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01 February 2011

In the fifth of Televisual's annual top 10 rental camera surveys, Jake Bickerton reveals the models that have been hired the most in the last 12 months

With all the hype surrounding file-based cameras and formats over the last 12 months, you might expect a file-based model to sit atop this year’s rental cameras top 10. Perhaps surprsingly, therefore, it’s a discontinued tape-based camera (the Sony HDW-790P) that wears the crown.

While file-based production is undoubtedly taking over, models such as the Sony HDW-790P are tried-and-tested, recognisable cameras still opted for by many programme makers today. And that’s unlikely to change in the space of a year.

So, while the popularity of the 790P may fly in the face of the received wisdom that everyone has gone file-based, a glance at the rest of the top 10 reveals less than half the models are tape-based. Added to this, analysis of the information Televisual received for this survey reveals that around half of all hires are for HD file-based models. Meanwhile, HD tape-based models make up around 30% of all hires, while SD tape-based models account for less than 20% of hires.

Camera investments
Camera hire firms have to spend substantial sums on the many new models and formats that are introduced to the market each year. As part of this survey, hire firms are asked how much they invested in new models last year and on which models, and what they intend to invest in this year.

Last year, the total spend on new cameras (based on investment figures provided by 17 hire companies) was £7m, while £7.8m is earmarked for new models this year.

One of the most purchased models last year was the Sony PDW-F800, which is also the highest new entry in our top 10. Other new models being snapped up in large quantities include the Arri Alexa and Canon XF-305 – so expect to see these models in next year’s top 10. Many hire companies also invested in more EX3s, PDW-700s and Canon 5Ds.

For the coming year, the model that’s mentioned on most shopping lists – and by some margin – is Sony’s forthcoming digital-35mm model, the PMW-F3. Also cropping up numerous times is the Arri Alexa, Sony’s new 50mbps PMW-500 and Panasonic’s innovative looking AG-AF101.

How the survey works
To gather the information for the top 10, each hire company is asked to complete a survey form with its five most used cameras and the percentage of usage each receives (compared to the other models stocked by the hire company). The cameras that make it in to the top 10 are stocked by the most hire companies and receive the most useage.

This year we received responses from 26 camera hire companies, and had more than 20 different cameras vying for a place in the top 10.


Sony HDW-790P

format HDCAM
average daily rate £255
hired from
AFL, Alias Smith and Singh, Awfully Nice, Bluefin, Cinewessex, The Cruet Company, Gearbox/CVP, HotCam, Pro Motion, S+O, Video Europe, Visual Impact
hired for
Must Be The Music (S+O), Country House Rescue (Cinewessex), Take Me Out (HotCam), Britain’s Got Talent (HotCam), Time Team (AFL), Jimmy’s Food Factory (The Cruet Company), Sky Sports Promos (Awfully Nice)

Almost half the 26 hire companies taking part in this year’s survey say this tape-based HDCAM staple is still one of their most hired models. On average, around one in five hires from these companies is for the 790P. The fact the camera has been discontinued for a number of years has done little to impact on its popularity, with it bucking trends and even increasing in popularity in the rental market in 2010.

Sony PMW-EX3

format XDCAM EX
average daily rate £120
hired from
Alias Smith and Singh, Blue Planet, Cinewessex, The Cruet Company, Debrouillard, Decode, Hammerhead, HotCam, Kitroom Monkey, New Day, Procam, S+O, Shoot Blue, Video Europe, Visual Impact, VMI
hired for
The Love Bus (Procam), Biggest Loser (Hammerhead), Jon Bishop’s Britain (S+O), Red Bull Jam (Pro Motion), Night Cops (New Day), Great British Railway Journeys (Alias Smith and Singh)

The EX3 is a popular choice for all genres and is often the ‘B camera’ for HD TV productions. Its main drawback is it records at 35mbps, which isn’t a high enough HD spec for some broadcasters. You can get around this using add-on kit such as the Nano Flash but the EX3 is now facing serious competition from recently launched 50mbps models including the Sony PMW-500 and the BBC-approved Canon XF-305.

Sony PDW-F800

format XDCAM HD422
average daily rate £270
hired from
Awfully Nice, Blue Planet, Gearbox/CVP, HotCam, New Day, Procam, Video Europe
hired for
Tonight (Procam), Pixelface (Procam), An Idiot Abroad (Hammerhead), The X Factor (HotCam), Nuggets (New Day), The Apprentice (The Cruet Company), Dancing on Ice (Awfully Nice)

The highest new entry in this year’s list, the F800, was launched two years ago. It improves on the features of its sister XDCAM HD422 model, the PDW-700, partly thanks to the inclusion of over and under cranking for slow and fast motion. “The Sony PDW-F800 cameras are most popular – the disc-based way of working and the stunning picture quality make this a robust reliable workflow that seems to suit the majority of productions,” says Procam’s client relations manager Andrew Black.

