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Top 10 Rental Cameras : The Full Report

Top 10 Rental Cameras : The Full Report
Jake Bickerton
13 February 2013

There’s a new model at the top of the list of the UK’s most hired cameras, as revealed in Televisual’s seventh annual survey of the camera hire market. Jake Bickerton runs through this year’s top 10

For the last seven years, Televisual has surveyed the UK’s camera hire sector to find out which models have been the most popular rentals of the year. The information received is used to create our annual listing of the UK’s top 10 rental cameras. Here are the results of this year’s survey, which covers camera hires from 2012. Thank you to all the camera hire companies who took part in the survey.

The ongoing emergence of large sensor digital film cameras as a dominant force in the hire market, which was a theme of last year’s survey (covering 2011), has continued again in 2012. Most hire companies report very high demand for the likes of the Arri Alexa and the hugely popular new kid on the block, the Canon C300, which debuts at number one in this year’s top 10.

Everything from features and commercials through to a wide range of television productions are being shot with large sensor models and prime lenses. But large sensor cameras haven’t, of course, completely taken over – there are still plenty of well-used broadcast cameras in the rental market, including the Sony PDW-F800 and the Canon XF305; both of which make the top five.

But where two or three years ago, large sensor models were very much in the minority – the only large sensor camera in 2010’s top 10 was the Red One – half this year’s top 10 are large sensor cameras. The facts are that large sensor cameras are very much an essential part of the mix for any hire company in 2013.

“The market for large sensor 35mm cinematography cameras has now become fully mainstream across most areas of broadcast production – largely driven by the instant popularity of the Canon C300 offering 50Mb/s recording using low cost Canon/EF mount lenses and having BBC spec approval,” explains Jon Howarth, director, Shoot Blue. “Also, at the higher end, this has been driven by the Arri Alexa in drama and features.”

“Large sensor camera acquisition is now universal and found in all genres from documentary, drama-doc, viral, corporate as well as traditional promo, drama and commercials,” agrees Barry Bassett, md, VMI. Similarly, Alex Thompson, md, Shift 4 says: “Large sensor digital cameras have dominated our business [over the last year], taking over from HD broadcast cameras for the first time.”

Brad Day, CEO of New Day Pictures has also “seen a shift away from the fixed lens PMW type cameras in favour of interchangeable lens, large sensor cameras in the last year or so.” As too has Graham Maunder, md/dp, Awfully Nice Video Company: “We’ve seen a huge increase in the demand for top quality images generated with prime lenses and large format cameras.”

“Large imaging cameras have seen massive rises in popularity and they’ve made some shows really shine in a much higher level of quality,” agrees Shaun Wilton, head of facilities, Shooting Partners. But, he adds: “This doesn’t mean they are right for every shooting scenario and we spend a lot of time making sure productions understand the limitations of items such as fixed (non zoom) lenses before they commit to hire.”

The popularity of large sensor models shows no signs of abating, with Sony’s PMW-F5 and PMW-F55 cameras on the ‘must buy’ lists of the vast majority of hire companies for this year (see ‘This Year’s Model’, p.54). It’s a safe bet these models will be high up in next year’s survey results.

Assistance required
With the move to large sensor cameras comes increased complexity in shooting compared to the straightforward to operate camera options of a few years ago. As a result, hire companies are increasingly finding their expertise called upon for help and assistance, and in particular for wading through the myriad of camera choices available.

Danny Howarth, sales and marketing manager, Provision, says: “The choice of cameras and recording options available to the end user is immense. With manufacturers producing new cameras at three price points to cater for different areas of the market it’s no longer a one-size fits all approach.”

“With new cameras being released on what seems like a weekly basis, the current state of the camera hire market is vibrant and exciting – but at the same time, it can cause a lot of confusion and consternation for filmmakers and productions,” adds Laurence Easterbook, hire facilities manager, DV Talent. “With the rate of innovation and flux – from ever changing codecs to developments in media and storage and so on – it feels more important than ever to provide comprehensive guidance and support.”

