This past week a print journalist friend sought some advice regarding outfitting her Nikon D7000 for an upcoming trip to Kenya. We spoke for awhile on the phone and I rattled off a series accessories which most likely sounded like a jumble of numbers and letters with a few recognizable words. While a few follow up emails may of helped clarify my suggestions I thought It would be a good idea to put some of my suggestions down on paper for others.
So the goal of this post is to look at several different options to set up your Nikon D7000 rig (or whatever model camera you have) for affordable solo news and documentary shooting purposes. I recommend the following products based on high price to value ratios and personal experience with the equipment despite their being other models with similar capabilities. I will give an overview of different combinations with the goal of enabling audio monitoring on a DSLR that does not have a headphone jack.
Things we are looking to accomplish via these various set-ups are:
An external microphone that surpasses the quality of the onboard mic
Audio monitoring capability via headphones
Use of lavalier microphones for interviews
Line-in function to record from sound board at press conferences
This is the unreleased key to the DSLR audio conundrum. One piece of equipment that provides a compact and high quality shotgun mic while at the same time solving the problem of audio monitoring via a headphone jack as well as continuous audio recording despite video clip limits (20 min clip limit on the D7000). It also features a 3.5mm line-in to allow us of lavalier mics.
Compact and comprehensive package that eliminates the need for extra accessories or cords. Great for run & gun nature of news and documentary.
Output to camera negates need for syncing in post. Records both to integrated audio recorder and the camera.
Allows use of lavaliers via line-in input. I believe can record from both the lav mic and the shotgun simultaneously
Allows for audio to continue being recorded while the camera has to stop and be resumed due to clip minutes after 20 minutes of recording (This is an assumption)
While you could run a line-in from a sound board it might be challenging if you have the camera set up in the back of the room/press conference style. You could always rely on the shotgun itself, but it might best to pick up a separate audio recorder that has XLR or ¼” inputs.
Won’t be released until January 2013
2) Tried, Tested and True - Dual Audio with External Audio Recorder - $200-$330
It is a historical standard to buy an audio recorder to supplement the less than desirable audio capabilities of early DSLRs lacking headphone jacks. Audio recorders like the Zoom H4N ($240) are affordable and very versatile pieces of equipment for video and multimedia journalists. There are a few different ways to use them with your D7000. Let me give an overview:
Unconnected: Record audio on your Zoom not connected to your DSLR and sync in your post-production editing software. Pluraleyes is key.
Mount it on top of your camera via a cold shoe adapter. Will give you good stereo sound, but will pick up camera/handling noise. Could possibly throw it in a shock mount. Monitor audio via headphone/line-out jack.
Plug it into the sound board at an event or press conference
Plug in lavalier mics for interview use or have a buddy run audio for you via boom pole or pistol grip
Hand hold it while you conduct an interview and leave your camera on a tripod.
Connected:Run a cord line-out from the Zoom to your D7000 (Sescom -25db headphone tap cable) and record audio on the recorder and on the camera to eliminate the need to sync in post. (You must alway remember to push record on both the recorder and the camera or you will be left with no sound)
Mount it on top of your camera via a cold shoe adapter. Run it into the mic jack of the camera and monitor audio by using headphone tap.
Since the recorder is connected the the camera its no longer mobile. You are still free to run lavalier mics or other mics into it via the XLR or 3.5 mm mini jack inputs. So its possible to tap into a sound board via a long ¼” or XLR cable.
This brings us to using the Zoom with other microphones, more specifically the Rode Video Mic Pro.
Connected with Rode Video Mic Pro (VMP - $230): Purchase a generic flash bracket or purchase an accessory that allows for another cold shoe or tripod mount screw. Mount the Rode Video Mic Pro on the cameras hot shoe and mount the Zoom H4N to the second mount point. Run the Rode into the Zoom via its 3.5mm input and run the Zoom into the D7000 via the Sescom -25db headphone tap cable.
This allows for the use of a shotgun mic to reduce the amount of camera noise that is picked up compared to just using the Zoom itself mounted on the camera.
Additionally you could upgrade from the Rode VMP to a XLR shotgun mic of your choosing and run it into the Zoom via the XLR inputs and mount it on the DSLR via a cold shoe shock mount.
External recorders are just versatile pieces of kit. Straight up.
