Selecting, Buying and Selling Equipment

In some opinions, some video equipment, especially lower end camcorders, very quickly become obsolete and are worth very little used. If you wait for the next version of equipment before you sell your old stuff, your old stuff is already worth a lot less than when it was still the hot ticket.

Motion picture equipment holds its value much better. Prices for older stuff like Mitchells and Arri IIs fluctuate with demand. After the Government dumped a bunch on the market in the 70's they bottomed out. Then the effects business boosted the price of 1940's vintage Mitchells up to about $7,000. For stop motion and effects these cameras are still hard to beat.

Selling equipment

I have been generally very unhappy selling equipment on consignment, even through reputable dealers. They have more motivation to sell stuff that they own outright. They will pay less to buy your stuff, but you are done with it. I have had my consignment stuff disappear and sit in basements. I am still waiting for receipts for consigned stuff when I closed the studio years ago. THe best way is to find a buyer and come up with a mutually fair price. I know, that always happens just after you dumped that great old camera. I have also had problems collecting for equipment sold by others.

Selecting the right equipment:

There is a lot of hoopla about the latest lenses and cameras. Some shooters think that having the latest equipment will cause them to shoot better images. Yes, their own image may be increased by using the latest equipment of the day, but I strongly believe that knowledge of cameras, basic photography and the realities of production will facilitate the best images on film. Good ENOUGH equipment is necessary, but there is a lot of fine equipment out there sitting on the shelf that people fought to get only a few years ago.

To shoot sound you need a quiet enough camera for the conditions you are shooting in. Outside is a lot different than on a sound stage. Time lost hanging blankets around a noisy camera is poor economy, but demanding the latest camera for a low budget show is a misuse of the low budget that might have allowed other more important equipment.

I have to laugh at people who think that they need pin registration for hand held shots and non locked-off underwater shots. Pins are needed for title, matte and effects shots but few others. If the camera isn't stable, registration isn't necessary. Projectors are not pin registered and their registration is not very good, so if a shot has no overlaid elements, it will look sharp even if the camera's registration isn't perfect.

Today's sharpest lenses are slightly sharper than that last versions of the "sharpest lenses". Once you put any filters in front of the sharpest lens, you will no longer get the sharpest image. There are a lot of other factors that determine getting the sharpest image on the screen. (See Image Sharpness)

Super speed lenses can save money in lighting if the cameraperson knows their lighting well. It puts more pressure on the focus puller in low light situations where the operator can't see focus as easily. Under normal conditions, super speeds may just be a strain on the budget. Getting one more shot at sunset may offset the extra cost.

Many of the best films ever made were shot with rack-over non-reflex cameras with f 3.5 lenses, slow films and competent D.P's.

Don't get me wrong. I think today's films are generally very well photographed. I believe that it is mostly the D.P's photographic knowledge and not as much the fantastic equipment available today. Today's equipment makes it easier, but basic knowledge is the key. Don't get sucked into "needing" equipment better than required for the job.

There is less liability using industry-accepted standards of equipment. A Mitchell or Arriflex can scratch film and you won't be held responsible, bring in an old Eclair or Russian camera and the scratches are your fault. I bought Arris and Mitchells instead of Eclairs just for that reason. I was using Carroll Ballard's Eclair CM3s and loved them. The Arris and Mitchells also served me well. A few years ago I shot in Paris and you could still rent a BNCR mount Eclair body for $15 a day.

Extra equipment ordered for a special shot often stays on a shoot long after it was needed. This creates a strain on the budget that might reflect badly on the DP or assistant when the equipment bills come in.

Creating the perception that you order only what is necessary for the job can make it easier when you find that you really need some additional stuff. Demanding too much can make it difficult getting crucial needs filled. Producer's jobs are to save money and often don't understand what actually saves money. Camera people can get a reputation as spoiled if they appear to act unreasonable. For example; I have heard of crews letting a show stop because some requested piece of equipment was denied. They could have gone on with some other solution but chose to make a point. I would suggest that "the show must go on" and after the pressure of the moment is off, it is pointed out that the requested equipment would have saved a lot of money or made a shot possible. Trying to make a point when the pressure is on might be a mistake.

See Owning Equipment in "Set Etiquette."

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.