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Why Buy When You Can Borrow?

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It seems that there are now more formats than ever before. With each new camera comes a new host of accessories, which of course are never fully compatible with the predecessor, writes Sean Rose, Freelance cameraman.

There's no way of knowing what the industry will settle on, or if it will settle at all. The side-effect of all of this is a lot of wasted money and a lot of obsolete equipment. I feel I am more than qualified to make this statement, as I sit and admire my PMW F3 on the shelf at which it took up permanent residence so many moons ago. Such a great camera on paper and a solid piece of equipment in its time. However, after an all too brief life on my shoulder, it's now nothing more than expensive paperweight having been almost immediately superseded by better, cheaper alternatives.

I'd love to tell you I've learnt my lesson, but I am a sucker for a flashy demonstration and I have a few choice items that I've now had to put to alternative use. The big ones, for example, have blessedly rendered the spare bedroom uninhabitable and put the kibosh on the in-laws' regular overnight stays. Such a shame. They also add a healthy wedge to the contents insurance policy.

The answer, of course, is hire. Every shoot is different in content, budget, format, etc. and hire provides a wealth of potential resources. Most production companies keep it simple – they will hire the kit in for me and put me on the phone to the facilities house to deal with any specific requirements I might have. This can work well, depending on the rental house, but in my experience size is what matters. Bigger is not better and getting the kit at the best price is not always what's best for the shoot. I'm not a diva but there are some larger rental houses that I just won't work with. The bigger they become, the less they seem to know about their kit. It is hard to find anyone in a large facilities house who fully understands the nature of a shoot and, if there is a problem (which there invariably is) they tend to hide behind terms and conditions instead of finding a solution. This can make or break a production. I've also been victim of charges for pre-existing breakages on kit.

For this reason, where possible, I will always choose a small-medium size rental facility. My house of choice is Film Store Rental. These guys are passionate about cameras and know their kit inside out. They're happy for me to pop in to test cameras and will show me how to setup Gimbals, Sliders etc. The equipment is beautifully maintained, supplied with lots of expensive extras and always impeccably packed. They care about each production they're involved in, and it's never just a box shifting exercise. I was recently unlucky enough to have a tripod break in transit in the early hours. After an apologetic phone call to Film Store Rental, I had a replacement tripod delivered within an hour by an obliging young man still dressed in his pyjamas. They've also helped me out on various non-profit charity shoots and provide the exact same service as they do when paid in full.

Camera operation is becoming a more and more competitive field. To grow in this career path, it comes down to marginal gains. So pick your rental house carefully – having a good one in your arsenal puts you at a huge advantage and it's a step ahead you don't do the work for!

This article is also available to read at BFV online.


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