Choosing the best rig for you — October 2016

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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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)