February 5, 2016 at 12:39AM, Edited February 5, 12:40AM

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I've got a camera, now I'm a DP!

No, not really.

I've been reading a certain type of comment on NFS and other boards, and I think it's a sentiment that I see expressed online quite often.

"I don't get jobs because I don't have X camera."

or

"I need to buy the latest newest bigger camera because last years isn't in demand now."

or

"I have a T3 i, I never get any work...if only I had X Y Z gear."

You get the idea.

I don't really encounter this "I need X camera" sentiment on any of my sets or among my immediate peers. Mostly we wag on about specific bits of AKS we love and talk about buying it instead of always having the wrong item rented by production.

Which brings me to my question: How many of you only get jobs because you come with gear? How many of you, like me, may own a few bits of gear but rent a majority of your gear for every job?

And I guess that opens up additional questions, like, what market are you mostly involved in? and for the owner ops, how has owning helped your business and do you have any thoughts yay or nay to ownership?

35 Comments

I absolutely agree that nobody cares whether you own or rent your gear. They care about your reel, your recent references, your rate, and your energy/enthusiasm for their project. That said, there are projects where the deliverables are going to limit what gear you use. If they want R3D RAW files to grade, you cannot get away with saying "but CinemaDNG is just as good!". But if they do want R3D files to grade, and you do have some great references showing that you know how to handle a RED camera on set, nobody cares whether that camera belongs to you or a rental company.

I do get gigs because I have high-spec cameras that get people excited. And I will not get gigs that require high-spec cameras with which I'm not familiar. That's how the cookie crumbles for me.

February 5, 2016 at 10:30AM

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I do see a fair number of camera-op jobs where they state that they are looking for a shooter with XXX camera, which is often because they are are already shooting with this camera and want another shooter that will match with their footage.

Sometimes this is done to save money, where they don't have the budget to rent a proper production set-up so they try and hire people that already own the gear they want to shoot with. I see this with audio work too, where they want a sound recordist with a professional sound package.

For real DP work ( i.e. productions with a proper budget ) all they want to see is your reel and a list of projects you've completed.

February 5, 2016 at 10:54AM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
31521

The camera I own absolutely defines the type of work I will shoot. In the low to mid end of the markets in LA and Miami, not having the right gear will decide whether you get the job.

I have seen it time and time again producers and directors deciding who they hire based on their gear, never really their reel. Reels matter much more on the very high end, where budgets for rental are large and insured.

An personal example is a film my friend was going to DP. He had worked with the director before, they had a great working relationship. During the prep for the production the director stated he wanted to shoot 4K. My friend the DP said he could get a black magic, great quality and fit into the productions budget. Something like $300 per day with accessories and lenses.

While searching for a rental the producer/director was told by a local Red owner he could come out to DP with a Red for $250 a day.

This Red guy was a model who recently turned DP, six months prior. Not much experience, no reel, no talent/skills.

The producer/director chose the better camera, not the better reel and went with a Red.

This type of thing is happening daily, productions on the mid to low end are choosing gear over talent. Cameras have become so good with Raw that the editor/colorist is the real artist now.

Not having a high end camera as a DP will lose you so many jobs. I only have an FS100 and the jobs I can get are very limited, and more limiting by the day. If I don't make the investment in a better camera every 3-4 years my business will be done.

February 7, 2016 at 8:38AM, Edited February 7, 8:38AM

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You are very right in many circumstances. People with a nice camera can swoop in and offer a major discount to secure a job that other wise would be better suited going to someone with more experience that will most likely get the production better results regardless of which camera they use (rented of not).

The truth is, every market is so dynamic with jobs across many financial and creative spectrums. If we are referencing low budget creative or smaller commercial work then yes, this "I bought a nice camera and now i'm a DP phenomenon" will continue forever. When you move further up in tiers of budgeted work this becomes less and less relevant and is not as common place.

The 30 veteran bird watcher can probably spot you climbing the tree in an Bald Eagle costume even if you've adorned yourself in real feathers. When you are establishing yourself it's hard when competing against people that may be less talented than you but more hold stake in greater equipment value. "Their feathers look so real" just don't push them out of the nest and force them to fly.

