My Complete Video Kit
I have been filming video journals in the field since 2009. Over the years, my video kit has evolved and changed with new advances in technology. I started with a Canon point and shoot camera that filmed video at 720p, and lacked manual controls. Now I use a full frame Sony Kit that not only films in 4k, but also has unprecedented low light ability. On this page, I will detail my entire video kit, and share my thoughts about using this equipment in the field.
If you are interested in purchasing any of this equipment, please use the affiliate links to either Amazon and B&H depending on where each product is available. Purchases made through these links help to support me and the content that I produce. If you have any questions about this equipment, feel free to reach out to me.
Video CAmeras & Lenses
Compact, Full Frame, Unparalleled Low Light Ability
In December of 2017, I sold my Nikon D750, and switched to a Sony A7sII. Though I really enjoyed working with the Nikon, the Sony is better designed for video. It provides unheard of lowlight ability thanks to its 12 megapixel sensor. In addition to the low light ability, this camera also features an in-body stabilizer, electronic viewfinder, and a very compact size.
Though the top ISO of the A7sII is just over 400,000, I find that ISO 104,000 is the highest that I am comfortable with. Anything beyond that starts to fill the shadows with noise, and you will notice some subtle pink glows in the upper left, and lower left corners.
It was on my Winter 2018 trip to Death Valley that I was really able to put this camera to the test. There were several times that I filmed video an hour or more before sunrise using only natural light. The camera did so well that I had to darken down the video and add a blue cast to give a better perception of the time of day.
Seeing as how the Sony is designed for video, it offers a lot of control over the look of the video. It was rather intimidating at first, but I finally settled on a rather simple setup.
Recommended Video Settings
Though I experimented a bit with S-Log, I really didn't like the workflow and the final look of the video. It took a lot more work to edit the video, and I didn't appreciate the base ISO of 1600. I did some research after buying the camera, and found that several people suggested a far simpler solution.
Picture Profile: 8
Gamut: Cine 2
This gives rather flat looking video with an impressive dynamic range, and requires very little work on the computer to restore the video to a natural appearance.
When you use these settings, the base ISO is 100, which also means you don't need to use as aggressive of a ND filter. I carry both a 3 stop, and a 6 stop filter with me when shooting in the field. The 6 stop filter is dark enough to shoot my 2.8 lens wide open in full sunlight.
In addition to the customization of the video settings, I also reconfigured the buttons on the camera. These are the changes I made:
Custom Button 1: Focus Magnifier
Custom Button 2: Movie
Custom Button 3: Peaking Level
Custom Button 4: White Balance
AEL Button: SteadyShot
Down Button: Zebra
Battery Life & Charging
Let's face it, the battery life sucks on the Sony A7sII. I knew that going into it, and it's actually not that big of a deal just so long as you carry enough batteries, and have a way to keep them charged in the field. I have a total of 5 batteries, and use a dual USB charger that I purchased from B&H (listed below). Since I work mostly from my truck, I have a Goal Zero Battery pack hooked to the 12 volt outlet in the center console of my 4Runner. Whenever I drive, this battery is charged.
I then plug my USB dual charger into that battery, which allows me to charge my Sony batteries at any time, even if the engine is not running. I use the same charger at home. Overall, I am very satisfied with the A7sII, and plan on using it for many years to come.
Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8
Wide Angle, Compact, Built like a Tank
My favorite lens on my Nikon D750 was the Nikkor 20mm f/1.8. I loved the wide angle, combined with the fast aperture. I initially tried using my Nikkor lens on the Sony with an adapter, but it was a rather akward and bulky setup. I had the opportunity to try the Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8, and it was love at first sight. I absolutely love this lens!
Even though I lost a stop and a third of light, I love the all-manual-focus design of the Loxia, combined with the very compact size. For the purposes of video, this lens has an infinity hard stop with the focus. Technically it is best to crank it all the way to the end, then back it off a bit, but even 4k video doesn't have enough resolution to see the slight difference between true infinity focus and simply cranked all the way to the end of the focus range.
