Equipment Strategies for Young Video Journalists

For young journalists just out of school, buying quality video or photo equipment necessary for freelancing can be daunting. Dave Mayers, CUJ’08, knows a thing or two about it: soon after finishing his work as a DMA (Digital Media Associate) at the Columbia Journalism School, he left for South Africa where he worked as a freelancer for several years. Check out his own equipment list in the photo above  – and here are his personal suggestions for building your own stash of equipment.

Buy equipment gradually.

“We did some freelance work on the side while DMAs,” says Mayers, “and I used what I got from there to buy a Macbook Pro at the end of the fellowship, which is what I edited off of during my time [in South Africa].” After he produced a few stories in the country, he was able to buy some good lenses as well.

“Every time I do a bigger project, I usually invest in some kind of equipment. It feels like an addiction at times!” he jokes. Many photographers and videographers use this approach, setting aside some money from each freelance job to purchase the equipment they need.

Buy secondhand equipment.

Mayers already had his Nikon D300, a still camera, but knew he’d need a videocamera. It just so happened, he says, that “Before I went over, the [journalism] school was unloading all of its Sony HDV cameras. I bought one, because it was really cheap.” Well-preserved secondhand equipment is a great idea for someone on a budget who needs gear.

Get insurance for your gear.

Mayers used his NPPA membership to secure insurance for his equipment through Hays. “I insured all my gear because I was worried about being robbed. I didn’t know how it would be in a developing country with all that gear,” he says. Regardless of where you’re going, equipment insurance is always a good idea, particularly when you’re investing in high-quality gear and taking it into harsh conditions.

Have a backup.

It was a good thing that Mayers purchased insurance: several months into his trip, his Nikon camera was stolen. For almost a year, Mayes had only his videocamera and no still photography gear. He used an old film camera for certain assignments. Having a backup camera, perhaps an older model that you don’t often use, can be a lifesaver if anything happens to your go-to camera.

Dave Mayers sets up his camera rig. Photo by Zaheer Cassim.

Dave Mayers sets up his camera rig. Photo by Zaheer Cassim.

Make sure everything is portable.

“I’d want stuff that I could carry on my back, because sometimes we would park a long distance from where we were shooting,” says Mayers. Lightweight, portable equipment you can easily break down is important in the field, especially with tripods, which can be heavy and unwieldy. A good, comfortable camera bag with lots of padded pouches for various lenses, cables and accessories will help you out on on long shoots when you might not be able to go back to your vehicle.

Shoot on a DSLR.

“There are a lot of hassles with working with a DSLR,” says Mayers. “If you happen to have a huge rig, you look crazy and it garners a lot of attention — but I liked [working with DSLRs] simply because it helped me keep my gear to a minimum.”

When out in the field and portability is crucial, having one piece of equipment that can do two things – shoot both stills and video – is a big advantage. Plus, Mayers adds, “It allows you flexibility in terms of telling the story multiple ways.”

Carry a lot of batteries and cards.

“Make sure your stuff is always charged, because you’re not sure when you’re going to be able to get power again,” Mayers says. Lots of extra batteries also go a long way, as do extra SD cards: you never know when you’ll be able to get back to your computer and upload your work.

With all these suggestions in mind, here is a suggested equipment list that may help if you are hoping to freelance as a videographer – whether here, or in another country.

Basic Video Equipment:

– Tripod (preferably lightweight)

– Wireless lav mic. You may want a second set, perhaps a wired one

– Shotgun mic and cable

– Quality headphones

– Audio recorder

– DSLR or videocamera

– Backup camera

– XLR and other cables, as well as Velcro strips to tie them up neatly

– Quality camera bag

– Extra batteries

– Extra SD cards, with cases

See the picture above for a listing of Mayer’s own gear.

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