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

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