Rolf Potts travels around
the world with no luggage

The ultimate mobile HD video rig for traveling around the world

August 11, 2010 by Justin Glow

I knew that if Rolf was going to circle the globe without any bags, as the camera man, I’d also want to be as light and nimble as possible to keep up with him.  It wouldn’t make much sense for one of us to be packing, well, nothing, and the other carrying eight suitcases filled with camera equipment.  My rig had to be mobile!  So I set out to construct a top-notch mobile HD camera setup and editing station — something that would offer superb quality on a budget, while staying light and rugged.  Here’s what I came up with:

The camera

I ended up going with the Canon Vixia HFS100.  It records in full HD straight to SDHC cards, which means I don’t have to lug around dozens of MiniDV tapes to record and archive footage.  Instead, all of the shots are stored on the tiny SD cards (the same kind that most consumer digital cameras use).  With roughly 40 gigs of space over three SDHC cards, I can record well over 10 hours of full HD video without needing to dump anything to the laptop.

The camera is fitted with a few extras, naturally.  I’ve got a Canon WD-58 .7x wide angle converter lens, three high-capacity batteries which give me about 10 hours of recording time without needing to recharge, and an Opteka X-Grip.  The X-Grip cradles the camera and accessories while giving the rig a top handle for stabilization and easy carrying. It’s meant for capturing skateboard footage, but works well in any situation — particularly when the camera is small, like the HFS100.

Don’t forget audio!  My main device for capturing sound is the incredible Zoom H4N.  It’s a bit pricey, but the audio it captures is absolutely stunning.  I have it mounted to the top of the X-Grip, and typically pass the audio straight through to the camera, but you can also detach it and use as a field recorder, or wireless microphone to be synced with the video footage in post-production.  It’s extremely versatile.   I also have an Audio Technica PRO-88W wireless lav microphone system.  It’s one of the cheaper wireless lavs you can get, but the quality is outstanding for the price.

The editing station

I edit with my trusty 15″ Macbook Pro.  I don’t know what I’d do without this beast.  It’s like a family member to me.  Final Cut Express (not Pro!) is my editor of choice, mostly because I’m too cheap to drop the cash on the full product.  Express really is a decent editing suite, and very rarely do I find myself needing to do something that can only be done in Pro.

The bag

As much as I wanted to go completely bag-less like Rolf, it just wasn’t feasible.  There’s no way I was going to be able to carry all of that gear on my body alone.  I originally wanted a messenger bag (or similar) so that I could easily and quickly stow the camera and pull it out without having to stop and take a backpack off, but I just couldn’t find one that worked for me.  It had to be large enough to fit all of my equipment, yet comfortable enough to wear on one shoulder for 25,000 miles around the world.  I tried Timbuk2, I tried Patagonia, I tried North Face, and I even tried Keen (who knew they made bags?) — unfortunately, I couldn’t settle on one that worked.

(As an aside… Zappos is awesome.  I bought 3-4 bags at a time to try out and returned them until I found the right one.  Their return policy, customer service, and selection is unbeatable!)

Finally, I dropped the idea of a messenger-style bag and went for a backpack, and I found the perfect one: the Mountainsmith Spectrum.  It’s a camera bag built specifically for dSLRs, but I re-purposed it to fit my needs exactly.

The bag is split up into two parts: a large, open top, and a compartmentalized bottom.  The bottom was made to house all of the camera equipment — dSLR body, lenses, batteries, etc. — while the top was anything else: an extra jacket, some socks…whatever.  Instead, that top part holds my camera perfectly.  It’s got a raised platform to keep whatever is in it sitting on top of the bottom part, and it literally feels like it was built to hold my camera.  I can quickly move the backpack to my shoulder, unzip the top, and pull out my camera 100% ready to go.  The bottom part slides outward like a clam shell to reveal the compartments, which I use to hide the accessories.  Finally, my Macbook Pro slides into a padded pouch near the back. It really is the perfect bag for this trip.

The bag is filled 95% of the way with camera equipment which, as you can imagine, leaves very little room for anything else.  In the spirit of the No Baggage Challenge, I’m only bringing the clothes that I’m wearing, or can fit in one of the many hidden pockets in my SCOTTeVEST gear.

