Gear of a Multimedia Journalism Student Part 2: Audio Gear

The Gear that Got Me Through the First Year of a Multimedia Journalism Program: Part 2 Audio Gear

zoom H4n

Read Part 01 of this gear review: Gear of a Multimedia Journalism Student, which focuses on video equipment.

Honestly, I did not purchase audio equipment until half way through my second semester.  I did not foresee the need for any of the audio equipment listed below but I can say that during the course of this semester I learned that quality audio is just as important as quality video in storytelling.

1. Zoom H4n 31IB-HEanfL–When faced with buying an Audio Recorder, my two main choices were the Marantz 661 and the Zoom H4n.  The Marantz was a little bit outside of my budget.  Update: I’ve been playing around with a Marantz 660 and the sound quality is great and I like some of the extra options but right now as a student I really have no immediate need for fancy options.

I went with the Zoom and I’ve been very happy with the decision.  It’s a solid recorder and I love that I have the option to mount the Zoom H4n onto my Canon T2i!  There are a lot of other options out there but I wouldn’t recommend that you get a recorder without any of these features:  xlr input, option for phantom power, long battery life, and recording in .wav and .mp3 formats

Pros: Affordable, it’s loaded with all the important options, mountable to my Cannon T2i, xlr input with the option for phantom power, great battery life.
Cons: Menu and buttons could use some usability testing (but that’s just nitpicking cause I’m very happy with my Zoom)

audio technica mic2. Audio-Technica AT8010 Omnidirectional Condenser Microphone – It’s the other half to my Zoom H4n.  There are so many microphones out there and an omni-directional mic is a good starter mic.  It was recommended to my friend and classmate Assia Boundaoui, who took this microphone to Egypt with her to report on the revolution.  You can check out the stuff she recorded with this mic here.

Pro:  xlr, option for phantom power, great sound, great size
Cons: because it’s an omni-directional mic, you have to be very careful of picking up unwanted sound.  You have to learn how to position a mic.

Accessories:

– A pair of over the ear headphones or a really good pair of in-ear headphones.
– SD Cards
– Batteries
– A desktop mic stand
– a short and a long xlr cable (I went with the 3 ft)

Here’s a price round-up.  Like I said before, I had a very tight budget for school, and I’m really happy with my gear.

MacBook Pro~$2400

Canon T2i body only (price now) ~$550

Canon 18-200mm 3.5f-5.5f lens ~$600

Canon Macro lens – 60 mm – F/2.8 ~$450

Canon 50mm 1.8 ~$100

Manfrotto Tripod and Head~$200

Zoom H4n: ~$299

Audio Technica Mic ~$150

SD cards ~$100 for 3 different cards I have

Hard drives: ~$300

______ Total: ~$5,149

If you missed the first part of this 2 part series, check out: Gear of a Multimedia Journalism Student Part 1: Video Gear

As always, I would love to hear about some of your gear! Leave me a comment if you have questions about my program or the equipment I chose to use.

Gear of a Multi-Media Journalism Student

The Gear that Got Me Through the First Year of a Multimedia Journalism Program: Part 1 Photo/Video

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Going back to school can be a stressful time for most students. Last August, I made the big move to NYC to start my Grad Multimedia Journalism Program at NYU called Studio 20. Spearheaded by Jay Rosen, Studio 20 is a Journalism program that covers programming, shooting video, audio, web design and, of course, writing.

Even though school started in September, my stress with equipment started in June, and that is why I wanted to post this round-up of gadgets I used and the lessons I learned from budgeting all of this. I had no idea what kinds of skills and equipment I’d need. Also, I did not want to take out a huge loan because if the money’s there I knew that I’d find a way to spend it and later regret it. Note: do take out some extra money for unforeseen events.

Studio 20 has an equipment room but I really wanted to have my own gear for all my classes for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I wanted to learn on my equipment, not a $2,000 camera that I won’t have access to after my time at NYU. I might not have the best equipment in the world, but if I’m comfortable with what I do have and know how to get the most out of it then I’m happy with that. Another reason is that I didn’t want to have to schedule my interviews around the schedule of my rental equipment. The third reason is that, well, let’s face it, I’m a gadget nerd.

