Gear Acquisition Syndrome—Are You Afflicted?

The EOS C200 is a piece of gear that has been a financially intelligent acquisition for my company.

Have you ever heard of Gear Acquisition Syndrome? It’s also referred to on discussion boards as “GAS,” which makes for a nifty metaphor as well as an abbreviation. What exactly is GAS? It’s the never-ending, seemingly ongoing pursuit of always owning the latest and greatest gear for your profession. This affliction can affect just about anyone in any sort of hobby or profession, but it seems especially suited to our business because the technology, tools and working methodology changes so quickly.

Back In The “Olden Days”

It might seem odd that I’m a contributing editor to HDVideoPro, a publication and website that really propagates and enables people afflicted with GAS, and here I am writing about it and discussing both the positive and negative points of GAS, which may seem strange. I mean, after all, new gear is our lifeblood at HDVideoPro. Without it, we wouldn’t have advertising revenues, get to go to fun trade shows and attend exciting product rollouts. We like new gear and it’s fun to try out the latest products. Unlike a decade or two ago, when you’d buy a camera that cost a fortune (a new Betcam SP camcorder with a high-quality lens back in the late 1990s cost as much as $120,000), at least that expensive camera was generally state of the art for about four to six years.

Gear Acquisition Syndrome – Are You Afflicted?
Yes, buying a Betacam back in the day was a huge decision because the costs dwarfed what cameras cost today.

If you were a smart businessperson, you could buy that expensive Betacam and bill it out to your clients for around $1,200 per shoot day. If you were shooting a decent number of days per month, you could extrapolate the math that in a few years, your expensive Betacam was paid off and that $1,200 per day fee you were charging your clients, other than maintenance and upkeep, was close to pure profit. Keep in mind that this was well before the Digital Revolution and this was what things cost back then. And because that cost was a barrier to entry into the realm of professional television production, not everyone had a $120,000 Betacam. It seems that GAS was generally not as big of a problem back then, mainly because new production gear was viable for much longer. In the transition from film gear to Betacam video, most of the other gear, besides the camera itself, stayed the same.

But It’s 2019!

Gear Acquisition Syndrome – Are You Afflicted?
The Lume Cube is a piece of gear that delivers exactly what it promises. But I bought this one six months ago and haven’t found a use for it yet.

Contrast this with gear today: We’re at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. You can buy a state-of-the-art Arri Alexa Mini, RED Monstro or Sony Venice for a fraction of what that Betacam cost a few decades ago. What’s even more exciting is that with the advent of continually improving technology, we have new cameras every few months that can provide astoundingly good images at just a few thousand dollars. The video quality that’s possible with small, inexpensive mirrorless cameras like the Panasonic GH5, the Sony A7 III and the Fujifilm X-T3 is astounding if you examine the value equation.

The Dark Side

Yet there’s a downside to all of this technological innovation, and even though I’ve so far just mentioned cameras, this applies to everything we as content producers need to do our job—grip gear, lighting, sound gear, computers, insane amounts of memory cards and hard drives, drones, sliders, the list is endless. That downside can be the relentless pursuit of a target that never stands still. That can mean buying a new piece of gear, using it once, then pulling the trigger on the latest and greatest version of the same gear while the original was hardly ever used. How often have you bought a piece of gear, used it once or twice and then suddenly had the urge to buy a “better” version that does basically the same thing? I’ll confess that I’ve been guilty of this in the past.

Gear Acquisition Syndrome – Are You Afflicted?
The Luxli Cello is a small LED RGB panel that I bought for a specific task: painting backgrounds with color washes. It has saved me time, effort and money.

Is “Buy Once, Cry Once” still possible? If you’re not familiar with the saying, “Buy Once, Cry Once,” it postulates that if you buy the best piece of gear you can possibly afford, you’ll have few regrets. It’s a valid view, although with the way technology progresses today, is it really the smartest way to think about acquiring gear? For instance, what if a few short years ago, you had decided to buy your first High Definition camera? Let’s say at the time, you had every option available, from the $6,000 Panasonic HVX-200 to the $95,000 Sony HDW-F900. If you could swing the $95,000 for the F900, would that have been the smartest move over buying the relatively-inexpensive-for-the-time HVX-200? Like everything in our business, it all depends on your business model and the level of work you do/did back then.

