I recently spent a lot of time fixated on the decisions facing me about putting together a travel video setup. Trying to determine the “best” of anything is that much more difficult when you’re talking about the tools being used for a creative pursuit. Like Casey Neistat says, the gear doesn’t matter–which tends to validate every opinion. Clear as mud, right?! Everyone is right-everyone is wrong. The best camera is the one that you have with you. My decision ultimately came down to a setup that will allow me to have a camera with me almost anywhere–the best camera possible that won’t slow me down or interfere with the adventure! Make sure you subscribe to the LivingVertical YouTube channel to see where this goes!
In my case, budget played the governing role in the definition of the “best” camera. I turned the money from a lot of underutilized clothes and electronics (thanks eBay!) into a small production fund. This move also made a lot of space, so it was a win logistically speaking as well! My budget was about $1,500 and so with this in mind I had to make some determinations about what I’d be shooting and how I aim to do most of my editing and production.
In my mind, I’d love to do lots of really polished, cinematic shots–I kept envisioning drone footage when I really let my mind wander. Tripods. Sliders. Glidecams–you know, all the sexy stuff. Unlike Project365, I’m not going into this with the intent of shooting a longer feature film. Shooting a massive library of footage and then trying to tease a story out of that to create one finished product–well, let’s just say that I did that once and I honestly don’t want to do that on this excursion. I can clearly see in hindsight that at the time (2011) I bit off way more than I could chew. I’m proud of choking it down and still turning out that documentary, but I also spent a year of my life stuck in the editing process.
This time my creative goal is closer to “hybrid vlogging” with some cinematic shots and timelapses thrown in. I want to do at least a couple shorts each week that we have access to service and really bring you along with us in our daily life and the adventuring and climbing we will be doing. I want to really immerse myself in the creative process.
Here are the cameras that I landed on given my budget (for video work)
Lumix G7– This is my “A” camera, the “little brother” to the GH4. The G7 shoots 4k, 1080 up to 60fps, has wifi remote control and data transfer, touch screen menus that can be fully customized, focus peaking and focus assist (both useful for manually nailing focus on a shot). It does a lot more than that of course but the fact that it’s so small and light makes it really easy to use and carry along. The price was great too; I got the camera with a kit lens and a shotgun mic for under $600.
Lens Adapters- I have invested a lot of money over the years in Nikon lenses (my main stills rig is the Nikon D600 which is a full frame workhorse) which ordinarily don’t work on smaller (micro 4/3rds) cameras. I got two lens adapters–one for Nikon glass that I already own and one for older, manual Canon lenses that I got for a great deal (see below) to expand my options. ($90 x 2)
Rode SmartLav+ is a small clip on mic that records into a smartphone. The audio quality is outstanding and it’s super tiny. ($80)
Additional Lenses- I adapted a cheap Canon FD 50mm f1.8 lens ($50) and a Canon wide angle FD 24mm f2.8 ($100). Those two lenses with the kit lens (included with the camera) will allow me to shoot just about anything I need from wide shots to close-ups; and for low-light situations I will have my fast Nikon lenses to fall back on.
GoPro Hero 4 (black edition)– I actually bought this for work last winter and I tried to sell it recently on eBay. It wound up getting returned to me because it froze up (I think it’s a firmware issue but the buyer just wanted to be done with it) so I decided that I’d fix it and keep it for a “B” Camera. It actually shoots 4k too as well as slow motion although the footage takes a little more work to make it look good. ($0)
Sony RX 100 mkii– a pocket sized “B” camera packed with high end features like 1080 at 60fps, focus peaking, raw image capture and wifi. It’s something that I can climb with or just throw in a jacket pocket and still get decent quality from. It actually records video at a higher bitrate than my full-frame Nikon camera that cost 8 times as much. (used, $350)
Carrying case, lens filters, batteries, memory cards- Once I got my cameras I threw in some extra accessories to make everything work together and we are off to the races! ($200)
Sample images from Panasonic G7 with adapted Nikon lenses:
I aim to produce the best content that I can at the greatest frequency while we are out on the road. I definitely made some sacrifices for the sake of cost and portability–and this is definitely a travel video setup–it probably will take some decent photos, but don’t expect night-time milky way shots out of this rig. One of the things I’ve learned from this process is that it’s basically impossible to get a perfect camera that does everything at a high level. I still have diversity with what my cameras can capture and I feel like this should give me a great deal of room to expand my abilities before I encounter limitations that are strictly technological in nature.
A word about 4k; no one needs it. The point of 4k capture is to have greater information and detail in the video that will translate into much greater editing flexibility for 1080 output. If I can get it within budget and have money left over to get a “B” camera, then it seems worth it for what I’m trying to do. Of course the proof is in the pudding. I could have spent 3 times a much and still be worthless in terms of what I can create. I’m excited to have room to challenge my skills and that’s really the point. Shooting more, editing more and sharing more. The polish will come with time.
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