Students and new professionals are perpetually asking what the best gear is to get at any given price point. I hate to through my own industry under the bus (this may be a lie) but film students are very often the worst offenders. 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 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 or a NewEgg listing, but before you shell out for that expensive gear 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 light, basic-level gear loadout
This will give you something 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 just to develop your skills in periods where you may not have rental gear to play with.
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 substantial, quality package, without going overboard
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
- Gear rental is a high margin business, if you’re hitting a rate ceiling gear can help you earn more, even if it means renting your gear to other crews
- Your clients want your experience, not gear
- By relying on rentals you have more flexibility
Less than fully booked, Recommendation: Nothing.
At this point you’re not selling end products, you’re selling own experience and skill. You’re also more likely to manage a team instead of doing the heavy lifting yourself, making your gear superfluous more often than not.
Fully booked, Recommendation: Serious package, without any highly specialized tools
Rental houses can make a killing. Their main barrier to entry is marketing themselves. You have a captive audience- your existing clients- that you can rely on to make additional profit.