Have any questions? Feel free to contact us, or leave a comment below.

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  • glassgypsy

    Roughly, How much did your gear bag with camera and gadgets (minus your macbook) cost?
    Am looking forward to seeing what you guys do!

    • Hey glassgypsy, I spent probably around $1,200 on various equipment, including the mics, camera, lens, and bag.

  • What did the Zoom H4N set you back ? Looking at something like this for interviews, etc. And can you run audio into it from, say, the camera ?

    • Hey Molder, the H4N was just shy of $300 if I remember correctly. Totally worth it though — the quality is amazing. And yeah, you can pass the audio from the mic through to the camera so that you don't have to sync the file+video later.

      • Just curious if you ever tried the Tascam DR100. From the demos, I really think it sounds great but I am also hearing great things about the Zoom H4N. I'm going to be shooting with a T2i and also, recording as much live music along the way so I'm trying to get the best sound above and beyond basic dialog. For sync I plan to use PluralEyes. http://www.singularsoftware.com/pluraleyes.html If you've ever tried PluralEyes I'd love to know if you have any tips or tricks for attaining the best sync results.

  • Kk

    Excited to see how the trip goes!

  • Please Please! Write about the actual experience of traveling and shooting in so many places. It is a great dream of mine to produce a video blog about an around to world trip, but I'd love to see how being spontaneous and producing video abroad coexist.

    • Hi Austin, sure. That sounds like fun, and please let me know if you have any specific questions.

      • Hi Justin. Just saw the London video. Great job. Did you find yourself getting hassled at all as you brought out the gear. I was in Paris last April and shot video on a HV20. Kept having problems with normal people 'diving' to get out of the camera's view and just kept getting a real strange vibe, when I had my camera out.

        Are you experiencing the same things, and how do you expect things to progress as you get out of Western Europe? Thanks again.

        • When I was in Italy I did much of my shooting waist level and people didn't seem to notice at all. Didn't have an Opteka X-Grip then, so I was palming the camera.

        • Sorry Austin, somehow I missed your questions.

          I was hassled in two places: London's Heathrow airport, which is understandable I guess. After being hassled three separate times there, I decided not to shoot in airports anymore — a rule I only broke a few times going forward. We also got hassled outside of the old city in Fez, Morocco. A couple of undercover cops (I guess?) stopped us and asked what TV station we were working for. When we told them it was for the Internet only, they said okay and left as alone.

          We definitely attracted a lot of attention when we'd stop somewhere and film, but nothing out of the ordinary. If we needed to attract less attention, I would break my camera down by pulling it off the X-grip and detaching my external mic and generally making it look less professional. We used this to film in and around the pyramid grounds at Giza.

  • Giraffes

    cool killer project. inventive set-up you got there. rock on.

  • You mentioned “you can pass the audio from the mic through to the camera so that you don't have to sync the file+video later.” I'm considering a similar set-up, however I don't fully understand why you're using the H4N. Are you simultaneously recording audio to the H4N and also the camcorder ? If not then why not just use an external mic ? Is there a reference on the audio similar to time code ?

    • You're correct, Volumin… when I pass the audio from the H4N, I'm essentially only using at as a microphone and not a recording device. But the quality on the mic is very good for this price point, which is one reason I decided to use this one. The other reason is I can also un-mount it from my camera and use it as a field recorder or “wireless” mic (to be synced with the video in post production), and it's perfect for voice overs.

      • Jokmi

        It it correct to take the earphone out of the H4N and route it to the mic in of the camcorder?

        • Yep, that's right.

          • Jokmi

            Thanks for the fast reply. But isn't the signal level of the earphone jack too high for the quite sensitive mic-in jack of the camera? I didn't try it so far because I was worried to fry the mic input.

          • Yes. I have to switch the camera's input from automatic to manual, and drop the gain waaaaaay down.

  • I've thought about getting the Zoom microphone and I was pleased to see that you could pass the audio straight in to the camera. Do you have to power up the microphone separately (I could see myself forgetting to do that a lot) or does it completely integrate in to the camera setup without having to mess with the mic once it is mounted on the camera? I was sold on getting that microphone before I found out it works with a camera, but now I'm really wanting to get one…

    Hope you enjoy your trip! Oh and if you need any good instrumental music for backing, check out my music (it's free to licence, though donations are encouraged!) :) http://popamericana.com/76

    • Yep, you have to power the mic separately. It runs on two AA batteries, and will last about 10 hours I think. (I've yet to swap the batteries).