Provide various inputs for various tyles of micriphones (XLR, 3.5mm, ¼” and high quality on board stereo mics)
Allows for continuous audio recording despite DSLR clip limits
Flexibility to be connected used away from DSLR when needed
Option of connecting to DSLR to eliminate need for syncing
Audio metering via display
Attaching to a DSLR adds extra bulk to a run & gun setup
When connected to DSLR via line out cable to mic input shooter must remember to press record in two places. If not your DSLR will not even have ambient audio recorded from onboard mic. Can be frustrating is high pressure situations,
If not connected, syncing in post required tedious work or an additional purchase of the Pluraleyes software.
Mixer boxes are amazing things. They very convenient and often lead you to develop a ENG microphone addiction, bringing you away from the compact Rode VMP and into XLR shotgun mic territory. Additionally all drugs have side effects. This one only has a few minor ones (depending on model).
Alright, enough of the metaphors. Mixer boxes are amazing pieces of equipment. Most models from Beachtek or JuicedLink offer pretty awesome options that tick all the boxes that I outlined at the start. Additionally they mount to the bottom of the camera via the tripod mount thread keeping them out of the way and allowing for a compact rig with professional/ENG sound capabilities. I currently run the Beachtek DXA-SLR Pro and I happy with it minus a few things.
XLR inputs to enable use of pro-level shotgun and lav mics (buy a XLR to 3.5mm adapter to keep using your VMP)
Better preamps than the ones on the DSLR itself
Line-out to DSLR mic-input eliminates need for syncing in post
Only need to click one record button unlike dual audio recorder set up
Mounts underneath the camera allowing for a tidy rig
Headphone monitoring with adjustable volume
Phantom power for non-powered XLR mics
Auto Gain Control disabler for DSLRs with no manual sound control (most lower level DSLRs)
Etc. - See specs.
Still have to be conscious of DSLR clip limits while recording long events or interviews (unless you have a secondary recorder for these ocassions)
While you can run an XLR cable from a sound board it still has to reach the distance between the camera and the sound system. Not quite as easy as throwing your recorder up by the stage or the podium.
On certain models they block the battery door of the camera
Note: he Beachtek DXA-DSLR Pro blocks the battery door on my Nikon D800 while models by JuicedLink leave space. Although I prefer the ergonomics/design of the Beachtek, its annoying to have to detach the box in order to switch batteries on long shoots.
That about does it. Many of these complex workarounds needed to get quality sound on a DSLR will soon be unnecessary. This is illustrated by all in one solutions like the Rode Video Mic Pro HD, which will be released in January 2013. In addition the new flagship DSLRs from Nikon and Canon are now being built with headphone jacks. I can only assume will start to see these features trickle down into the mid-level enthusiast and prosumer price range as illustrated by the release of the Nikon D600.
In conclusion, my recommendation (even after the release of the VMP HD in January 2013) would be to invest in a mixer box and a portable audio recorder. The mixer box will be the most versatile in terms of the quality of sound you will be able to capture via a wide variety mics. For the drawbacks regarding clip limits and plugging in to sound board I mentioned, an audio recorder would fill those gaps. They are just great pieces of equipment to have around if you are a multimedia journalist.
I think what’s important to remember is all of the equipment is an investment. If you invest wisely you will acquire a kit that allows you to mix and match for a wide variety of situations. If your budget only allows you to just purchase a Zoom H4N, do so knowing that you are purchasing a piece of equipment that will vastly improve the sound of your videos and will you will find use for no matter how much DSLR or mic technology improves over the next few years.
My photographs from Timor-Leste’s presidential run-off election of April 2012 are currently being hoarded on my hard drive and have not seen the light of day. To rectify this, I am going to “publish” a selection of the photographs throughout next week via Instagram. Starting on Monday, October 22 I will be sharing two photos per day for a total of 5 days. If you are interested in Timor-Leste, photojournalism, or just love Instagram please follow me at spencerchumbley.
Additionally, I wanted to share a brief overview of my trip. The account is mostly for family and friends who I neglected to share any details with, but if you are interested please read on.
In late March of 2012 I arrived in Dili to cover the presidential election of Timor-Leste. It wasn’t my first time in Timor but it was my first serious attempt to cover politics in a foreign country as a photojournalist. I would love to say it was a very successful trip and resulted in several pictures being published in the international press, but it wasn’t.