At first I thought that using a manual focus lens would be difficult to focus on my face while doing the walking-and-talking narrative video clips, but with a bit of trial and error, I learned how to precisely preset the focus ring for ideal focus. Now all I have to do is turn the focus ring to a specific point, then start recording video. I no longer need to do any test clips after using face focus like I once did on my Nikon.
Another thing I really like about the Loxia is how bright light sources such as my headlamp at night will give a star effect, even when the aperture all the way wide open. When you combine that with the classic Zeiss look of the bokeh, I really like the footage that I am able to shoot with this lens. This lens uses a very small 52mm filter size, which is great because that further reduces the size of my video kit. My Nikon 20mm was 77mm.
My only complaint with the Loxia series of lenses is that they can be a bit difficult at times to mount to the camera because the focus ring and aperture ring make up most of the outer barrel of the lens. There is only a narrow band between the two that you can grip to attach the lens.
Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2.0
Outstanding Bokeh, Compact Design
Not long after buying the Loxia 21mm, I decided to purchase the Loxia 50mm. I needed something that would work well for both my in-studio videos as well as my in-the-field videos.
I really like the normal perspective that this lens gives, especially when combined with the buttery smooth bokeh. The design of this lens is very similar to the Zeiss Loxia 21mm, though it is a bit smaller. As an added bonus, it uses the same 52mm filters as my Loxia 21mm. On my previous Nikon setup, I couldn't share filters between my lenses, but now I can carry a much simplified filter kit.
Much like the Loxia 21mm, this is a lens that I have no hesitation shooting wide open. I prefer to shoot it wide open in many situations because it has a very pleasing subtle vignette that works great for my in-studio videos. This lens is very sharp, and easy to focus manually thanks to the large throw of the focus ring. All of the Loxia lenses have a fantastic lens hood design. It is an all-metal hood that is very compact when reversed, and clicks very securely into place.
Overall I am very happy with both this lens and my 21mm. I have no desire for any other lenses, which is great because it helps to keep my kit compact and easy to carry in the field.
Sony RX100 VA
My Lightweight Backpacking Video Kit
For the past several years, I have used a Canon G7XII for my ultra compact video camera. I was very happy with the camera, but upon purchasing the A7sII, I was hooked on 4k video and my Canon was only HD.
At first I looked at the Panasonic LX10 and I liked the overall feature set, but it had one major issue. When you film at 4k, you lose the 24mm wide angle and are reduced to 38mm. This is a big problem because I really need to have the 24mm wide angle.
As a result, I went with the Sony RX100 VA. Despite the lens speed advantage of the Panasonic (1.4 vs. 1.8), the Sony does better in low light because of the better high ISO ability. I am also very impressed with the dynamic range of this little camera. Just so long as you don't overexpose your highlights, the shadows will have plenty of detail in contrasty light.
Effective Audio Solutions
This camera does not have a mic jack so you must either work with the built-in mics, or record audio separately. My technique is a combination of the two. When possible, I record audio separate with a Tascam DR-10L (listed below), but I have also done some modifications to make the built-in mics better.
With my previous G7XII, I purchased some small adhesive deadcats made by Rycote, and stuck them over the built-in mics. This did a great job reducing the wind noise.
The problem with the RX100VA is that one of the mics is located on a narrow ridge between the pop-up flash and the pop-up viewfinder. The other built-in mic is located on the other side of the pop-up flash. If I used the same strategy as my Canon G7XII, I would essentially be gluing down the flash and the viewfinder.
As a workaround, I purchased some self adhesive magnetic square off amazon, and cut them to fit perfectly around the popup viewfinder and flash. I poked holes in those tiles to allow sound to get down to the built-in mics. I then poked holes in another set of magnetic tiles to correspond to the holes in the first ones, and stuck a fuzzy deadcat to the top of the secondary tiles. Now I have magnetic deadcats that can can be easily removed when the viewfinder or flash is needed.