Ninja Monkey, you are spot on that if you are a shooter working as an owner operator it's wise to change cameras every few years and be current with the market demand. Many clients do ask for the latests and greatest. There are lots of buzz words that excite, RED was certainly one for a long time, ALEXA mini is now another one, on the entry level URSA mini 4.6k is another. (URSA not so much for clients but more for the film community) These trends of new gear peak interests and to a certain degree drive the direction and value of certain production markets for a season while the interest remains.

We're about to see this phenomenon brought to new heights once the RED Scarlet-w, Raven and especially URSA mini 4.6k cameras come to market. True high end capture will be relatively available to the masses. If you have an FS100 that can only deliver at 1080p going against a hundred hungry URSA mini owners, they have a competitive advantage and will be financially motivated. When you don't have to spend as much, it's just reality that people are willing to "give it away" for pennies on the dollar. When this occurs, many shooters excited they are getting paid at all don't realize they are ultimately shooting themselves in the foot as they've participated in killing the market for a given time. Ultimately (and hopefeully) there will be a market correction where the budgeted jobs realize it's worth paying more again for experienced people after trying to make someone fly who doesn't possess actual functioning wings. (Here I go with my eagle analogy again...)

This is a complex topic that people will have varying experiences and opinions on, but if you are trying to be an "owner operator" and you aren't to some degree keeping up with current technology then it's just bad business. This isn't to say you can't make it work but you will be swimming up stream and fighting the current becomes tiresome.

disclaimer: If you own a camera that you love the functionality of great! Use it and use again and again. If you're looking to shoot films for fun and as a hobbyist, then rock what you have and don't look back. When you're coming into a commercial environment the landscape changes and that's the reality. I do believe if you are a great salesmen you can convince some clients they don't need XYZ camera and you can save them money by shooting on whatever you have. GREAT! More power to you, every time I see it done I love it. Do know though, in every film market there is someone lurking in the shadow with an Epic Dragon package waiting to swoop in like spiderman and work for "back end points" or some other lie.

If you want to be a shooter, buy a t3i for $300. learn lighting and cinematography, build relationships. Then get the best camera you can that works in the range of current tech and trends within your budget.

As your body of work grows, as will your income. When you arrive at a place of experience and are sitting on some capital as a result of your efforts take a moment to pause and breathe. Now you can now re-evaluate the market trends and see if your camera continues to be the professional tool most useful to you and the clients you serve.

February 7, 2016 at 12:00PM

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Casey Schmidt
Film stuff.
168

Spot on here.

February 7, 2016 at 12:27PM

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It's interesting, thank's to your story I finally understand this gear issue. So far I thought it was a no-issue as if you want a guy with a red, the guy can just rent a red and ad the price of the renting to his normal fee. That's what I would do. The thing is that for 250 a day with lenses, it's less than the renting price, I don't know if this price is only for the camera or the work plus the camera but in both case it's a big risk as it's not enough to pay back the investment. If he has to pay an insurence for the gear, taxes etc, it's dead, he's working almost for free and if something happens to the camera it's a big loose, for 250$ a day it's not worth. By doing that the guy is killing the work for everyone, himself included.

February 7, 2016 at 4:43PM

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AvdS
1398

Thing is they don't need to be profitable in the beginning. Most of these shooters with Red's charging $150 a day to come out are using it for experience.

Seeing how most spend over $150K for a good film school, spending $20K on a professional camera is not too bad. Especially when your taking jobs from those same film school graduates who paid triple your cost of entry, along with the time it's takes to get a bachelors. In those 4 years they could already be highly successful.

February 7, 2016 at 7:43PM

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You can not compete with stupidity. Own the gear that makes sense, good financial sense, and rent the rest. The only "producers" who care if you have expensive gear are too cheap to get it from a rental company and want YOU to subsidize their productions. You cannot be in business very long if you "undercut" rates and rentals too far, unless your are independently wealthy and don't need to earn a living.

February 11, 2016 at 5:48PM

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Malcolm Matusky
Producer
176

Film making is also business!

February 7, 2016 at 12:09PM, Edited February 7, 12:14PM

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Casey Schmidt
Film stuff.
168

If the gear you own is the only reason someone wants to hire you, they'll ditch you as soon as someone is cheaper or has fancier gear. That will always be a race to the bottom where you need to invest more and more while making less and less.

