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01 February 2012

The sixth of Televisual’s annual surveys of the camera hire market uncovers sweeping changes as large sensor cameras become de rigueur in all production genres, as Jake Bickerton reports

The last 12 months has seen a major shake up in the camera hire sector thanks to an influx of immensely popular large sensor ‘digital 35mm’ cameras that have elbowed out the competition and all but changed the face of production.

With digital 35mm making standard HD formats appear slightly old hat, it’s a given that SD is now officially dead. This compares to last year when there was even an SD model in the top five. And life has all but drained out of tape too, with only one camera in this year’s top 10 being a tape-based model.

While file-based HD has firmly established itself over the last few years – in particular Sony’s XDCAM HD and XDCAM EX formats – the big scramble across all genres is now for large sensor models.

“There has been a marked shift in traditional production methodology, with pretty much all productions now adopting large sensor cameras to achieve a shallow depth of field,” believes Barry Bassett, md, VMI.

Leading the large sensor pack by some margin is the ultra popular Arri Alexa, which comes out of nowhere to grab top spot in this year’s Top 10 most rented cameras (based on hires over the last 12 months). It’s the camera most productions want to use, and no doubt would be using if the budget stretched to it.

Elsewhere in the top 10 are a further four large sensor models, which compares to a total of just two in last year’s top 10. The demand for large sensor models has yet to reach a plateau and a number of about-to-launch models – in particular the Canon C300 and Sony F65 – look set to grab a slice of the market in 2012, although the Arri Alexa will almost certainly remain the default camera choice for many.

“New cameras for 2012 will be dominated by the soon to be released Canon C300 and Sony F65. The C300 will be the star of the TV and corporate market with fantastic images, affordable lens system, balanced ergonomics and potential full HD delivery,” believes Olly Wiggins, director, S+O. “We have a large order placed for the EOS mount version and expect it to be a big hit.”

“The F65 is the camera that has come out too early,” continues Wiggins. “Developed to compete with the Red Epic and the Arri Alexa, it offers potential future 8K recordings. It’s a big camera that will need a motion picture camera crew to run and operate it. 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 worlds.”

Similarly, says Procam’s head of operations Paul Sargeant: “I expect a big and exciting year for 2012 especially with all the hype on the newly launched Canon C300 and the new Sony F65. Will the Canon 5D/7D cameras be anywhere on the next year’s list after the launch of these camera and how will the F65 fit into the market?”

Only time will tell. But, looking ahead to the coming year, the Canon C300 is, by some margin, the camera most frequently found on the list of pencilled in purchases for the 25 hire companies taking part in this year’s survey. These companies have set aside a total of around £5.5m for new cameras in 2012 (the average investment is around £320k per company), with the Canon C300 on the shopping list of almost every hire firm. Other models cropping up on many shopping lists include the Canon XF305, the Sony F65, Sony PDW-800 and the Red Scarlet or Red Epic. 

How the survey works
Each hire company taking part in this survey is asked to list their five most popular cameras and the proportion of hires each one received over the last 12 months, compared to the other models on the hire company’s books. Each camera is then given an overall ranking by multiplying the number of hire companies saying it is one of their five most popular cameras with the average usage the camera receives by these companies.
We received 25 survey responses from camera hire companies and almost 30 different camera models mentioned as part of our analysis. Thank you to all the companies taking part in this year’s survey.

01 (NEW) Arri Alexa
format Arriraw, DNxHD, ProRes onto SxS cards
average daily rate £660
hired from
Alias Hire, Bluefin, Camera Facilities, FAVA, Filmscape, OnSight, ProVision, S+O, Shift 4, Video Europe, VMI
hired for Bert & Dicky (VMI), Friday Night Dinner (VMI), Just Henry (ProVision), Captain America (Camera Facilities), Spy (Camera Facilities), The Royal Wedding in 3D (OnSight), Kingdom of Plants in 3D (OnSight), Jamie’s Christmas (S+O), Stephen Hawkings’ Universe (Filmscape)

It seems it’s only a lack of budget that stops the Alexa being used on every production under the sun. A combination of beautiful images, intuitive ease of use and reassuring familiarity for DPs moving from film to file-based ‘digital 35mm’ has catapulted the Alexa to top choice model in the space a year. “The Alexa is still the camera most directors and DPs want to work with. It offers truly outstanding pictures with the simplest of workflows,” explains Olly Wiggins, director, S+O. “2012 will also be a busy year for it with 120fps, a new DNxHD codec and Arri’s new PL lightweight zooms soon to be released. The digital era has heralded a camera that is used on Hollywood blockbusters, TV dramas and cookery shows.”