  • Volumin

    Justin – Thanks for the explanation. I like your approach, compact shooting kit and quality. Nice job.
    When you use the H4N as a separate audio field recorder how do you sync it to your video. If you're using it in wireless mode it's only the mics you're using ? With no video or audio time-code what means do you have to reference different sections in the source material ? Do you have a way in post to match lip sync accurately on the video when you're using the H4N audio source material ? or will the H4N audio just be used as ambient and V.O.? You are not using any lighting instruments ? For additional audio I've been considering the Alesis ProTrack $150, which will enable me to insert my iPod into the dual mic set-up similar to the H4N. I figure I can transfer the audio easier to my iTunes library and import it as needed into iMovie 09 for quicker edits and audio sweetening. But I'm still researching.
    Will your completed video be shown on broadcast TV or is it for web distribution only ?

    • Thanks for the kind words.

      When I'm not passing audio straight through to the camera, I just have Rolf do something at the beginning of the recording to mark a sync point — like clap his hands once loudly. That way, in post, I take the audio file and lay it on the timeline and sync it with the video, then lock it.

      My camera has a small light on it, but I've yet to use it. I don't expect it will work very well, so I avoid low-light situations, or light a darker room with lamps or whatever I can find.

      For now the video is web only.

      Thanks for watching!

  • Arturo Jasso

    Very Cool! You rock man! How do you get the footage on to the blog? I mean what kind of file does it end up being? Mpeg4, AVI? Do you upload via a FTP site or do you have mobile internet or have to go to a place that has internet to upload the file? I am curious because my wife and I are planning a round the world trip and seeing what you guys are doing definitely gets me pumped about doing it!!

    • Hey Arturo, sorry for the late response. I render the video as mp4 h.264. I upload directly to Viddler when my connection is good, but when it's not, I upload to my personal server (via http://FTP.. with the ability to resume if the connection fails) and have a friend at home (with a good connection) grab the file and upload to Viddler. Hope this helps, and thanks for watching!

  • By my estimates – you total kit is going to weigh more than some airlines allow for carryon. What does it weigh and did you avoid airlines with such limits on carryon weights?

    • Great question. No problems so far, but I've only flown “real” airlines (no budget airlines who charge extra for everything yet). That should change this evening, however, when we fly easyJet to Madrid. I'll let you know!

    • Another update on this: 12 countries and no problems! My bag weighs just shy of 10 kilos, which seems to be the cutoff for carry-on baggage in most places.

  • Lisa Lucas

    So glad you'll be providing a behind-the-camera perspective, and thanks for the info you've already shared. I'll be very interested in the practical details like the ones other commenters have asked about already. Bon voyage!

  • Loren Articleresponses

    Great work so far – and thanks for this informative post. Couple of questions. Have you had any problems in clearing security with your gear? Any hassles in trying to film (outside of your “Not-to-be-named-big-box-store” experience)? Finally, I am assuming you will use the HFS100 to shoot stills too, since you did not mention bringing an SLR – correct?

    • We had problems in London… specifically in and around the airport, which is understandable.

      I did not bring a still camera. I'm just pulling frames from video for still shots.

    • Another update: 12 countries and no problems. London airport security was our biggest issue, but everywhere else has been fine.

  • Hope to see a “day in the life of the cameraman” or workflow piece up on the rtwblog site at some point.

    Are you getting music on the road or did you pre-select pieces to fit the destinations?

    • Sure…. I can throw something together at some point.

  • I was just about to order a Canon EOS 7D DSLR, but this has made me see lightweight camcorders in a different light – quality is excellent.

    What stills cameras (if any) do you have with you. Or do you use the HFS100 for the stills images?

    • I'm not carrying a still camera — I just pull frames from the video when necessary. Rolf is carrying a small Canon point-and-shoot.

  • Calves41

    I am having a great reading about the No Luggage challenge. Being an “arm chair traveler” for the most part, this is great.

