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Tools of the trade

I frequently get asked about the camera and the accompanying equipment I use to capture the footage seen in the travel videos. So, I have decided to write this entry that shall elaborate on this subject.

I remember the exciting day (back in 2008), buying my first video camera, a Sony consumer grade camcorder. I was planning a vacation to Japan and wanted to film it as a souvenir.

These were the pre-HD days. Yet, I have thought that the footage looked and sounded great with the help of the camcorder’s built-in stereo microphone. Best of all, the camcorder fit comfortably into my hand and was easy to shoot with.

On occasion, when I feel like going down a trip on memory lane, I look at the footage I’ve taken. While it has a lot of sentimental / nostalgic value, the footage quality looks archaic compared to today’s camera offerings. It is amazing how fast camera technology has progressed in 9 years.

Back then, consumer/prosumer level camera stabilizers were either non-existent, ridiculously expensive and HEAVY. I did not even know such technology was available to the average Joe.

As for taking my captured footage and editing it into a more coherent and interesting piece of work, that did not even cross my mind. My discovery of a series of YouTube travel videos (Check out the YouTube page of this very talented person who goes by the name of ‘egawauemon’) in the Fall of 2010 have profoundly impressed, setting me on the path of travel video creation and a desire for high production value.

Over the years, I have steadily upgraded my equipment and skills. One thing that I have discovered is that a compromise is necessary when choosing the equipment for my style of shooting.

As you can see in the photo, I’ve gone from a small hand-held camcorder to a large camcorder (Sony HDR AX-2000), attached to a stabilizer (Glidecam HD-4000) which, in turn, is attached to a body harness (Glidecam ‘Smooth shooter’) that I have used to support the weight of the rig. While the rig did its job to smooth the footage, it was heavy, cumbersome and VERY noticeable. It was overkill for my shooting style. The camera, though, was great for its time, combined with the excellent Sennheiser K6 module + ME66 shotgun microphone capsule.

Creating a realistic and immersive experience for the viewer requires equipment achieving excellent video / audio quality results. The smaller / more portable the equipment, the better when trying to capture candid shots for extended periods of time. The equipment needs to be versatile enough to be able to capture various types of shots. Obviously, price is also an issue.

The current equipment that I use for creating travel videos fulfills most of my needs, although a compromise is felt in the portability / size departments. There are various smaller / lighter options available. However, I feel that I would be compromising on the most important elements, video / audio quality.

So, without further ado, here is the equipment I am currently using:

Camera

I have been using the Panasonic Lumix GH4 mirrorless micro four thirds camera ever since it was released a few years ago. Coming from a heavier HD camcorder whose sole purpose was video capture, I was a bit apprehensive to make the leap into a smaller micro four thirds camera that looked more like a stills camera than one with serious video capabilities.

There were several cameras I was thinking of buying at the time but at the end of the day, I chose the GH4 as the best overall camera to accomplish what I wanted my camera to do. It was a decision I do not regret at all.

I love the video quality of the GH4, providing excellent 4K footage capabilities in a small and light package. Due to the camera’s sensor size, filming in low light conditions can provide good (but not great) results. Planning the shots and using a good lens may compensate for a low light environment.

The various options / settings in the camera enable me to capture the footage that I want. Using my go to video editor, Adobe Premiere Pro CC, I can take that footage and tweak it to get those crisp / realistic shots the viewers see in the final video.

The recent release of the GH4 successor, the Panasonic Lumix GH5, has me seriously considering upgrading to it soon.

Camera Lenses

The Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 ASPH Power OIS Micro four thirds lens has been my workhorse ever since I’ve purchased it with the Panasonic GH4 camera body. I use it more than any other lens that I own, whether when I am filming while the camera is mounted on a tripod or mounted on the hand-held stabilizer. The glass is excellent, providing crisp quality footage. Most of the footage that the audience has seen, since I have bought the GH4, has been captured through this lens.

For those longer range and more cinematic shots, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto zoom lens has proven to be a formidable tool when combined with the GH4.

