Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

A multimedia journalism gear guide (on the cheap)

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 23, 2010

The excellent US multimedia producers MediaStorm published a very useful multimedia gear guide this week, outlining some of the kit you’ll need to get started as a video journalist or online film maker.

It includes the popular Canon 5D MKII, Sennheiser mics, and Marantz audio recorder.

Now I’d love to use the Canon 5D MkII, and some top of the range Sennheiser mics, but they have always been a bit out of my budget range. The 5D, for example, will set you back around £2,200 ($4000), a difficult investment for a recently graduated journalist or someone bootstrapping a business. There are however a few alternatives for the multimedia journalist on a lower budget – I thought I’d share them here as a complement to the MediaStorm list.

All prices & currency conversions are approximate and based on a brief scout online. Definitely search around for good deals.

HDSLRs

Depending on where you read, Canon have upset some photographers who were waiting for a firmware upgrade to their 5D or had just shelled out for a 7D – by releasing the 550D for a fraction of both prices. It shoots in 1080i HD and in 720 at higher frame rates and apparently its LCD display is better than the more expensive options. I have been using this camera for about four months and have very few complaints so far. It is very small & light, but has a less sturdy body. You’re unable to adjust or monitor sound levels and are limited to 12 minute video recording sessions.  All problems you can work around however.

Below that the 7D is more expensive and has a slightly nicer sensor from what I can tell, although I have not used it myself. The Kodak Zi8, perfectly capable of good footage if used correctly has now slipped below the £100 mark – a really realistic option for the journalist on the very low budget, or even as a backup camera.

Canon 550D (+ 18-55mm lens) ~£600/$900

Canon 7D ~£1100/$1700

Kodak Zi8 ~£100/$150

Lenses

I use a bog-standard 18-55mm lens for most of my shooting at the moment. However there are an array of affordable lenses out there too, even those with a wider aperture. For the lower price you’ll have to accept a plastic body, and probably lower quality glass – but it’ll still be good enough for most shoots. Note I have not used any of the following lenses myself.

If you’re doing any extreme close-up filming, another cheap option is an extension tube macro ring. I found one for just a few pounds -it is essentially a plastic tube you attach in between your camera body and lens, and it creates a macro zoom effect. The cheaper ones don’t have contact rings though, and the camera won’t be able to automatically adjust exposure or white balance. For filming this is usually OK.

Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II (known among photographers as the thrifty fifty!) ~£60/$99

Canon EF 50mm f3.4 USM ~£290/$440

Canon EF 100mm f2 USM ~£350/$530

Extension Tube Macro Ring ~£15/$25

For a fuller list of cheap Canon & Nikon lenses check out this post on PhotoTuts.

Audio Recording

To get around my camera’s poor audio settings I, like many DSLR shooters, use a dual audio system – I record the audio completely separately to the video and sync it up in post production. I recently invested in the budget Tascam DR-07, certainly the cheapest option. You loose any XLR inputs and just rely on a 35mm jack, but you have full control over the audio levels and settings. For the low price you also get a crappy plastic case, which does rattle if held incorrectly, but otherwise the quality is just fine.

I attach a Rode VideoMic to the top of my camera to collect ambient sound and to sync the audio later. It is a very good mic on its own however, and I find it works fine as an onboard camera when a tie-microphone won’t do. For the tie-mic itself, I went proper budget and spent just £20 on a tie mic about a year ago. 12 months on and it still works great alongside the Tascam. It is not a wireless mic though, so your interviewee cannot be at a distance!

Tascam DR-07 ~£130/$200

Zoom H4 ~£220/$330

RodeVideoMic ~£80/$120

EM102 Condenser Tie Mic ~£20/$30

Accessories

Manfrotto’s Modo tripod is designed for both stills and video cameras. It’s tiny and extremely light, and it has sticks which can be moved into a practically horizontal position, meaning you can have a steady shot at floor level. I recently bought a couple of cheap filters from Amazon, which work fine. Play.com got me a 32GB SD card for around £30 – make sure you get a Class6 card if you’re shooting in HD!

Manfrotto Modo Tripod ~£39/$60

35mm Filters ~£15

16GB Class 6 SD Card

Post Production

For post, Final Cut Studio is now around £250 but it’s quite a bargain when you consider you get Apple Motion, Color and Soundtrack, plus a library of sound effects, licence free music and graphics with that too. If it really is out of  your budget, I still swear by Adobe’s Premiere Elements for Windows which I have used until very recently. Rumour has it the latest version of iMovie 9 now allows you to separate your audio and video tracks giving you almost professional editing flexibility for free.

Audacity is a good enough audio editor considering its free (open source) and Pluraleyes has made the job of syncing your video and audio tracks a lot easier. That’s just under £100 to download, or there’s a free trial.