This week I’m going to share a list of video and photo gadgets that got me through my first year in a multimedia journalism program, and I hope that it’ll help you plan your back-to-school budget.

1. My trusty Canon T2i. Canon T2i

I used this camera for HD video and photojournalism. Retailers normally will offer the option of buying the camera body by itself and the body paired with a kit lens for maybe $100 more. Getting the body is enough because after I bought my other lenses I never used the kit lens again. I, however, couldn’t afford better lenses right away so I bought the kit lens to practice on– but I have to tell you, I learned way more when I had better lenses cause they gave me more creative options.

Click here to see a video project I did for school with this camera.  (Audio recorded on my Zoom H4n)

Click here to see some photos I took with my T2i.

Tech Tip: Spend more on lenses than what you spend on the body of the camera. You can almost always use the lenses with a different camera body and also the lenses hold up their resale value better than the body itself.

A note on the T3i: When I bought my camera the T2i was the newest model. For this article, I compared the T2i and the T3i and found minimal differences for what I use my camera for as a multimedia student. While I don’t normally recommend buying an older model of anything, I’m going to break that rule and recommend that if you are on a tight budget buy the T2i and put the extra money towards a good lens.

Accessories:

Canon 18-200mm 3.5f-5.5f lens – an all purpose lens that can take a pretty good wide angle shot and zoom shot.

Pro: I only have to bring one lens out with me.

Con: I’d need a better lens for shooting in low light conditions.

-Canon EF-S Macro lens – 60 mm – F/2.8 – a great macro lens for close-up shots. (great for food photography with a tripod)

Pro: Great price for a specialty lens

Con: In low light conditions, you’ll certainly need a tripod

-Canon 50mm F/1.8 lens – The lens I take with me for low light environments

Pros: Great price, light-weight. Teaches you to move to the object instead of zooming in.

Cons: not good for wide shots.

Manfrotto Tripod (055xPROB Pro Tripod Legs) and Manfrotto 391RC2 Junior Pan Head –I didn’t think I needed it but I was wrong. Tripods are essential for video and low light photography and macro shots.

SD or SDHC cards – 32 GB is ideal for HD video.

Optional: Extra battery if you will be shooting a longer piece in HD video

Apple 15in MacBook Pro 2.66Ghz i72. Apple 15in MacBook Pro 2.66Ghz i7 with a Hi Res display, 4GB of RAM and 500GB of Hard drive space. — Great for Final Cut Pro and Adobe Creative Suit 5. (The spec for the processor will be different because Apple has changed the type of processor in the MBPs)

My computer is at the center of all my gear. Without a solid computer to go back to, it can be very discouraging and frustrating to edit all the audio and video that you shot on your amazing camera and audio recorder. Don’t tighten your purse strings when it comes to your computer. SERIOUSLY!

3. External hard drives.

I hope you already have one for your backups. If you don’t already backup, do it today! You can never have enough backups.

I have an Apple Time Capsule because it backs up automatically when my computer is in the house. I tried an external Hard Drive to backup my portable computer, but found that I wasn’t plugging it in frequently enough and got scared.  Now I have an Apple Time Capsule, a router with a built-in hard drive, that backs up my computer wirelessly when my computer is in the house.

I also have a 2 TB LaCie RAID drive with hot swappable drives. I use that for my older videos that I want to keep around.

My last little drive is a LaCie Small Disk. It’s a portable external HD with 2 FireWire 800 ports and a built in USB cord.

Yes, I use all of these external hard drives almost every day.

I also have a Mobile Me account for cloud storage ($99). It’s great if I’m working on a computer that’s not my own. I can upload it to that (there are free solutions out there like ge.tt).

Tech Tip: 2 important things to look for on an external HD: 2 FireWire ports that can be a mixture of FW 400 and FW 800 (for daisy chaining), optional USB ports (USB is easier if you have to use it with a PC)

Please leave a comment if you have any questions about any of the gear I listed, or you can recommend something from your own set of gear.  Let me know if I missed anything you find essential.

