It’s that time of year again. New projects have been in development, and some are ready to proceed with production. The Million Dollar Questions/Topics/Issues being hashed out right now: the gear to be used – cameras, lighting, audio, support. Rent for X dollars a day or purchase outright? How about location necessities, like securing two-way radios (handheld transceivers) for reliable crew communications?
Let’s break it down, item for item – cameras, lighting, audio, and production support, and decide on a trip to a rental house or a trip to your favorite video store.
CAMERAS – We all know cameras are forever evolving. We’ve gone from a tape-based to a largely file-based recording environment (hard drive) for most audio, video, print, and so on. Prices are constantly decreasing. Now we’ve got DSLR’s with hacks to add capabilities. Do you want to spend the money on buying a rig that is current today (1080p at 24 fps) that might be obsolete in 6 months (4K is picking up steam) and then on top of that, be stuck with it? Or do you spend a few hundred dollars and rent the best camera you can get for X number of days?
In an ideal world, I’d rent the gold standard at the time of my production. But if on a budget, use what you can get your hands on or buy! Especially if you’re doing enough paid projects to justify buying a DSLR, prosumer camera or even a high-end unit like the RED EPIC.
LIGHTING – Lighting, the second most vital to any visual production, you should be conscious of age, wear and tear, and yes, price. A three-point light kit will do, buy it new or used, and be a minimalist – make it easy on yourself. That set comes in handy from everything from interviews to simple shoots. But if cooler (literally) lights prevail, such as Kino Flos, and you don’t have at the ready… put your business hat on, and price things out for rent. Some projects require plenty of G&E (grip and electric), and renting is the way to go.
SOUND – Microphones; I have a couple of exceptional rugged unidirectional shotguns, Shure SM58s, lavs and an array of cables, stands and cords. I’m happy and I’ll use what I have until they wear out on me. Mics USUALLY don’t improve, unless you’re pulling a full blown Alan Parsons/Pink Floyd attempt at aural ecstacy (I Robot, Another Brick in the Wall, anyone?), paw through your collections!
Mixers, boards, direct inputs (DIs), and pre-amps are another animal to be considered. You CAN use analog sources in digital media, but beware sample rates when you capture/encode.
Since we primarily operate in a digital world, the phrase “Content is king” is gospel from AM radio stations to YouTubers and Podcasters. Your media can LOOK subpar, but if the sound isn’t near-perfect, you’re in trouble. Keep this in mind when deciding: shooting/recording/capture format, locations, budget, ROI. What will work and what won’t? Do you have access to gear now? Reliability? Analog or digital? Price to rent and buy? Can I use this for other functions? Check out our Sound Equipment Rental for Every Budget article for more ideas.
PRODUCTION SUPPORT – Admit it… our phones own us. Are they feasible communication for location shoots? Not really; commercial services go down all the time. You need a method faster and even MORE efficient than texting and IMing: Two-way radios.
I don’t recommend taking a chance on the “family radio” packs seen at Best Buy and the like, since the frequencies these radios are programmed for are saturated with millions of these units sold, and a lot of them just plain cannot deliver. You need professional quality, rugged, LICENSED two-way gear.
An LLC or S-corporation formed specifically for one project won’t have the time, funds, and patience to buy two-way radios, file with the Federal Communications Commission for a call sign and available frequencies and then wait. Don’t get me wrong: Motorola makes exceptional HTs (handheld transceivers, also known as ‘walkie-talkies) that are used on concert tours, law enforcement, amateur radio (I am an operator), and a million other entities. I’ll just say it. Better off to rent these from a rental house, and don’t forget the base station, chargers, and extra batteries!
When it comes to either purchasing or buying your gear, it’s highly subjective. There are three things are in play here: your budget, current standards, and return on investment. If you can buy, great. You’ll have what you need for your next gig. If not, rent, take plenty of notes of the pros and cons of borrowed gear, and weigh your options for next time.