This is a point echoed by John Brennan, md, Procam: “We are often being invited to provide advice and technical knowhow from the pre-production stage of programme making, which is down to the many camera formats now available.”

Future Investments and 4K
The truth about being a camera hire company is you have no choice but to invest in new camera models on an extremely frequent basis. New models are added to the market pretty much continually throughout the year. As a hire company, it’s about trying to back the right horse and stock up with models that rarely stay on the shelf and recoup on investment as quickly as possible. Inevitably, though, not every camera is going to prove popular for one reason or another, and any hire company’s inventory is going to have its fair share of hits and misses.

“There are still so many options out there, and with Sony and other manufacturers bringing out an endless train of new cameras, we predict another year of second guessing our clients and supplementing an already wide range of cameras,” says Emma Dow, md, The Cruet Company.

New large sensor 4K models will be battling it out for supremacy this year, including the Canon C500 and Sony’s F5 and F55, which are just coming on to the market. Judging by the planned camera purchases of hire companies this year (see table, p.24), the Sony F5 and F55 appear to already have the edge, with almost every hire company planning to put in an order for these models. But the popularity of the C300 should automatically put the C500 in a very strong position too.

“The C500 is being asked for more and more – it has all the benefits of the C300 but add an external recorder to it and you have an extremely formidable 4K cinema camera capable of 4K 4:4:4 12 bit 120p uncompressed,” explains Dan Wheeler, md, PEC. “The many Canon fans now have a product to take on the likes of Red and Arri.”

Meanwhile, David Wride, hire manager, Films at 59, says: “2013 is the year everybody is eagerly awaiting to see if the Sony F5 and F55 can put a dent into the Alexa’s mantel and deal Sony back into the large sensor market – the ability to record 4K, the higher frame rates, new codec and the lower price tag should make it a popular choice.”

OnSight’s Higham agrees: “With their 4K sensors and competitive pricing, the Sony F5 and F55 cameras look set to shake things up and have the potential to make significant inroads into all levels of 35mm production.”

Shift 4’s Thompson says he’s already seen high demand for Sony’s new models: “We’re already receiving multiple requests for the Sony F5s and Sony F55s we’re adding to our fleet later this month. The modular nature of these cameras means production companies are able to tailor kits to meet their creative visions as well as their budgets, by choosing from the wide variety of lenses and accessories available.”

Procam’s Brennan is confident enough about the F5 and F55 to have already spent £500k on them: “Procam has made a £250k investment in Sony’s new offerings in the 35mm digital market, the F5 and F55, ordering an initial batch of 12 units. A further £250k has been allocated to support equipment to include the very latest PL mount Cine lenses, rigs and film style accessories.”

Awfully Nice Video Company’s Maunder wraps up by saying: “We’re really excited about acquiring the F55, particularly with a view to the high speed capability it offers. The year ahead promises to bring more stability to the market with the Alexa and the F55 set to dominate and less clients using the smaller and cheaper options that are around at the moment. Sony seems to have (belatedly) listened to what we want – large format, prime lens cameras with the ability to shoot at different recording rates and offering a real high-speed option all in one unit.”

This year’s models

The average spend on new cameras last year was around £385k per hire company (although the median figure was considerably less at £250k). The most purchased model was the Canon C300, which was bought by almost every hire company. The Canon XF305 was also on the shopping list of many, as well as the Canon 5D MkIII and Arri Alexa.

Looking to the coming year, the average investment hire companies have set aside is down £90k to just over £295k (with a median figure again down considerably to £165k).

What’s very clear is that Sony’s two new modular cameras – the F5 and F55 – are going to be well placed in next year’s top 10 rental list. As was the case with the Canon C300 last year, it’s almost a full house for the Sony F5 and F55 when you look at the investment plans of hire firms this year. Hardly any other cameras get a look in, aside from a sprinkling of Canon C500s and Sony PMW-200s and a few more C300s and Arri Alexas.