Recommended Video Settings
Much like the Sony A7sII, the RX100VA has extensive controls for video. It took a bit of experimenting, but I finally came across a setup that I really like:
Picture Profile 5
Black Level: 0
Gamma: Cine 2
Color Mode: ITU709 Matrix
Color Phase: 0
I also reconfigured some of the custom buttons to make it easier to work with the camera. Here are my settings:
C button: Focus Standard
Center Button: AF/MF Ctrl Toggle
Left Button: ND Filter
Right Button: ISO
Autofocus vs. Manual focus
Though the Sony RX100VA has better autofocus than many of the compact cameras, it will still be confused by certain subjects. That is why I prefer to use manual focus nearly all the time. Using the custom settings I just discussed, I modified the camera so that I press the C Button on the back of the camera to pull up a focus target, then place it on my face and press the center button to lock it in. I then press the center button one more time to toggle the camera into MF mode. This way I can rely on the camera to autofocus on my face, but lock it in so it doesn't change. This is a workaround since Sony doesn't have a "one shot" focus mode that locks the focus and doesn't change it once you start recording video. This technique works quite well.
Battery Life & Charging
Let's face it, the battery life on this camera sucks. That being said, the batteries are small because the camera is so small, so it is a tradeoff. I have 6 batteries for my RX100VA, which gives me plenty of recording time. If I am working out of my truck, I can charge the batteries as I use them to stay on top of things.
This becomes a bit more of a challenge when I am in the backcountry on a backpacking trip. For that, I need to solar charge the batteries each day.
I have a now-discontinued small solar panel from Goal Zero (Nomad 3.5) that feeds power to a USB battery pack. It takes about 8 hours of sun to charge the battery pack. Once it is full, I can use that power to charge 2 batteries when I get back to camp. Sony makes an awesome super compact USB battery charger for the X series batteries (listed below) that is perfect for charging the batteries this way. I have two of those chargers and plug them both into the dual USB-out ports on the big solar powered battery.
On my last trip, I was able to charge 2 batteries each day, but I was consuming 2.5 to 3 batteries each day. At some point, this will catch up and I will have to either ration battery life, or find a way to charge more batteries.
Right out of the box, the RX100 VA is not able to accept filters. It has a built-in ND filter which is great, but I find it's not dark enough for shooting in full sunlight. I looked into the options, and found that a company named Lensmate makes a bayonet style filter holding system that is made for this camera (listed below).
Using a very strong (though removable) adhesive, the plastic receiver piece attaches to the front of the extending lens. Simply attach a 52mm filter of your choice to the included filter holder, and you can click the filter on or off very easily. I found that a 5 stop ND filter is an ideal match for the RX100 VA. The built-in ND filter is 3 stops, so I can combine the two for 8 stops if necessary. I also have a small grad ND filter that I can use to help control bright skies. Just be careful when using this filter adapter because you can easily pinch your fingers if you have them in the wrong place when the camera is turned off and the lens retracts.
Sony crams a ton of electronics into this tiny camera, and some of these components generate a fair amount of heat. This is not an issue when using this camera to take photos, but if you record long video clips, you might receive an overheating warning. I found that video clips in the 5 minute range would typically yield this warning. The LCD will dim and a warning will appear on screen. If you just let the camera go, it will eventually shut off. Though it is a bit annoying at times, it just comes with the territory of having such a small camera.
The most important part about video is audio. This can be especially difficult when filming outdoors in potentially windy environments. I use a variety of different audio recording tools depending on this exact situation I am working with.
Rode Stereo Videomic X
High Quality Audio, Nearly Windproof Design
Let's face it, this mic is my secret weapon. It is how I am able to record clean audio in very windy situations like the windswept dunes in Death Valley National Park. Typically one would use a directional mic to minimize sound coming from different directions, but I am off on my own without a lot of competing sound, so the stereo mic works quite well for my voice.
