August 11, 2017

Buying a Camera? Watch This First

"The worst thing you can do is purchase a camera on a credit card."

Before you make that big camera purchase, Sareesh Sudhakaran (AKA Wolfcrow) has some cautionary advice. His most salient point: You don't need a camera if you aren't planning to make a movie immediately.

Still really want that camera? Only buy it if you have a detailed plan for how it can make you money.

Sudhakaran argues that, contrary to popular opinion, cameras are not really an investment. That's because once you buy a camera, it loses value immediately. 

"A camera has a certain time period after which it is no longer lucrative," Sudhakaran says. "A camera today is only good for about two years. After two years, the manufacturer will release an upgrade or new model. By the third year, the camera starts to feel and look old. Clients won't want it."

Due to this certain depreciation in value, Sudhakaran says the worst thing you can do is purchase it on a credit card that charges interest. You'll want to make your money back in two years; after two years, you can resell your camera at 40-50% of the original purchase price. And in the interim, you're going to have to charge clients a premium to make that camera purchase financially worthwhile.

Sudhakaran also points out that camera-hungry newcomers don't always understand hidden costs, such as maintenance, insurance, or travel permits.

So before you buy that shiny new gear, make sure you have a solid money-making plan and have done your due diligence about hidden costs.      

Your Comment

14 Comments

I agree with what he said. I haven't purchased a camera since 2013. I rent and, if possible, charge it to the client. Makes so much more sense and keeps me using all the latest gear. I did however invest in a heavy duty tripod and two really nice lenses, which I have been using for years on end.

August 11, 2017 at 12:50PM, Edited August 11, 12:50PM

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This. Is a chicken advice, ridiculous,Almost everybody owns 1,2 or 3 ... camera in their life.and knows how to take care of them.This guy lost his mind

August 11, 2017 at 8:43PM

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If it gives you pleasure or you learn something go for it. Everything I know came from buying and selling all kinds of gear in the last 4 years. Nikon Fuji Sony and now a rangefinder. My only rule is of I get new gear sell the old. And I usually buy used.

August 11, 2017 at 11:15PM

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Hanuman
13

I think there is some sensible advice here and is certainly well intentioned. I can only tell you from my personal experience over 23 years as a DP. I bought my first film camera 20 years ago. Did I make money on it? No. But it allowed me to build clientele and get valuable experience in how this all works (insurance, maintenance, caring for a valuable asset,etc). Also agree the sticker price is just the starting point. Factor in taxes, insurance, repairs, accessories, and most importantly lenses which are often more than the camera body itself.

Do I think rushing out to buy a Helium 8k or Alexa XT with no clients and no reputation is a good idea?? Definitely not. I echo you do not want Clients who are hiring you because you own X,Y,Z camera. You want clients that hire you for your skillset and track record. If you can get to this point its very likely you can dictate to your clients what gear you prefer to get best results.

Longwinded response but I'm not as anti owning a camera as I think there are hidden investments that can't be monetized. I know this aimed at lower end budgeted productions largely but do these clients then have a budget for a checkout day? There is nothing worse than figuring out new camera gear onset while talent is waiting. Do you have right step down rings, rod length, correct follow focus pitch, etc? If you are an up and coming DP how do you practice and learn your craft if you don't have a camera at your disposal constantly? I agree don't go out and max a credit card to buy the hot camera if you don't already have the work. However a modest investment may pay dividends down the line. I currently don't even know exactly how many camera and lenses we own (its always changing) but I can tell you the first one was the biggest and scariest step.

August 11, 2017 at 11:22PM, Edited August 11, 11:51PM

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Joanthan Belinski
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY/OWNER BELINSKI MEDIA LLC
26

I think videos like these are truly senseless and quite frankly a disservice to a lot of people looking for scraps of advice on the internet trying to learn and come up.

I strongly feel that any DP who's trying to sharpen his/her craft should own a camera. In the same way that any director trying to hone his/her craft should learn to be an amazing photographer. There is such a thing called learning curve, which is invaluable as an investment. This learning curve is filled with a lot of ah-ha moments. And it's these moments that push you to the next level.

Never underestimate the ah-ha moments. As a filmmaker, once you have a camera of your own, you're going to be trying a lot of things to see what works and what doesn't. We've all been there. We've all looked at an image or a scene and thought to ourselves, Damn! how did they shoot that? When you have a camera with you, you're going to try and shoot images that inspired you. You'll be constantly shooting and trying out everything possible. Shooting with one stop over exposed, shooting with one under, shooting difficult lighting conditions, shooting with different lenses, framing different things differently, trying out different camera movements, editing and grading shots to see how they all come together... etc. And while doing all of these, you'll have a thousand ah-ha moments. Some big, some small. And I guarantee you, each of this moment is going to push you to the next level.

I strongly advise people to buy a camera and keep shooting the hell out of it. Maybe on a 2 year loan on a credit card. And maybe in that 2 years, you'll end up becoming so good that you can afford to buy another big ass camera. I say go for it. Trust me you want to be in a place where deciding to buy between a Alexa mini or a Red weapon is actually a thing. That's a good place to be. And that would have started with you in your backyard shooting countless hours of crappy footage on your A7S or a Canon T2i and realising what works and what doesn't. Understanding dynamic range and bit depths and stuff.

