India: What’s In My Backpack

India 2013

By Lindsey Mastis

February 06, 2013

Also published at Lindsey Mastis' blog

I’m heading to India for two weeks to report on child survival with the International Reporting Project*, a non-profit journalism organization. I’ll be putting together news stories using various media. For this adventure, I’ll be taking my Nikon D3200 with a bunch of accessories that will allow me to produce content for television broadcasts, radio, print, photography and (hopefully) interactive multimedia on the web.

This is the first time I’ll be using these tools. Taking a whole new set of gear to a foreign country is intimidating--I’m not gonna lie. But I think this kit is very versatile and I’ll be able to accomplish my goals of creating numerous eye-opening stories about the troubling facts of life for so many young children in India, struggling to survive in difficult circumstances.

Here is what's in my backpack.

 

Nikon D3200 (Red)

Price: $700 retail, $600 on Amazon

Yes, I had to get the shiny red one. This way my husband and I can tell our cameras apart; he uses the Nikon D5100. I chose this camera because it allows users to adjust the input audio volume, which I could not do with the D5100. I can place a mini-jack microphone directly into the camera and monitor the volume. It records HD 1080p video, which is what I need to produce high-quality news stories.

 

Nikon 18mm – 300mm Lens

Price: $1,000 retail and on Amazon

When I went to Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, last November, I brought a wide angle lens and a 70mm – 300mm zoom lens. I was constantly switching them and was worried one would roll out of my bag and disappear or break. As soon as I got back, I started researching lenses to solve this problem. I decided on this lens because I don’t have to change lenses to go from extremely wide to extremely close-up. This particular lens uses new technology, so the lens itself is that long when retracted. It takes beautiful pictures, but I find that its autofocus does take some extra time when fully extended, so I generally use manual focus with this lens.

 

SLIK Pro 340QF Tripod

Price: $125 on Amazon

This is the tripod I should have bought first. Instead, I purchased a cute tripod that matched my red camera, not thinking fully about its functionality for video. I paid twice as much for a tripod that didn’t tilt. Every one-man-bander knows that tilt is a must, especially when doing stand-ups by yourself. This SLIK tripod, on the other hand, is amazing. It’s light, compact, and yet comes with a very fluid head that pans and tilts. Plus, it extends pretty high – much higher than me, which is great because almost everyone I interview is taller than me. Not to mention, it includes a bubble level. (Why do companies make tripods without it?)

 

Tamrac Evolution 8 Backpack

Price: $175 in store, $165 on Amazon

After watching several product videos, browsing the isles of Samy’s Camera, and reading up on customer reviews on Amazon, I decided on Tamrac’s Evolution 8 Backpack for its size and versatility. It’s “carry-on compatible” and has a separate space for a laptop, and the ability to clip on a small travel-sized tripod. It comes with a rain cover that fits over the entire backpack, and the straps can be adjusted to be worn as a regular backpack or a sling. That means I don’t have to take the backpack off to access my gear. It’s very padded, so I don’t worry about my gear getting bruised up. I can also use the velcro dividers to customize the lower portion of the bag, which works well because I have a very large (fat) lens.

Zoom H4N Recorder

Price: $265 retail, $225 on Amazon

I have never used one of these recorders before, even though many of my radio friends have. Although my Nikon has an audio jack, there’s no way to record off a mic and get NAT sound. Plus, I’m a bit concerned about having an interviewee attached to such a small device (if they walk away, the camera will fall over). I decided to purchase this device because I can treat it like a wireless mic system while getting superb audio for a decent price. I almost bought a cheaper model, but decided on the Zoom because of its features. I can use the built-in microphones (it comes with a windscreen) to record NAT sound. At the bottom, I can plug in two separate XLR cables. It has four channels and I can record them all at once. But what really sold me on this device (surprisingly) is the mini-jack input in the back. It means I can use the same microphone I use for my DSLR.

Blue Icicle XLR to USB

Price: $50 retail or on Amazon

I’ve been using this handy tool since my WUSA days in Washington, DC. It allows me to record on an XLR microphone directly into my computer via USB. My friend Scott Broom first discovered this device at a Guitar Center and we were soon using it to do live reports via Skype using our Sony EX-1s (which worked, but without sound, which is why we needed the Icicles.) I use the Icicle every day to record my radio reports in Wavepad for Feature Story News, or voice directly into Final Cut Pro. It’s not perfect, but it’s light and easy to use. I actually keep it in my purse at all times.

Audio-Technica Lavalier Microphone

Price: $30 retail, $17 on Amazon

This is a very cheap lavalier. I haven’t tried it out yet, so I’m not sure of the audio quality. But it works, and I won’t have to worry about something happening to this microphone because it’s cheap to replace. I’ve used a similar microphone in the past and it worked quite well. This has a mini-jack cable so I can plug it straight into my Nikon. It features a very long cord (way too long in my opinion). I’ll be using this more as a back-up microphone when I don’t have time to grab my Zoom and drag out the XLR cables.

Eco-Friendly Lens Cleanse by Hoodman 

Price: $10 retail, $12 on Amazon

I picked these up a bit cheaper at Samy’s Camera because they have a deal with Hoodman, the company that makes the product. I haven’t used them yet, but I like the idea of having sealed wet and dry towelette wipes to clean my lenses. That means I don’t have to worry about dirt on a cloth scratching my lens. (Yes, I have a lens filter, but it’s $50 and I don’t want that scratched either.)

LED Top Light

Price: $30 on Amazon

I haven’t tried this out yet because I just ordered it online, but yes, this light is only $30. It’s LED, which means it won’t get hot, and it includes a dimmer. It comes with several filters (yay!) and has the option to use a lithium battery or double-As, which is critical when spending a long day shooting. I need an LED light instead of a flash for my DSLR because I’ll be shooting video. My DSLR already comes with a tiny built-in flash so it’s not like I’ll be without a typical flash for photos. I’m excited to try this new light out. Similar lights I looked at in retail stores averaged about $120 in price. I hope this one works well--it would be awful if it flickered. We’ll see!

Pyle-Pro Wireless Lavalier 

Price: $15 on Amazon

This is another microphone I haven’t tried out yet because when it arrived in the mail, I realized it featured a regular-sized jack, not a mini. So I’ll have to modify it. I want to give it a try because it will allow me to record into my Nikon and wirelessly mic up an interviewee. The most important feature will be its sound quality. I need to make sure there is no disruption in the audio. I’m sure its frequency is quite limited. But in a rural area of India, it will probably work well. I figured I’d give it a try, since it is so affordable to do so.

PaleKai Waterproof iPhone Case

Price: $50 retail or $23 on Amazon

I don’t have the money to buy a GoPro, and after trying out a lesser-known brand with disappointing results, I opted to go with my trusted iPhone. I got this case so I can dunk it water or place it on the ground in mud. My iPhone camera already features a wide-angle lens (like the GoPro) and I can actually see what I’m filming, unlike the GoPro--it would cost $100 extra to add a viewing screen to a GoPro 1 or 2. I can’t wait to dirty it up!

Lindsey Mastis is a video correspondent in Los Angeles for Feature Story News. Lindsey traveled to India to report on child survival with the International Reporting Project.