A TEXT POST

$5000 Multimedia Gear List

Dan Chung recently asked shooters what we would include in a $5,000 multimedia kit.  There was a time not long ago when five grand could not even get you a proper video camera.  But, these days, that amount will buy you enough gear to shoot high-quality stills, short videos, and documentaries.  While no piece of equipment is perfect for everyone or every situation, here are recommendations for visual storytellers looking to invest in products that produce great images and sound, are compact, and are built to last for years.  (All pricing as of February, 2014)

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Camera:  Sony Alpha a7 Mirrorless Digital Camera with FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens.  $1998.  I own several Canon cameras and lenses, but if I were to start fresh today, I would probably go with the Sony A7.  The A7 is a full-frame, mirrorless camera that boasts amazing video features:  peaking, zebras, audio meters, microphone input, headphone jack, and an articulating screen.  The camera is a dream to operate - both in stills and video mode.  It is light and compact, ideal for situations where you need to operate discreetly.  The 28-70 kit lens, while not the fastest or best glass available, is flexible and sharp enough for any visual journalist.

Audio Mixer:  Sound Devices MixPre-D Compact Field Mixer.  $899.  The MixPre-D is a versatile mixer that allows you to connect professional-quality microphones to the Sony A7 (and any other camera or audio recorder with a mic input).  The MixPre-D allows you to monitor and adjust audio levels using real, robust knobs.  Be sure to get the Sound Devices XL3 Mini Male to TA3-F Connector Cable and the Hosa Technology Stereo Mini Angled Male to Stereo Angled Mini Male Cable to make the MixPre-D work with the A7.

Shotgun Microphone:  Rode NTG-3 Precision RF-Biased Shotgun Microphone.  $699.  In the DSLR video world, the Rode VideoMic Pro Microphone has been a popular option for many shooters.  However, if you’re going to invest in a great mixer like the MixPre-D, you are probably serious about getting great audio.  The NTG-3 is my favorite shotgun mic.  The Rode NTG-2 and VideoMic-series of mics, while much cheaper, are no match for the NTG-3 in terms of build or audio quality.  This microphone will last you for decades.  You can save a few dollars by going cheaper, but this is a wise investment in the long run.  Be sure to also get a Auray DUSM-1 Universal Shock Mount for Camera Shoes and Boompoles and an Remote Audio CAXJ12RT Angled XLR Female to XLR Male Cable (12”).

Lavalier Microphone:  Sony ECM-77B - Miniature Omni-Directional Lavalier Condenser Microphone:  $320.  For interview situations, you will need a lavalier microphone.  There are great wireless options on the market such as the Sennheiser ew 112-p G3 Lavalier Mic, but I prefer the solid, foolproof-ness of a wired lav:  no radio interference to deal with, fewer moving parts, and fewer batteries.  And the sound is superb.   

Headphones:  Sony MDR-7506. $85.  Of course, if you’re recording audio, you have to monitor it.  The 7506s are industry-standard and affordable.

Monopod:  Manfrotto 561BHDV-1 Fluid Video Monopod and Head:  $300.  I never shoot completely handheld.  I always have some support rig on my camera.  For run-and-gun situations, this monopod allows me to shoot all day with limited fatigue and shake.  The three feet on this model also prevent slipping and unwanted jitter.

Tripod:  Manfrotto MVH500AH Fluid Head & 755XB Tripod with Carrying Bag:  $450.  For situations where you need to lock down your camera, you will need a good tripod.  This is my favorite tripod.  It is light, compact, and can more than support the weight of any of my cameras.  The head allows for smooth panning and tilting.  There are more expensive and robust tripods out there, but with the smaller cameras that I general shoot with (especially the A7), those are overkill.

While cameras are introduced and replaced almost monthly, most of this gear list will remain relevant and useful for visual journalists who want portable, high-quality gear for some time.  

Not included in this list is lighting.  Professional lighting is notoriously expensive.  In a future post, I will go into how to build a great lighting kit for about $100.

