Photography and Video Gear, Should You Buy or Rent?

Photography and Video Gear, Should You Buy or Rent?

 The fast pace of changing technology is not slowing down. Add to the mix new mirrorless systems, VR, 8K it’s starting to make more and more sense to rent camera bodies, or does it?

There’s something to be said for picking up “your” camera not something that just arrived yesterday. Knowing where each little ding and scratch came from and the story behind each one. There’s also something to be said for knowing a technician went over this new arrival before it shipped out to you. That might even be worth more than the nostalgia. 

I’ve never leased a car, and similarly I lean towards buying photography equipment and getting as much as I can out of it. That’s fine when the biggest expense is buying a new DSLR body or new f/2.8 lens. Things get a lot more complicated, in the math department, when you start looking at purchasing a new RED brain. I grabbed a pen and pad and started doing the math so you don’t have to.

The current retail price for a Canon 5D Mark IV is $2,800
Rental price is $150 / 7 Days = $21/day 

That breaks down to 133 days of rental to equal the cost of buying it outright. If you’d like to jump into the deep end and buy a RED Helium it will set you back $24,000 or $1,400 / 7 Days. You’ll need to shoot more than 120 days with that rig before it makes sense to buy it instead of rent it. I haven’t even gotten into all the batteries, accessories and such which ends up tilting the scale towards investing in a system and going with it for the duration.

The meat of the argument is at what point is your current camera body no longer keeping up with your client’s specs. If you’re only shooting for online or social-media you should have stopped buying new bodies a few years ago. If the majority of your clients want 8K video and billboard size photographs then you’re going to be keeping up with the latest tech coming out. Can you keep using the “old one” and maybe rent the latest and greatest to get by on a project or two? The next question is how many days are you really shooting with that camera? 50? 100? 112 ½ days? I like being able to grab a camera off the shelf and head out the door, renting requires planning and a bit of lead time. That’s fine when you’re working on a larger production and live in a place where the sun is always shining and schedules never change.

The next hurdle with buying is cash flow. There’s all sorts of ways to finance gear but sometimes renting is a less expensive and better option for your business. If you’re not pulling in steady clients or just lots of small ones it’s going to be tough to make that credit card payment and if you’re not using the equipment it’s not making you any money sitting on a shelf. Maybe that money could be better spent on marketing or some other investment in your business.
There’s another option too, using that camera you have until the paint wears off and the shutter stops working. The upside to that is you’ll know the camera inside and out, can shoot in manual in the dark with one hand and you’ll realize that it’s not always about having the latest camera or the fastest lens. It’s about you and the image you’re going to create. 

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Andrew Eaton's picture

I will say owning your camera means you can get to know it inside out, it becomes transparent to your photography. Spending downtime with your camera understanding its limitations is very much time well spent

T Van's picture

Hopefully you investigated your equipment's limitations prior to purchasing them.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

You never know what may be limiting specifically for you.

And there are also early adopters.

T Van's picture

Smaller businesses typically buy their gear.
Bigger production companies typically rent their gear.
Pretty much all movies and top line TV shows rent all their gear.
The reason being they bill by the show. The cost of the rentals are built in up front and the client pays for it all. They don't have to worry about upgrading, or maintenance.
What should you do? It's going to be different for everybody.
For me it all depends on the flow of cash through your business.
Got a solid, long term business with nice client list? Buy your basic gear, like a camera and supporting equipment. Rent specialty items to supplement it.
Just starting out, or struggling? Rent it and make the client pay for it upfront.

tyler h's picture

for me it is a mix. I have my basic lenses and bodies. no specialty beyond a macro. If I need a specialty lens (i.e. tilt shift, super telephoto, etc) I rent. If I need a high resolution I rent.

Deleted Account's picture

It's prudent to mention taxation.

This is a question for your accountant.

Robert Feliciano's picture

What was the line from Endgame? No amount of money every bought a second of time.
Sure, there's efficiency, but I've wasted too much time at rental houses with slow lines, equipment that isn't there because the prior renter extended the rental. I've had client change shoot dates and times which don't line up with rental periods, etc.
If you're busy enough to not be able to spare the time to deal with the rental, just buy.

Mike Ditz's picture

Rented equipment is billable to the client. Heck I charge the client a fee for the equipment I own.