Owning gear is very convenient.
But you should be able to sell your skills properly.
Marketing, networking and acquiring jobs are also skills you need to get the jobs you want for the clients you want. The best situation is when the client wants YOU more than YOUR GEAR, because that shows the client understands that the craft is more than pushing 'rec'.

Unfortunately, the world isn't perfect, so there will always be people hiring gear with a button pusher, instead of hiring a DP with the right gear for the job.
Then it is up to you: join that race or not.
Every situation is different, so I can't tell what the right decision is...

I'm lucky enough to have clients that understand why I rent gear or not and why I don't own every piece of gear suited for every situation.
At the same time: I have gear of my own as well, making it easy to act quickly (if my gear fits the job).

February 7, 2016 at 7:54PM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8686

I really respect what your saying and a large part of me agrees with it, that is the ideal life as a cinematographer. Having clients who respect your work and willing to pay the budget needed for your vision.

I try as much as possible to look forward to where filmmaking is going, not necessarily where it is today. The vision I see is the eventual replacement of the DP by A.I. capable of producing artistic work. I estimate that within 10-15 years this will be a reality in our industry.

This means that more and more, the camera we have will separate you from the competition. I have accepted this, and along with studying the arts and my craft, I have decided to dedicate a major part of my time to stay on the leading edge of technology.

Editing will also shift towards the A.I. First allowing editors to create sample projects for the computer to emulate. For example if I edit a lot of wedding films, I could edit one sequence as my template. Then the A.I. computer would be able to edit other weddings with similar footage to the same style as he template.

Eventually A.I. would advance to the point of editing everything by itself within 10-15 years.

What does this mean? Our jobs will grow more and more into technical roles. Mostly managing settings and workloads. Those more adept at this will survive, others will fall by the wayside.

What does this mean today? You better have the right equipment or your work will fall behind the thousands with better technical standard. It's what it meant to have a reel with 35mm footage 10 years ago, nothing has changed just the names.

February 7, 2016 at 8:56PM

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Yeah A.I. will take over a lot in the next decades, but it will take over the technical stuff first. Actually it already is doing that when you set a camera on auto.
The last things A.I. will take over are: inter-human actions, creativity and complex made-to-measure services on difficult locations.

BTW, the reasoning that A.I. will take over the job of a DP, so you need a camera to compete seems a bit odd, because A.I. will just take that camera anyway.

February 8, 2016 at 12:17PM, Edited February 8, 12:17PM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8686

This is pretty dumb, be careful about rationalizing instead of substantiating. Theres an elephant in the room here guys, if someone isn't hiring you for your mind and creative, your work is not good enough. We all like to think that hollywood is filled with nepotism and trust fund kids, but its primarily made up of talented individuals who could shoot you under the table with a 7D. I know its not a thought people here like to think about, because it would easier to accept your inability to change your position is due to financial reasons. Its not financial reasons, its because you opted to become a camera operator, which is a technician and not a filmmaker which requires a hell of a lot more risk taking with your creative and career to be successful. If you don't want to take the risk, thats fine, just stop complaining about being "stuck." There are levels of filmmaking that only talent can allow you to get to. Networking will show you the door, but they won't let you walk through without talent. If you really want to be a filmmaker, sell all of your gear, use the money to make a phenomenal film, win festivals become a vimeo select, and the phone will start ringing.

February 9, 2016 at 7:20AM

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Indie Guy
622

Yep, it can indeed mean you aren't good enough.
However, in the corporate world I have seen other reasons as well:
- you are not the cheapest
- they don't see or value the difference in quality/skills

But although annoying to see it happen sometimes, they are not my clients if they are content with crappy videos.

PS.
I'm not a camera operator.

February 10, 2016 at 10:38AM, Edited February 10, 10:38AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8686

if the client is looking for the cheapest that just means your are at a lower tier in the industry, there are corporate clients who will pass on you if your quote is too low as well. If your go higher in the tiers of corporate video, the clients see the difference. There is obviously the double edged sword, how do I produce good work to get ahead, when my clients do give me the time and budget to do so? Its easy either use ingenuity and talent, or sell all your gear and make great spec work, rebuild your website and hustle to sell yourself to better clients.