Here’s the full $5000 gear list again:

Sony Alpha a7 Mirrorless Digital Camera with FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens

Sound Devices MixPre-D Compact Field Mixer

Sound Devices XL3 Cable 

Hosa Technology Stereo Mini Angled Male to Stereo Angled Mini Male Cable 

Rode NTG-3 Precision RF-Biased Shotgun Microphone

Auray DUSM-1 Universal Shock Mount

Remote Audio CAXJ12RT Angled XLR Female to XLR Male Cable (12”)

Sony ECM-77B - Miniature Omni-Directional Lavalier Condenser Microphone

Sony MDR-7506 Circumaural Closed-Back Professional Monitor Headphone

Manfrotto MVH500AH Fluid Head & 755XB Tripod with Carrying Bag

Happy Shooting,

- Duy

A TEXT POST

In Defense of Cheap Cameras

Each year, several times a year, I get asked:  ”Which camera should I buy?”  

And, without fail, like reciting some sort of d-bag shooter’s Hippocratic oath, I reply:  ”The best camera is the one that’s on you.”  Not so helpful, I know.

As a professional shooter, I have access to any camera I want.  And for a gear head like me, the last few years have been fun.  A new camera gets released every month, each more sophisticated and lust-worthy than the last.  But looking back on the photos I shot over the past year, at least 90% were taken not on my $3000 5D Mark III, but rather, on my $300 EOS-M.  So, it seems like that old adage is actually true.

The reason the EOS-M got most of the play in 2013?  Because it was always on me.  It was (is) small, discreet, and, frankly, if I broke or lost a $300 camera, I’d be able to live with it.  So, while my very professional 5D was collecting dust, I was snapping these with the EOS-M:

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BUT, DUY!  WHAT ABOUT MEGAPIXELS AND RESOLUTION AND DYNAMIC RANGE?!?!?

Great question.  It’s true:  the 5D Mark III completely destroys the EOS-M on paper.  But that’s just it.  I don’t live on paper.  I walk around.  I take the subway.  I am busy with my kids.  I need speed and simplicity.  So, while the 5D Mark III was NOT taking pictures with all of its megapixels and billion stops of dynamic range, my EOS-M was making real images.

My first DSLR was the Canon 20D.  I remember feeling like such a badass when I got that camera.  But, if you do a simple Google search, you’ll see that the EOS-M, on paper, makes the Canon 20D look like a toy.  And, yet, I was a professional with the 20D back in 2006.

Recently, I added a Canon SL1 to my walk-around arsenal.  It is the smallest and cheapest Canon DSLR.  I love it.  I use it with the Canon lenses I already own, and I pull it out when I want a little more creative control than the EOS-M will give me.  Both fit in my bag.  Neither give me back pain.  And my 5D Mark III?  I sold it.  It is now in the hands of a great photographer who actually uses it.

Below are links to the SL1, EOS-M, and some great, affordable lenses (because, with all the money you’ve saved, you can now get some good glass).

Happy shooting.

— Duy

Canon EOS Rebel SL1 DSLR Camera (Body Only)

Canon EOS-M Mirrorless Digital Camera with EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens (Black)

Canon EF-M Lens Adapter Kit for Canon EF / EF-S Lenses

Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens

Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Lens

A TEXT POST

Invariably, Here is My Top 10 in Visual Journalism From 2013

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Because it is New Year’s Eve, and because I don’t get enough snarky rants in my inbox these days, I thought I would unleash my best-of list in visual journalism from 2013.  But before I reveal my personal favorites from the past year, a few notes about this collection:

1.  These are my personal favorites.  There is no science or sense to how I came up with this list.  These happen to be the stories I watched in 2013.  I was touched enough by them to remember, bookmark, and share.  And, really, the whole point of this list is to pass this incredible work on to others.

2.  I did not consume enough visual journalism this year.  This is true of every year.  The web is wonderful, but it is terribly huge.  So, if a project was fantastic and it is not on this list, that is probably because I missed it.

3.  I am a video producer, so my definition of “visual storytelling” requires moving images and sound.  This list, while featuring some great photography and data visualization, is about stories that have pictures that move across the screen and audio playing at the same time.