02 (02) Sony PMW-EX3
format XDCAM EX onto SxS cards
average daily rate £135
hired from Alias Hire, Apache, Bluefin, Camera Facilities, Central Rental, Filmscape, HotCam, New Day, Procam, Pro Motion, S+O, Shift 4, Shoot Blue, Shooting Partners, VMI, Widescreen Impact, VMI
hired for Inside Out (Apache), Jack The Ripper : The Definitive Story (Apache), events for EuroSport (Widescreen), Britain’s Got Talent (HotCam)

The model that topped the camera hire top 10 two years ago maintains its second place this year. It’s affordable, portable, has a well-established workflow and is stocked by more hire companies than any of the other cameras in this year’s top 10. The main issue with the EX3 is its in-camera recordings don’t come up to scratch in terms of the minimum HD specs of UK broadcasters, so you have no choice but to use an external recorder for HD broadcast productions. “The EX3 continues to be popular with off-board recorders such as the NanoFlash and Ki Pro Mini and the industry has adopted this way of working in order to get around broadcasters’ needs for 50Mb/second data record,” explains Barry Bassett, md, VMI.

03 (NEW) Canon XF305
format MPEG-2 MXF onto Compact Flash cards
average daily rate £130
hired from Alias Hire, Central Rental, Hammerhead, HotCam, New Day, Procam, Pro Motion, ProVision, Shift 4, Shooting Partners, S+O, Video Europe
hired for Big Families (Procam), Undercover Boss (Shooting Partners), The X Factor (HotCam), Take Me Out (HotCam)

The Canon XF305 is very quickly becoming the first choice camera when a hand-held full-HD model is required, being both inexpensive to hire and recording 50mb/s images in-camera, eliminating the need for a potentially cumbersome external recorder. “By far and away the biggest hire camera of the year, the XF305 is sweeping the market in the way the Sony Z1 did five years ago,” says Paul Sargeant, head of operations, Procam. “We’ve invested in over 50 units so far due to continued high demand – this camera has overtaken all its rivals in this particular field. It’s small, lightweight, produces good pictures and hits the 50mb/s requirement without any need for external recorders. While it does have some downfalls in its robustness, I can see the XF305 will become even more popular in 2012.”

04 (03) Sony PDW-F800

format XDCAM HD422 onto Professional Disc
average daily rate £265
hired from Bluefin, The Cruet Company, Hammerhead, HotCam, New Day, Procam, Pro Motion, S+O, Shift 4, Shooting Partners, Video Europe, Widescreen
hired for The Royal Wedding (New Day), An Idiot Abroad series 2 (Hammerhead), The Great British Bake Off (Procam), Driving Wars (Procam), Safebreakers (Shooting Partners), The Year that Was (Bluefin), The Only Way Is Essex (HotCam)

The PDW-800 continues to be as popular as ever, with Sony’s Professional Disc appealing to those who don’t relish the prospect of wiping and reusing memory cards. “The PDW-F800 has now become the workhorse of the tapeless industry. It works just like a tape camera with the disc-based XDCAM format, which means crews and production teams know how to handle the medium,” explains Procam’s Sargeant.

05 (04) Sony PDW-700

format XDCAM HD422 onto Professional Discs
average daily rate £260
hired from AFL, Alias Hire, Bluefin, The Cruet Company, Gearhouse, OnSight, Pro Motion, S+O, Shooting Partners, Video Europe, VMI, Widescreen
hired for Dancing On Ice (Shooting Partners), Biggest Loser (Widescreen), Royal Wedding Crashers (S+O)

Like the Sony PDW-800, the PDW-700’s success is down to its build-quality and the popularity of the Professional Disc XDCAM format. “They are simple, robust cameras that provide all the benefits of tapeless without the data transfer issues of solid-state memory,” says S+O’s Wiggins. Shaun Wilton, head of facilities, Shooting Partners agrees: “Most of our clients still like to eject the media from the camera and put it in a box marked ‘rushes’.”