February 11, 2016 at 8:11AM

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Indie Guy
622

I totally agree with you: make stuff you want to make to get such clients/assignments.

Through my network I get inquiries from all kind of (potential) clients ranging from really small businesses to privately owned companies that are marketleaders in Europe or the world. Some just want a very (unrealisticly) cheap solution, but I refuse to make crap... So they go shop elsewhere.

February 13, 2016 at 7:09AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8686

Its a solid mix of both... Gear and skill. Lets not negate the fact that gear is very important. So if you can make the provision to upgrade your gear then upgrade your gear whilst you improve on your technical skills

February 8, 2016 at 10:09AM

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Wentworth Kelly
Director/DP/Colorist/Drone Op
1903

Agreed! A mix of both. As your talents skills increase, chances are the need for better professional tools will too. Just be smart about the money. I imagine there's no worse feeling than not being able to cover rent because you took out a 50k loan and are now realizing you weren't at a sustainable point in your career to make such a big leap. Spending money you have as it comes in shows healthy growth and sustainability with you, your gear and your place in your market. Once you reach a certain level, you'll know when to dive deeper.

February 8, 2016 at 10:25AM, Edited February 8, 10:25AM

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Casey Schmidt
Film stuff.
168

So far I've never had a client ask about the gear that I own. I think there was one gig where we talked briefly about what my rental plan was, and that was it. That was a couple years ago. If they actually cared enough about a specific camera type and weren't willing to rent it then we're probably not going to end up working together.

February 10, 2016 at 9:53AM

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Steven Bailey
Writer/Director/Composer
1005

I have the exact opposite experience. Every single job/gig I put myself up for I am asked to provide an equipment list. This usually will decide my rate not the quality of my work.

February 10, 2016 at 10:17AM

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That's so sad. =\

February 11, 2016 at 2:18PM

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Steven Bailey
Writer/Director/Composer
1005

I have the same experience: my clients don't ask about the tools, they ask about possibilities. "Can you do this/that?"
Only fellow filmmakers ask about gear or some smaller marketing agencies that are looking for very quick and low cost solutions.

February 10, 2016 at 10:46AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8686

My clients ask for something, I tell them what gear can do what they want, then I rent it. I've always gone over what gear would work the best in each situation.

February 12, 2016 at 6:19PM

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Clark McCauley
Spaceman
1994

From the talented DP's I know and work with, all say that - at one point or another - their gear has played a factor in their hiring. That's a sad fact, but it isn't absolute nor is it rule. In short, the people that think a better camera yields better work (a poor call of judgement, imo) will ask you what type of gear you own (owning = lower rates, right?) and base their decision on that. Others could care less what you shoot with as they know any and all cameras can be rented; the DP's talent, attitude, passion and experience is what matters.

Personally, as a director, I couldn't care less what you've shot on or what you have access to. I really don't. Character, talent and experience trumps technology, always. A poorly lit/composed/exposed shot is shit, even in 8K.

Kendy Ty shoots on a T3i with a single lens (Sigma 35mm, I believe). I'd be hard pressed to find many people pull off the same images he does, let alone with a consumer grade camera. https://vimeo.com/150928234

I pity the DP that only sells his camera and not his skill sets; artists in the rental business.

February 10, 2016 at 1:12PM, Edited February 10, 1:12PM

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30mm! Subtle but magnificent difference. It is such an awesome focal length. Borrowed it a lot back in the day and am thinking about getting the MK2 version. Wish it was more common among budget prime lens setups.

February 11, 2016 at 2:31PM

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Steven Bailey
Writer/Director/Composer
1005

But at the same time, you wouldn't have a total noobie into film that has an Alexa. Only people that are really serious about their work have equipment that costs more than a car. On the other hand there are some very good people that don't own awesome camera's. While the camera they own doesn't determine their skill level, you'd be hard pressed to find someone unskilled wielding a Weapon or an Alexa.

February 12, 2016 at 6:26PM

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Clark McCauley
Spaceman
1994

In theory it sounds correct; if someone owns an Alexa they MUST be serious... or bankrolled by their parents (more common then I'd care to admit).