4.  I will most likely change my mind about this tomorrow.

5.  Got a complaint?  Want to show me something that missed the list?  Share the wealth.  Email me at duy718@gmail.com.  

And with that, here are my picks for the best of the best in visual journalism from the last 365 days:

1.  Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt.  http://apps.npr.org/tshirt/#/title

2.  Ghost Rapes Of Bolivia.  http://www.vice.com/vice-news/ghost-rapes-of-bolivia-part-1

3.  The Long Night.  http://mediastorm.com/publication/the-long-night

4.  A Game of Shark and Minnow.  http://www.nytimes.com/newsgraphics/2013/10/27/south-china-sea/

5.  Innovation of Loneliness.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6Bkr_udado

6.  Rape in the Fields.  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/rape-in-the-fields/

7.  Outside the Lines:  Youth Football Concerns.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mg-HwJXZdAA

8.  Hers to Lose:  Inside Christine Quinn’s Bid for Mayor.  http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/09/26/nyregion/christine-quinn-documentary.html?_r=0

9.  Correspondent Confidential.  http://www.vice.com/correspondent-confidential.  Yep, the entire series.

10.  The Imposter:  http://imposterfilm.com/.  Fine, so this came out in 2012.  But I didn’t see it until 2013.  Best shot, most-Hollywood (in a good way) documentary I’ve seen in years.  If it came out in 2013, it would be my numero uno.

So, there you have it, folks.  Please forward all concerns and grievances to duy718@gmail.com.

Happy New Year.  Happy Shooting.

- Duy

A TEXT POST

EOS-M Video Setup

Canon recently slashed prices on its EOS-M line, making this mirrorless camera one of the best deals going today for shooting high-quality video.  It has the same sensor size and image quality as Canon’s Rebel T-series of cameras.  And with some simple accessories, you can turn it into a fully-functioning ENG/documentary camera.  Great images.  Great audio.  No syncing required.  The best part?  The camera goes for less than $250 online. 

In terms of image quality, the EOS-M is the same as the T2i, T3i, T4i, T5i, and the SL1.  But it is mirrorless, so the form factor is much more compact.  The downside with this camera, in terms of video production, is that it lacks on-screen audio metering and a proper headphone jack.  These are problems that plague all of Canon’s Rebel line.  But with a few inexpensive accessories, the EOS-M can be turned into a proper video camera that records great images and clear audio, all without the need to sync.

This is not a 5D Mark 3 or a 70D.  But for the budget shooter, this is a great, bargain camera.  And when stripped bare, it is truly pocketable.  I carry it everywhere with me.  The Mark 3 is too bulky and my iPhone 5S, while exceptional, doesn’t provide the same level of performance.

Below are all the items used in this video. For the best prices on the EOS-M, search Ebay.

Canon EOS-M Mirrorless Digital Camera with EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens (Black)

Canon EF-M Lens Adapter Kit for Canon EF / EF-S Lenses

Rycote 037303 Hot Shoe Extension Bar

Zylight Hotshoe Ball Mount

Sescom LN2MIC-ZOOMH4N - Line to Microphone Attenuation Cable for HDSLR Cameras

Rode VideoMic Pro Compact Shotgun Microphone

Sennheiser ew 112-p G3 Camera Mount Wireless Microphone System with ME2 Lavalier Mic - A (516-558 MHz)

Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS EF USM AF Lens

Sony MDR-7506 Circumaural Closed-Back Professional Monitor Headphone

Marantz PMD620 MKII Portable Stereo Flash Recorder

Video produced by:  Juanita Ceballos, Jika Gonzalez, Adam Perez, Jen Dev, and Abbey Adkison.

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This is K.R. He has a rare, undiagnosed disease that makes him allergic to UV Rays.  He wears special clothing, so that his skin won’t burn (but sometimes he can’t resist pulling up his visor outside). I’ve been shooting a documentary about him, but today, he decided to play cameraman. Six years old. Super brave kid.

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Two things:

1. After a long hiatus, I’ve decided that I’d tumbl for ya.

2. “deepsouth” is finally coming to NYC.  Hope to see you on June 15 & 17: http://www.ifccenter.com/films/deepsouth/

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Beignet asaurus Rex. cc @lisabiagiotti

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Wonder how much BP oil I just ate. #eatingLocal cc @lisabiagiotti

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I heart Mobile. cc @lisabiagiotti