It’s a very tough market for camera hire firms reveals Mark Sloper, director of the 400 company. I’m currently putting together Televisual’s extensive survey of the camera hire market, which results in the Top 10 rental cameras feature to be published in the February issue of the magazine – for more info on this feature, see below. As part of my research for the feature, Mark Sloper, director of the 400 company, emailed me the following comment, which makes very interesting reading. He is happy to share his opinions, so here they are in full:

“This has been our annus horribulus. We’ve had to buy HD equipment obviously for projects at Easter 2010 and then have had them sat on the shelf as the industry can’t work out what it wants to do. Thankfully, the BBC news and entertainment departments have stuck with good old DVCAM utilising the dependable DSR-450.  Without stable ongoing work as a BBC supplier we’d be not be knowing what to do with the volumes of kit we’ve invested in.
 
We’ve been sticking with tape-based HD cameras such as the Sony 900R and BBC-approved Panasonic HDX900. Production companies and broadcasters are still unhappy with file-based card cameras because of the issues involved in archive and storage – how many hard drives do you need to store it to future proof it!? A tape simply sits on the shelf for future access, tried and tested.
 
We are interested in the Sony PMW-F3 Super 35mm camcorder, not only will it hopefully get rid of the silly DSLR cameras that are infiltrating the industry through students (they can’t capture motion) but hopefully it might even spec up to take on the infamous Red.

We’re hoping a full size model appears with the same inner workings and interchangeable lenses so that proper cameramen can put it on their shoulder without a Heath Robinson invented brace. The Panasonic 101 we have the same feelings about.
 
We’ve invested in some Sony EX3s but are finding issues with the cards and transfers – we lend the cards to clients to download their images but inevitably we get asked to dump it to tape! How ironic and it’s totally common. We sometimes don’t get the cards back for weeks and it seems unfair to charge a client for a little card so we take the brunt.
 
The rates are going down and down, unless you’re guaranteed x amount of days on different shoots and it’s for definite, it’s becoming more and more difficult to make the cameras pay their way. Luckily, because we’ve been going over 15 years, we’re able to boost our paltry hire charges with accessories, lenses, lighting, sound and grip.

There’s NO discernible difference with a good prepped SD lens as opposed to a newly-badged HD lens, most camera people have worked that out. We’ve just shot a cinema version of the British Superbike season for release in March using a five year old Panasonic VariCam at different frame rates. We’ve had differing cinema screenings and it looks superb – the right kit on the right job as they say. Check out the trailer (see below) and it looks like the very latest digital technology. It aint.
 
Anyone considering buying kit this year – DON’T. It all looks set to change again with the major manufacturers realising they have to price the latest new kit according to the marketplace. Here comes the PMW-F3 that’s going to blow all our EX1s and 3s out of the water, and just about every thing else too.”

The results of Televisual’s fourth annual survey of the camera rental market are revealed in February’s Top 10 rental cameras feature. The results are based on a survey of around 25-30 hire companies, which complete a survey form providing details of how often each of their most popular cameras has been hired out over the past year.

Each camera is then ranked on the number of hire companies stocking it and how much usage it receives. Last year, Sony’s file-based HD staple, the EX3 (pictured), topped the list, while its long-running tape-based SD model, the DSR-450, came in second.

Sony dominated the list, with only the Red One stopping Sony from taking all the spots in the top 10. However, Panasonic and Canon in particular had a wide selection of models just outside the top 10 so this year’s results may well include a wider range of camera manufacturers.

The results of the survey are published in the February issue of Televisual, which will be out on Monday 7 February. If you run a camera hire company and haven’t yet received a survey form, please email jake@televisual.com.

Staff Reporter