Gear : Behind the Lens

One of the important pieces of the puzzle for this project is pulling together everything I need to capture the high quality video and audio to tell great stories.  Luckily, I’m able to use some of the gear I have already with a few modifications.  But, I still have some things I need to acquire.


The Tascam DR-40 portable recorder.
The Tascam DR-40 portable recorder.

Without great audio, you might as well not hit publish on a podcast or a video.  Luckily, a few years ago, I invested in two pieces of gear for my work in radio which will become very useful on the road.

My Tascam DR-40 recorder works well for field recording for podcasts – but is also well-loved in the DSLR filmmaker community for its ability to record high quality audio.  With two built-in microphones for stereo recording, this device allows for four-track recording (two tracks at with gain applied, and two tracks recorded at a lower level to serve as a safety track in case the gain-altered tracks are too hot.)  On the bottom of the unit are two XLR inputs, allowing for professional-quality external microphones to be plugged in.

Teamed with an inexpensive-but-good multi-pattern shotgun microphone I picked up at Long and Mcquade, the DR-40 is a great field recorder which I’ve been very happy with so far.

I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to get a smaller shotgun microphone (like a Rode Videomic), but I think I’ll roll with what I have since I’ll be able to use the money on more necessary acquisitions.


I really struggled with what kind of camera I would use on the trip.  Ideally, I’d love to get a higher end prosumer style HD camcorder which shoots on SD/MicroSD media and has all the bells and whistles (like adjustable audio, exposure, focus, etc.).  Sony, Canon and Panasonic all make some great gear, but most of it is a budget breaker coming in at over $1000 (even used) for what I’d want.

Canon Rebel EOS T3
Canon Rebel EOS T3

The reason for having a little bit of camera envy is because my DSLR camera isn’t a high end model.  I bought my Canon Rebel T3 back in 2011 when I was going on a trip to London and Paris.  It’s an entry-level DSLR which takes some good photos and good video (although only at 720P).

I like the T3, but I also know it lacks some of the things I wanted (but didn’t need) for shooting a project like this – namely an external microphone jack and more manual controls.

However, through my research I came to realize that with good editing software (like Final Cut X or Premiere Pro), matching audio from the Tascam DR-40 and the DSLR shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.  So, rather than invest in a new camera, I decided to make a small upgrade to the one I have.

Since buying my DSLR, I’ve only had a 18-55mm kit lens on it.  It’s fine to start out, but with no zoom capabilities, my ability to shoot great video for the types of stories I want to tell on this site was going to be hampered.

Grabbing an iced tea while reading up on my new lens!
Grabbing an iced tea while reading up on my new lens!

In the end, I settled on a Tamron 18-270mm lens which I picked up from Saneal Camera in Calgary for about $420 (taxes in.)  It offers such a wide range of shooting options in one lens without having to fumble around swapping out lenses to get the shots I want.  I can still get the 18-55mm range, while being able to zoom in (which I couldn’t do before.)

Upgrading the DSLR lens isn’t the only camera-related purchase I need to make for this trip.  While having a great camera for shooting scenery, interviews, and diaries is going to be important, I also want a versatile camera which I can take with me in to tight spaces, more rugged environments, and in those times when I can’t be concerned about getting things wet.

Yep.  I’m going to be picking up a GoPro.

I really like the perspective that you get from the GoPro, and from videos I’ve watched produced by friends of mine who are already out traveling the world, I know it’s going to do what I need it to do.

Mike St. Arnaud is backpacking the world right now and shot this video with his GoPro Hero 4 Black while walking Mt. Hua – China’s most dangerous trail.

At a local electronics store the other day, I asked the guy behind the counter the “dumb question” of whether or not GoPros ever go on sale.  His comment was “kind of” – because while the camera never goes on sale, stores often offer different combinations of  free accessories as incentives for purchase.

The waiting game is on right now to try and score a GoPro Hero 4 Silver with a nice accessory package – namely an extension stick, tripod mount, and chest mount.  I’d be willing to pick up those accessories separately if I can find a bundle that offers a spare battery instead.   (If you see any great deals, let me know!)

For those curious – I’m opting for the Silver over the Black for a few reasons.  It’s highly unlikely I’ll end up shooting 4K.  I’m realistic that the “intended audience” for this project will be almost exclusively be web-based.  With those considerations in mind, I’m willing to save a few bucks and not get the Black.

Keeping it Stable

While I’ll be lugging along my heavier-than-is-probably-smart-to-carry crappy old tripod for the trip (it’s in great working condition, and isn’t as bulky as I think it is), I am looking at my options when it comes to other rigging for the camera(s) I’m going to be using.

Glidecam XR-2000
Glidecam XR-2000 (promotional image)

Right now, I’m really torn between opting to get a Cam Caddie Scorpion EX shooting rig (which will let me get mount my camera, microphone, audio recorder, and possibly even a light all on one frame) or spending a bit more dough to get a Glidecam XR-2000 stabilizer to get those awesome floating-through-the-air shots you see in so many great videos today (for an example, check out the work of DevinSuperTramp.)

On one hand, the Scorpion is a versatile frame which can handle a lot of the gear I need to make the DSLR do what I need it to do, but from a stabilization perspective it may not be the best possible option.

The Glidecam XR-2000 is more expensive and will create great looking shots, but there is a bit of a learning curve, and the options to mount other accessories on it seem a little more limited (and because of how it works, additional weight on the frame has an impact on stabilization.)

I think I know which way I’m leaning on this — but I need to still think things through a bit more.

The Other Stuff

Luckily, I have external hard drives falling out of the walls at home.  Okay – not that many – but I’ve always been a keener for backing up my stuff and so cleaning off a drive and taking it on the road means a $0 addition to the kit.

I may drop the money on getting Final Cut X or a subscription to Premiere Pro on my Macbook Pro – although Final Cut Express does work (albeit frustratingly because of the codec my camera shoots in.)

A new kit bag will probably be in order – and it could be awesome if it doubled as my daypack.  That’s in the budget.

And, finally, if there’s money left over, I might look at getting an LED light to add to everything for those low-light situations, and just for helping make the daytime interview stuff look a little better (although I might wait until I’m in Tokyo to pick this up since Yodobashi Camera and Bic Camera have insane photo/video departments.)


As always, I’m open to hearing your suggestions and feedback.  If you’ve been out in the world shooting video and you have some recommendations, let me know.  And if you see anything above that has you screaming, “danger, Will Robinson,” hit me up just the same.

1 thought on “Gear : Behind the Lens”

  1. Well Done John.
    Thanks for the mention.
    If there was anything I wish I could of brought, it would of been my iGlide Glidecam for my GoPro so my videos could be a bit more stable and not have to rely on doing it in editing (Final Cut Pro X).
    Looking forward to your future posts while traveling on the road.


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