Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Look into the Camera Bag of a Watch Blogger from aBlogtoWatch

As a watch blogger for aBlogtoWatch I have found an inordinate number of watch lovers who are camera lovers as well. There must be something about the mechanical nature of these two passions and perhaps the small size of the associated objects they are all about.

I thought therefore that it would be nice as part of your understanding of what goes on behind the scenes of ABTW to have a look at the pieces of the camera equipment I have chosen and how they work together to accomplish what I need to do.

My kit has to accomplish quite a number of tasks. In a nutshell, I need photos to illustrate my articles as well as video to add a more rounded aspect to the coverage. Video is also helpful in showing the movements of certain watch mechanisms in a way that a still cannot.

ABTW puts up multimedia content in this brave new world of the internet where we consume our media in still and moving images. As a believer in this way of media coverage, I do both despite having been a professional photographer in a former life. Doing video is still relatively new to me, but it has been very engaging due to my latent film-making aspirations. Still, it is quite a rare combination as I have found, especially so as a one man journalist.

At major watch events. I see that individual press generally doing either photo or video but not both. This means that oftentimes the gear they use is optimized for their particular specialty.

For photographers, it is usually a large SLR or two. I have seen the Canon EOS 5D Mk 2 and 3 in use many times and it is a very popular camera. Even those who use the video function on these camera tend to only use it for video only when rigged up due to the inherent disadvantages of the traditional SLR over a mirrorless camera. Also it is difficult to tear down for stills use, which makes back and forth switching very inconvenient.

On the video side, I have seen that videographers tend to use large broadcast type cameras or smaller camcorders along with the associated bits one is used to seeing. 

In all my time however, I  haven't found anyone within the watch media who uses a similar kit like mine and it has been quite often when the people I interview also comment on my rather unusual setup.

That may be because I do both photo and video and to have a kit comprising the equipment I just mentioned would require me to wheel everything around due to the immense weight.That is decidedly not a path for me as it would be slow and inefficient.

Instead, everything has to be light in weight, and quick to use in both photo and video mode. Aside from video interviews with associated B roll, my setup has to be able to handle standard press type shots, with wide angle, macro and moderate telephoto coverage all in one.

In finalizing the pieces I have currently in my bag, I have taken every new piece of gear and put it through real live situations. In the process I have discarded things I imagined would be useful and kept others that I didn't realize would be. The benchmark of finding a place in my bag is in having proven its utility in real use. I'm happy to say that for the moment, the current version of my equipment choice has remained stable for quite a number of months.

One more word on being a one man writer/photographer/videographer: I had to develop a proper procedure for handling all three at the same time. It is very difficult juggling photo and video and the associated bits of equipment while engaging an interview subject at the same time. In my early attempts, I had forgotten to get certain shots I needed as I was to preoccupied with video or vice-versa for photo. It'll be nice to have an assistant along to help, but that might be further down the road. 

1. Main camera: Sony Nex 6

I have always been partial to the Sony NEX series of cameras and the NEX 6 solves all the problems of its predecessors. I have used the NEX 7 and the NEX 5n before but there were too many situations when I had to let the camera cool down when doing extended video. Many a watch company CEO has had to wait patiently for my sensor to cool down and after the 5th occasion of that happening, I had to look for a new solution. Luckily the NEX 6 solves this problem very well. I have tried to overheat it in tests and it has never done so.

The NEX 6 of course shares the same advantages as the other cameras in the NEX line, It's much smaller in the camera bag than a Canon SLR and a camcorder together and functions well as both. Plus there is autofocus in video mode which is one less thing to worry about when I am also looking over sound and the framing.

The sensor in this camera is also very good, and is the same utilized in many much bigger SLRs using APS-C sized sensors, so photography is no problem. An electronic view finder allows stable composition in both photo and video and a quick switch is only a button press away.

My NEX-6 is sits permanently on a palm-grip, which facilitates handling by making the grip bigger as well as quick mounting on my tripod with the included Arca-Swiss plate at the bottom. The only downside to this otherwise fine camera is that aliasing sometimes occurs in video. I handle that by looking for potential problems in the scene to minimize it.

This camera as well is used for photography with the following lenses.

2. Lens 1: Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron

This was a lens that I used with my film camera, the Leica M6 back when film was the only game in time. On my NEX 6, it has a 56mm equivalent field of view and a perfect focal length for head and shoulders style shots for interview subjects. The f2 aperture allows me to get a lovely out of focus background which just looks marvelous. 

My copy of this lens was de-clicked by a sand storm in Egypt. While I was sad in the beginning, I realized that the click-less aperture allows silent aperture changes during video. 

 3. Lens 2: Canon 50mm f2.5 Macro

This is an old Canon 50mm macro that I use with an adapter for my NEX 6 that allows electronic aperture change. This lens is for extreme close-ups when I need to capture the details of a watch.

4. Lens 3: Sony NEX16-50 

This is the kit lens that came with the camera, and it is extremely compact when folded up, making a small overall small package when the camera is off. It covers a wide variety of situations, especially for running and gunning video work with the smooth and silent autofocus.

5. Sony RX100

This is my B cam, that sometimes does the wide angle shot in a two video camera setup. The white balance and general characteristics match well with the Sony NEX 6. In a pinch, this camera is also useful of a backup, being able to deliver great photo and video while not being any bigger than a pack of cards.

6. Zoom H1 plus lavaliere

I use double system sound with this video kit, syncing the sound with 3 loud claps. 

7. Tripods

I carry one table top tripod and a travel tripod that goes to 150cm in full extension. The table top tripod is better for watch photography as there is less to get in the way.

In conclusion
Choosing camera equipment is a matter of compromise and my current solution as shown here works very well. Ultimately, what has kept to these pieces is the overall weight of everything in a backpack, balanced with what I can do with it. Have a look at my writing archive at this link or some sample videos below:

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