This year’s styles show an emphasis on speed and simplicity…
This is my base kit, and it’s simple and inexpensive (the most expensive thing is the shotgun mic, but you can get a decent one starting at $75). It handles stability, security light and sound.
This is the more expanded mobile kit. It does all of the above, but provides more sound input options, a small tripod and a 360 camera that integrates with the phone.
Judd Slivka Tools and Toys 360, before after, Bubbli, camera+, chartmaker pro, ferrite, filmic pro, gravie, Hyperlapse, insta360, lapse it, luma clip, luma fusion, lumafx, marksta, mavis, periscope, picflow, picplaypost, pixelmator, pro movie, procamera, RecoLive MultiCam, sandisk, snapseed, splice, Steller, switcher pro, ThingLink, this, timelapse, twisted wave editor, verifeye, Videolicious, videosoap, watermark, where
I think there are times that all I write about are gear and apps. A look back at the infrequent blog posts here would seem to confirm that.
So today, we’ll talk a little about philosophy behind the gear I’m using.
I’ve noted that my mobile kit has gotten smaller over the last few years. Some of that is due to technology advances (the dual lenses on the iPhone 7Plus, for example, mean I don’t carry external lenses any more). Some of that is due to a change in my own philosophy about gear and what we’re producing with it.
Let’s start with technology.
My kit in June 2015 had 11 separate pieces of hardware in it, not counting a power brick. My most advanced kit now has 11 pieces — but they’re different. And the basic kit I carry with me all the time has four pieces, plus a power brick. Technology has transformed the kit.
I used to always carry an iRig or iRig Pro to run an XLR-corded mic with me. Most days now, I use a lav or shotgun mic designed to go straight into the phone. Sometimes I’ll use a Lightning connector-specific condenser mic. The quality of gear has gotten better — to the point where maybe the XLR-corded stuff isn’t so neccesary (note: I still have an iRig, iRig Pro, iRig Pro Dual Channel and a Shure MVi for when the occasion calls for it).
I always used to carry external lenses with me, either a set of 37mm screw-on lenses or a clip-on or slip-on like Olloclip or Moment lenses. Changing to the iPhone 7Plus with the dual lenses meant I didn’t have to anymore. The regular lens on the 7Plus has a focal length of about 21mm, which is plenty wide. The zoom lens on it is a 52mm lens. I don’t need much else. Getting rid of external lenses means I don’t have to carry a frame for the phone that will accomodate them.
I always preach that adding quality to mojo products is a tradeoff: The more equipment we add to raise quality, the less mobile we become. But now we’re improving the chassis in significant ways. And those technology improvements mean that we can be more mobile and still have a high production quality.
Now let’s talk about philosophy.
It’s changed. When I started doing mobile work, I was about Big Mobile — end-to-end mobile production. Shoot it on the phone, edit it on the phone, move it to the publishing outlet. That outlet, in my mind, was invariably a legacy media outlet. Let’s build a 2 1/2 minute piece for the 6 p.m. show.
Spending time in newsrooms has had me reconsider that the legacy product doesn’t want mobile-produced stuff. The news directors and producers want stuff built in AVID and ingested into the CMS. They’re largely agnostic about the source of the footage, but they want it built at the mothership, or something that approximates the mothership (a laptop in a van with a LiveU or Dejero unit in it).
That said, newsrooms want mobile video and mobile produced pieces. But they want them for social. They want 10 :20 pieces, not a 1:30 piece. As a result, they’ve invested in simple production technology like Videolicious, rather than a more complicated and sophisticated product like LumaFusion.
How does that play into what’s in the kit? I used to pack everything every time. Stick mic? Check. Wireless set. Check. Huge LED light? Check. And so on. Now I don’t feel like I have to. I feel like I can carry, most of the time, stuff that accomplishes 100 percent of what I need from a quality perspective 85 percent of the time.
