As filmmakers, videographers, and photographers, most of us dream of the day when we’ll own every single piece of gear we need to make our projects. In reality, however, owning a full inventory of gear is rare and almost impossible, unless you want to become a rental house yourself. Film equipment is too expensive, and productions are too varied, to make owning every piece of gear feasible, or even smart. Even if we own a camera, lens, and a few accessories, most of us still need to rent gear for every shoot.
While renting gear is definitely less expensive than buying gear on a shoot-by-shoot basis, however, the costs can still add up. I’ve rented a lot of camera gear over the years, and learned a lot along the way, so I’ve developed a few tricks to make your budget go further and make the rental experience a bit more enjoyable.
1.Look for Older Gear That Does the Job
It can be tempting to focus on getting the latest and greatest gear for every job. But sometimes you can find an amazing deal by renting slightly older gear that still more than covers your needs for a particular task. “Hot” new gear notoriously loses its rental value very quickly, but cameras that are three or four years old sometimes rent for a fraction of what a modern camera is going for.
Plus, it’s widely accepted that cameras from three or four years ago are still, in fact, pretty darn good. An ARRI ALEXA, RED Epic, Sony FS7 Mark I, or Panasonic Varicam from a few years ago can create stunning images. At the lower price points, the 5D Mark III rents for much less than the Mark IV, but still offers the same great low light image reproduction, albeit at a lower resolution.
And maybe that lower resolution is all you need. If you’re shooting a project for 1080p web delivery, it’s very possible that it makes more sense for certain budgets to simply rent a 1080p camera and save money vs. springing for a 4K option. Digital cinema cameras have been stellar for nearly a decade now, which opens up a huge catalogue of potential options when you’re trying to save money. Especially with multi-camera jobs, gear from only a few years ago can be surprisingly affordable and a huge way to manage your budget.
2. Consider Your Rental Options
The rental landscape has changed dramatically with the onset of online camera rental marketplaces like KitSplit, which provide a platform for independent companies, individuals, and rental houses to all list their camera gear, and prices, in a competitive marketplace.
Online rental platforms are a great place to start your search, since they offer listings from pretty much everyone. If you’re newer to rental platforms, you’ll be surprised to discover just how many camera rentals, lens rentals, and other gear rentals are available on these sites. On KitSplit, for example, there’s tens of thousands of listings — meaning a much wider range of inventory than you’ll find at any one rental house or online platforms like BorrowLenses or LensRentals. And there are gear listings everywhere, which means you’ll likely find what you need right in your neighborhood.
As another benefit, KitSplit also works as an informal social network. Rent from someone often enough, and you might end up discovering a new digital imaging technician through them, or getting a reference, as you get to know them by regularly working with their gear.
3. Opt for a Kit
Many times rental houses and freelance filmmakers who rent their gear will have assembled it into a “kit,” often with a job-specific name (the handheld kit, the sports kit, etc.) that should include all the relevant accessories you need to do the job at hand. Kits are wonderful, since the person assembling the kit has generally taken the time to ensure all the parts you need are there, and that they all work together.
Sometimes it can be tempting to try and piece together a package that has only “exactly what you need” and nothing else, but since most people offer a discount for a kit, this strategy often doesn’t save you money. It can save more time (which is a valuable resource in prep) and headaches. Even if you do manage to slightly lower your price by picking out gear a la carte, it’s up to you to determine compatibility for all the parts; sometimes, a small savings won’t be worth the hassle of getting to set and realizing that all the pieces don’t play together like they should.
4. Consider Location and Multiple Pickups
On bigger shoots, there’s generally someone lower down on the call sheet worrying about pickups and returns. This can result in productions spreading out their gear sourcing from wherever they can get what they need for the best deal.
However, if you’re on a smaller shoot, it’s well worth it to take the time to evaluate not just how much something is going to cost you, but how long it will take you to get there. If you’re in Brooklyn, a rental house in New Jersey — or even uptown! — that comes in a few hundred dollars cheaper might not be worth it compared to renting in your neighborhood and saving the trips for both pickup and return, especially if you’re taking cabs.
Getting gear nearby is especially important, since a good working relationship with whomever you rent from, be it a house or a freelancer, is vital. If something goes wrong with a piece of gear on the shoot, you want someone physically nearby who can support you through the process of troubleshooting, repairing, or replacing to keep the project going strong without losing a beat.
5. Tell Them What You’re Doing
It’s always worth the time to explain your shoot plans to all those involved in the shoot, including anyone you’re getting gear from. Why share these details with the person whose gear you’re renting? Because chances are that they have dealt with productions doing similar things before, and can either save you money or catch important issues you might have missed.
Questions always come up, and it’s far better to ask them two days before the shoot, when you have time to fix them, and not on set with the playback person desperately sending a PA to pick up needed accessories.
People and companies who own gear spend a lot of time talking about, and working with, their gear. They’ll have insight into making your production as painless as possible; giving them more perspective on your planned shoot just helps them do that.
6. Prepare for Time at Pickup/Drop-Off
One classic rookie mistake is to not allocate enough time for a proper pickup or drop-off. Renting camera gear isn’t like renting a chainsaw from the hardware store, or even like renting a car, where a quick walk around to check for scratches and a few cellphone photos is usually all the prep that is performed.
Film and video equipment is complicated, and you’re going to be using it in high-stakes situations where losing ten minutes to rigging gear can lose you a shot. It’s absolutely imperative that you go through every aspect of the gear at your pickup. Allocate time with the place or person you’re renting from to ask questions and try different setups. Checkouts can be done in a variety of locations depending on the size and nature of the gear, but the key is to schedule your day so you have the time needed to understand and test everything before you get to set.
Hopefully these tips will make it easier to find, afford, and use the rental gear you need on your next production! Do you have questions about anything in this article or tips of your own? Tell us in the comments!