Buying vs. Renting Video Gear: What Should You Do?

buying or renting video gear

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Highlights

Renting video gear could be an option if your projects are different from one another
Buying video gear is a good solution if you film every day
Whether to buy or rent video gear depends on the type of creator you are

Table of Contents

If you are starting a production company, you are a freelancer, content creator, etc., you have probably been in the situation of deciding about buying vs. renting video gear. This guide will help with your decision.

Then vs. now

Back in the day, cameras, lenses and other filmmaking tools had prohibitive prices. So it was only possible to buy professional gear if you were running a production company. Luckily for us, technology has evolved, and brands now offer cameras, lenses and accessories available for all of us. Also, the internet opened a new world of knowledge, making it easier to learn from home and develop our skills with essential tools. Nowadays, you can get excellent results with a camera under $1K, expertise and good taste.

But even if the gear is affordable nowadays, high-end cameras like the Arri Alexa or cinema lenses like the Cooke can cost as much as a car. The decision of buying vs. renting will depend on what type of creator you are, your financial situation, workflow, number of clients, etc. Each filmmaker and company is different. Then, there’s the option of a lease to own a camera. In a lease, you pay a monthly fee for a piece of equipment with the possibility of buying it at the end.

The first thing to consider would be: what’s the essential filmmaker gear you need?

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Essential filmmaker gear

What follows is an illustrative list of things you would need depending on the type of creator you are. Of course, this is only a rough guide because no 2 content creators or companies are the same, and the list will vary according to your needs:

  • Content creators:

      • A camera and its accessories. Lenses. Batteries
      • Tripod/gimbal
      • Laptop
      • A light
      • A microphone
  • Indie filmmakers:

      • A camera and its accessories. Lenses. Batteries. Tripod. Computer with editing software
      • Lights. Lighting equipment (stands, diffusion, softboxes, etc.)
      • A gimbal
      • Audio recording kit
      • Car or van
  • Production companies

    • A camera and its accessories.
    • Lenses
    • Batteries
    • Tripods
    • Computers with production and editing software
    • Creative assets like stock footagelicensed music, templates, presets and plugins
    • Lights & lighting equipment – Stands, diffusion, softboxes, etc.
    • Gimbal, dolly
    • Audio recording gear
    • Car or van
    • Studio or office

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Pros and cons of buying video gear

Pros

  • Availability. If you are a content creator or a company shooting daily, buying a camera could be the best option. Also, if you want to test things or film more spontaneously, having your camera will make you shoot more.
  • Renting your gear. If you buy and don’t shoot daily, you could make your equipment available for others, making passive income on those days you are not shooting. 
  • Learning. When you have your equipment, you shoot more. For example, if you have a hybrid camera, you could experiment and test different techniques, take pictures and take the camera with you when you travel. In the long term, the hours you have filmed will make you a better filmmaker.

Cons

  • Price. If you buy high-end equipment, you will invest a lot of money. This makes sense if you are getting that investment back, but renting per project could be a better option if you still need to get the clients.
  • Depreciation. Technology loses its value as soon as you buy it. New models with new features are released yearly, making your purchase lose value compared with new models. Consider this if you plan on selling it years later. Otherwise, if you are not into this ‘get the latest piece of gear on the market’ fever, a good camera will give you good results for years if you know how to make the most of it. Lenses and other non-technological equipment are different. As someone once told me: ‘If you have to invest, invest in glass and iron’ (referring to lenses and grip equipment).

In general, if you are a content creator, freelancer or independent production company, buying some basic equipment could be a good idea, especially if you film every week. An affordable camera, a versatile lens, a laptop, a tripod and decent sound gear could be an excellent place to start. You can always rent for more advanced projects or big clients, but having the essential gear will make you more independent and ready for your next production.

Pros and cons of renting video gear

Pros

  • Price. If you only need gear for a specific project, renting will be cheaper than buying. Unless you steadily use the same piece of equipment, you could rent for the days you need the material.
  • Versatility. If you rent, you will have access to different cameras and lenses, and you can make the best choice for the project. It will make you more proficient with different setups, making you a more versatile filmmaker with good knowledge about other brands.
  • Insurance. If something happens to the equipment you rent, you will be covered by the rental company’s insurance. You won’t have to worry about any accidental fault or damage to the equipment as you would if it’s your gear.

Cons

  • Availability. If you rely on rental companies, you may find that they don’t have the camera or lens you need for the next day.
  • Cost. You may find that renting a camera for 10 days costs the same as buying it. In that case, you should consider buying it, especially for longer projects. Ultimately, it’s a matter of numbers and a business decision. Also, your time costs money. Every time you rent, you will have to go to the rental house twice unless they have a delivery service, which also costs money.

What kind of creator are you?

For big projects, such as feature films or narrative series, renting will be the only option since every decision will depend on the director’s and DOP’s artistic choices.

Production companies with a lot of gear could consider renting it out while not using it. It will give the company another source of income.

Freelance filmmakers could do the same if they don’t have a daily flow of clients or while on holiday, for example.

It could be a good idea for small video companies and freelance filmmakers to rent accessories, grip and lighting gear, etc. while keeping fundamental equipment for everyday needs.

Wrap up

Like in every business, your financial situation and numbers will determine whether it’s better to rent or buy. In this context, emotionally attaching yourself to your equipment is not a good idea. Instead, consider it a resource to make your vision a reality.

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About Jose Prada

Jose Prada is a filmmaker, musician and writer based in the UK and Spain. He has won several awards with short films and commercials and has published filmmaking courses on different platforms. jrvisuals.co.uk, the production company he founded together with Rene Strgar contributes high-end stock footage to Artgrid.

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