You can save a lot of money on filmmaking gear by choosing what you need, not what the marketers want you to buy. So here are my tips:
1 Don’t be an early adopter
New cameras are most expensive when they first go on sale. The price usually drops a lot after a few months, so if you don’t need it now it’s worth waiting. And buying a brand new model is always a risk. It’s better to let other people find out if there are any major faults or issues with it.
2 Buy last year’s model
Despite what the makers want you to believe, most new cameras aren’t game-changers. So when a new model comes out, look out for discounts on the old one. You’re a filmmaker, not a camera collector.
3 Buy used (from the right people)
You can get pretty much anything used. But you should try to buy only from people who ignore rules 1 and 2.
They’re the enthusiasts and hobbyists who upgrade every time a new model comes out. These people look after their gear. Anything you buy from professionals will probably have had a much harder life.
When you buy used, check that the price is low enough to be worth the risk. Buy with a guarantee, or from a reliable buyer who accepts returns.
4 Buy just what you need
That new full-frame/4K camera is great, but do you really need it? When you’re just starting, and you’re not being paid (or paying people), you should just get the basic gear that will do the job. If you’ve bought it used – and you look after it – you can sell it and upgrade later without losing too much on the deal.
5 Don’t buy too cheap
Once you start doing jobs for money – or doing shoots that cost you money – you’ve got to have gear that you can rely on to do the job.
There are loads of imitations and copies of pro equipment like SLR rigs, matte boxes, lights and viewfinders. But some of them are flimsy, badly made and difficult to use. Look for stuff that’s been reviewed or that has good feedback. Try it out if you can.
6 Don’t bother with DIY
I’m really sceptical about all these DIY cranes, stabilisers and other gear. You can waste hours or days on making something that either doesn’t work, or is slower and more awkward than the pro alternative. Saving money on kit isn’t such a great idea if your shoot takes twice as long, or you have to go back and reshoot.
7 Hire if you can
If you’re not sure that you’ll use it regularly, hire it instead. Renting lights, microphones, cameras, lenses, stabilisers and jibs probably costs less than you think. Hiring means you can use better stuff than you could afford to buy. It’s also a great way to try gear you’re thinking of buying.
8 ‘Hire’ from eBay
If you need something you can’t hire – or you need it for so long that hire costs would be uneconomic – buy it used on eBay. Look after it, then sell it when you’ve finished with it. So the ‘hire cost’ is just eBay, Paypal and shipping costs, plus any loss on the sale. (You really need to be an experienced Paypal seller with excellent feedback to make this worthwhile.)