The funny thing is, do you think Lubezki OWNS an Alexa 65? He's as wealthy as contemporary DP's come and I'd be surprised that he'd own such a camera when his productions pay for anything and everything he (and the director) may desire. That's the ironic thing -- once you can afford all of these wonderful products you find yourself not needing to buy them because your budgets cover the rental of anything you need. And it's not only Lubezki and the high-end DP's, many working DP's that I know or work with often don't have extensive kits. Sure, they may have a solid base kit (a RED this-or-that setup, as is often the case), but they're by no means in a race up the gear-porn mountain to have the latest and greatest.

I've always felt that filmmaking is one large battle and production is the true test of your platoon. I need a lieutenant that can command his troops without my guidance (leadership), turn PVC plumbing into a pipe bomb (innovation/creativity under stress), execute a plan of attack (deliver on time and within means), hit the enemy 1000 yards away (master his tools and artistry) and trudge through the no-man's land where lesser filmmakers fall and die (commitment, persistence and faith in the project). I could care less what brand of rifle he shoots with, how powerful the scope is or the finish on his stock -- I want the character, ability and talent required to win the war.

Unless he owns a Star Destroyer -- then we sip cocktails and press the big red button. Problem solved.

February 13, 2016 at 12:47AM

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Would a DP capable/experienced with a Red or Alexa earn more and have more real opportunities? Of course. Today you cannot afford not to be cutting edge, if you think you can you will be outsmarted every time.

Producers want DPs who know the full image pipeline and how to maximize the potential of digital cinema cameras shooting raw.

Sure in the film days you could get away with just being an artist, but today the DP is a technician as well as an artist.

Having the right camera will get you hired more than not having any camera at all. This is a fact and can only be argued in the ultra high end of our industry.

If a low/mid end producer can save $5K over the course of a shoot because you own the camera they want to shoot on, you will get the job over someone more "talented." Maybe even over someone much more talented. I have seen a guy who was a model take jobs from ASC DPs because he could save them a lot of money in the rental area. Talent can be largely opinion based, saving money is not.

If you are a low to mid end DP in this market without a decent cinema camera, you will suffer. You will watch DPs with barely any skill/experience take jobs from you because they had the right camera.

I have seen it time and time again, if you haven't you are lucky or not experienced enough.

February 10, 2016 at 5:55PM, Edited February 10, 5:55PM

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Lets stop ambitious talk and get more specific, lets say for the budget of a commercial, what is the cut off for the ultra high end of the industry?

February 11, 2016 at 8:14AM

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Indie Guy
622

Ha. I'm about to buy an OG C100. I'll report back in a year. ;)

February 11, 2016 at 2:21PM

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Steven Bailey
Writer/Director/Composer
1005

I was roaming around my dead grandfather's attic gathering toys as usual when a gust of wind blew from the window. The wind was so strong it lifted a blanket off an old chest. I opened it and found a super 8 camera with the name DEAKINS etched in child's handwriting. I took the camera and the chest slammed shut with a ghostly scream! Trembling, I left downstairs holding the camera tight. To my surprise the camera didn't work.
I couldn't sleep that night, I was tossing and turning. That's when I heard it... CLICK, CLICK, CLICK. I knew that sound! It was the sound of FILM running through a camera!
Quickly I ran to the camera. I found it shaking violently on the table, I reached my hand out then... SILENCE. It stopped...
I carefully inspected the device, I held it. It felt heavier than before! It couldn't have loaded film in without help. I looked around. That's when I heard whisper... "DEAKINS"
I turned to look at the camera.. did the camera just talk? I carefully placed my eye in the view finder... BAM! Colors everywhere! Colors that I never knew existed! Is this what God could see!? I felt power going through my body.. I quickly pulled away. I felt weak. My hands were heavy... but my eyes! My eyelids were too heavy!
I ran to the bathroom, knocking into walls like a blind man. I felt the mirror.. My hands felt wrinkly. It took all my strength to open my eyes but I did. That's when I saw it! The Horror! My skin was wrinkly all over! My hair was white!! I looked like I was 66! I pulled away seeing the world differently. Numbers scrolled across the walls as if I were in some kind of Matrix! They were footcandles! I knew where the sun was! No wait... I can control it!
I AM DE-
Anyway, long story short I would recommend buying a c100 mk2.

