To hire or to buy? The decision is different for specialist cameras

Would you hire or buy a camera for a six week shoot?  David Bradley explains why your decision may be different for specialist cameras

The market for broadcast cameras can be complex and incestuous as cameras are sold to end-customers and to the rental market.  At BR Remote, we manufacture cameras for a specialist niche, and our customers also have the choice of hiring or buying their cameras, but the decision to hire or buy is not the same as it is with more ordinary, standard broadcast cameras.

Generally the rent or buy decision will hinge around how long you will need the camera and some simple maths. With a classic shoulder-carried broadcast camera such as a Sony…… or a Panasonic……. there is well-known rule of thumb – the camera is generally available to hire at around 1% of its capital cost per day, with 5days hire for 4days cost and 7 for 5 etc. Considering too, that camera technology changes very fast and that these cameras are updated every year, often the most sensible business decision is to hire cameras on a project by project basis.

However the decision can be very different for specialist cameras. We operate in the niche market of miniature, remote-controlled CamBall cameras and programmable, intelligent camera heads. Our customers still have the same two choices – to rent or buy, but certain aspects of specialist cameras mean that the customer’s decision may be different.

The first difference is that specialist cameras don’t become obsolete as fast as ordinary cameras – upgrades are introduced more gently.  Also, in the case of our own cameras at BR Remote, we ensure that every camera we sell can be upgraded.  We do this for the benefit of our customers, a typical upgrade costs perhaps a third of the price of a replacement camera, so it is in their interests, but now that sustainability has come to matter so much, we are proud to be selling cameras that will last longer and give more service.

However, in business decisions, it is numbers that matter, and the key difference between specialist cameras and the others is the daily rental rate. For speciality cameras, the daily rate tends to be a much higher percentage of the purchase price – it will be 3% – 5% of the original cost of the equipment. This changes the picture completely, and makes the answer to the buy-or-hire question very different.

David says: “If you need a specialist camera for a six week shoot, and you are paying a daily hire rate of say between 3% and 5%, that’s around 20% of the value of the camera each week.”.  So if you rent the camera for six weeks, you would have been better off buying it. In fact, for any project that lasts for more than a month, it is probably worth buying the camera. Then your costs won’t increase if your dates are flexible or shoot is delayed.  On the other hand, one of the advantages of hiring is that hire companies generally supply a whole bunch of cables, accessories and flight cases.  If you purchase the cameras you would need to source these yourself, but at the end you own the camera, and all its accessories and cables.

Of course, many people need cameras for shorter periods and they will hire them, which means that hire companies are very important to us – they look after numerous customers, and provide a great package of advice, equipment and support. For this reason, at BR Remote, we took the decision that we would never rent our cameras directly, we are committed to supporting the hire companies who do offer this service.

As with other broadcast cameras, our equipment is taken from one shoot to the next.  We sell cameras to end customers and hire companies for their rental fleets, and in many cases our equipment is permanently installed in studios or stadiums, even on top of tall buildings for live panoramic view inserts 24/7.

40 years and counting….

David Bradley Development Director

David Bradley.

Today it’s 40 years since I started in Television.  How is that possible? – I’m only 36!  And before you ask – No I didn’t ever meet John Loge Baird.   For anyone interested, I’m in the attached picture.  It’s only black and white as we didn’t think colour photography would really catch on, along with camcorders, non-linear editing, IP infrastructure and 8K – OK, OK, maybe not 8K.   How young and impressionable were we? – starting out with the ‘then glorious’ BBC - the only way to start in those days.  Interesting to note that after just 3 months we all understood how TV worked, from the lens to the cathode ray tube in your lounge.  Now 40 years on, everything has evolved, mostly for the better but equally, most of us can only understand our own little bit of the process, but it’s still a fun and exciting industry to be a part of.

A59-Course 1978