The glass quality produces excellent images, both in well lit / low light situations. Due to the lens size, I only use it while mounted on a tripod when trying to capture video.

The Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM prime lens is amazing! It is my low light lens of choice, capturing most of the evening / night scenes in my travel videos (The last 3 of them) while the camera is mounted on the stabilizer, as well as on a tripod. I plan on using this lens for many years to come.

In order to attach Canon EF lenses to the Panasonic GH4 micro four thirds camera body, an adaptor is required. The Metabones Speedbooster S Canon EF to Micro Four Thirds does just this. It has opened a world of possibilities and has enabled me to use excellent Canon glass with the Panasonic GH4.

Audio

I have been using Rode microphones for the past 3 years, my current being the Rode Stereo Videomic X, a small and portable microphone that packs a serious punch.

The audio quality is superb and enables the viewer to truly hear what it feels like to be at the locations being filmed.

Stabilizer

The hand-held stabilizer is THE accessory responsible for the beginning of GlobeTrotterAlpha. It enables to capture smooth footage while walking, a staple of my shooting style.

In the beginning, I have used the Glidecam series hand-held stabilizers, based on weights. They were heavy yet were useful in achieving the footage that I wanted.

Over 3 years ago, a company called Freefly revolutionized the hand-held stabilizer market, offering an affordable 3-axis motorized hand-held stabilizer.

I remember being amazed by the technology and simply had HAD to get my hands on it. To this day, it receives a lot of attention from onlookers (Does not help with capturing those candid shots argh!) while I’m filming.

I use the Freefly Movi M5 version. It works perfectly with the Panasonic GH4.

It frequently makes the use of a tripod redundant. I can program the software to cause the stabilizer to pan or tilt according to a change in movement. The options are highly customizable.

Learning how to walk with the M5 and achieve a smooth and stabilized shot takes practice but once that it achieved, shots look amazing. The M5 especially shines when either you or the stabilizer itself are attached / on a moving vehicle.

I LOVE the M5 and what it has enabled me to do with filming. Although it is larger than my previous hand-held stabilizers, it is lighter and much more versatile. Today, I couldn’t capture my shots without it. It is indispensable.

There are other good options out there for motorized hand-held stabilizers. DJI created the Ronin series which also work very well. Both companies have several stabilizers of various size / purposes.

A Panasonic GH4 mounted on a Freefly Movi M5 Stabilizer. A Rode VideoMic Pro is attached as well.
Tripod

A tripod is still a crucial accessory to help capture footage. I currently use the Sachtler System FSB 8 SL MCF (combination of the FSB 8 T 75 MM Fluid Head and the Speed Lock 75 CF tripod legs).

It is designed to support larger cameras and equipment than my current setup. However, I find its size and weight useful for stabilizing the camera during windy conditions.

For shots that require a smaller tripod, I use the Joby Gorillapod Focus.

It is light and can be bent into multiple shapes, enabling the user to secure the tripod + camera to surfaces a normal tripod cannot. It is also stealthy, enabling the user to setup a shot quickly and move on to the next shot just as fast. I use it often.

Other Accessories

Finally, I have one other accessory I frequently use that I would like to mention. It is the Atomos Shogun – 4K HDMI Video Recording Monitor. This light weight external monitor enables me to see the action more clearly (7.1” screen) in crisp 4K and has been invaluable with regards to being able to focus properly in low light conditions. It can also capture footage in higher quality.

The hardware mentioned above has served me well as tools for the creation of my travel videos. In the world of videography, where technological improvement is extremely fast, where a piece of hardware over 2 years old is considered outdated, it is hard to keep up.

Hardware is becoming smaller and lighter, yet more versatile. Cameras are capable of far better video quality with every new generation. The current generation is perfectly capable of producing excellent footage. But, as time goes by, new / more advanced hardware shall be acquired. The footage shall further improve and you the viewer shall enjoy a more immersive viewing experience.

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