What’s the best mojo rig for you?

“What’s in your mobile kit?” is probably the perpetual question of the day for the mojo crowd. It’s prevalent enough that one of the sponsors of MojoCon, the international mobile journalism conference, is holding a “Show us what’s in your kit” contest. Which is pretty cool. And, if we’re being really honest, speaks to the nerdy nature in-the-weeds mobile journalist.

A question I get from news outlets is “How should we build our kit?” The first answer I usually give is “That depends on what you need it for.” Most of the time I hear “Out on the streets,” “fast,” “breaking news-kind of situations.” I’ve spent the last few months developing variations on those themes using equipment I had on hand. I’ve come up with four for phones plus one for the iPad (interactive photos with links to buy things below; as always, I do not do affiliate sales and see no money out of this).

This was designed for news gathering in dynamic environments where getting news out fast (and generally to social) was the first priority. The anti-requirements (what it wasn’t) was for long documentary or commercial stuff where you have a lot of time to set up.

Here’s the requirements:

— Easy to jump out of a car and use
— Not use a pre-amp (I love the iRig family of devices, but they can get unwieldy)
— Balance between quality and convenience
— Be able to be mounted to a tripod if needed
— Be able to handle multiple phone sizes

I should also point out that there is some mix-and-match here. I’m not terribly dogmatic about which grip I use. It’s entirely situational for me. If you’re making buy decisions based on these, look at this as guidance. And if you, see, for instance, a wireless transmitter slipped into a cold shoe, know that cold shoe can also hold a light or a shotgun mic. At the end of the day, the best kit is the one that works for you most of the time.

 

Kit variation No. 1: The Run n’ Gun No. 1

This variation gets a lot of happy responses when I show it to news outlets. It looks newsy and doesn’t require a lot of special gear purchases to be complete. It’s built on an inexpensive L-bracket with a silicone handhold for better grip. It holds the phone securely in a ShoulderPod S1, which expands to accommodate the phone and then screws down to hold it. It provides two places to mount light and sound equipment on the top of the L-bracket. And the Rode mic provides good enough directional sound you can use it for interviews if you’re close enough to frame the head shot correctly. The downside is that it doesn’t allow inexpensive 37mm lenses to be mounted, so you’d have to go with a case-mounted lens system like an iPro if you wanted to improve the native lens.

Kit variation No. 2: The Run n’ Gun No. 2

This is a similar style and fulfills a similar function — out of the car and into the wild with quick setup. It’s easy to wield and includes a spot for (in this case) a wireless receiver. This variant swaps out the L-bracket for a plastic pistol grip BlackWing HC-2 from FotoSafari. Switching out the L-bracket means losing two shoes, so I put a strobe bracket into the 1/4″-20 hole in the HG-2’s bottom. I like the idea of being able to run wirelessly with this. It means I can use the wireless transmitter for my stick mic if I’m working as a two-person team or I can do a walk-and-talk using the wireless lav (and not worry about it ripping off the lapel if I get too far away). Downside: Using that 1/4″-20 hole at the bottom of the grip means I can’t mount out it easily on a tripod.  Also, I used the snap-on mount that came with the HG-2. It works fine, but since anything worth doing is worth overdoing, I might use the ShoulderPod S1 if I know I was going to be in a crowded place.

 

Kit variation No. 3: Protective with sound and light

This one goes in a little bit different direction. I was looking for a way to protect the iPhone a little bit and be able to use the 37mm lenses I have. I came up with using the BeastGrip Pro to hold the phone and attach the lenses, but then ran into a problem: the BeastGrip is studded with 1/4″-20 holes, but only has one built-in shoe. Attaching something easily requires an extension bracket, in this case a Y-mount (or a triple-shoe bracket, if you prefer). It includes a 30-LED light and a shotgun mic. I think you could use this in a crowd situation, but I think it makes a nice stable shooting platform sitting on a tripod, too. If I were in a large crowd and wanted to use my 2x telephoto, this is the set up I’d use.

 

Kit variation No. 4: The Double-handed shooter with light and sound

This is a unique one. FotoSafari built a very stable double-handled grip by putting a thick piece of metal between two pistol-grip Blackwing HG-2s. It’s a great idea. Two hands means smoother pans and less overall shake in your video.  The phone is held in place by a “chip clip,” that opens wide to fit any phone. It holds the phone securely enough, but I’d still prefer the ShoulderPod S1. The metal has slots in it for screws and other mounts. In this configuration, I have a shotgun mic going forward, but FotoSafari has mounted Zoom recorders there and I’ve also used the mount for a wireless receiver. The downside is that 37mm lenses can’t be used; you’d have to use a case-mounted system. Or, you could mount the BeastGrip Pro on top and have a really stable, really protective piece of gear.

Kit variation No. 5, sort of

But what about if you shoot iPads? I sometimes do. And I like the iOgrapher for it. In fact, for iPads and iPad Minis, iOgrapher is the only piece of gear that I’d recommend (Why don’t I recommend it for phones? It’s not that I don’t, it’s just that I don’t like single-size chassises). It has the 37mm mount for lenses, a 1/4″-20 hole on the bottom to put it on a tripod and three cold shoes that are widely spaced enough that you put a light, a shotgun mic and a wireless receiver on there (if you were using a dual-channel pre-amp).