I'm not saying that you need to buy an Alexa65 or a red weapon, right away and start honing your skills but having a camera, one that you can afford is going to be like a film school in the palm of your hands. And that will live forever. Composing a person's face on a full frame lens with a 35 mm lens is going be the same on any full frame sensor. You might realise that you love framing faces from a certain distance on a 24mm lens on a full frame sensor. That ah-ha moment is why you should have your own camera for.

Don't listen to bullshit artists like Sireesh Sudhakaran and his youtube hits masked as inexperienced advice. Please go buy a camera and shoot the hell out of it.

August 12, 2017 at 12:29AM

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Sahit Anand
Director and Co-Founder of DO. Creative Labs
127

Kind of agree. I think owning a run a gun go to camera with a 2500 or less budget and using it for a 2yr period is perfectly fine. How ever when you need a more complex rig renting is the way to go. I find that the 2 yr cycle seems to work well when monetizing a new tech purchase

August 12, 2017 at 6:07AM, Edited August 12, 6:07AM

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Wisdom! Your worth doesn't depend on your camera but on what you can do with one. And you can always rent!

August 12, 2017 at 11:51AM

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Jan Becker
DP, Director, Producer
274

Disagree with the whole premise, especially that a camera loses its value in two years. Really, maybe for the sales guys at a camera company! You need a camera to shoot with, and not all of it needs to make you money. The thing I DO caution against is to KEEP buying cameras. Buy one and use it- as much as possible. Maybe you start renting when you need to, and not get on the bandwagon of constant upgrades.

August 12, 2017 at 4:56PM, Edited August 12, 4:56PM

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Douglas Bowker
Animation, Video, Motion-Graphics
156

He knows consigning your camera with rental houses exist....right?

August 12, 2017 at 7:24PM

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This one's tough for me. I'm conflicted. On the one hand, so many guys (mostly they're guys) either won't shoot anything until they have the 'right' camera or they're going massively in debt to buy the camera they believe will help them get better work options. To those guys I say: the camera won't get you better work. It might get you shitty work as a "DP" for idiots who'll ask you to work for free or expect your camera as part of your (pathetic) day rate. It's talent that gets you work (and connections). On the other hand, NOT owning a camera seems suicidal if you're a filmmaker, it's like a painter not owning a brush.

August 15, 2017 at 2:34PM

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Patrick Ortman
I tell stories. Sometimes for money. Sometimes, not.
796

It's really easy to get off topic in this conversation, and it's important to remember that this video is really only speaking about one thing. The way I see it, there are two different things being discussed/debated in these comments, and this video is really only examining the first one:

1. The business decision of purchasing a camera for business use.
2. The value of owning a camera for practice, experimentation, etc.

From a purely business standpoint, I think he's pretty spot on. If you have the disposable income, savings, etc. then go ahead and get what you want. But when it comes to spending money you don't have, then you need to make sure you have the financial side taken care of with a solid plan in place to cover all of the costs.

Where his message becomes a little jumbled is in starting out talking about making a film - which is typically more of a creative endeavor than a financial one. I think very few people on this site, even those who work in production, make money as a Cam Op or DP in the narrative world. I think it would have been better for him to keep examples of use to a more commercial/corporate level to keep from confusing the art/commerce line.

The value of having a camera to learn with is a totally separate topic. Yes, it's extremely important, but it's not what he's discussing. Regardless, I'd still say there's value in looking at the financial repercussions of such a purchase. A used T2i with Magic Lantern can go a very long way to give anyone the tools they need to learn what they like, are good at, and can push a camera to do.

-M

August 15, 2017 at 8:38PM, Edited August 15, 8:55PM

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Marshall Rosales
Director of Photography
19

"A camera today is good for about two years" If that's so then you better tell all those people shooting on the 7 year old Alexa Classic how much of a mistake they're making by not selling it and getting a GH5.

August 16, 2017 at 1:50PM

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Matthew Miller
Director of Photography
154

I couldn't disagree more with this person. Note: I didn't watch the whole thing, I couldn't get through it.

If someone wants to invest in their career, they need to invest in tools. A carpenter doesn't learn how to hammer with out bending a few nails. A professional bowler doesn't practice by borrowing either, he has to have his own ball. Having the tool at your disposal every single day to practice your craft and then to be able to get the shot when it matters is what it's all about. We get very few chances to make an impression and if you don't get it right on the day it matters it sets you back that much more.

It's okay to buy a used piece of equipment so that you have at the very least the professional options on a camera to understand how it works together and the unlimited possibilities that exist.

Terrible advice in my opinion. Go out and get a used camera. Learn as much as you can and put through as many paces as possible and learn as much as you can.

August 18, 2017 at 12:32PM, Edited August 18, 12:32PM

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Thanks, Mom, but I'm a big boy now and make my own decisions. As an avid reader of American Cinematography I see lots of instances where the director and cinematographer audition several cameras to get the "look" they want long before casting takes place, so some of the argument just doesn't fly. It would be ideal to lease a camera, but when you find a camera that works in most situations, I think it's time to buy if you are doing enough work to justify the purchase over rental fees.

August 18, 2017 at 3:08PM

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Ronn Hague
Film Production instructor
15

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October 4, 2017 at 8:57PM

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sam
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