Why Gear DOES Matter...
It's the sentence that no one seems to say anymore. Today's Vloggers and Content Creators spew the phrase "Gear Doesn't Matter" ..."Your Gear Doesn't Make Your Content Better" ...and "You Don't Need the Best Gear to Make Good Films/Videos"
Say the guys making tons of $$ on Youtube.....with tons of Gear.......
WHOAHH! I probably am coming off like a jerk right now, but I'm trying to make a point that I constantly see! It is true! SO many young filmmakers and content creators have MASSIVE gear lust, and are always looking to BUY BUY BUY before honing in on their craft. But, there is also the other percentage of us, that work on our craft and NEED the upgrade.
This is Why I'm writing this, and the perspective I had. I'm going to tell you why gear DOES matter, and how I just made a big decision myself.
The Constant Question
There is no denying that we all constantly go back and forth...
"Do I need a new camera? Should I get a RED Weapon or Scarlet? What if the Sony A7sIII has better AF than my Sony A7sII?"
We all watch those videos daily, and gear reviews, and plot and plan how we are going to conquer the world with our RED, Black Magic, or ARRI cameras when we get that 10 Million dollar film deal, or that $40k Wedding or Commercial we've been waiting for...But 90% of the time, non of those happen, and we stick with what he have.
I truly am a firm believer in "The best camera we have is the one with us" It is true. If we have it use it. There is no excuse for going out an buying a RED when...
A. You can't afford it
B. You've never actually shot on one before
C. You can't book large jobs NOW
You get the idea...But the scary part is people are doing this. So this blog is NOT about going out and saying "Yeah, go spend $40k on a RED or ARRI rig" No. This is about making GOOD decisions on buying gear, and not letting your gear hold you back! So lets get into the nitty gritty!
So before I get into all of the philosophical stuff, lets get into myself! I own 2 Productions companies. Black Mountain Visuals (your here) which specializes in Corporate, Commercial and Music Videos! I am constantly shooting Interviews, tons of B-Roll, always on the move with little time to setup generally.
I'm really looking into doing some more high end stuff, so knew I need to step up my game. My second company is a Wedding Company (Espience Weddings) which specializes in Cinematic Wedding Films as well as Photography.
One of the biggest things I found myself needing between these two, was high frame rates. I LOVE slow motion. So many claim it's overused, but I disagree. It has it's place, but it is Very important to me! Wedding Prep looks beautiful slowed 50% or so, and when it comes to commercial or Mini-Doc style shooting...it allows me to extend the amount of B-Roll I have. On a practical side, 1 second of someone smiling or doing a task, is now maybe 5 seconds! So that was huge for me.
Was My gear Really Holding Me Back?
I own a Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera...and I asked myself "Is this camera holding me back?" I constantly found myself battling with Color Issues (especially the issues it has with White Balance) as well as lack of High Frame Rates. One of the biggest killers, was it's lack of In-Camera Stabilization. My shooting style doesn't really allow for Gimbals or Glidecam's so I'm usually on Tripods (which is stable) or a Monopod/Handheld where the rolling shutter and movement could be UNBEARABLE!
Now you might say "Well, why would you buy it in the first place?" Originally, I wasn't doing these types of videos full time, and was mainly shooting Short Films, where these things didn't matter as much. So I kept asking myself, is this what I want? I would come home from edits, and be disappointed knowing my skills were where I wanted them to be, but I felt like my camera wasn't doing what I needed...but then the thought crept in....Maybe I just suck?
SO, I decided to rent a camera and try it out. I rented the Black Magic URSA Mini from a friend (Josh Miner, at Sleepy Owl Films) I had gotten a project where I could afford to rent it, and wanted to see what I could do with 4k, 60fps or 1080 120fps in RAW!
So we shot Frank Palangi's Break These Chains.....and I was INCREDIBLY happy with how it came out! I felt like shots looked better than ever before, just everything about it was almost exactly what I wanted (nothing is 100% haha) SO I thought "Ok, I don't think I suck, but what about all those people who says gear doesn't make the shoot"
So I went back to my Pocket camera thinking I was wrong, and I could do it with my Pocket. I tried all the time, but projects seem to fall flat of where I wanted them to be, and I felt trapped in the Sub $500 Price range...because well that's all I was able to give! Then something happened...
The Wedding Miracle
In late 2016, I was actually thinking about stopping Weddings all together! Even though I had a few and they were profitable, I found that I was approaching things to “old-school” in the style and forgetting how cinematic I could make things! Also...they are incredibly stressful!
After a few people had asked me to Film their weddings, I decided to look more into making wedding films “cinematic” In doing tons of research and realizing the potential, I decided I was going to push further into weddings! After doing 1 or 2, things started to BOOM! I was WAY over my head and I realized if I pushed the envelope, I could not only charge more, but rent some gear to try to boost the quality!
I finally in early 2017, I was going to rent the Panasonic GH5! It seemed like the easiest and best camera to try out for a wedding! I shot two weddings back to back on the GH5, at 4k and 1080p at 60fps and 120fps.....and WOW!!!
Some Weddings Films on the GH5. Two were shot in 120fps 1080p and the other Two were in 4K at 60fps!
This is when I knew my gear WAS holding me back! The weddings I had shot on the GH5 were Head over Heals better, compared to my other films. I was so taken back, because I kept thinking...”what am I doing different?” Nothing. Well actually I was! The gear allows me to do the things I wanted too! I had better shallow depth of field, catching beautiful bokeh during portraits, amazing slow motion bridal prep, and also much more!
So then I kept thinking what if I went bigger? More? Better gear? Would it actually help? So I put that to the test. I rented the GH5 again with a Metabones Speedbooster, Canon 50mm 1.2, 16-35mm 2.0, and 100mm Macro 2.0! Cream of the Crop Canon Lenses!