I arrived in Dili nearly two weeks prior to any real campaigning that was to happen for the run-off vote between Lu Olo and Taur Matan Ruak (names that I will never forget how to spell - captioning makes you a pro). My own error, but my paid gig with Plan International in Manila was done and I needed to move on quickly. Timor was familiar, but expensive. A long UN presence in Timor since the independence referendum of 1999 had inflated prices in Dili.
I hitched rides with party media officers, on the back of militante’s scooters and in pickup trucks packed with supporters to get to various rallies and events. I longed for the zippy 125cc Honda Revo scooter I had when I was interning with UNDP Timor-Leste in 2009.
When I wasn’t out in Timor’s bright sun I was marooned in the bar with a Canadian motorcyclist named David. Dili was just a way point in his journey around the world on his mammoth BMW motorcycle. He spent nearly three weeks in Timor waiting for his bike to be shipped from Darwin. I am happy to say we spent a lot of our time with cold beverages in our hands.
The camaraderie was rich but my hopes of getting my work published were waning. A few days before I was scheduled to leave, I had received cordial “No thank you, unless there is violence” responses from most of the wire services I had been in touch with. None of my photos had been published. The trip was a bust.
Things couldn’t of been worse for a rookie photographer down on his luck and about to leave the country, but a late evening email from a producer for BBC Radio 5 marked a change of the winds. He wanted to see if I could provide commentary for one of their radio shows. I thought of all the people I knew who would be more qualified to provide analysis. With a little coaxing from my housemate I accepted the opportunity. The next day I took the call and attempted not to stumble over my words as I relayed my analysis on a lousy cell phone connection to the UK.
I was riding high from my first brush with the BBC when a late night internet search for my byline led me to one of the first and worst photos I took since arriving in Dili plastered under the masthead Time Magazine. The picture of Lu Olo in traditional regalia had been licensed via Demotix/Corbis to Time Magazine online for one of their election round-up features. I was more than overjoyed and Bingtang flowed once more.
When looking at the bigger picture these are minute accomplishments in the wider career of any journalist. The experience taught me lots about life, logistics and tapping into local knowledge. I learned to be persistent with photo editors and to push my comfort levels. I proved to myself that I could do it and learned enough from my failures to do it better the next time.
At the very least, I was able to depart Dili for Cairo with a grin and the knowledge that I had found my passion.
A lot has changed in the realms of work and equipment since I last posted. I upgraded from the Nikon D7000 to the Nikon D800 a few months ago and have reconfigured my DSLR rig with a few choice accessories. These include the Beachtek DXA-SLR Pro mixer box and the Rode NTG-2 shotgun mic. I did a quick video that highlights this setup and clears some confusion about what cable should be used with the Beachtek.
I have spent the summer working as the Associate Producer for the independently producer and Emmy-nominated public television show Wisconsin Foodie. The footage show on the D800 will be featured in several episodes airing this fall on PBS affiliates in Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and all of Wisconsin. Be sure to follow the link above to some sample episodes from last season.
In additon, I am excited to announce that I will be moving to Washington, DC on September 15th to begin an internship with Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines television show. More on Fault Lines later.
Prior to leaving for the Philippines to do some video and photography for Plan Asia I picked up the Pelican 1510 Carry-on travel case and the matching lid organizer. After traveling with it on several different airlines and lugging it around Mindoro Island I figured I would give some of my feed back on the case.
Build: Well it is a Pelican, so of course its built to last. The case is rugged and I had no hesitation packing my camera gear in it and letting other people handle it while we were traveling by car.
Weight/Size: The size of the case is just right. I can fit my entire kit (2 Nikon DSLRS, 70-200mm, 24-70mm, 11-16mm, flash, Zoom H4N, Rode Video Mic Pro, External HardDrive, LCDVF Viewfinder, battery chargers, cords, miscellaneous accessories. I highly recommend purchasing the optional lid organizer.
The dimensions of the case are the max allowed by the US FAA for carry-on baggage. This is key, as you want to avoid your gear leaving your sight or going in the belly of the plane.
The weight of the case it self is not too heavy but once you have packed in 2 DSLR bodies, 70-200mm, 24-70mm, and a 11-16mm, an audio recorder, flash, and basic accessories the case begins to get heavy.
