Every few years, Peggy and I save up and splurge on renting a cottage along the coast of Cornwall in southwestern England. It’s where the family roots of my mother, an English warbride from WWII, are firmly planted. Essentially, the area is a series of small fishing villages and great coastal scenery, and we just poke around, like the couple of fairly active senior citizens that we are, and explore the various festivals, pubs, cliff walks, and scenic views the area has to offer.
This year, I piggybacked it on an assignment that ended in London, and I had my full complement of travel video gear with me, but since I had no plans to do anything serious (photographically) during this trip, I decided to see if I could indeed just use one, basic camera, the Sony RX100iii, for my vacation, and still make some reasonably satisfying pictures.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few years of shooting motion, it’s that you really need to support that camera for smooth footage. Tripods and monopods are just a couple of devices in my ever-growing, but still compact, arsenal of support devices.
Today, I’d like to acquaint you with three small support options, each of which played an important role in my recent month-long trip around the world documenting National Geographic Expeditions “Celebrating Exploration” private jet tour. In fact, the video here, Afternoon in Bhaktapur, was shot entirely with the tabletop tripod in shoulderpod and bellypod mode (explained below).
There are a lot of times when a hardwired audio connection just isn’t going to cut it in a run and gun situation. And the first place most of us turn is to a good wireless mic setup. I’ve got an older version of this one from Sony, and it is rugged, reliable, with great sound.
The problem with the pro wireless units is that they are fairly bulky (you wouldn’t be carrying it around full time in a camera bag, unless you are seriously doing only interviews) and at $600, rather expensive.
TSA inspectors don’t like them because they look like part of a detonation system. Overseas, customs inspectors don’t like them because they look like something you could start a revolution with. They’re strictly for bigger, professional productions.
Wouldn’t be nice if there were a reasonably priced ($179), tiny, lightweight (2 oz.) wireless system you could throw in your bag on fulltime basis to use for those travel gigs where you will occasionally find a character you’d love to mic up for a quick interview?
If you’ve ever tried to edit a big folder of stills, or God forbid, put together a video while you’re on the road with your laptop, you’ll know the myopic experience of trying to work with 24″ inches of information on a little 11″ or 13″MacBook screen. Well, relief is in sight, and the good news is that it won’t involve trying to jam your 27″ iMac into an airline overhead.
I was recently invited to submit some of my travel films to a new section on the website of a major American publication. It’s a showcase of short films and when you go to the site, it’s full of spectacular nature, adventure, and travel films that are daringly executed, expertly shot, and beautifully edited…and, to watch one, you have to sit through a 30 second, non-fast-forwardable commercial.
Can a newly minted full-frame video and still shooter find happiness using a bunch of 80’s -era compact cheap lenses? Could the old Nikon Series E lenses be the Sony E-mount lenses of choice for the new A7s in full frame mode?
Contrary to the popular misconception among family and friends that I am some kind of hopped up gearhead, most of the time, I actually hate to upgrade or switch cameras. It takes me 6 months to catch up with the workings of a new camera, and frankly, most of the time, the incremental improvements are rarely worth the bother of learning all the new button, dial, and menu placements. Of course, there’s always an exception to that “rarely worth the bother” clause, and the Sony A7s is one of them.
If your knees get a little weak when you check out the price ($500-1000) and the size (relatively humungous) of the XLR pre-amp adapters available for your Sony A7 series, RX10, Nikon and Canon DSLRS, or your Panny GH4, you’ll like this post.
The longer I do the video thing, the more I appreciate a shooter who can get a great interview out of an every-day person; the type of subject who isn’t a media-savvy professional used to being on camera and giving soundbites. Although he is known for so many other visual things in the world of DSLR videography, Philip Bloom seems to be able to get great interviews out of ordinary people, which is just one of the many reasons I admire him.
The camera bag that I detailed in the previous post is just part one. These days, nobody can travel without a bag o’ electronics too. I used to use a larger laptop, a larger rollaboard, but in my never-ending quest to go smaller and lighter (with gear, if not in person), this is my latest configuration, and it works pretty well.
In this second bag go two other cameras I try not to leave home without: my Sony RX100 iii, and my Sony Actioncam. If we were all perfectly honest with ourselves, we’d admit that cameras like the Sony RX 100, and the top-of-the-line Canon and Nikon compacts, would really be good enough to shoot 95% of what most publication photogs need to do, but we’re not.
We’re pros, so we need big, expensive gear. If we don’t show up with a lot of gear, nobody will believe us.
I keep a 500GB USB3.0 backup boot drive just in case, and I back up my SDXC cards to two 2TB USB 3 drives on the road…I also try not to reuse the cards, either, so I have three copies of everything from an assignment.
Battery chargers can proliferate faster than a gang of stoned bunny rabbits, so I settled on a battery charging system a while ago. It’s offered by B&H under the Watson brand (used to be Pearstone) and I have a double battery charger and a single one.
All you do is switch out the battery plates, rather than carry separate chargers, for all the different devices. I have plates for all my Sony cameras, my Nikon cameras, and even the LED panel batteries can be recharged on this device. It is a huge space saver. (Wait, that’s an oxymoron, but it’s true!).
Those vinyl bags are cosmetics bags from CVS and they run about $8 each and are great for organizing all your electronic chatchkes. If you prefer a “professional” version, you can pay $25 for a similar bag from ThinkTank , but I’m more cheap than I am embarrassed to be seen hanging out in the makeup aisle at the drugstore (and fellas, you’d be surprised at what a little eyeliner will do; after all, we are selling out eyes, n’est ce pas?:-)
It’s all carried in ThinkTank’s smallest rollaboard, the Airport Airstream. Damn, those ThinkTank people make great bags. Expensive, but rugged and well designed.
And finally, as the piece de la resisistance that illustrates the depth of my paranoia, er, I mean my preparedness, I always fold up one of the lightweight, supplex nylon photo vests that I designed for LL Bean about 15 years ago (they stopped carrying it right after 9/11, when a lot of their travel gear was discontinued) and put it in this bag.
It’s similar in design to the Domke vest with one important and vastly superior difference…it’s NOT made of heavy, old-tech cotton duck that absorbs and holds every ounce of sweat like a sponge, and so it weighs nothing, folds down to nothing, and wicks moisture away from your body instead of making you carry it around like a water-bearer (c’mon Tiffen/Domke, get with the program…cotton duck material went out with the British Raj in India, for crissakes, and you’ve been trying to sell it in this vest this for 20 years).
You can substitute the vest of your choice, or if you’re lucky, find one of mine on EBay…but be warned they fetch collector’s item fees…the few extra I have are so valuable, they’re figuring into my estate planning:-).
Now, should I run into a foreign airline on a connection that strictly enforces a “one carryon and one carryon only” rule (and it has happened about 3 times in my career), I can take everything in this rollaboard and put it in the big pockets of my vest, and literally “wear” my second carryon onto the plane, while giving them an essentially empty bag to check.
It’s not foolproof, of course, but it’s worked for me and as I said, it’s a bailout tactic that you can use when your back is against the wall.