like those foldable LED mats that are popular right now and just good deals on older used LED panels like Litepanel 1x1 lights. Newer and more powerful lights like the Aperture 300D II seem like great investments and cuts down on depending on my bigger 10-bulb fixtures and other exotic solutions but they're not only expensive but quite a handful for storage. I had at one time thought to purchase a couple of my own high end generators for filmmaking purposes but after filming my first feature last summer, I learned right away that I don't want to have to store and handle maintenance for generators and, yes, there is the gasoline smell issue as well. We rented from Home Depot as that was the closest available place to get them and that process was pretty seamless and convenient overall, so it shows that if there's someplace you can rent, in my experience, then that would be the most preferable situation. If you're in an area that doesn't have any rental places, well, then that depends on your budget and what your needs are.

    As for cameras and lenses, I would say you should definitely have something on hand, even if it's an inexpensive set of still lenses (cine-modded or not) or a set of Rokinon Cine DS lenses. You never know if you might want to capture something or put together a quick short or even a test. If it's a good enough camera to bring you jobs, all the better, but I wouldn't go broke over a personal camera.
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  2. #12  
    Senior Member PatrickFaith's Avatar
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    Nov 2011
    I find camera testing with LED's real tricky, the tech is changing so fast and the different sensors each react to the leds ... so thinking you can long term buy led lights for camera testing is iffy.
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  3. #13  
    Im no DP but I try to work under the same principal as Nick. I only buy stuff when I got something booked that will pay for it and it will cost me less than renting it for the given project. Very rarley I buy something that needs a longer ROI. This industry is changing so fast so I let the rental companies run for that money instead.

    But for DPs I think very different. You guys should be consultants, not sales people promoting the use of your own gear.

    Sorry to say, but as soon as a DP start talking about his own camera, lenses, lights or what ever for a project I'm doing... Its a complete turnoff. Does not matter if they are offered at a low price. No matter how its done or how nice the intention where. For DP´s I think a better approach is to be a independent creative force ready to use and recommend what ever is best for the project and not have tinted ideas about those things because you got some led light at home that you could make a few extra bucks from if the production use them.

    I seen very talented DP´s that go that route, even Oscar winners, that start to buy into gear, then trying to bring them into projects in different ways. Directors, producers and everyone involved very often see through that kind of behaviour and it simply does not look pretty.
    Björn Benckert
    Creative Lead & Founder Syndicate Entertainment AB
    VFX / Flame / Motion capture / Monstro
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  4. #14  
    Senior Member
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    Oct 2007
    I have been doing this for a long time (30 years) so I have accumulated lots of stuff. I got a call a couple of weeks ago to do a commercial that was all macro impressionistic stuff. It included a shot of a chess board with pieces rising up from underwater. They wanted to shoot in about 3 days. I said this is going to take some figuring out and could probably use a test day. I ended up building a rig where the chess board was on an arm rigged from the dolly so we could use the boom to raise and lower the chess board. I gave them a quote saying I would bill them a la cart for whatever we used lighting wise. Started off with a 1200 HMI, that was too hard to control for the macro stuff we were doing so we switched to 100w LED fresnel, that wasn't doing it so we went to LED dedos. Having all the stuff made it easier to figure out because we didn't have to decide what to use ahead of time. At one point the client wanted to do a pull back through the chess board on a probe lens and have the camera roll when we did that. Can we do that? Sure, I just dug out the weaver steadman and set it up for that. Overhead shot looking straight down? Sure, let me grab the little jib.

    I was doing a commercial last month where we decided we liked flares. I had my Illuminas which we were using, but we wanted something more dramatic, and since we were at my studio, I had 3 different wonky lenses in the 30mm range that we could audition on the spot. Ended up shooting the rest of the spot on russian still lenses.

    A couple years ago, I was doing a feature and we were shooting near my shop. You never have like extra tripods and heads on a shoot, but I had them and my AC was like, "sure would be handy to have a couple extra sets of sticks and heads just to bounce cameras back and forth between cranes, steadicam" etc. So we had like 4 sets on set. it was really useful.

