Two Camera Sony HD Interview Shoot – Lightweight / Travel setup

This is the camera setup that I use for my IEEE Computer Computing Conversations column.

The contents of my two-camera HD Interview kit fit in a backpack (except for two sixty inch tripods). With this kit, I can travel with the full kit and a week of clothes in a backpack and small rolling carry-on case. I pack the tripods in the carry on case and they have their own cases that I use once I unpack to go to each interview shoot. I can comfortably carry the kit on a bus, train, public transportation, or taxi. A particular feature I like is that I do *not* look like a television crew walking around – I just look like a normal guy with a backpack that no one should pay any special attention to. Sometimes it is nice not to advertise that you are packing about three grand of video gear when you are walking around….

A key for this kit is that it is specialized for interviews and in particular aimed at traveling as light as possible. In particular, it is well suited for interviews in offices or conference rooms. It is self-contained and can be transported, set up, and operated by one person.

Here is a sample video using this setup using this kit, taped, December 16, 2011.

I will update this document as I add new equipment and gain more experience and add some “as packed” pictures as well in an upcoming blog post. I wanted to get this “initial equipment list” post out and then add to it later.

I will also talk about setup, lighting, and interview technique in upcoming blog posts.

Comments welcome.

Lowepro CompuDaypack Camera Bag

This is a great backpack, combining space for a laptop and normal stuff I need traveling with a bottom compartment for camera gear and lights. I can fit both my cameras, both my lights, and the power supplies for the lights, and shotgun microphone in the bottom compartment. I use the upper compartment for my 42-inch tripods and clamps as well as my laptop power supply. The space for the laptop works really well and I can carry papers, my iPad, a few copies of IEEE Computer Magazine or books as props, and all my travel documents with room to spare.

Packed this way, it does get pretty heavy. All the equipment is small but dense. So I need to carry it with both straps. In general the CompuDaypack is the perfect compromise for me and my kit *just* fits. I am very happy with it.

Sony HDR-CX360V

This is one of my HD cameras. It costs about $700. It is the lowest price Sony HD camera that does 24 frames per second progressive (24p). I prefer progressive mode for interviews since there is less motion and since an interview is pretty static, not needing ability to handle motion each frame is more like a picture. And since the destination of these interviews is the Web, I figure that I might as well let the camera do the de-interlace. I really like this camera. It is small, compact, and shoots great video. It also has a built in LED light that is surprisingly bright for hand-held filming.

Sony HDR-CX550V

This is my other HD camera. It costs about $1000. I wanted this camera because it has manual focus. But I find the manual focus hard to use because you just turn the knob and there are no stops. With a roll-focus move you want to know when to stop moving. And the focus knob is hard to get to without disturbing the camera and is very unnatural to use. So If I were doing this again – I would save the extra money and just get two HDR-CS360X cameras. This camera also has 64GB of memory – but I find that hte 32GB of the HDR-CS360X is more than sufficient. The CX550V does not have an on-camera LED video light. It has a LED flash – but it cannot be used while video taping.

Sony WCS999 Wireless Microphone

I really am a fan of wireless microphones in interview settings. I want my interviewee to feel like they are not strapped into their chair and can move around. So I really like this microphone. I am only using it at distances of about 5 feet or less and only using it for indoor applications. But is has good strong sound. The weakest aspect is the clip on the microphone. It is not the typical alligator clip – it is a little spring-thing and is terrible. It tends to move around and ends up with clothing noise. I cannot understand why Sony made this mistake.

3.5mm Stereo Male to 3.5mm Mono Female Adapter

Using this adapter makes sure that your mono microphone signals end up on both channels.

Audio-Technica ATR-3350 Microphone

I use this microphone as a backup if something goes wrong with my wireless microphones.

Sony ECM-HGZ1 Shotgun Microphone

I use this microphone for outdoor taping and use the microphone in “Gun/Shotgun mode” rather than Zoom Mode. I like it because it is powered by the hot–shoe and does not need any cables. It feels a little light but it is nice and small and fits nicely in my backpack.

Sony ECM-HGZ1 Foam and Standard Black WindCutter Set (WC03-HGZ1SET-STDBLK)

This is a rather expensive ($60) foam cover and wind cutter (a.k.a. Dead Cat) for the Sony ECM-HGZ1 microphone. I could not find any other option for a wind cutter and it is pointless to record outside without a wind cutter so I spent the money. It is a nice product and well-made.

Polaroid 42″ Travel Tripod

This little tripod folds up to a very small size and fits in the backpack. It uses a novel way to extend and store the legs. It only goes up to 42-inches – but it works great for interviews and travels very well. There are lots of vendors for this product and they all look completely identical except for the brand label on the item. You might find it searching for “Sima STV-42K” – I actually found these locally in a department store but they are cheaper on Amazon. I carry two of these and use them either for lights or camera, depending on the setup. I use them either floor-standing or on a table.

Their only weakness is that they don’t last very long. The little spring loaded-balls that keep the legs extended fall apart pretty quickly. But they are so perfect for my travel kit that it is worth replacing one every few months. So I always keep an extra one in stock.

Sunpak ClampPod Pro

I also carry two of these clamps. Usually I use these for lights and they work very well to clamp a light to a shelf or a chair but they can hold a camera in a pinch.

Sony VCT-60AV Remote Control Tripod

This is the most amazing tripod ever. It is inexpensive and light and allows really smooth pan-tilt-zoom shots with the zoom controls on the handle. I use it both for B-Roll and for my primary camera in interviews. Note: The remote for this tripod only works with Sony camcorders – but it works really well. I only carry one of these tripods since I can only operate one camera at the same time. My secondary camera for interviews is locked down and slightly zoomed out.

I also have a generic 60-inch lightweight tripod with carrying case that I purchased at a local electronics store so I have two 60-inch tripods, two 42-inch tripods, and two clamp-on mounts. This combination allows me to deploy two cameras and two lights in most situations.

Switronix TL-50 Dimmable LED Light

I have two of these lights and they are an essential part of the kit. They cost about $200 but they are truly worth it. They are self-contained with built-in batteries and run for about two hours at full power. They are perfect for interviews since I can keep the lights within four feet of the interviewee. They have three filters to adjust the color temperature. I tend to use the orange filter for indoor filming and to reduce the eye-strain on the interviewee. The charger for this unit only works with 110V so I need the power-adapter (below) for international travel/filming.

240 To 110 200W Step Down Adapter

I need this adapter for international travel because the power supplies for the TorchLED lights are 110V-only.

Still in progress…

I should buy a couple of spare batteries. Most interviews are 40 minutes and the batteries have plenty of juice. But sometimes I shoot two interviews in a day with no chance to recharge and if the interviews go really well and go a little long I don’t want to sweat watching battery life drain down. Replacement batteries are so expensive so I will likely hold off for a bit.

Since I am experiencing problems with the WCS999 microphone, I have decided I want high quality audio on both cameras. I want a second wireless microphone and since I am a little unhappy with the microphone clip on the Sony WCS999 Microphone – I am looking at the very popular Azden WMS-PRO Wireless Microphone as a possible replacement. I also have ordered a replacement clip on Olympus ME-15 Microphone to see if it works with the WCS999.

Once I finish the evaluation, I will carry two of the same wireless microphones. As a Sony fan-boy, it bums me out that Sony made this little mistake on the WCS999 that puts me on this quest to find non-Sony equipment :)