Stay Tuned for Part 2: Audio Equipment

Live Video Webcast of PaidContent 2011

The gear, tools and services we used for a multi-camera live video webcast

A quick recap of the 3 camera live video webcast we produced for the the PaidContent 2011 conference last week at The Times Center in NYC.

We had three Sony EX1 HD cameras sending down-converted Standard Definition (SD) video via 100′ BNC cables back to a Tricaster Broadcast video mixing board. The house audio feed was also going into the Tricaster Broadcast.

From the Tricaster, we sent composite video and audio to a Canopus ADVC 110, which converts the analog signal to digital.

We then sent the digital signal out the Canopus ADVC 110 via firewire to a Mac laptop, which had Telestream Wirecast loaded on it.

We broadcast the live feed to our Livestream pro account, which was featured on the Livestream site and also embedded on a few Web sites, along with a twitter chat widget.

We had a total of 8,580 unique viewers during the day long broadcast and a peak of 432 viewers at any one point in time.

The largest audience came from the US, followed by Brazil, the UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, Argentina, France, Canada and India.

Tumblr vs WordPress – Why We Went With…

Question: Why choose Tumblr or WordPress.com to connect with a User Community. Both offer publishing, both offer community, how do you make the call. Here’s what went through our mind when we made that choice for a documentary project.

A little bit of background: We’re producing a cross platform documentary called the Future Journalism Project and recently launched a blog dedicated to it. I won’t give away our platform choice right here but this post is a response to a question another documentary filmmaker asked us: Should I be on Tumblr or WordPress.com.

Tough question: you’re asking how we chose between two flavors of awesome.

Here’s a bit of what our needs were/are and our thinking.

In November we decided to launch a blog to get word out about the Future Journalism Project; curate ideas and themes we came across in our research and interviews; and interact with others who are both concerned with and excited by changes taking place in American news media.

To engage publicly we needed a platform to do so. Twitter was a starting point and we post away at @futureJproject.

As said above though, we wanted to curate ideas so needed something that allowed for something more substantial than 140 characters. We could have installed WordPress, Drupal or Expression Engine but that’s overkill for where we are in the project. More importantly, it wouldn’t immediately connect us with a community.

So we looked at hosted solutions and online communities. Facebook was a thought. It’s obviously an easy place to set up a page and post links and such to it like we do here. But it doesn’t paginate, which we like. And it’s Facebook, which with its shifting user agreements and privacy issues we don’t particularly like. With that caveat aside, we will do something there in the upcoming months. It’s simply too big a gorilla to ignore.

WordPress.com was thought about but involves a level of complexity around posting that we didn’t need. Not that it’s difficult to post, just that it takes a few minutes longer than on Tumblr or Posterous. Also, while you can subscribe to blogs, much like you can follow blogs on Tumblr, and like posts, much like you can heart them on Tumblr, and even reblog posts just like you do here at Tumblr, the vibe isn’t as intimate as Tumblr’s.

Put another way, it’s a User Experience thing.

Tumblr positions community as the primary medium with tools given to members to share content with one another. The User Interface of the Dashboard (ie., post a photo, post a link, post a video, etc.) more or less keeps published items short and sweet.

WordPress.com positions publishing as the primary medium with tools given to create some community. The User Interface of its Dashboard suggests creating longer articles and posts.

Since long articles and other content management complexity wasn’t a concern, we went with community. When we do need a more “sophisticated” platform, we’ll still Tumble.

Here are a few reasons why we chose Tumblr:

We can’t be all happiness and rainbows though. What do we dislike about and/or think could be improved?

For one, some mechanism for back channel conversation. For others, check this lengthy list over on Quora.

Like we said up top though, you’re asking why we chose between two flavors of awesome.

It’s not an either/or proposition. For us it will be both/and… or we should say, we’ll be using a self-hosted WordPress multisite install when the time comes. Right now though, Tumblr accomplishes — and accomplishes very well — everything we need.

