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:
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.
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.
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