2 Questions Before Purchasing New Gear

A few days ago I picked up the new DJI Phantom 3 Professional. I have been a little wary of the drone market as I feel it is getting quite saturated, however, with the price point of the new Phantom 3, I could not resist. I pulled the trigger. I won’t get into a full review or anything on the Phantom 3 yet, as I would like to get a few more flights in. I did want to talk about my reasoning with purchasing a new piece of equipment though. I look at film gear as tools. Tools that can make your shooting easier and tools that help you move the camera. Now a days, there are plenty of options on how you can achieve professional camera moment. You can use a slider, brushless gimbal or a drone, the options are really endless and for the most part, affordable. The big question is how do you choose which tool is right for you? The decision to purchase a new piece of film gear can be completely overwhelming. For me, I have narrowed it down to two questions to decide whether or not I should pull the trigger.

  1. Will this new tool raise the production value of my finished piece?
  2. Will this new tool make my job easier?

Of course there are many other questions that you may ask yourself. Will this set me apart from other filmmakers? How long much use will I get out of the piece of gear before it is outdated? These are all important, but I found those two questions tend to be the most crucial. I tend to lean towards the first question in terms of priority. Your audience or client won’t know if you were using a certain type of memory cards or if you have a battery grip on your camera. Yes, a battery grip and a fast memory card could make your life easier but it doesn’t necessary raise the production value of the finished piece. For example, the Phantom 3 clearly raises (no pun intended) the production value of your project.

Once purchasing a tool I spend a lot time practice and familiarizing myself with it. I go out to a beautiful location with my spousal unit and get comfortable with the new piece of gear. I never start shooting projects for clients on a piece of gear I have not taken the time to learn, test and find out the tools limitations. I also look at things such as setup time and how this piece of gear will impact shooting projects in the field. I do a lot documentary style shots where I am the only crew or I have an assistant. For me, the results of the new piece of gear must outweigh the setup time. Once I am comfortable with the new piece of gear I start to ask three basic questions as I begin to integrate the new piece of gear into how I tell stories:

  1. What was it build for?
  2. How are others using it?
  3. How can I use it differently?

The first two questions are self-explanatory and, thanks to social media and hashtags, it is easy to see how other people are using the specific piece of gear. The last question is the most important and this is where I spend the most time thinking, brainstorming and dreaming. How you answer it can really set you apart from all the other people out there with drones. As yet, I haven’t answered this question for myself with the Phantom 3 but I know I really want to focus on finding other perspectives that we normally see from drones. I think aerial shots overlooking cities are great, however, I wish to find other uses for the drone that are less commonly used.

The last aspect of a new tool that is very important is to use the tool in moderation. It is great to be able to achieve beautiful drone shots, but nobody wants to watch a whole wedding video or music video shot with a drone. All of the film making tools, the gimbals, sliders, jibs need to work together to tell a story in the most visually creative way possible. It is great that we have all these tools at our disposal now, but with these limitations removed we must be more careful and intentional with how we use camera movement to tell a story and I think that is the big idea.

I will do another post shortly more about the Phantom 3, but I wanted to get a few more flights under my belt before I really dive into it.