Sony PDW-700

format XDCAM HD422
average daily rate £245
hired from
Bluefin, The Cruet Company, Gearbox/CVP, Hammerhead, New Day, Pro Motion, S+O, Video Europe, VMI
hired for
Traffic Cops (Hammerhead), Only Way Is Essex (S+O), Olivia Lee (S+O)

The PDW-700 was the first in Sony’s XDCAM HD422 range, introduced in 2007. The XDCAM HD422 format significantly improves on the resolution of images achieved by the now discontinued XDCAM HD range of models. When it launched more than three years ago, the 700 (and the new format) was “the first of the XDCAM disc-based cameras to really take off,” says Alias Smith and Singh’s hire manager Danny Dawson. It remains a popular model but has been overtaken in popularity somewhat by the newer and better spec-ed F800.

Sony DSR-450

format DVCAM
average daily rate £140
hired from
400 Company, AFL, Bluefin, Cinewessex, Hammerhead, HotCam, Kitroom Monkey, Pro Motion
hired for
HARDtalk (Bluefin), Roar (Cinewessex), Coach Trip (HotCam), Fitness shows (400 Company)

The first of only two SD models in the top 10, the ever durable 450 is still in widespread use despite being both tape-based and only capable of recording standard def images. Picking up around one in every five hires for those hire companies that stock it, the DVCAM model is proving seemingly impossible to kill off. This is partly down to “the BBC news and entertainment departments having stuck with good old DVCAM utilising the dependable DSR-450,” says 400 Company’s Mark Sloper.

Red One

format Red 

average daily rate £430
hired from
Axis/On Sight, Decode, New Day, ProVision, Shoot Blue, Visual Impact 

hired for
Harry Hill promos (Shoot Blue), Sky Boxing titles (Shoot Blue), Garrow’s Law (Visual Impact), James Blunt Live (Shoot Blue), This Is England 86 (ProVision), Cause and Effect (New Day)

The Red One (and the recently updated version, the Red MX) is still the digital cinematography camera of choice. It’s one of the most popular cameras on the books of the hire companies stocking it and has been used on a wide range of films, ads and TV programmes since its launch in 2007. However, it’s now set to face increasing competition from newly launched digital cinematography models such as the Sony PMW-F3.


Sony HDW-F900R

format HDCAM

average daily rate £340 

hired from
400 Company, Axis/On Sight, Blue Planet, Cinewessex, Debrouillard, Procam, ProVision 

hired for
Peep Show (Procam), Come Fly with Me (Blue Planet), Rock & Chips (Blue Planet), Golden Gods (400 Company)

The F900R is Sony’s flagship HDCAM model and, as such, its daily hire rate is notably more expensive than its sister model, the HDW-790P. One of the key features of the F900R that isn’t found on other models in the HDCAM range is it is capable of filmic 24p recordings, making it well suited to shooting dramas, commercials and feature films. Most hire firms with it on their books report that hire levels for the F900R are stable year-on-year.           


Format XDCAM EX 

Average daily rate £100
Hired from
Alias Smith and Singh, The Cruet Company, Debrouillard, Kitroom Monkey, Pro Motion, ProVision, Video Europe, Visual Impact
Hired for
Vera (ProVision), Waterloo Road (ProVision), Trawler Towns (Pro Motion)

When it launched in 2007, the EX1 (which was updated in 2009 with an assortment of enhancements and relaunched as the EX1R) was the first in Sony’s XDCAM EX range, which records to SxS memory cards. It was immediately popular due to its affordability, small size and ease of use. Since then, it’s been usurped by its younger brother model, the EX3, largely thanks to that model having interchangeable lenses rather than the EX1R’s fixed lens.

Canon 5D

Format DSLR
Average daily rate £105
Hired from
Bluefin, Blue Planet, Decode, Kitroom Monkey, New Day, ProVision, S+O, Shoot Blue, VMI
Hired for
Ketel Vodka commercial (Bluefin), Armani commercial (VMI), Welcome To Wales promo (Kitroom Monkey), Into The Blue (New Day)

This affordable DSLR has, almost by accident, very quickly become extremely popular amongst pop promos and commercials makers. The image quality of its HD recordings is impressive and it’s extremely portable, and camera hire firms have embraced it over the last 12 months so it’s now widely available on the rental market. A word of warning from Alias Smith and Singh’s Dawson, though: “For promos and virals, it’s brilliant. For genuine broadcast, do not use.”

Sony DVW-970

Format DigiBeta 

Average daily rate £200
Hired from
Blue Planet, Cinewessex, The Cruet Company, Hammerhead, HotCam, Procam

Hired for
The Morgana Show (Blue Planet), The Impressions Show (Blue Planet), Over The Rainbow (HotCam), Britain’s Got Talent (HotCam), The Inbetweeners (The Cruet Company)

For many years, the DVW-970 and, even more so, its sister DigiBeta model, the DVW-790, were the workhorses of the industry. But the dominance of DigiBeta as a recording format is all but over, with file-based (and to some degree tape-based) HD models quickly becoming the preferred choice. In the meantime, an impressive number of popular TV productions still opt to shoot on the 970.


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