06 (NEW) Sony PMW-F3
format XDCAM EX onto SxS cards
average daily rate £185
hired from Bluefin, Camera Facilities, The Cruet Company, Filmscape, New Day, OnSight, Procam, S+O, Shift 4, Shoot Blue, Video Europe, VMI, Widescreen
hired for Scar Tissue (VMI), Generation Earth (VMI), How To Cook Like Heston (Shoot Blue), Snow White and the Huntsman (Camera Facilities), Made In Chelsea (Procam), Britain and Ireland from the Sky (Widescreen), Screenwipe (S+O)

Sony’s F3 has established itself as a popular lower budget option for getting the filmic look with shallow depth of field. “The F3 has bridged the gap for creating great depth of field pictures without having to go over production budgets,” says Procam’s Sargeant. “90% of the time they are used with an external recording unit to bring them in line with HD specifications.”

07 (01) Sony HDW-790P

format HDCAM tape
average daily rate £265 
hired from AFL, Bluefin, The Cruet Company, HotCam, Widescreen
hired for Kasabian Live at the O2 (Widescreen), Sky Movies promo (Bluefin), Life’s Too Short (AFL), Something Special (AFL)

The only tape-based camera in this year’s top 10, Sony’s most popular HDCAM model has finally fallen out of favour along with the demise of tape. It’s a measure of how far the market has changed to see the 790P slip from its top position last year to seventh place this year. While it’s tempting to write obituaries for all tape-based cameras at this stage, the 790P has some life in it yet – the five hire companies including it in their most hired cameras of 2011 list still receive good regular demand for the model, and it accounts for a sizable proportion of their overall hires.

08 (NEW) Sony PMW-500
Format XDCAM HD422 onto SxS cards
Average daily rate £245 
Hired from AFL, Alias Hire, Bluefin, The Cruet Company, Hammerhead, Procam, Pro Motion
Hired for Shipwrecked (Pro Motion), Fish Town (Pro Motion), Howard Goodall’s History of Music (Shooting Partners)

Unlike the other models in Sony’s XDCAM HD422 range (the PDW-800 and PDW-700), the shoulder-mounted PMW-500 records to solid-state memory and not Professional Disc. It’s therefore the only Sony SxS camera that records at 50mb/s without an external recorder. It was given a massive boost when the BBC added it to its approved HD camera list last year: “The Sony PMW 500 looks to become the BBC’s HD camera of choice for 2012 with its 50mb/s XDCAM codec, easy to use menu system and tried and tested SxS recording,” says S+O’s Wiggins.

09 (09) Canon EOS-5D
Format DSLR onto Compact Flash
Average daily rate £80 Hired from Bluefin, Central Rental, Filmscape, New Day, ProVision, VMI
Hired for Champions League Final (New Day), Stargazing Live (New Day), Little Noise (Widescreen)

The Canon 5D has built up a solid fan base over recent years, which doesn’t appear to be waning, thanks to its ability to capture filmic shallow depth of field at a fraction of a cost of a ‘proper’ broadcast camera. It has well-documented limitations compared to fully-fledged broadcast cameras, although most people seem happy to take the rough with the smooth when it comes to the 5D. It’s a more frequently used model than its ninth placing in the top 10 may suggest, as many people own them and don’t necessarily need to hire them all the time.

10= (06) Red One MX
Format Redcode Raw  Average daily rate £440
Hired from Bluefin, FAVA, Filmscape, OnSight, ProVision
Hired for Inside The Human Body (FAVA), Grolsch Christmas commercial (Shoot Blue), So Alive – Skepta vs N-Dubz (Shoot Blue), This Is England 88 (ProVision), DCI Banks (ProVision), The Bachelor King 3D (OnSight)

The Red One MX has slipped down the rankings a little in 2011, having almost certainly been a victim of productions opting instead for the hugely popular Alexa and, to a lesser extent, the other large sensor models that have flooded the market. It’s still the camera of choice for a large assortment of top-end productions though, including the visually striking This Is England 88 and The Bachelor King 3D.

10= (NEW) Red Epic
Format Redcode Raw Average daily rate £690
Hired from FAVA, Filmscape, OnSight, Shoot Blue
Hired for Red Dwarf X (OnSight), The Saturdays All Fired Up (Filmscape), The Wedding Video (Filmscape)

The Red Epic is a fraction the size of its sister model, the Red One MX. It features a 5K sensor that is capable of capturing “resolution that exceeds 35mm motion picture film,” says Red. It’s also capable of high-speed recordings, from 1 to 120fps at 5K and up to 300fps at 2K. “The Red Epic has been very well received by the market, and the 300fps gives it a discernable USP against the Alexa, so it will be particularly popular for commercials,” says VMI’s Bassett.


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