1 (NEW) Canon C300
Average daily rate £180 Hired from 400 Company, Alias Hire, Awfully Nice Video Company, The Cruet Company, DV Talent, Filmscape Media, Hammerhead TV, HotCam, Kitroom Monkey, New Day Pictures, OnSight, PEC, Procam, Pro Motion Hire, Provision, S+O, Shift 4, Shoot Blue, Shooting Partners, Video Europe, VMI Hired for How We Invented The World (Discovery) (VMI), Awaydays (BBC2) (New Day Pictures), John Bishop’s Only Joking (Sky 1) (S+O), Food Glorious Food (ITV) (DV Talent), Red Or Black (ITV) (Awfully Nice Video Company), Epson TMi (commercial) (Shoot Blue), Gangs Who Ran Britain (Crime & Investigation) (Filmscape Media), Goal Mouth 2 (Disney) (Shift 4), Dancing On Ice (ITV) (Shooting Partners), Styled To Rock (Sky Living) (HotCam), First Time Farmers (C4) (Procam), Pulp documentary (Provision)

There was plenty of talk about the Canon C300 in Televisual’s Top 10 rental cameras feature last year, despite it not having been released at the time of going to press. Almost all hire companies had already put in significant orders for the model, and these continued to flood in throughout the year. The camera’s dominance in only 12 months on the market is something of a phenomenon – it’s now the most hired model of the year. “The migration to large sensor production has been rapid since the introduction of the C300, continuing from where the DSLR market left off. The C300 is the most popular camera for most budget large sensor productions,” sums up Barry Bassett, md, VMI. Steph Keelan, joint-md of S+O agrees: “The arrival of the C300 shook up the hire scene, offering discerning production companies a camera that could finally offer affordable large sensor, full HD recorded at 50Mb/s, as well as quality sound and timecode-friendly shooting capabilities. We’ve used it on many mainstream ob doc TV shows, proving the workflow is becoming ever more manageable and offers an aesthetically creative visual tool to support the storytelling process.” The enthusiasm from hire companies for the C300 is universal, with Shift 4’s md Alex Thompson saying simply: “Our Canon C300s rarely have a day unused.”

2 (1) Arri Alexa
Average daily rate £635 Hired from Alias Hire, Arri Media, Awfully Nice Video Company, The Cruet Company, Fava, Films at 59, Filmscape Media, Hammerhead TV, OnSight, Procam, Provision, S+O, Shift 4, Video Europe, VMI Hired for Poirot (ITV) (VMI), Friday Night Dinner (E4) (VMI), Upstairs Downstairs (BBC1) (Films at 59), Jamie & Jimmy’s Food Fight Club (C4) (S+O), The Convent (feature) (Fava), Sky Sports promos (Sky Sports) (Awfully Nice Video Company), Power Rangers Megaforce (Nickelodeon) (Filmscape Media), Hammer of the Gods (feature) (Filmscape Media), Paralympics Games Opening Ceremony (C4) (Shift 4), Doors Open (ITV) (OnSight), Skyfall (feature) (Arri Media), Downton Abbey (Arri Media), Stand Up To Cancer (C4) (Procam), DCI Banks (ITV) (Provision)

Last year’s number one rental camera may have lost its top slot this year but it remains the ‘go to’ model for productions with a healthy budget. Half the hire companies stocking it say it’s their most hired model. VMI’s Bassett is one of many to say, “The Arri Alexa is the only choice for dramas – it’s found on every drama list without fail.” Sam Higham, rental facilities manager, OnSight agrees: “The Alexa dominates dramas, commercials and features,” he says. As does Emma Dow, md, The Cruet Company: “Where budgets allow, the Alexa is the camera of choice for drama and promos.” Arri, which has its own rental division at its UK headquarters in Middlesex, says 50% of its camera hires are for Alexas and Alexa Plus models. It’s also seen growing demand for the more niche flavours of the Alexa – the Alexa Studio 4:3 and Alexa M. Russell Allen, director of operations at Arri Media says: “It’s a regular occurrence for us to be turning around [Alexa] kits each night. It’s so easy to use for both dps and technicians alike.”

