What’s in the bag? Mobile hardware

Last time I blogged about the apps that made it through the year on my phone. I promised to do the next piece on what’s in the kit itself.  Lots of pictures in this one, words beneath in case you don’t like ThingLink.

But let’s talk kit theory. There’s a lot of different ways that you can construct a kit, but when you’re talking about mobile journalism, you’re facing the conundrum: the more quality you add to the production — via lights, sound equipment or tripod — the less mobile you become.  My kit is a reflection of that. It’s light enough that I can carry it for hours without breaking down, but it has a lot of stuff in it for those “just in case” moments.

First, let’s talk about the bag, which has been dubbed “Old Ironsides,” because of the patch (the patch and pin are for the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry, 1st Armored Division; I have a former student who is serving as a combat medic with the unit and I keep it on the bag to to honor her and to remind myself that I really don’t have bad days).

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It’s a Vanquest Javelin right-shoulder sling-style pack. I prefer the sling since I don’t like stuff around my waist (or in my lap if I’m squatting down). And the overall weight of the pack would be awkward around the front of my waist.  I’ll configure how I need to before I start shooting and then bring the bag around to my front so that I can get into the front compartment where I keep lenses and the other things that I’ve found I need quickly during shooting.

Going compartment by compartment, here’s the front top pocket (it’s the one with the patch on it). This is “ready gear,” stuff I need quickly.

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I keep my telephoto and wide-angle/macro lenses in there. That’s not exactly true; the angle of view is so wide on the iPhone and iPad’s default camera that putting a 2x telephoto lens takes the view field back to what we see with our eyes, so the telephoto is on almost the whole time.

I keep gaffer’s tape in there, and I’ll use it to attach lights to walls, attach my pre-amp to a tripod leg.

I use a cold shoe rack to expand the space to mount accessories. Mounting a wireless receiver AND a light can be impossible on a frame with a single-cold shoe mount. This mitigates that.

I use a Joby GripTight mount if I’m doing something simple with the phone and don’t need to put lighting or sound equipment on it. It snaps around the phone and lets me put it on a tripod or monopod.

There’s a pocket knife in there for those knife emergencies: cutting tape, cutting apples.

Randomly, there’s an Apple Lighting to SD card reader. If you’re field editing on an iPad or using a system like Videolicious’s enterprise-level product that breaks up small files for transmission, you can use this to take video from your shoulder cam or DSLR and load it on to the tablet. Truth: I keep it in there for emergencies and because it’s light, not because I use it all that much.

Next up: The main compartment. Or the kitchen sink. It’s where the bulk of my equipment goes — and the bulky equipment. The bag has Velcro rails and comes with dividers that can attach to make it configurable. I’ve broken mine into two levels. The top level is things I reach for a lot: pre-amp, frames, mics. The bottom level is a heavy-but-useful clamp.

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I love me my iRig Pro, which allows me to put XLR-cabled audio equipment to use. It serves as a pre-amp, lets me adjust gain externally and converts analog to digital signals.

The RØde VideoMic Pro is a compact shotgun mic. It can connect to your phone or tablet via splitter or you can run it through a 1/4″-XLR adapter to pass the sound through the iRig. The mic uses rubber bands to suspend it from the frame to reduce vibration. They are tricky a pain in the ass to reattach if they pop loose.

I’m a fan of the Sennheiser ew 100 series of wireless microphones.  They have pretty good range and an automatic channel scan to find the channel with the least interference. The package I bought has a body-worn transmitter, a receiver and a wireless transmitter for a stick mic, which is worth the price of admission.  In the bag, they live in a cable pouch from WaterField Designs (as a shameless plug, for which I receive no you should totally buy their bags, which are designed and made in the United States. I have two of their briefcases, several laptop sleeves and a bunch of their pouches).

I carry two frames in my bag, a BeastGrip and an iOgrapher. I use them for different things, and until I switched to an iPhone 6, the iOgrapher was my go-to frame (the iOgrapher is specifically sized to the phone, and I was using a 5s frame; they’ll have 6 and 6+ frames ready soon, I’m told). The iOgrapher has those huge handles on the side which make it easy to shoot actively with and fairly easy to self-stabilize.  It also has a ring for the 37mm lenses that I use and 3 cold-shoe mounts. The BeastGrip is a 3D-printed universal frame that uses sliders and expanders to fit most phone frames (my iPhone 6 barely fits in there, but it does fit). It’s got some handholds on there and numerous attachment points for clamps, lights, etc.  The company is coming out with a new version, which doesn’t really look all that different from the old one, but has the ability to mount a DSLR lens on it. 

My stick mic is a RØde Reporter mic. RØde will tell you that it has all sorts of shielding to make it omindirectional but primarily pick up the conversations. Here’s what I know: It creates beautiful sound. I use a Sennheiser wireless transmitter at the end of the stick mic and it’s portable, great for interviews, audio pieces or just gathering sound in places where the shotgun is awkward.

I’ve built the bag to have two levels. The lower level of the main compartment holds a superclamp with a double-ball joint head. I use this in conjunction with the phone frame to mount the phone to rails or boards or the running board on a truck. I’ve also used it as a second tripod on multicamera shoots.

So that’s the big stuff. What you don’t see is the various charging cords and external battery I have stashed in the side pocket.  I’ve used the Mophie PowerStation XL, which I’ve found great at retaining power but not as good at multiple rounds of charging, and certainly too expensive at $129. I’ve recently switched to an IntoCircuit Powercastle, which holds the charge just as long and is much better about charging multiple times and it’s less than $25 at Amazon right now.