This is only an issue in certain circumstances. Lugging it around by its handles is a bit cumbersome, but the entire reason I purchase the case was for its extended handle and roller wheels. This feature is great for traveling through airports or when you are working in the city and need to get to a gig and want your kit well organized, protected and easily transportable to on-location shoots.
The main issue I have found through this trip is that when the case is fully loaded it is way too heavy for many airlines carry-on weight restrictions. It was weighing in at 14kg, double the usual limit of 7kg for most carry-on bags. Certain airlines are very strict about carry-on weight (the Chicago to Hong Kong leg of my flight would not let me carry on the case even after telling them it had fragile A/V equipment in it, although they did let me gate check it). Other airlines will make an exception if you express concern and show them the contents of the case and many airlines only look at the dimensions not the weight. Although I haven’t traveled with the case through the US, my recollection US domestic airlines makes me think it might be less of an issue, although you will still have to check a bag since most of them only allow one carry on.
I don’t think there is a way around the weight issue. The best you might be able to do is be firm with the airlines about it coming on the plane with you or request that its handled specially or gate checked (this was the case for my flight from Darwin to Dili, they made sure it was loaded separately from the rest of the baggage much like a ski bag or oversized piece of luggage would be). If this is the case, invest in some rugged US-TSA approved luggage locks for peace of mind. The case will protect the gear from bumps and bruises but not from prying baggage handlers…
Overall: I would purchase this again and recommend to friends looking for a solid way to organize and transport their gear for local, out of state and overseas assignments. Its good for getting there but be sure to bring a day bag (Domke or maybe a Newswear Chest Vest) for your work away from your hotel or accommodations if you’re out in the field. I would maybe considering trading in for a backpack with proper compartments if I were extremely concerned with being mobile, but you have to make sure that you can carry that soft-bag on the plane as well, or your shit out of luck.
There has been a lot of excitement in the DSLR video work over the last few months. New models from both Canon and Nikon. The most exciting to me has been the release of the Nikon 700 upgrade, the D800. I have to admit when it was announced I was excited and even considered pre-ordering, despite the lacking the actual financial capacity to purchase the camera. In the end I decided to hold off until more professionals had the time to review the camera. There are only a few solid reviews, with no footage available on the internet other than the sanction Nikon film.
Canon friends of mine the DSLR video have lambasted the camera claiming fault in the 36MP sensor and the effect it will have on high ISO performance. Yet, the specs on the new Canon 5D Mark III are stating a 22MP sensor, so perhaps it isn’t too unreasonable. Although, Canon has a better reputation in the DSLR video market than Nikon. I am crossing my fingers (based on my investment in the Nikon system so far) that the D800 will come out as a strong competitor against the 5DMKII and 5DMKIII.
In the end, I decided to hold off on any large upgrades and purchased another D7000 body to increase the quality of the multi-camera shoots I have been recently doing. I no longer will need to limp on the flip cam I have been using.
I am a regular reader of www.CheesyCam.com. I have used the website to mock up some ultra budget rigs based on his recommendations. The $30 dollar shoulder support, generic flash bracket, Fotomate adjustable micro adjustment slider, have been acquired over the last few months for use in a rig similar to this.
About 2 weeks ago CheesyCam featured a shooter style 15mm rod rig that had been deep-discounted. I checked out the original review which featured a video of a man testing the quality of the parts.
After reading as many comments as I could both on Cheesy Cam and on Amazon I decided to order it. I figured it was similar to the Zacuto Striker at a extremely attractive price of $59.00 with free shipping. (To purchase the base rig via Amazon click here)
The reviews I read stated the handles were not very high quality, and highlighted the fact that the you really had to wrench down on the clamps to get them to prevent movement. In addition there was some speculation on the quality of the quick release.
Prior to the rig’s arrival I went out to shoot one of the local “Occupy” protests. I decided to piece something together out of existing parts (Fotomate slider, generic flash bracket, an extension piece of the $30 shoulder mount) and build some custom handles with some aluminum tubing, 1/4-20 lag bolts, washer, and some bike grips. What I came up with was a shooter style with staggered grip handles, but no “stock” to stabilize against my arm pit. It worked pretty well through out the protest and its compactness allowed for it to hang from my existing camera strap around my neck as it would without a rig attached. (Footage from Protest )
I found the set up to be very helpful when working in cramped environments where you need to move quickly. In addition the fact that I could let the entire rig hang around my neck to rest my arms was helpful. I really am only interested in video-journalism and doc-film applications since my love was photojournalism. Being able to “run and gun” while somewhat stable footage is my goal. See some photos of this rig here.
