Tristan Gardner

Acquiring the Optimal Film Equipment to Build a Production Company

May 5, 2024

As a freelance videographer or video production business owner, it's essential to make smart equipment purchasing decisions to maintain profitability and flexibility. Over the past seven years, I've built two different video businesses and learned valuable lessons about when to buy, when to rent, and how to strategically invest in equipment.

The Importance of Cost Management in a Service Business

In a service business, your revenue is directly tied to the amount of work you can sell and service within a given year. Unlike product-based businesses, you can't easily scale your revenue without scaling your resources. This means that managing your costs is crucial to maintaining profitability.

It's tempting to want to buy the latest and greatest equipment, especially if you're a gearhead at heart. However, as you start generating revenue, it's easy to view expensive equipment as suddenly affordable. Remember that every cost impacts your bottom line and the money in your pocket. If everyone is competing for the same projects, there will naturally be a downward pressure on price. Overbuying on equipment can set you up for lower profits in the future.

We bought a MoVi camera stabilizer - the same ones they use in Hollywood productions - and it was the single most-expensive piece of equipment we bought and also barely used. We fell victim to the trap of thinking that buying hyper-professional gear would contribute to elevating our brand and bring in bigger projects in the near term. This is not the right mindset when driving the top line. 

The result was a $9,000 showpiece collecting dust and an impossibly niche market to sell it back to. Not only that, we quickly realized that if the MoVi was on set, we needed at least one additional assistant camera op to man it. Thus, our set costs increased by upwards of $1,000 in personnel along with an increase in setup time in general. We could have bought the best Ronin gimbal stabilizer at the time, saved thousands of dollars, and got more use out of it due to its flexibility and one-man operation system. 

Renting vs. Buying: Finding the Right Balance

You don't have to buy everything you need to service your work. There are reputable rental sites with fast service that you can rely on to get the job done. In the video world, equipment is expensive, and new products are released frequently, which can significantly reduce the value of your previous purchases.

One advantage of owning equipment is that you can make money back on that asset by charging a small premium to rent it to your clients. Treat each piece of equipment as a stock that you rent out for client projects. However, be cautious not to overbuy. You might need a specific piece of equipment for one project but not use it again for a year.

Consider the balance between renting and purchasing based on usage and cash flow. Renting allows you to test out equipment before committing to a purchase and provides flexibility to change gear if needed. You could rent a $5,000 camera multiple times over six months for a fraction of the purchase price, allowing you to allocate your cash flow to other areas of your business.

There are many great rental sites, such as Lens Rentals and, that offer a convenient service for renting almost any type of video gear. Some even offer rental buyback programs, where you can get up to 20% of the rental item's purchase price off if you decide to buy it later.

Key Areas to Invest In

Audio Equipment

Investing in a proper audio setup, including a good microphone, recorder, and accessories, can allow you to keep audio in-house for many projects and make a good margin on that service. With a recorder, microphone, XLR cable, and a few lavalier mics, you can achieve professional audio without spending $1,100 to hire an audio person for the day, which may be beyond your budget when starting out. Audio gear tends to retain its value long-term and is less prone to breakage or obsolescence.

Versatile Cameras

When purchasing a camera, prioritize versatility, dynamic range, and connectivity options like timecode, HDMI, or SDI output. A lens affects a camera's performance more than most people realize, and high-quality lenses can be very expensive. As you move into the cinema camera range, the cost of accessories also increases significantly, including storage and transfer speeds.

Don't feel pressured to buy the best camera immediately; renting allows you to test different options and make an informed decision. Keep in mind that for multi-camera shoots, you'll want your cameras to match as closely as possible to avoid issues in post-production.

Lighting Equipment

Lighting is crucial to the final look of your video but can be expensive and difficult to transport. A strategic three-point lighting setup with a strong key light, fill light, and hair light can service many clients professionally. Investing in a basic lighting kit with diffusion can set you apart from prosumer shoots.

We invested in two powerful Aputure 300D lights, which allow us to light up rooms for B-roll even when the fill light is set to a low percentage for interviews. This versatility has proven valuable in servicing a wide range of clients.

Learning from Our Mistakes

I've made my share of mistakes when it comes to equipment purchasing. We once bought a Blackmagic cinema camera before trying out other options, only to realize later that I preferred the sharpness of Sony cameras. Shortly after, the price of the Blackmagic camera dropped significantly, reducing my resale potential.

We also missed out on the concept of renting our owned equipment to clients for about a year. Once we understood this, it became a great way to make money back on the assets we owned, including the accessories that add to the overall equipment cost.

Another mistake was purchasing a drone and slider without considering how often we would use them. While sliders are great for moving product shots and other applications, they are expensive and require maintenance. We now rent these items until we have a consistent need for them in our process.

As a freelance videographer or video production business owner, making smart equipment purchasing decisions is essential to your success. Consider renting before buying, invest in key areas like audio and lighting, and learn from the mistakes of others. By being strategic about your equipment investments, you can maintain profitability, flexibility, and deliver professional results to your clients.

Remember that your equipment should work for you, not the other way around. Don't get caught up in the temptation to buy the latest and greatest gear without considering your business needs and cash flow. With careful planning and a focus on strategic investments, you can build a successful video production business that stands the test of time.

Check out a featured project case study below.

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sullivan rauzi standing by camera as director