Monday, 22 February 2016

Buy or Rent Gear, The Eternal Struggle

There are a lot of considerations that go into deciding whether to rent or buy gear; for example, what type of gear do you need? How soon do you need it? What does your budget support? How long will this gear last you? How often will you need to use it?

These questions are often very difficult to answer and the answers are different for every shoot. The good news is rental houses are abundant, and many have different strengths that help in different situations. Having a list of multiple vendors means that you’re almost always going to be able to get the gear you need when you need it. Below I’ve highlighted some of my favorite vendors that I’ve used at Swagger and discussed what makes them so great for different types of shoots.
  • is my go-to online rental house. For years now brick and mortar stores have been struggling to compete with online services and the production field is no exception. For every physical rental house, there’s an online equivalent that can usually offer competitive rates, not to mention there’s no need to physically drive to a location, the gear arrives right at your office. While this option may be the most convenient sometimes it’s just not practical, particularly for shoots that pop up without much notice since they may not be able to ship your gear in time. Another issue you can run into is receiving the wrong gear or even non-working gear. While this is rare due to many quality assurance procedures it’s impossible to avoid and it can happen to you. 
  • Photo Rental Source has been a lifesaver for me many times over. While they do offer some video equipment, Photo Rental Source specializes mostly in DSLR photography equipment. Every time I have a last minute photography shoot pop up I know I can count on them to have what I need, whether it’s a spare lens or a flash they’ve always got the gear I’m looking for. Having a rental place like this can often mean the difference between being able to do a shoot or not. While I mostly use them as a local pick up spot they do also offer shipping, which is fantastic if you’re not located close to Houston. There’s also something really comforting about being able to physically inspect the gear myself to make sure it’s all in working order.
  • Microsearch is to video what Photo Rental Source is to photography, it’s my go-to place for video cameras, tripods, audio gear, misc cables, etc. This is bolstered by the fact that they have a physical storefront with gear for purchase as well as rental. That means I can not only try out equipment before I rent it, but before I purchase as well. I am always a little hesitant to order gear online if I’ve never used it, you never know if it’s going to be missing a critical component you weren’t aware of or even if it will work with your gear at all. The staff are all very knowledgeable as well and are there to help make sure you’re getting the best gear for your particular needs. They also have one of the best services I have ever wanted from a rental house: Saturday pickup and return!
  • Texcam is one of Houston’s biggest and most established rental houses, for good reason too. They have an absolutely massive equipment collection to choose from, including some of the most world-renowned and professionally recognized industry standard cameras and lenses. This is absolutely critical for any production company because some of these cameras and lenses can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and if you only have one or two shoots a year that require them there’s no way you could justify purchasing them. Renting them, however, allows you to meet your client’s needs without breaking their budget or yours. If you’re looking for film cameras, 4K digital cameras, Zeiss lenses, and enough grip material to mount just about anything to anything else, then look no further than Texcam.

Having a reliable list of vendors is a must for anybody planning productions on a regular basis. The simple fact is that production gear is expensive and becomes outdated so rapidly that purchasing isn’t always the best option. So how do we decide when to purchase and when to rent? It’s actually pretty simple: all you need to do is consider how often you’ll use the item before it’s outdated and how many times would you have to use the item before it paid for itself. Let’s look at a simple example below:

The Canon 5Ds is about $125/day on average. I might get a better deal if I rent for a longer period of time or have a good relationship with a vendor, but we’ll use $125 for the sake this example. I could purchase this camera from Amazon or B&H for right around $3,700. With some simple math, I can determine that after I have rented the 5Ds thirty times it would have been smarter to buy since I would have at that point paid the cost of the camera in rental fees. I also have to factor in how frequently I’ll use the equipment. If I’m using the camera several times each week it will probably be more cost efficient to buy since I am going to spending a lot of money on rentals. If I only need it twice a year, however, it’s easy to see how renting saves me a lot of money.

By using this simple formula, you can determine what equipment you should invest in rather than renting. Of course, there are other factors to consider, like if you have the budget to outright purchase a piece of gear, but for the most part, if you’re renting gear on a regular basis it’s smarter to purchase it.

What rental houses do you like to use? What gear do you find yourself renting instead of buying? What gear have you decided to buy instead of rent? Share your thoughts in the comment section below or tweet @Swagger_Media! And if you need help with your production projects, our team is happy to assist you! Visit our website or give us call at 832-831-7592.

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