How Far Your Rental Dollar Will Go on Video Productions

November 5, 2014

By Greg Scoblete

If you’re relatively new to video productions, don’t want to deal with lugging around carry on, or have an assignment that simply exceeds the scope of your current gear, you’ll likely make a pilgrimage to the rental house.

There are infinitely many ways to stretch your rental dollar and while each production carries its own unique demands, we scoured the rental listings to give you a sense of how far your rental budget will go based on some of the basic gear you may find yourself relying on. We perused sites like Adorama Rentals, MPE Camera & Lighting, Samy’s Camera, Lens Rental, Lighthouse Films, Abelcine, CSI Rentals and more to get our estimates.

Before you reach for the credit card, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You’ll need to leave a substantial credit card deposit or carry insurance that explicitly identifies your rental house as a payee in the event goods are damaged. Some rental companies will insure their own gear for you for an added fee, much like an added warranty. We know some photographers who add this insurance in as a line-item for their clients.
  •  We budgeted based on a single day,  but some gear and some rental houses won’t part with equipment on a daily basis. Instead will require a minimum rental—usually three days. Some HMI lights and cinematography cameras like an Arri Alexa may fall into this category. Also, the concept of “time” gets fuzzier when you rent—a week can be considered four days in some shops while a two-day weekend can often count as a single day.
  • If you don’t know how to use the gear you’re renting (or just need more hands on deck), you can rent people, too, often from the same place. You can also throw hands-on training into your purchase so you’re confident you’ll be able to effectively use the gear you’re renting. We found, for instance, that Production Junction will train you to use DJI’s Ronin electronic gimbal for $50 before you leave with it.

What You Get On A $1,000 Budget

Let’s assume you’re all set with your HD DSLR or video camera as well as a tripod with a video head.

To get a decent video project off the ground you may want to consider a quality cinema lens, follow-focus system/rig, external recorder/monitor, audio and lights.

Lenses: Cinema lenses for a Canon EF mount can run about $90 for a single prime lens. Zooms will quickly devour your budget— a Zeiss 28-80mm T2.9 compact zoom rents for about $400. For that price you can also rent a set of Canon Cinema primes, which will contain between three to six focal lengths, depending on your rental outlet.

Follow Focus: If you’re bringing your own camera to the party but renting cinema lenses, you’ll likely need a follow focus system to ensure you’re smoothly pulling focus on a moving subject. Manual follow focus systems can be had for $35-$80 while wireless systems can command up to $175.

Recorder: One of the pricier items on your list will be a file-based external recorder. You can rent an Atoms Ninja 2, which combines a monitor with an external recorder for uncompressed footage from your camera. Price: $100.

Support: You may need more than your tripod to achieve the effect you desire. Dollies will run you between $50 to $100 for the unit itself while track to roll it along costs about $20 for eight feet. Jib arms for carrying your camera aloft will cost between $150-$300 depending on length. Sliders can run between $40 to $150, depending on length and width.

Audio: Audio gear, such as lavaliere and shotgun miss, mixers, and recorders are relatively inexpensive. A Tascam DR680 recorder which you can connect to your DSLR for quality external recording rents for about $75/day while a Zoom H6 external recorder can be had for about $50/day. Wireless lavs can be had for about $35-$65/day while shotgun and camera-mounted mics can run from $25-$50/day.  Accessories, such as boom poles, will run about $10/day.

Lighting: Tungsten lighting kits containing a pair of 1000W lights (with barn doors, c-stands and umbrellas) can be had for as little as $40 while HMIs command $150-$200 for a single light. Some rental houses have lights in kits geared for special purposes—like a Kino Flo interview kit designed to illuminate a stationary interview subject. If you need a lot of lighting though, you’ll quickly cannibalize your budget and should probably switch to a grip truck (see below). Price: $40 and up.

What You Get for $2,500

At $2,500, you can retain your list above but make a couple of key substitutions. First, you can shed your DSLR and pick up a cinema camera like Canon’s C100 ($175), Blackmagic Cinema Camera ($250) or Red Scarlet X (about $600) . You’ll still need to rent lenses, as these will ship body only, but some cinema camera kits will include the required memory (like Redmag SSDs and related reader) and external monitor so you won’t have to pay out for those.

You can also skip renting individual lights and simply rent a grip truck.  Grip trucks themselves rent for about $500 (one ton) and provide access to a selection of lights and accessories like stringer cable, dollies, c-stands, reflectors, sandbags, clamps and much more. Some companies will charge a flat fee for all the items in the truck, while others will charge a rental fee for the truck and accessories (in the $250 range) and then an itemized price list for light packages (also in the $250-range, depending on your needs). Trucks are rented by weight, typically in one, three, five and 10 ton varieties and obviously, the heavier the truck, the more lights and gear you’re getting.

You’ll also have the option to rent at least one qualified grip ($450 for an eight hour day). Usually the grip is also the driver, so driver fees and grip rental are rolled into one individual but we’ve also seen companies that charge hourly rates for drivers (in the $17.50/hour range). Remember you’re also on the hook for all permits, tolls, gas and mileage for the vehicle. Oh, and parking tickets, too.

Grip trucks will also stock consumables like gels and tape which you typically pay for on an as-needed basis. It won’t break the bank, but it’s another expense to be mindful of.

At this price it’s also easier to budget in for the use of an electronic gimbal for run-and-gun style recording. Models like the Defy G5 and DJI’s Ronin typically rent for $250-$300.

What You Get for $4,000

At this budget, you’ll have all of the above — including the grip truck (and grips) of your choice—plus the ability to rent very high-end cinema cameras from Arri.

An Alexa kit can range between  $750 and $1,500 and includes essentially everything you need (viewfinder, three 64GB SD cards, bridge plate and power supply) except the lens.  We’ve seen Alexa “movie packages” that combine the Cooke prime lens package with an Alexa EX high-speed camera, monitor, tripod, slider and matte box for $2,000.

There are more ways to customize a rental package than there are pixels we can devote to the subject (trust us, we’ve counted) but any rental service worth its salt will have qualified staff on hand that can work closely with you to craft a package for your production.

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