The things we carry and don’t

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.