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Stick Or Twist?

Paul Robson on why now is not the right time to buy a camcorder


Although I regularly provide finance to help camera operators and facilities purchase broadcast equipment I will freely acknowledge that now is not the right time to be buying a new camcorder. You should rent instead.


Let me tell you why.


In all my 20 years working in and around the TV industry I have never known there to be as much choice when it comes to new camera technology. In the ‘old days’, following the various announcements at NAB, there would nearly always be an obvious winner when it came to new cameras. At that point people like me could safely lay our cards on the table and state that X or Y was going to be the one to buy for the next 12 to 18 months.


In 2013 that couldn’t be further from the truth.


We are now operating in a world where you can get a 4K digital film camera with a Super 35 sensor for less than £3,000. I’ll just say that again in case you blinked in disbelief: ‘a 4K digital film camera with a Super 35 sensor for less than £3,000.’


This is a remarkable breakthrough but it’s not all good news because Blackmagic Design, the makers of that camera, and other companies like them, are disrupting the market to such an extent it makes purchasing decisions very tricky.


This camera (like its price tag) looks incredible but as with all new technologies you’ve got to balance the excitement of innovation with real-world considerations like: Does it work? Has anyone developed an efficient workflow? And is there a market for it?


Plethora Of Options


At the same time, you’ve got a plethora of other 4k options to choose from too and, from the perspective of a money man like myself, they all do essentially the same thing for a similar price. The Red Epic, the Canon C500 and the Sony F55 all shoot remarkably high quality images and they all cost, roughly speaking, £40-50,000 when you add in viewfinders, batteries, lenses and the like.


So, as a camera operator in 2013 what do you do? Do you buy or do you wait? On the one hand you could look at your purchasing decision in the same way that you look at buying a new TV set. There’s never a good time to buy one because a better and cheaper one will be along any minute. So, you might as well just dive in.


However, I’m not sure that is the best policy when it comes to cameras.


This is my advice: First up, obviously, you try each one, you do shot comparisons, you do real-world tests and you decide which one is best suited to your work or your clients’ work. And you make sure you can afford it. Then you put that camera down, get in your car (or pick up the phone) and you ask a camera dealer the following question: which camera is the rental companies buying in bulk? The answer will be the most convincing piece of evidence that you will gather.


Why do I say this? Two reasons. Firstly, if the camera that you pick isn’t the one that the hire firms are picking then there’s a good chance that there is not a huge market for it. And secondly, if mass adoption of that camera does not take place, when you come to trade your camera in, it’s going to be worth a lot less.


In short, hire firms are great barometers of what cameras are going to be successful. Most will buy one or two of each new camera. But they won’t buy in bulk unless there is a serious demand from producers. So, do what the hire firms are doing. And right now, they are waiting.


By IBC we should have a better idea of which cameras are going to come out on top. Until then, keep renting.


Paul Robson is the Managing Director of Medialease.


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