Documentary Gear for the Road

BY GIRLWITHABOOK BOARD MEMBER, JENNIFER CIOCHON

I have to begin with saying that I have always preferred still photography over video. It is a medium that I am far more comfortable with. I had studied broadcast journalism for my MA but we were just given dinky little camcorders. We were told to focus more on the journalism than on the technicalities of audio and video, despite hammering it into our heads that we need to “know it all” to make it as a journalist in this day and age.

When I joined GIRLWITHABOOK, I wanted to bring my passion and my experience with still photography to the team, but I also knew it would be my chance to grow into the world of filming. I confess that I naively thought that a shotgun mic on top of my Nikon DSLR would do the job. NOPE. I realized this right as I entered the mecca of camera and audio goodies, B&H Photo in NYC. You could have some of the most compelling video footage in the world, but if the audio sucks, then you don’t have much. I admit I was a bit overwhelmed as I needed to figure out what to bring to make this project work for the next 4 to 5 months. This blog post is for the geeks and nerds, who like I, am always curious about what kind of gear people bring on their adventures to get the images and footage they need. It is also for beginners, to give them a sense of how to get started and what is needed.

So, what to get? We are on a budget, and will be travelling to a different city/town almost every single week. Packing light is essential (for the sake of my back as I am the one carrying most of it). But what can give us the quality that we need? And most importantly, will it look suspicious? One of the countries we are travelling to is Pakistan. And we are travelling on tourist visas to all of our countries while doing journalistic work. The last thing we want is for our equipment to be mistaken for some not-so-fancy spy gear and end up as those unfortunate Americans arrested in some prison while our faces flash across CNN. After talking to the folks at B&H and to friends who are far more experienced than I at audio, I knew what we needed to get.

I had the camera gear already (Nikon D810 and Nikon D7000 with lenses Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8, Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 and ultra wide Rokinon 14mm f/2.8), but the audio was somewhat ungoverned territory for me. As everyone knows, the built-in audio on most DSLR cameras suck. So here is what we got: Tascam DR-40 (a basic 4 track digital recorder), MyMyk shotgun mic, a lav mic, and the necessary XLR cable to connect one to the other (more specifically the lav mic to the Tascam). In addition to my camera gear, I have also bought the MeFOTO carbon fiber tripod (for the price, it’s an incredibly light and sturdy tripod).

Now how to carry it all? No camera bag will ever be perfect, especially after wearing it for hours with this amount of weight. Regardless of what bag you get, your shoulders and back will ache. But after watching a lot of Youtube reviews and online hunting, I settled on the Gura Gear Uinta bag. I didn’t want something that was so bulky it screamed “fancy camera gear inside!” But I want it to hold pretty much all that was mentioned above, including my laptop and other personal items. Is it possible? Yes it is! And no regrets yet. However, I should say that the additional Tripod and Hydration System (a device where you attach a water bladder and tripod to the front of the bag) for about $40 is not worth it. I did not buy it after every review I read advised against it since it would be a waste of money. You can easily fit a water bottle and your tripod to the sides if need be.


We are now on the road, and I already have some thoughts on the gear we have brought. But I will save my review for another blog post, once we have more experience with all the equipment.