For me, I rented the F900 when I had projects that needed it, but I bought the HVX-200, which was far from the best HD camera of the era. But with good lighting and careful framing, the HVX-200 could make surprisingly high-end images. If I had more discerning and wealthier clients at the time and was booking more high-end shoots, I could have bought the F900 and possibly might have done as well with it financially as I did with my Sony Betacam back in the day.

A Better Way?

Gear Acquisition Syndrome – Are You Afflicted?
The Audix SCX1 HC microphone was a recent piece of gear I bought that has turned out to be a smart buy. It does things our existing shotgun microphones can’t do.

I’ve been in our business for quite a while now, more than two decades. I’ve seen a lot of trends that have come and gone in that time. Here are some key ideas that I think may be helpful for you to determine when to buy new gear and which gear to buy. It’s a saying in our business, but a valid one, and it goes, “It’s a business first and a creative outlet second.” If you’re a hobbyist, then my ideas and suggestions may only partially apply to you, but if you’re a working pro in film, media or video production, these are some things to consider when the itch to buy rears its head:

*After you read an article, chat with a group on a discussion board or watch some YouTube video reviews of a piece of gear, before you buy it, ask yourself, “Do I really NEED this piece of gear to do my work, or do I simply WANT this piece of gear because it’s cool?”

If you decide that you NEED this piece of gear to do your work more effectively and efficiently, before you decide which candidate you’re considering will be “the one” you buy, put the thought about the piece of gear out of your mind for at least 24 hours but up to two or three days. Don’t think about it, obsess about it or look at pictures or articles about it. After that time has elapsed, ask yourself as honestly and openly as possible, “Do I really need this? Should I really buy it?” I find that in doing this, about 50 percent of the time I’ve talked myself out of the gear because I really didn’t need it, I wanted it. In a business, buying gear just because you want it is a bad investment.

*Think about the long term. This has been especially important with cameras, as the resolution wars have continued. We’ve gone from HD to 4K, then 5K, 6K, 8K and soon 12K cameras will be hitting the market. Some will say, “Why not just buy the highest resolution camera available, then you’ll be ‘future proofed.’” As many people have discovered, the downsides to shooting especially RAW footage in 4K and greater resolution, the shooting media, storage and editing media costs also increase exponentially, hence the ongoing expense also increases. Few clients even want to deal with 4K deliveries these days, much less greater than 4K resolution. Sure, some projects warrant shooting these higher specs, but only a few, and having an 8K camera while your main delivery specs are for 720p for social media should make you examine if you’re shooting with the right camera for the job.

*Don’t buy gear for the sake of always having the latest and greatest. This is a never-ending treadmill, and if you examine how much money you lose over a few years by doing this, it can be an eye-opener.

*Buy gear that will give you good value and use for as long as possible. If you’re in production as a business, you should look at buying gear as a necessary thing you have to do to stay in business, but try to be efficient about what you buy and how often you “upgrade,” and if there’s a business case to be made about upgrading. If you can’t make a sound business case for spending the money, don’t.

Gear Acquisition Syndrome – Are You Afflicted?
The Fujinon XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 OIS is a superb lens. But after renting it, I decided for my company’s needs for it, which are very occasional, it would be smarter to rent it than own it.

I hope these ideas that I’ve experienced and lived with for a while are helpful. New gear is fun, interesting and can enable new ways of doing things. But over the years, it can also be a drain on your finances and, ultimately, a huge waste of money. Buy gear when you must have it to stay in business. Buy gear after doing the research and coming up with a financial plan where it will hopefully make you money, not deplete your savings or put you or your business in debt. Think about gear strategically, not emotionally.