    My point is, having a ton of options can be very useful. But again, I never bought any of that stuff as an investment. Just a good deal pops up on ebay, someone is selling something, I have a good project that has the money to buy some toys, etc. I did a shoot recently where I needed a B camera. The money in the budget was exactly enough to buy an AJA cion. One week shoot, boom, now I have a free extra camera body. So that stuff adds up over time.

    At this point I don't need to rent anything except specialty gear for anything up to a medium sized feature. Since everything I bought was already paid for, when the low budget thing pops up I can still make a decent profit and over deliver on the product because it's not an added expense.

    I have had a camera package of some sort for a long time. From an ARRI SR to Varicam, to reds. A camera package in my market rents for about $1200 a day. Since forever. The SR was 1200 a day. the Varicam was 1200 a day. That includes accessories. I was really on the fence about buying a Gemini because the cameras are turning over so fast now adays. But I did and it paid it's self off pretty quick. Less than six months. But my arii MB-19, my lenses, my heads, all the gack hasn't changed. A camera is just a box you stuff a lens on. There is more money in all the other crap.

    I have done pretty well on making money on lighting. I have a generator package, a bunch of HMIs and leds, a pile of tungsten crap. The thing is, I don't rent it piece meal. I am doing a job, I just bill for a daylight lighting package, and take what I think I'll need. Grip is a pain in the ass. There is next to no money in it, but you need it. I think I bill $300 for a 1 ton Grip package. C-stands and cardelinnis are expensive. Also that is the kind of shit that vanishes. I stopped buying scrims for lights after like the third movie where they were all gone at the end.

    Not everyone has the space to store a ton of shit, but if the opportunity to buy some gear comes along, and it's not a big out of pocket expense, I say go for it.


    I will add, based on Bjorns post above, that I never push to use my stuff. If a client wants to use the flavor of the month lenses, or a different camera or there is a better solution to the problem than what I have, so be it. Happy clients are repeat clients ;-)
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  5. #15  
    Senior Member Sean Keen's Avatar
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    May 2012
    Moskow, Russia
    lenses and filters only, rest you can rent
    " Speed needed for catching fleas "
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  6. #16  
    Interesting opinions everyone! I've always been told that you shouldn't invest in any modern and expensive camera systems due to the ever changing technology. 30k for a camera that might become redundant in a few years to me isn't a good investment. But I do think cinematographers should own a camera body, something more affordable for personal projects or general shooting that the owner wouldn't lose to much money from.

    In my opinion lenses/filters should be where the money is spent. (I'm buying Leica r's)

    However, I do think cinematographers who are just starting out can benefit a lot from owning kit, a few light fixtures, some diff, bounce, solids etc. Doesn't have to be expensive stuff but I think that practising/experimenting with lighting and composition can aid the learning process.

    This is the area that I'm in and I'm investing in kit so that I can do just this. Most of my paid work is corporate/music videos and having my own kit is great as it gets me more work.

    I'm open to opinions/advice on this, definitely no expert!
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  7. #17  
    Senior Member
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    Mar 2017
    Orlando, FL
    I think it depends largely on your market and the type of work you are booking. There's just no one way to answer this.

    For me, owning gear in a smaller market has allowed me access to larger jobs. Production like an easy rental solution and if I own most of the things we'd need to rent, it's an incentive on making the production go smoother. Plus, the obvious upside for me then is the extra cash flow. You really need to calculate though the ROI on certain pieces of gear. An s-60 can pay for itself if it goes out 10 times at $300. A client monitor that costs $500 and goes for $50 on every shoot you go on is a smart move. Other specific, niche items, maybe not so much. Plus I also consider what gear my crew already owns. A lot of my gaffers own a lot of lighting, and so there's no need for me to purchase it. I'd rather pay them their rental rate and give them the extra cash.

    I think you just have to calculate what you use most, what you know will make you money and return on investment. If it makes your life easier, probably worth owning. If you know it makes you money, probably also worth owning. But again this is for the market I work in. In larger markets, most everything is so easily accessible and most crew members bring their chips to the table, that as a DP, you don't need to own anything but a light meter.
    RED DSMC2 GEMINI #011030
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