  • My wife commented on my fascination with hams in Spain. Read: why do we have all these photos of pig legs? It was a hoot to see your title shot for the Madid post. It triggered an instant Pavlovian reaction of desire for more time in Spain.

  • Craig K

    You guys are having a blast and I'm loving the stories. I was looking for a specific bag a while ago (not for a camera tho) and Mountainsmith had just the bag I was looking for too! :) Enjoy the rest of your trip

    • Thanks! Sorry for the delay in responding, but I hope you're still following along!

  • Pingback: No Baggage Challenge: The Ground Rules | No Baggage Challenge -- Around the World with no luggage()

  • Pingback: No-baggage field report: Week one | No Baggage Challenge -- Around the World with no luggage()

  • Justin – awesome stuff, man! One question for you: You mentioned you're using a MacBook Pro. I'm familiar with the “basic” ($1800) specs it comes with, but I was wondering about HOW you're doing your editing? I'm assuming you're converting your AVCHD files into a different format, but are you crunching them down and working with proxy files or are you editing the full HD (online)?

    Great work!

    • Hey, thanks! Yeah, I'm using Final Cut Express to Log and Transfer the AVCHD footage into a editable format. I'm not exactly sure what you mean by “crunching them down and working with proxy files” so I guess I'm not doing that! I just log and transfer the footage, edit it, and render out, so I guess I'm editing the full HD. It handles it pretty well. No lag or anything when editing. Rendering can take a while (particularly when I do a lot of color correction), but not too bad.

  • Thanks for your reply. It's great that you're able to edit the files like that. Your MacBook Pro must be pretty suped-up. (I know this is not a time or a place to do this but here we go…) Proxy editing is basically a bait-n-switch method of editing. What you do is:

    1. Make a new directory, for example “London_Trip_PROXY”.
    2. Convert your original HD file to a very low-res format and size them down to, say, 320xWhatever. You place these files in your London_Trip_PROXY directory but make sure that the filenames are the same as your original files.
    3. You do all your edits and CC on these low-res, proxy files.
    4. Once you're ready to render, you go into your file list in whatever NLE you're using (most of them are capable of this), and right-click on each file and select “Replace footage with…” (or similar option). You basically replace your low-res file that currently sits in your editor with a full HD file.

    5. Render.

    Voila!

    However, since you're doing pretty well without it, I guess you don't need to go through this :)

    Keep up the great work!

    • Thanks for the info. Makes sense, though I guess I don't really need to do it since my workflow seems to work just fine. But this might come in handy in the future — thanks!

  • Pingback: No-baggage field report: Week two | No Baggage Challenge -- Around the World with no luggage()

  • Tim

    I've made a several trips to the Rocky Mountains and Smokey Mountains and have always brought along my camera gear. I'm a professional photographer and it is hard for me to put down a camera especially when photographing nature. I always end up feeling a bit lugged down by the camera gear, probably because I take too much. Over the years I've come to realize that less is more at times. 1 lens (2 at most), 1 body, and enough batteries and memory space to last the day only. More than that and I'm just going to want to take less photographs from being too tired. You cannot be prepared for everything but that usually isn't the point for the excursion. Thanks for the tips and info on what you are carrying.

  • ben

    Interesting post, Thanks Justin.

    Did you check out the Crumpler range of bags? I use their Pretty Boy XL backpack – similar layout to the one you've got – but they do a range of messenger ones too.

    I'm attempting to get to the point of just using this one bag for RTW travel but like Tim above, cutting down on Camera gear is a challenge!

    I succesfully did a trial trip a few months ago, albiet only for 4 days, to Singapore, washing spare undies and T-shirt every night in the shower. The added mobility of 1 small backpack was awesome compared to the 65L packs I've taken on the last 2 RTW trips!

    Enjoy the travels, looking forward to seeing where you guys visit when you get here to New Zealand!

    • Hey Ben, thanks for following along (and sorry for the delay in responding!). I did check Crumpler, but the prices were too high for me.

  • Trudy

    I just called Capitol One credit card company and was told that Capitol Ones does not charge a foreign transaction fee on any on their credit cards…Master Card or Visa…no foreign transaction fee! Yeah!
    Trudy

  • Hey Justin great stuff. I am about to head out on a similar journey with a Canon 550D, a Zoom, sticks and a MacbookPro with FCP. How are you handling the storage as HD files can be massive?
    Ohh forgot to mention I will be having a RC tricopter and a goproHD to shoot aerials.