Final Cut Studio (Final Cut Pro, Apple Motion, Color, ProRes) ~£250/$380 (as an upgrade, or with a new Mac; approx £400-600 elsewhere)

iMovie free

Adobe Premiere Elements

Audacity Free

Pluraleyes ~£97/$149 (free month trial)

All images licenced under Creative Commons. Image credits (from top to bottom):Dave Dugdale, visual.dichotomy, Stephend9 & D’Arcy Norman

18 Responses

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  1. carl said, on July 23, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Hi Adam,
    Excellent post as always. Your readers might also want to consider the new zoom H1 mic coming out this month. (h4’s little brother for under a £90).
    And you want want to double check the price of Final Cut Studio. I bought it 3 months ago and it cost me £900 so I hope it hasn’t come down in price that much.
    Best
    Carl

  2. Mark said, on July 23, 2010 at 10:42 am

    Hi Adam,
    Again good stuff – but you have to check the prices; they are for the most part all wrong.
    FCP is around £900, about £250 for an upgrade.
    The Canon 50mm f1.8 lens is £90, the Canon 7D is still around £1250 etc…
    Mark

  3. Adam Westbrook said, on July 23, 2010 at 11:04 am

    Hi Carl and Mark – good point re FCP, as you point out £250 is the upgrade price; I’ve added that point to the text.

    I disagree regarding other prices – I found them all online for those prices while researching the post (for example the f 1.8 lens is $99 as referenced here: http://photo.tutsplus.com/articles/hardware/the-benefits-of-wide-aperture-and-choosing-a-lens-for-under-500)

    I’ll reiterate too: all prices are approximate – you” obviously find better/worse deals depending on where you shop.

  4. Mark said, on July 23, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Adam,
    The prices you’re quoting are US – there’s a big difference once you start buying in the UK. Best place to look is http://www.warehouseexpress.com/Home/default.aspx
    It’s rare there’s a direct comparison between $s and £s. $99 might be the US price of the lens but over here it is £90 at best!
    Mark

    • Adam Westbrook said, on July 31, 2010 at 12:10 pm

      Mark,
      I just bought the The Canon 50mm f1.8 lens for £60 on ebay – you just need to look harder to find the good prices.

      I’m happy using the US comparisons – most of the readers of this blog hail from the states🙂

  5. […] a fine round-up of relatively inexpensive multimedia equipment from Adam Westbrook. Great for those starting out or […]

  6. Dave Dugdale said, on July 23, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    Hi Adam,

    I am so glad that you liked my Flickr photo so much that you included on the top of this page. I enjoy when people use my photos, but I was wondering if I could shameless ask for credit for the photo by instead of linking to my Flickr page you could link to my learningDSLRVideo.com site? Thanks, Dave

  7. Streetwarez said, on July 23, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    Thanks alot!!

  8. Streetwarez said, on July 23, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Thanks a ton!

  9. KB said, on July 24, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    Hi Adam,

    Thanks for this great post. I have a background in photography, but am getting more into video, and planning to buy audio equipment for my HDSLR this weekend. Still a bit confused, though. Say I get the Zoom H4 in lieu of the Rode VideoMic, since it seems better (or both, if I have the budget, because my impression is that you can use them both at once)…What else do I need to actually use it? Do I also need to buy the Tascam DR-07 ~£130/$200 and EM102 Condenser Tie Mic ~£20/$30 as add-ons?

    Thanks for your help,
    K

    • Adam Westbrook said, on July 31, 2010 at 12:13 pm

      Hi K,
      The Tascam and the ZoomH4 are the same thing, so you’d only need to buy one or the other.
      I use it to plug my EM-102 into and then sync the audio up in final cut pro afterwards.
      If you’re doing interviews you should get a tie-clip mic like the EM-102 to get good sound.

      The Rode mic i attach to the horseshoe of my camera and use as an onboard microphone to capture ambient sound, vox pops etc. The big let down with all the HD-DSLRs is their poor on-board audio quality.

      Hope that helps!

  10. Philipp said, on July 24, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    For Audio recording without an external microphone I also recommend the Zoom H2, much better than the Tascam.

    • Ryan said, on August 5, 2010 at 12:56 am

      I agree, the inbuilt mics on the H2 are slightly better than the H4 too… at least to my ears. we have recommended them to some stringers starting out in radio journalism.

  11. […] If you read my post about MediaStorms Gear Guide you’ll know gear in this trade doesn’t come cheap. If you’re like most, a tight budget can restrict your gear purchases. That doesn’t mean you can’t get capable and useful gear. Mulitmedia Storyteller Adam Westbrook shares some excellent tips for getting gear “on the cheap“. […]

  12. TIK said, on August 17, 2010 at 10:05 am

    I have similar equipment in my office, thanks for your great review.

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  15. […] A Multimedia Journalism Gear Guide (On The Cheap) […]


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