3 (4) Sony PDW-F800
Average daily rate £245 Hired from S+O, Alias Hire, Awfully Nice Video Company, The Cruet Company, Hammerhead TV, HotCam, Procam, Pro Motion Hire, Shift 4, Shooting Partners, Video Europe Hired for Ewan McGregor: Cold Chain Mission (BBC2) (Awfully Nice Video Company), The Apprentice (BBC1) (The Cruet Company), Derren Brown’s Apocalypse (C4) (The Cruet Company), Robson’s Extreme Fishing Challenge (C5) (Hammerhead TV), Songs of Praise (BBC1) (Hammerhead TV), True Stories (C5) (Shift 4), Rude Tube (C4) (Shooting Partners), The Only Way Is Essex (ITV) (HotCam), Take Me Out (HotCam), Splash (ITV) (Procam)

In a scene becoming increasingly dominated by large sensor cameras and prime lenses, the likes of the three 2/3-inch sensor Sony PDW-F800 tend to get a bit overlooked in terms of hype and attention. It’s a consistently popular XDCAM HD422 model that utilises the tried-and-tested Professional Disc workflow and has been quietly sitting in the top four of the most rented cameras list for the last three years. The camera is stocked by a large variety of hire firms and is the most hired camera of 35% of those companies that stock it. It’s used on many of the big TV brands and is a safe, solid option for broadcast production. “2012 saw a consolidation of the Sony PDW-F800 as the leading choice for broadcast television, especially for multi-camera productions,” says The Cruet Company’s Dow.

4 (3) Canon XF305   
Average daily rate £120 Hired from Alias Hire, The Cruet Company, DV Talent, Films at 59, Hammerhead TV, HotCam, Kitroom Monkey, Procam, Pro Motion Hire, Provision, S+O, Shift 4, Shooting Partners Hired for The Hotel (C4) (Films at 59), Unreported World (C4) (DV Talent), The Interns (The Cruet Company), Phil Spencer: Secret Agent (C4) (Hammerhead TV), Britain’s Best Bakery (ITV) (Shift 4), Four In a Bed (C4) (Shooting Partners), The Hoarder Next Door (C4) (Procam), Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs (ITV) (Provision)

The Canon XF305, which is built around three 1/3-inch CMOS sensors, has been around for a few years now and shows no signs of a decline in popularity. It was well received when first launched, having been given the BBC’s seal of approval for full HD production very early on. Since then, it’s established itself as the most used handheld HD camcorder on the rental market and has subsequently been employed to shoot a long list of television productions. Three of the 12 hire companies stocking it list it as the most popular model on their books.

5 (10) Red Epic   
Average daily rate £580 Hired from Fava, Filmscape Media, OnSight, Provision, Shoot Blue, Video Europe Hired for Flight of the Butterflies (feature) (Fava), Ursa TV (commercial) (Shoot Blue), Mr. Stink (BBC1) (OnSight), Galapagos with David Attenborough (Sky1) (OnSight), Utopia (C4) (Provision)

The Red Epic is (currently, at least) a 5K model, capable of capturing images at resolutions up to 5,120 x 2,700 pixels. It also provides the means to shoot at high frame rates, including up to 300fps in 2K. It has a modular design enabling different components – including the sensor – to be swapped and replaced as new technologies emerge. In fact, Red recently announced it’s releasing a second sensor for the Epic. Named the Dragon, the sensor was initially penned in for launch at the end of last year, but it’s now due to be released this month. The Dragon is a 16bit CMOS sensor that captures 6K images and is rated at higher than ISO 2000 with a dynamic range of more than 15 stops. It should further up the ante of Red’s most popular model.