    Cheers..

    • Hey tmoore, thanks. Sounds like you have quite the rig as well!

      The HD files aren't as massive as you think. I don't Log and Transfer every second of footage I shoot. We go through and manually log all the footage to get a feel for what we have to work with, then I just bring convert (from AVCHD) the scenes and clips I need, and leave the rest wrapped. But I do copy every single card (I use three 16gb SDHCs) I use to a portable hard drive for archival purposes.

  • Michael

    Wow what an awesome adventure!!

    How do you (or do you) work a light into your mix if ythe hot-shoe is powering your external mic.

    I love the setup you have but I do a lot of trade-show type shooting so the light is crutial.

    Thanks for sharing!!

    All Good Wishes,

    michael krisa

    http://ThatInterviewGuy.com

    • Hey Michael, thanks for watching!

      I don't have a light, but in hindsight I probably should have brought one. It wasn't a huge deal not having one though. And to clarify: the mic is not powered by the on-camera shoe, so technically I could have powered a light from it. But this camera uses some stupid Canon-exclusive mini-shoe, so my options for a camera-powered device are limited. Otherwise, any battery-powered light setup would do the trick.

  • jshaw6000

    Congrats on completing your awesome adventure. It's very inspiring. I'd like to travel in similar fashion one day myself.

    Just one question regarding your equipment. What made you decide to get a dedicated camcorder over a video capable DSLR such as the T2i?

    Thanks in advance for answering my question.

    Jimmy

    • Hi Jimmy, thanks for watching!

      I went with a dedicated camcorder simply because that's what I'm used to shooting with. I'd love to get into dSLR video, but this project wasn't a good one to test the waters with new technology — I stuck with what I know best.

  • Dowtech

    Hi Justin, I've enjoyed watching the Challenge. While the clothing was interesting (I own a lot of their stuff), I'm even more curious about your own experiences with the A/V gear. Like, what worked or worked less than expected and what would you do differently another time? Great stuff; thanks!

    • Hi Dowtech, thanks for watching.

      Most everything worked as expected, but there were a few surprises. For instance, I probably could have gotten away with not bringing the wireless lav system — we didn't use it much because the H4N was such good quality.

      Next time I'd probably bring along a basic light kit of some sort. The camera actually has a built-in light, but my wide-angle lens blocked most of it (you can see this towards the end of the Bangkok video) and it's very unnatural light. I should have invested a small amount of money in a basic light to make our night shots look better.

      Also, I decided not to bring a tripod because of space issues, and I'm glad I didn't. Some shots could have benefited from having a tripod, but I think I would have regretted it had a brought one along.

      • Dowtech

        Thanks for the reply! Glad you had everything pretty much covered. The videos were excellent!

        I was very interested in your comment about wireless vs. the H4N, as I just bought the latter (and had been considering a wireless rig as well).

        Have you heard about/seen the Bogen Imaging Ranger Quadra battery pack/light unit? Would that have been too much to take on a trip like yours?

        Also, I've never used a monopod, but I know a lot of hiking staffs have a mount that allows them to double as one, and I believe some are available that telescope for easy carry. Could one of those have been a consideration?

        Finally, having a pretty good idea you did a lot more running around and schlepping than Rolf, how did you own clothing choices hold up, and did you follow the same laundry regime as he did?

  • J-Mac

    Hey Justin,

    Great trip, Ive pretty much just purchased the same rig except ive gone for the s200 instead. I am heading over to Colorado to hit out some snowboarding…. Hope the camera and batteries hold up in the cold, have you got any tips for shooting in the snow?

    • Cool, J-Mac, I think you'll be happy with the s200 for sure!

      Unfortunately I don't have any tips for shooting in the snow.

  • Steve Baile

    Hi Justin, what sort of mount did you use to attach the Zoom to the X-Grip? Have been looking around and can't find anything. Cheers Steve

  • This is a nice post.It had to be large enough to fit all of my equipment,yet comfortable enough to wear.I like this post.I appreciate to this post.Thanks to share this well informative blog.Keep sharing.