Very lengthy post
Not sure if this is the place to post this, but I
The best place to put your money is in an investment account.
You shouldn't upgrade your equipment to "feel" more professional. You should only upgrade because you NEED the equipment for a specific job or class of jobs. Not jobs you "hope to get" because of the new gear, but jobs in hand, with signed contracts. Even then, it often is more cost effective to rent equipment for a job than to buy it outright. Many corporate and broadcast producers don't own ANY equipment; they rent everything on an as-needed basis.
Your current equipment is quite respectable for event video, and for quite a bit of corporate work. If you just HAVE to buy something, I'd get the professional monitor. Then keep an eye on the camera scene, and buy a new one when there isn't any other choice.
What Doug said. Rent the specific gear for the specific job. THAT is professional. If you don't have an account relationship established with a rental house or two, this is the time to do that, when you are not under the gun. Rent the new camera you have your eye on and try it out for a day or weekend to evaluate it, and pay for it out of an actual assignment. That's the best of all possible situations.
Don't make the newbie/dilettante's mistake of fetishizing the camera as an object: it is only a tool, a means to the true end. If it sits on a shelf depreciating five or more days a week, you are impressing no one and throwing working capital away. If you can put it to work at least 4 days a week, every week, then yes, it makes sense to own it.
You have a respectable amount of entry-level gear already. My advice is always to only buy the "evergreens" in the biz, stuff that never gets outdated and that you'd be renting every time no matter the gig.
Adding specific lights to your kit is one such area, for example a joker-bug HMI or 2 for sunny CEO offices and board rooms with huge windows or outdoor work, and these can do double-duty in your event work. A great tripod and head is another to pursue. Excellent mics is another, you ALWAYS need good audio. If you think the boom will get used often, maybe that's a go, but I'll offer that for corporate work I almost exclusively run lavs, both wired and wireless. And add good grip gear/accessories to make these items as flexible to use as possible. All of these kinds of purchases retain a good amount of resale value over time as well, should you decide to go another way later. Cameras depreciate as fast as cars, maybe faster; you'll likely always take a bath re-selling those.
What I would NOT do is sink money into owning another camera besides the working one you already have. Preserve your working capital, invest it.
I think good NLEs are now so inexpensive they make sense to buy outright: if you are billing properly they are paid for after just a couple of jobs, and you need to spend a lot of time on them to get good at using them. If the IO REALLY saves you productive time or improves your quality, get it, but if it's just a cool-looking toy or adds some convenience, maybe it doesn't make a convincing business case, and you could go with a similar but cheaper solution.
Same with the feeder deck you are considering. Make a business case for it: does it make or save you any money? How many ways can you put it to work? Will you use it often enough to justify purchase over rental?
My experience of rentals has been the item, whatever it is, rents out for a basic rate of about 10 percent of it's full MSRP price, give or take. If you find yourself renting an item more than five times in a year, it is time to re-evaluate if purchase will be cheaper. Ten rentals = you might as well purchase. For stuff like steadicams, unless you do a LOT of Warren Miller type stuff, probably rental is better. Same for fancy dollies and jibs, I use them maybe once a year. IMO, don't buy a high-def flavor of the month camera that may get obsoleted by the very next NAB. I fear that's what's in store for the HDV cams. The P-2 cameras are great but the card storage is still too funky, awkward, and expensive IMO, everybody seems to be bypassing the P-2 cards and going with external hard drive packs like firestor for now. I am more than willing to wait out the storm and see what formats and form factors survive, so I don't get stuck with orphan tech. That's another reason rentals are great; you avoid that trap.
Thank you very much for your responses, your points are well taken. It's always best to listen to the advice of others who have much more experience.
fetishizing? Makes me sound kinda dirty. I LIKE IT!
Me...aaand my caaaameraaaa...strolling down the ave-a-noo...
I've read a lot about renting. Can anyone give some advice about who to rent from. I am in Dayton, Ohio and know of nobody close to here to rent from? Who do I call and what is the proceedure?
Well, an early step would be to look up the Ohio State Film Office, I'm sure there is one, and check for a city Film office for Dayton or the closest city that's larger, within reasonable driving range.
Both will have hardbound and likely online production resource guides; you know, a sort of yellow pages just for production-related people and services. Places like New York and LA have their "411" books. In Illinois, (plug, plug) it's the IFO production guide, which is available in softcover, as a CD, and as a web site. IFO also has demo cds of locations statewide if you are scouting for locations. A google search will probably turn up your local production guidebook, in which you will find broadcast equipment rentals.
These places are not quite as easy as walking into a rent-to-own furniture store or car rental agency. You will have to establish a line of credit first, and probably demonstrate you at least know which end of the camera the light goes into. After a few successful transactions, they tend to ease up as they get to know you and trust you.
The nice thing is, a good broadcast rental place will be glad to take the time to show you everything about how to safely operate the gear before you leave. In fact some shops DEMAND they show you, so you have no excuse for breaking their stuff later. This also protects YOU by making them prove the item is good when it leaves their place. A good rental shop will stand by it's gear with free emergency replacement or refund if it fails thru no fault of yours. Some incidental fees for driving the spare to you may apply in that case. Every place is a little different regarding terms. You may get charged for expendables like bulbs or gaffer tape. Heck, you get charged for the either way in truth, some places itemize every detail and others just figure expendables into the flat rate. But be wary of a shop that lacks spares for anything mission-critical.
You can often arrange an appointment time to drop-in and get demos on many of their items like lighting gear, dollies, cameras, etc. even if you are not renting at the moment. The shop will have lots of contacts locally and regionally so they can get gear they don't themselves own and step-rent it to you. Thru their many contacts it becomes a great place to network for gigs of all kinds. Many a time, they'll get asked at the last minute: "hey, know anybody that can X for Y this weekend?" Usually they suggest someone that's also rented from them with an established reputation for competence. The flip side of that networking is, if you ever burn them, everybody and their dog is going to know about it very soon, and that's hard to recover from. It's a handshake business, still, and a man's reputation is everything.