There are some major advantages to using a stereo mic for my video journals in the field. It allows me to capture the sound of nature in a beautiful way that is especially evident when listening to the videos with headphones. If I walk past the camera on the left side and there is a small stream on the right side, the full stereo audio will give a much better feeling of being there and listening to it in person.
Unlike a directional mic that is long and skinny, stereo mics are short, stubby, and somewhat spherical. This small difference in shape makes stereo mics an even better choice when filming video in high wind. I have used this mic in conditions where my shirt was flapping like a flag in the wind, and it performed incredibly well. Not only can you hear the sound of my voice easily over the sound of the wind, the sound of the wind is also quite natural which helps to tell the story of the conditions.
First and foremost, I always use the deadcat that was included with this mic. It greatly helps to reduce the sound of wind. In addition to that, I turn the gain to +20, then set the audio levels to 5 or 6 on my Sony A7sII. I don't find the need to use the low cut or high frequency boost. Battery life is decent with this mic, but I always make sure I have an extra 9V battery with me just in case. There isn't much warning with the battery indicator. Be careful when using this mic in the rain/snow. It is definitely very sensitive to moisture.
Tascam DR-10L Audio REcorder
Impressively Compact Design, Great Audio Quality
I purchased this in 2017 after realizing the need for a tiny audio recorder when working with my compact Sony RX100 V camera on backpacking trips. The built-in mics on my Sony do okay when you are very close to the camera, but it is nice to step away from the camera at times and still have clean audio. This gives more flexibility when recording video.
Many people use the Zoom H1 or a smartphone as an audio recorder while using a lavalier mic, but neither of these were ideal solutions for me. The Zoom H1 was kind of large, and smart phones have an issue with battery life, combined with the lack of expandable storage.
I did some searching on the web, and came across the Tascam DR-10L audio recorder. This thing is truly small — It can fit in a shirt pocket, and it is powered by a single AAA battery. The user interface is incredibly simple, but still has custom controls including audio levels. One of the things I like most about the design of this audio recorder is the spring-loaded sliding switch on the side. This single switch is used to turn the unit on/off, as well as start/stop the audio recording. You must slide it and hold it in position to initiate any of these changes, so it would be nearly impossible to accidentally turn on/off the recorder or inadvertently start/stop the recording. I also like how the OLED screen inverts from black writing on a white background to white writing on a black background when recording. It is easy to see at a quick glance.
Though this audio recorder comes with a perfectly good lavalier mic, I decided to instead use a Rode PinMic that I already had. That allows me to pin the mic through my shirt so I can better hide the mic, and I don't have to worry about the mic brushing up against any clothing.
This audio recorder uses micro SD cards, and the maximum size is 32gb. It won't understand cards any bigger than that. I found battery life to be quite good, though I always brought along a spare AAA battery. Overall, I am very happy with this audio recorder, and plan on using it on future backpacking trips when I'm not able to use an on-camera mic.
My Secret Weapon for Voiceover Work
Without a doubt, voiceover work is the toughest part of creating my videos. That's why it helps to have a very good microphone. I have been using this mic for just over a year now, and am very happy with the results. I can hook it directly to my computer, and record the voiceovers right into Final Cut Pro. It should be noted that this mic is sensitive to other sounds in a room, so you need to make sure that you have a rather controlled environment. I place this mic into an enclosure made of foam for extra clean audio. The USB cord that this mic comes with is extremely generious, and I am very happy overall with the mic. In addition to using this mic for my voiceover work, it is also the mic I have used when I have been a guest on recent podcasts.
Tripods & Supports
Gitzo 0 Series Mountaineer
A Glorified Selfie Stick
Many people these days are using Gorillapods or gimbals when recording video — but I prefer the simplicity of using a collapsed tripod. When using a Gorillapod or gimbal, you have to support the entire weight of the camera with your arm. This might be fine at first, but if you're like me and you have to do quite a few takes, it's tough to do.