6 (8) Sony PMW-500   
Average daily rate £220 Hired from 400 Company, Films at 59, Kitroom Monkey, Pro Motion Hire, Shift 4 Hired for Classic Rock Awards (Sky) (400 Company), British Superbikes (ITV) (400 Company), Dragons’ Den (BBC2) (Pro Motion Hire), The Culture Show (BBC2) (Shift 4), The Tallest Tower: Building The Shard (C4) (Kitroom Monkey)

This is the second Sony XDCAM HD422 model in this year’s top 10, and comes quite a few places behind Sony’s more popular XDCAM HD422 model, the PDW-F800. The cameras share similar technologies and both have three 2/3-inch CCD sensors that record full-HD images at 50Mb/s. Unlike the F800, though, the 500 records to Sony’s SxS solid-state memory cards rather than Professional Discs. “Our mainstay work for the BBC has now gone HD with the Sony PMW-500, replacing the DVCAM DSR-450s. Unfortunately the SxS cards are expensive, but apparently new SD cards that can record 50mb/s are coming this summer,” explains Mark Sloper, director/cameraman, 400 Company.

7 (9) Canon EOS-5D MkII/MkIIi

Average daily rate £85 Hired from Awfully Nice Video Company, DV Talent, HotCam, New Day Pictures, Provision, Shoot Blue, VMI Hired for Live At Abbey Road (C4) (New Day Pictures), Great British Food Revival (BBC2) (DV Talent)

The Canon EOS-5D MkII was a revelation when it came out four years ago, being the first SLR capable of recording full HD video. Very quickly, and almost by accident, it became extraordinarily commonplace to see multiple 5Ds on promos and commercials shoots. While the 5D MkII was far from perfectly suited to professional video production, lacking timecode, for example, such was the popularity of the 5D that creative ways were found to work around this and other issues. The latest version of the 5D – the MkIII – came out this year, and has useful new features including a built-in headphone socket and embedded timecode, helping the camera jump two places in this year’s rental cameras chart.

8 (2) Sony PMW-EX3
Average daily rate £120 Hired from Alias Hire, DV Talent, Kitroom Monkey, New Day Pictures, Pro Motion Hire, VMI Hired for Becoming Mum and Dad (Sky) (Alias Hire)

The four-year-old EX3 has now all but been usurped by equally affordable HD models that, unlike the EX3, don’t require the added hassle and extra costs of an external recorder to meet broadcasters’ minimum HD specifications. The EX3 had a good run in the rental market though, being in the top three of the top 10 countdown for the previous three years in succession. And while its heyday may be over, it’s still in reasonably frequent use. One hire company even puts it down as the joint most popular model on its books last year.

9 (5) Sony PDW-700   
Average daily rate £275 Hired from The Cruet Company, OnSight, Provision, S+O Hired for Gok’s Style Secrets (C4) (S+O), MasterChef (BBC1) (The Cruet Company), King Fishers (ITV/Nat Geo) (Provision)

The PDW-700 is the less capable older sister to the F800 – they may look identical but the 700 doesn’t offer 24p filmic recording or SD as standard, and also doesn’t provide the slow and quick motion of the F800’s 1 to 48fps recordings. So those opting for the 700 end up paying a comparable rental price for fewer features.

10 (NEW) Sony F65   
Average daily rate £975 Hired from Filmscape Media, Shoot Blue Hired for Project 722 (feature) (Shoot Blue), Skepta Make Peace Not War (pop promo) (Shoot Blue)

Olly Wiggins, joint-md of S+O, made a very perceptive comment in last year’s top 10 rental cameras feature, when he referred to the F65, which was just about to be released, as having arrived “too early”. He added: “It offers potential future 8K recordings. Sony has offered us a glimpse of the future, however we’re still waiting for 4K cinema projection and a tightening of budgets doesn’t allow many people to use future proofing as an argument for 4K acquisition for anything outside the features and commercials world.” The F65’s somewhat lowly place at the rear end of this year’s list would appear to prove Wiggins correct. Maybe next year it might stand a better chance of success.

All comments
Jake Bickerton
Jake Bickerton  | February 19, 2013
Yes, while we aim to ensure every UK-based hire company receives a survey form, we don't receive responses from everyone. A good proportion of the market gets involved in the survey but obviously it would be nigh on impossible to ensure every hire company sent back their survey form.
Steve Newman
Steve Newman  | February 19, 2013
Are there any rental companies who choose not to participate in this survey? For example, where is the rental company Visual Impact in this list?

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