Let’s be honest: If we’re producing for social, we’re probably producing for Twitter. And if we’re producing for Twitter we need good-enough quality, not great quality. If we’re producing for Facebook, we’re likely creating videos that are designed to be digested without the sound on. I still keep my Rode Reporter mic, my Sennheiser wireless kit, my various preamps, my lights, etc., in a second bag in the car. But most of the time, I’m using a mobile kit that can be described as “phone/holder/shotgun-and-lav-mics/cheap clip-on light.”
I still think that end-to-end mobile production is coming, especially as the price of bonded cellular comes down. But I’m not sure when. The economic arguments are still there. The technology advances arguments are still there. But I think the tide of production for social has carried away a lot of the end-to-end momentum.
It’s that other popular question: “What apps do you use?”
It’s a hard question and an easy one. I use a lot of apps, or I have used a lot of apps, since I’ve tested more than 500. But I use the same eight or 10 most of the time. There’s another half-dozen that I use for special purposes, such as stabilizing video.
But one thing I’ve noticed is that there hasn’t been a lot of innovation in apps that perform the core journalism functions of photographing, recording and editing. There’s been some interesting apps around the perimeter, but these are mostly post-production apps that may add value to what we’re doing, but don’t address the core. So if you follow these posts, you’ll see that a lot hasn’t really changed since the last update.
So here’s the lastest:
This is an incredibly nerdy post. I’m going to write — a lot — about bits of steel and plastic and how they have become meaningful in my life. We’re talking about the mobile kit. I get asked two questions: “What apps do you use?” and “What do I need to do mobile journalism?”
I’ll deal with the former in this post. The latter is a tougher question because it really depends on two factors: What do you need it for and how much do you want to spend?
If you’re the night cops reporter for a newspaper, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re not going to need high-quality audio. Your prime directive is to get some video back to the web wombats fast. You probably don’t need a wireless receiver and transmitter. It’s a different story if you work for a TV station. It’s another story altogether if you’re using a mobile journalism kit to shoot a film or a commercial.
There are eight interactive images below showing a variety of different kit configurations. Mouse over a button on an image to see its description, click on the button to go to a page where you can buy whatever you’re looking at.
But here’s some basic guidance:
- Figure out what you’re going to use it for. Don’t go and drop $2,000 on mobile accessories because you can. Spend the money on what you’re going to need and what complements the platform you’re shooting on. Shoot a lot from behind police lines? Spend the money on a telephoto lens, not sound equipment. Do a lot of quick-hit interviews during the legislative session? Buy a good shotgun mic or a quality wired lav mic.
- Try and avoid having to re-buy. Look for frames that are adjustable and lenses that don’t require specialized cases. You will likely change your phone every two to three years. You don’t want to change the chassis that often. It just gets angry.
- You get what you pay for — but sometimes it’s ok to have stuff that’s cheap. My wireless mic set is $800. My clip-on light is $16. I get incredible sound and I get enough light for my purposes. The wireless mic set should last for years. I’ll probably be replacing the light in a year or 18 months. And I’m ok with that.The first two kits below are what I carry on a daily basis. The top kit is my “out-the-door” kit. It doesn’t have any specialized equipment and it handles probably 85 percent of what I do. The second kit is what I call “the kitchen sink.” It has a lot more audio equipment in it to account for different situations.And here’s the kitchen sink…
Things change. I’ve swapped out almost my entire kit since May. Why? I changed my phone from an iPhone 6 to an iPhone 7 Plus, so I felt like I didn’t need external lenses. I went back to using the Rode VideoMicPro instead of a different Rode product because I liked the directional sound better for how I was using it. I switched out the articulating wrap-it-around-anything tripod for one that hand carried better. I swapped a clip-on light for a light that fit in the cold shoe.
Now we get into the many combinations based on platform and use.
Run n’ Gun No. 1: Lights, sound and the ability to carry or mount. AJ+ uses a rig very similar to this one.
Run n’ Gun No. 2: The Single-Handed Shooter (with a remote receiver)
Stable Shooter: Two-handed grip (with a shotgun mic attached)
Slightly More Protective (with sound and light)
The iPad Shooter (with sound, light and an external lens)