By using a collapsed tripod, I am able to place the feet against my right hip, and much of the weight is transferred to my body. My right arm can then support and guide the tripod, and it doesn't have to carry very much of the load. To do this, I collapse all the legs on my Gitzo 0 series mountaineer, then extend the center column all the way. This gives the perfect distance from my face, which also makes using my manual focus lenses easier. I have also found that holding the three legs of the collapsed tripod is quite comfortable.
I am able to achieve very smooth video by doing this, and it is great to use the exact same tripod for static shots. Here is an added bonus. Though the Gitzo 0 series mountaineer is an extremely lightweight tripod, it will hold my 24" motorized slider from Rhino just fine. That just goes to show how sturdy this little tripod really is. I have owned this tripod since 2011, which makes it the oldest piece of equipment of my video kit.
Sirui K-10X Ballhead
Compact & Well Built
For many years, I used a small manfrotto ballhead on top of the Gitzo 0 series tripod, but I have recently switched to a Sirui K-10x because it uses Arca Swiss type plates. This allows me to stay a bit more uniform across the board with attaching my camera to a variety of different mounts. I am very happy with this ballhead, and know that it will last for a very long time. This is the smallest in the lineup, but they also make much larger ballheads ideal for larger camera setups. Overall I am very pleased with this setup, and I know it will last a very long time.
Sliders & Motion Control
Rhino Evo Carbon 24" + Motion
Relatively Compact and Easy to Hike With
I love the cinematic look of a slider. It gives a better sense of depth, and makes the video far more engaging. The problem is that it's just one more piece of equipment to bring along. In 2016, I decided to add a slider to my kit, but I wanted to make sure it checked all the boxes of what I needed. This was my criteria:
Small enough to hike with
Very Quiet Motor
Easy to Control
Quick to Setup
I was convinced that the perfect setup didn't exist, but I did some research and liked what I saw from Rhino. This setup did everything I needed, though the price tag was a bit more than I would have preferred to spend.
It should be noted that this is a modular slider that can pushed by hand, given an assist with a fly wheel, or fully motorized. I opted for the motorized kit since I am a one man operation.
The Rhino Motion Kit includes a motor that clips to the end of the slider, and a controller that also houses the battery. The controller is designed very similar to a first generation iPod with the click wheel and LCD screen. The controller unit attaches to the motor using a network cable, and magnetically attaches to the end of the motor.
Though the slider can be used for time lapse or live motion, I use it almost exclusively for live motion video. In that mode, you can control how far the camera will travel, which direction it travels, and how long it will take to travel. It's possible for the camera to bounce back and forth, which is a very useful feature.
The motor is very well suited to move the camera quickly and efficiently when the slider is level, but it wasn't designed to haul the camera up a steep incline. I use a leveling base on my tripod that can tilt 15 degrees, and the slider can haul my camera up that just fine. It maxes out around 25 to 30 degrees though. You also have to be careful when using it on an incline because the motor requires power to hold the camera in position. If the slider is turned off when the camera is on the high end, it will be quickly pulled back down by gravity. If you are not careful, this could knock over your tripod.
This slider uses brushless motors so it is very quiet in operation, but it is not silent. I like to record natural sounds when I'm in the field, so I usually run my mic on a 20 foot cord, and place it on the ground a few feet ahead of my tripod. That way I can record audio without picking up the sound of the motor.
In late 2017, I added the Rhino Arc to my Slider Kit. This is a separate motorized piece that attaches to the carriage, and provides rotational panning in addition to the sliding motion. I really like the added sense of depth that this provides.
I should also note that I use this slider on a tiny Gitzo 0 series tripod that is not technically rated for this sort of load, but it works just fine so long as you are careful with the distribution of weight. That is a testament to the strength of Gitzo tripods.