February 11, 2016 at 8:59PM

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Filmbaker
Writer/Director
341

February 11, 2016 at 9:05PM

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I didn't post this looking for an answer, but I've found it.

February 12, 2016 at 1:05AM

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Zack Wallnau
Cinematographer & Tinkerer
601

From my experiences the Video and Film industry works on an arc on the y axis is how much a employer cares about the gear and on the x axis is price level. as your starting off no one cares about the camera you use you can shoot on an iphone because you are your own employer. as you progress up the arc your getting to levels where you are making decent money and then the company starts caring about what gear your using because this is where the employer is trying to get the best gear and bang for their buck. I lay somewhere inbetween the top of the arc and the first point, as People do care what gear i use on occasion but more often then not they are happy i have a camera that i know how to use. NinjaMonkey strikes me as a person who is at the top of this arc, companies/people are spending pretty decent money on the video production so they care alot about the camera equipment being used because they want the "best" but they dont quite have enough faith in the DP to pick the right camera. once you get past the peak, the slope increases dramatically, Companies care less about the gear they are spending a ton of money, they care more about the dps skills and have enough faith in the Dp to pick the best camera for the job. Ive worked as DP on a few of these shoots on fluke incidents and my experience is shortly after the peak. The upper extremity is the hollywood industry. The camera is chosen to be the best for the project, and they can afford to rent any camera they want because its in the budget. If the Dp say for this shot they are using Gopro Hero 4 black edition they use that camera, if the Dp says for this shot the best camera is a c500 then they use that camera and if the DP says hey maybe we could use a couple t3i's for this sequence of shots then after a little of convincing they do just that. This is just my experience so if anyone else sees it differently, Id be happy to hear what you have to say. Sorry Ninja Monkey if I miss interpreted your situation This is just going based off the things I've read that you've posted in the past couple weeks as i see a lot of your comments recently. I also apologize for any miss spellings or crappy grammer.

February 12, 2016 at 9:55AM

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Carsten Weizer
Independent swiss army knife of a film maker
348

This is how I feel about the title of this post: Don’t only hire DPs because they own a RED Camera! - https://www.indiefilmhustle.com/red-camera/

February 12, 2016 at 12:33PM

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Alex Ferrari
Director / Producer
1038

In my experience as an up and coming DP equipment absolutely mattered until it didn't. The reality is most clients and would be dp's mistake videographer or camera op for being a dp. I did it starting out as well.

Being a DP is not the same as a camera operator as others have mentioned. It's not the same as being a filmmaker. Technically one can be a cinematographer and not be a DP even. As the defining difference is cinematography is a vocation and DP is a management position within that vocation according to Jim Denault ASC.

When I was starting out equipment was the sole reason I got hired. I knew this and I bought G&E equipment over expensive cameras. I learned the technical side of things and thought I was a DP. It wasn't until I truly understood visual story telling and also learned how to lead a crew that I realized what being a DP really meant. Not coincidentally around that time I started getting hired for my reel and not my equipment. I upgraded to a Red Scarlet and got no more work. Once I learned how to utilize the camera to it's full potential I got more work from my reel. Now I am getting interviews because of my reel and getting jobs because of my knowledge of how visual story works. Nobody cares what camera I have and really they don't care about my reel beyond getting the interview. They care about my art and even more important my personality.

So the short answer is yes equipment matters until you have the experience, knowledge, and network to work on a level where it doesn't matter.

I have asked many ASC dp's and successful movie directors for advice. The same advice is always dispensed. Keep shooting, never give up, and find your unique style. That is something nobody else can reproduce.

You must be able to compare your work to the work of the people getting the jobs you want. You must be able to identify why theirs is better. Having a critical eye and good taste is the real mark of a good cinematographer. You must be an artist if you want to sell yourself and not your equipment. That doesn't just happen because you decide it. It happens by experience. Some people are born with talent. Others must learn it. Everyone must earn their experience and skills to be an artist in demand. That's been my experience and your results may vary.

February 26, 2016 at 3:10PM

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Samuel Laseke
Director of Photography
1

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