The shops are often used as a meeting point for get-togethers by the local production community, to demo new products and try to make some sales. Some large shops put on annual mini-conventions of their own, handy to attend if you missed NAB. God, I miss the ones Swiderski's used to throw in the Chicago suburbs. Now the closest one to me is in the Quad Cities, five hours away.
The rental shop can also supply extra crew for a fee. Sometimes for the more expensive stuff, they'll insist you hire a tech operator from their place to accompany and work the gear. He or she will babysit it for security's sake as well as operate and calibrate it properly. Again, the longer your relationship with a company, the more flexible and fluid these situatitons can become. Expect to pay most or all in advance until your account is well-established.
You can arrange to have the stuff delivered, or pick it up and drop it off yourself, depending on budget and schedule. Terms are usually "portal to portal", i.e. the money clock starts ticking as soon as the gear leaves their door and stops when it again crosses their threshold, traffic delay in between is your own problem.
Renting over a weekend usually costs less than renting on buisness days Mon-Fri. The shop typically discounts rentals longer than three days, i.e. rent for three days, get charged for two, rent for five days, pay for three, etc. Weekends can be anything from regular rate to half-price, but if you wind up needing an emergency call to get someone over to fix or tweak something for you on a Saturday, that may cost you double for the overtime, so it pays to learn at their place before you leave.
You will need some kind of insurance, or they will add on insurance to your rental bill. Typically, at least my experience was, they'd hold out a portion of your credit card limit, then add on repair or replacement charges to that credit card bill if you came back with more or fewer pieces than you left with.
Processing the paperwork to establish an account can take days or weeks, so it pays to set your account up in advance before you get into an emergency situation when the unexpected production opportunity arises.
Good advice. As to where to find a rental place, start with your Yellow Pages and look under "Video Equipment Rentals". Most major cities have one or more professional rental companies. If Dayton is a bust, you might have to go down to Cincinnati.
Have you asked yourself how long is it going to take you to recover the cost of ths equiptment ? That should be the answer to what to buy. and all the ne gear is not going to make you a professional
Many videographers think only about camera gear and NLEs. As you know, the technology is changing at a very rapid pace. What many videographers completely forget about is lighting and grip gear. Almost all videographers I have known have only an interview kit with three lights.
If you're only doing interviews, well good enough. Event venues typically don't light for the video camera! As such, the venue lighting is awful, with way dark and way blown out areas.
I have been a working event videographer (weekly) for more than seven years and am always having to adjust the iris to get good exposure at different parts of the stage or when pulling out to get more of the audience. This cannot be done on a prosumer camera with a little wheely thingy on the side of the camera that adjusts the iris in steps.
The other thing that is frequently forgotten is the audio with mics, mixer, digital(or DAT) recorder, etc. Oh, and you need a sound guy to run this stuff. The sound off of the venue PA board is not intended for the video and the levels cannot be counted on to be correct. Distorted or soft sound is difficult and time consuming to handle in post.
Try to pick up used motion picture lighting gear as you can, if it is available, possibly through ebay. Lighting gear holds its value while (purchased) cameras' value drops like a stone.
If you must own something, think about renting your camera as needed (SD, HD, HDV, etc.) and investing in quality lighting and grip gear; even a good mixer, mics and digital recorder with multi-channels. All this stuff will hold its value long after the camera of the month has been scrapped.
P. J. Severtson
Thank you for your advice. You're absolutely right about sound and lighting, both of which have caught me with my pants down. I did buy a pretty nice lighting kit: two 650s, one 350 and a 1000 Chimera. A couple of scrims and gels. It's very good for interviews, which is a lot of what I do.
My audio could be upgraded. I have a wireless lav, which works well, but soemtimes I find I need s second mic. I would like a good shotgun mic with boom. And if I'm using more than two sources, I would definitely need some kind of mixing board. Only problem is, my budgets rarely allow for a separate sound person.
Oh well ... such is the life of one man band.
Thanks again for your wisdom.
You're absolutely right about budget. Many clients want what they can't afford. It's up to the videographer to educate them and not let them grind him down to an unprofitable price when they don't really know what they want or its fair market value.
Remember: The joy of a low price quickly fades with the reality of a low quality product. Low quality products will not get you repeat business and your business won't grow. Consistent high quality helps your business to grow. Clients need educating.
When the client gives you a "low ball" price that you know is not realistic, you need to educate him.
You might try giving them a proposal with different tiers of prices with minimal quality, medium quality and best quality. A short demo of each quality level lets the client know exactly what they're buying and may help to sell a higher quality. The hitch is that you must make your client aware when they pick the minimal quality that the may not get the product that they want.
Remember the old saw: Quality, speed, price. Pick any two.
Wireless mics have the inherent risk of having the audio signal getting "stepped on" by other transmissions during the recording as frequency bands are continually getting more and more crowded.
Wired mics are generally a better idea. A shotgun mic on a boom arm is ideal for an interview, as it gets better sound and the tallant doesn't have to fiddle around with it.
A realistic business plan with all of your costs included will tell you what you need to price as a minimum to break even. You are the only one to determine your minimal quality product. Most videographers don't fail based on poor quality products, but as poor businessmen.
As for lighting, if you can pick up used lighting gear bit by bit over time, you'd be surprised how quickly it adds up. Check with rental houses for sales on used gear.
I don't mean to "preach" but there are all too many clients who will gladly run a videographer out of business. They're called "grinders". One is better off letting the job go to some one who doesn't want to stay in business for long.