The “Polaroid” rig arrived in the mail the next day. Based on the reviews I had read, I got what I had expected. Out of the box its actually pretty small, and the quick release is mediocre quality, and the grips are plasticky and not all that comfortable.
Yet, I saw the potential to make a version of the DIY shooter I assembled the night before from these parts, with the option to expand with other 15mm standard parts (follow focus, shoulder mount, etc). I made a few sketches and weighed my options. I took a look at the at the Street Runner ($250) and the News Runner ($199) by Jag35, both of which were close in design to what I imagined. But the price was much higher than the $120 total of the 2 off-brand rigs.
A few days later the second rig arrived in the mail. With the parts from both rigs I set to work. I took the shoulder stabilizer rod (the longest in the kit) and cut off the end with a hack saw. I initially had tried to remove it without cutting via heat gun and torque but the adhesive used was too strong. With some reluctance I cut the end off which made the piece the perfect size for the cross bar.
I removed the original orange and black grips and substituted a pair I had bought for $8.00 at a bicycle store for my DIY rig. In addition I swapped the orange end caps out with black ones bought at the hardware store. The grips are better quality and I wanted to tone down the appearance of the rig by removing as much of the orange as possible.
What you have at the base level after modification is a rig with 2 quick releases, 2 handles and a shoulder support and the option to come up with a different configuration based on your preferences.
The most encouraging part would be the fact that you could remove the quick releases and re-position those mount bars to create a 60mm spaced rod set (see photo). Then accessories with a Jag35 stand, tripod stand and a follow focus. This is most likely the route I will go to expand.
Until I have enough cash I will use the existing quick release plates. One to mount the Zoom H4n too and the other to mount the generic flash bracket and a quick release plate so I can move my camera in and out easily (I still enjoy taking still photos) and leave all accessories (Rode VideoMic Pro) mounted to the rig. Eventually I would like to be able to quick release mount it to my tripod as well.
Ever since I switched from Sony to Nikon and to a HD video capable DSLR I find myself unsuccessfully shooting both video and photos at events. I find that the biggest impediment to shooting photographs and shooting quality video is the number of external accessories needed to record quality video and audio on a DSLR.
At the minimum I find myself with a hot shoe mounted Rode VideoMic Pro and a LCDVF viewfinder on my Nikon D7000. With this set up I am able to pop off the magnetically attached viewfinder and but the best I can do is ignore the mic. But often it is hard for others to ignore the mic, drawing more attention to myself as a photographer. This situation is even worse when using stabilizing rigs (hand held or shoulder rigs) or using additional audio recorders such as the Zoom H4N. Walking around with a bunch of video gear is the anthesis of stealth.
Do I have to pick whether or not I am shooting video or stills at an event? I am trying to work around this problem since I enjoy still photography just as much as I enjoy shooting video, sometimes more! While shooting at Occupy Chicago last month I managed to capture some powerful photographs as well as shoot some great footage. Yet I still found myself fiddling with flash brackets holding my DSLR accessories etc.
I have been reading what seems to be endless amounts of articles on DSLR rigs figuring out which might be best for me to over come these problems. Some are more orientated for full on film makers (matt boxes, follow focus, etc) while other are more run and gun. I am trying to strike a balance between the ability to shoot quality video (and record quality audio) with an accessorized rig but be able to quickly switch over to take stills with out looking like I am wearing a big sign that says “look at me”.
My notebook is full of sketches and I have been brainstorming with the help of CheesyCam.com in order to design a portable Run & Gun DSLR video rig that I can easily detach my camera from (via quick-release plates) for regular photography, while leaving accessories (Rode VideoMic, H4n, etc) attached to the rig. In addition I would like the ability to snap the entire rig w/camera on to my Manfrotto video tripod via quick release plate.
I have a few more parts coming in the mail (just received some quick release plates) and am close to sourcing someone to do some basic welds on a bracket I have sketched out. The idea is a modification of this photo. A rig with stabilizing handles, that can still be worn around the neck via the camera strap but will hold all accessories and be tripod mountable. Hopefully have this finished in the next few weeks.