What's in My Camera Bag!

Joseph Smooke | 02/11/2015

We get questions all the time about the gear we use.

We're a small staff. It's just the two of us but we need for our photos and videos to be at the same level of production quality as the big studios.

There's no crew to carry gear around for us, and we're sometimes traveling to remote areas, so our set-up has to be high quality, lightweight, compact, and of course not expensive.

Where to start?

Here's the list of what I use and how I set it all up so you have a much better starting point than I did when I was transitioning from being a stills photojournalist to incorporating video journalism into my work flow. Most of the blogs and articles out there for video are either tailored to TV videographers or independent filmmakers. If you're a journlaist producing high quality content to be shown primarily online and occasionally at larger screening events, then this is for you!

All camera and audio gear laid outLet's start with the camera. My favorite is the Panasonic DMC-GH4. It's a Micro 4/3 format which makes it small, light and compact, but the sensor is still large enough to shoot extremely high quality video. Panasonic's technology solves the DSLR problem of only being able to shoot 10 to 20 minutes at a time. We do a lot of videos for nonprofits who want panel presentations or community meetings to be presented in total which means shooting for up to two hours in a single take. This camera will shoot until the memory card fills up. It also has critical features like focus peaking, zebra stripes, and a ton of different video compression formats from pretty standard AVC-HD to the latest in Ultra-HD (also known as 4K). One other bonus is that the LCD screen flips up, down, and turns all the way around. So, if you're VJ-in it this is a must. I can also flip it around to show Dyan what the set-up looks like for her on-camera stand-ups, so she can direct me to make any adjustments. Pro!

It also shoots very high quality stills, so if you're looking for a one camera solution that shoots amazing video and high quality stills, then this is pretty close to ideal. I buy all my gear used. Some good resources are Camerawest, B&H, and KEH. This camera has been out for a bit so it should be possible to pick up a clean used one!

If you want to get just one lens that's affordable and a decent range of zoom, there's the Olympus 14 - 150mm f4-5.6. Both Olympus and Panasonic make high quality lenses for the Micro 4/3 mount. I was able to find this one (it's a 28 - 300mm range if you're thinking about its equivalency in 35mm format) and it's lightweight, inexpensive, a broad zoom range, and images are super sharp.

If you already have some lenses from another camera, chances are you can use them on the Panasonic, but you'll need an adapter. With the adapter, you probably won't be able to use manual focus, but with the focus peaking feature, you'll be able to shoot manual focus like most videographers do! Get a high quality one, and make sure it doesn't have any "give" or "play."

If you get the Panasonic GH4, you can just take it right out into the field and use the pre-set profile settings. Your footage will look awesome. If you want more control over your color grading in post production, you'll need to shoot with a flat profile to extend your dynamic range and give you the latitude you need in post. Also-- be careful to monitor exposure by checking “zebras” so highlights don’t get blown out. You can bring up your shadows in post, but if your highlights are blown out, there's no way to recover them. Often your TTL exposure meter will show that your exposure is in the minus area-- sometimes even a full stop “under exposed.” You should do some test clips to get used to what looks right, what retains highlights, and how to “read” your TTL meter to get the proper exposure.

If you want to shoot with a "flat" profile, here's a list of settings that can serve as a starting point with the Panasonic GH4:

Cine mode; Cine-D Profile; Contrast -5; Sharpness -2; Noise Reduction -5; Saturation -5; Hue 0; Exposure Mode = M; Highlight -2, Shadow 0 (or +1 if you want to pull up the shadows a bit); iDynamic = High; iResolution = High; Master Pedestal Levl = +4 (or a bit higher if you want to pull the shadows up a bit-- just watch out for noise in the shadows depending on your ISO and what the lighting conditions are like); Luminance Level = 16-255; Sound Output = Rec Sound; Mic Level Disp = On; Mic Level Adj = +5db; Mic Level Limiter = On; Wind Cut = High; SS/ Gain Operation = Angle ISO; Headphone Volum - 13; Live View Mode = 30fps

I set my EVF & LCD to black and white so I can see the zebra stripes and focus peaking better. They tend to get lost if I'm looking at a color image. I set my Focus Peaking to yellow. Zebra set to 90% as a warning for when areas will start getting blown out

Remember to select Shoot w/o Lens = On if you're using lenses other than the Olympus or Panasonic Micro 4/3 lenses.

Shutter Speed 180d (be careful not to accidentally fiddle with this while shooting). This will automatically change your shutter speed if you change the frames per second you're shooting at. And, it will set your shutter speed to 1/48 if you're stooting 24fps instead of other cameras that make you select 1/50 because that's a pre-set shutter speed that's as close as those cameras will let you set.

Iris = Manual Control.

For interviews, community meetings, “run and gun” news reporting, extended clips, I typically use AVCHD, 1920 x 1080, 23.98 fps, 24 Mbps (VFR available)

For high quality productions like promo videos for nonprofit organizations (we do a lot of this kind of work in order to support our journalism), we shoot in a higher quality format:

MOV, 1920 x 1080, 23.98fps, 100Mbps, LPCM (VFR available)

camera set up from the front

When shooting interviews, we use an Audio Pre-amp -- the JuicedLink Riggy Micro RM333. This is indispensible, especially if the person you're interviewing has a soft voice. When you boost your audio in post, with the JuicedLink, you still get a super clean sound with no hiss.

I use the JuicedLink Bottom Mounted because mounting it to the hot shoe makes it so I can’t get my eye to the viewfinder, and shooting off the LCD screen on the Panasonic is pretty useless.

We have two microphones:

Audio Technica “shotgun” mic AT897 Line - Gradient Condenser Microphone; and the Audio Technica “lav” or “clip” mic AT899 (Omnidirectional Condenser Lavalier Microphone)

As you've seen in the feature video with this post, the tripod we use 90% of the time is incredibly light, adjustable and versatile. It's also amazingly stable and smooth.

Velbon tripod UT 45L with PHD-42Q head with gaffers tape wrapped around legs for insulation in very cold weather and to enhance grip in wet weather.

For interviews, I always carry a light with me:

Genaray Professional Series LED-6200T, 144 LED Variable Color On-Camera Light

When I can, I bring along my "real" headphones:

Audio Technica headphones-- ATH-M40x Professional Monitor Headphones

But often when I'm shooting in the field and need a light, fast, compact set up, I use a pair of in-ear phones.

camera set up from the backMy fave bag as long as I'm not having to carry my laptop is the Think Tank bag Sling-O-Matic 10. It fits my whole set-up. When I'm moving around, i carry it like a backpack and when I'm shooting, I have it at my waist so I can access my gear and I can rest my arms on it to steady my shots. If I have to bring my laptop-- the full mobile studio-- I reach for my ONA Union Street Messenger bag. If I'm going super light and basic, the Domke Satchel is perfect.

Yes we have a Mic Cube! It slides over our shotgun mic, and let's people know who we are. it's made by Grafix. They're super helpful and make sure the final product looks sharp!

I often need a mounting rails to get the mic and the light up and out of the way so I can get my eye to the viewfinder-- and so I can mount the light and the mic at the same time if necessary.

We hope this post is helpful! Please contact us if you have any questions. Remember technology keeps changing, but that just means you can pick up all this amazing gear even cheaper tomorrow!