I was completely sold. These lenses looked even better than the Lumix lens I had rented before. The choice of lenses made for incredible shots, and the Metabones helped in so many ways. So then I got thinking...
Gear IS making me better. Gear was making my films better. It mattered.
So now what Buy a RED Weapon on Credit for $60-$80k and Some Anamorphic Lomo Lenses for another $40k and hope I made that back right?
No. It had been a while since I had updated my gear, so I knew, If I was going to do this, it needed to be smart, but also what I NEEDED, not just Wanted! Because if I invest in gear, because "Gear Matters" than I wasn't going to be stupid and purchase stuff I couldn't make back easily.
So, I decided on the GH5, Metabones Speedbooster, Sigma 50mm 1.4 and will be getting a Sigma 18-35 and 135 coming this early spring 2018! What a difference they have been already! Just seeing the "test" clips are incredible! These test shots were before I got the Sigma so were with my Rokinon M4/3 Glass and Some Nikon Glass I rented!
But How Will This Gear Benefit Me Now?
One misconception most people start out thinking about when buying new gear is...
"I'll buy a Weapon for $40K, and some Canon Glass for $5k, and I'll rent it out to tons of people, and I'll get High End Commercials and.."
We'll thats just not the case. So this time, those guys who preach "Gear doesn't matter" are right! A new GH5 won't get you a bigger job BECAUSE of the GH5...it's what you do with it.
My plan is not to tell everyone "HEY I HAVE A GH5, HIRE ME" Owning the GH5 allows me to take "Passion Projects" and maybe a few lower budget commercials and music videos and make them look WAY better than I could have before, allowing me to charge more for my work. But this is all relative! Thats the key to remember.
Yes, better gear will equal better quality work (hopefully) which equals more, higher paying jobs, but it's relative to pricing. For me, spending under $6k total, is much easier to make back in a few weddings, and commercial jobs, because I know I can go from charging Sub-$500 to at least $1500+ for more corporate or commercial jobs, and move from $1500 weddings up into the $2500-$4500+ range, because NOW My quality can compete with the guys charging that! The gear is allowing me to use my skills, and make things look EVEN better.
But, you see if I had a $50k RED setup, I still can't charge $10k per project...because I haven't proven myself at the $3k projects. That's what buying gear is about. Allowing you the flexibility to make good content, not only for larger projects with budgets to rent, but turn all of your projects into BIG BUDGET looking projects, so in 6 months, ALL of your projects are actually paying Big Budget, because you've proven yourself. It works, if its relative!
But What About you?
If your one of those people who is sitting around, and shooting nothing...drooling over the New Sony or RED Camera out this year....No. Gear doesn't matter, because if your not doing, nothing does. Although that may sound harsh, you need to be at the point where gear is truly holding you back.
RENT. RENT. RENT. Renting is the perfect way to see if your truly being held back by your gear. Get a friend or a local company to pay you just the rental costs, and rent a GH5, the New Sony A7S, a RED, anything that you think may work for you. Use it for the shoot, and see how you do. If it comes out looking amazing, and better than anything you've ever done, and after posting it, you start to get clients wanting that same look...than good! It's probably worth the investment...But if you bring it back to edit, and it looks just as bad, overexposed, too shaky, bad composition, or just bad all around...it's not time yet.
How did we get to this? I'm going to go off course here for a minute, and talk about how this whole "Gear Lust" and idealology came to fruition, so if you don't care....skip to the next title. But if your super analystical like me...give it a read!
The History of Gear List and Why It Matters (but doesn't)
You like that title? Super Buzzfeed right? So lets dive into how all of this happened.
Around 2009 we started to see a slow rise in Filmmakers. Of course, there has always been the want to create films, but as Handheld Camcorders got cheaper, guys like Film Riot and Indy Mogul started to create young filmmakers (which would later branch off into the Youtube Careers of teaching Filmmaking and all it's parts). But even still, it was a small crowd. Only the top guys would post shorts, and the rest looked horrible.
In about 2011-2012 we started to see the DSLR revolution begin, which is probably the SINGLE-HANDED reason for Gear Lust and the Filmmaking BOOM! You could probably thank the Canon 5D MKII the most!
Suddenly every kid who wanted to be a filmmaker could afford (or parents could) to buy a DSLR, and we FLOCKED to YouTube for knowledge. We had these devices with NO idea how to use them, if they were good, and even what to use them for!
After probably a year of seeing guys like Philip Bloom, Ryan Connolly, Griffin Hammond, Devin Supertramp, and TONS more, we began to follow their steps. Now Disclaimer, in NO way am I blaming these guys haha, the complete opposite! These guys have PURE talent. So in their storylines, we followed them as they moved on to bigger and better things QUICKLY, getting new gear, new techniques, etc.
We began to realize we were falling behind. Just like we need the newest Cell Phone every year, features like Slow Motion, 4k, and Dynamic Range became the center of our thoughts. Which was good and bad. We became conscious of what on the technological end, was needed to make superior images.
As this got worse and worse, we began to see people "fight back" against gear lust. And thats where we still are today! DSLR Guide insists on using a T3i instead of getting a RED, Black Magic, or a MILLION other cameras he could afford because he believes in "Story First"
Now I completely agree with him. Story DOES go first....but no matter what he says ONE DAY, his T3i won't be able to cut it, and fall behind. Assuming he is smart, he would then upgrade, but I have a fear A lot of people out there wouldn't. We are divided.
Gear First vs Story First.
I'm here to break that mold and show you that Story is yes first, but GEAR does really matter!
Wow that was a lot right? Felt like a Philosophical journey and arthritis for my wrists.
So what does it all mean?
Although we should be thinking about story always, sometimes our Gear really does hold us back! Be smart and don't let it!