Zylight IS3 LED Light

Review of the Zylight Professional Studio and On-Location Light

I was watching this Michael Jackson concert video last week and couldn’t help but think that Michael Jackson, combining amazing pop hits with high end concert production, to an audience of Eastern European kids who, until 1990, had grown up on Soviet era polka music, must have been a mind blowing experience. I mean, watch this clip and imagine the context – that you’re 20, you’re eastern European, the wall just came down and your first encounter with western culture is…

I had a similar mind blowing experience when I pulled the Zylight IS3 out and used it for the first time. I was like a 20 year old Romanian kid in the front row of a 1992 Michael Jackson concert. I had goosebumps!

From the Zylight Web Site:

Four-times brighter than other LED fixtures in its class, the IS3 combines Zylight’s unmatched color-mixing technology and high-quality construction to meet the demands of location and studio professionals who require an extremely bright and wide soft source, while offering all of the innovative features for which Zylight is renowned: Fully dimmable with no color shift, adjustable color temperature and color correction, unlimited color control, integrated ZyLink™ wireless control, and rugged construction for years of reliable service.

All functionality of the Zylight IS3 can be controlled via DMX through industry standard XLR connectors, or remotely via the built-in ZyLink™ wireless link. A USB port is included for field upgradeability and the built-in carry handle and shock absorption ensures rock-solid portability. At 18” x 11” x 2” the new IS3 can be powered by either AC or rechargeable battery.

Tricky on-location lighting situations are quickly mastered with the IS3’s adjustable 2500K-10000K color temperature and variable ±GREEN color correction. The easy to use built-in controls and sunlight-readable digital displays make set-up fast, with user-defined presets for storing your favorite settings.

The IS3’s advanced four-color mixing ensures excellent skin tones and rich, accurate color rendition. And the IS3’s wide 90° spread means the IS3 is up to the task for shooting with wide angle lenses or in 16×9 format.

Built-in ZyLink™ technology allows you to wirelessly link together multiple Zylights to create a soft LED source as large as you need. Zylights that are linked together act in concert as if they were one unified LED source, with adjustments made on one light changing all lights in the group.

Gordon Crovitz 05

Copyright Friendly Audio for the Multimedia Producer

Sometimes you need a beats, other times you need a song. Here’s a list a resources to get you going.

Copyright free royalty free music

The question knocking around our email is what are some copyright free and/or royalty free music resources for the multimedia producer.

The answer is in the list below. While not all encompassing, we think it a good start to get you going.

  • ccMixter: dig.ccmixter is devoted to helping you find that great music, all of which is liberally licensed under a Creative Commons license so you already have permission to use this music in your video, podcast, school project, personal music player, or where ever.
  • FreeSound.org: The Freesound Project is a collaborative database of Creative Commons licensed sounds. Freesound focusses only on sound, not songs.
  • Musopen: Musopen is a non-profit focused on improving access and exposure to music by creating free resources and educational materials. We provide recordings, sheet music, and textbooks to the public for free, without copyright restrictions. Put simply, our mission is to set music free.
  • Jamendo: Jamendo is a community of free, legal and unlimited music published under Creative Commons licenses.
  • Library of Congress: Get that old-timey feeling from public domain works via the LOC’s American Memory project.
  • SoundCloud: Creative Commons tagged music from this musician sharing site. Think of it as a Flickr for audio.
  • Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project: Before their were MP3s there were CDs. Before that there were tapes and vinyl. And before that, the cylinder. UC Santa Barbara has been digitizing music from the late 1800s and early 1900s since 2002. Now free for you to use.

Want a Giant Lists of Others?

Check out this massive list from Wikispaces, or if you’re looking for beats and loops to create your own songs, the dmoz Open Directory Project has everything from electronica to banjo for you to sample.

Have resources of your own? What would you add to the list?

Adobe Releases HTML5 Video Player Widget

Adobe pushes into HTML5 video by releasing a new point and click widget that uses Kaltura’s Open Source player.

adobe html5 video widget

Screenshot of the Adobe’s Video Player Widget.

Perhaps Adobe realizes that video won’t be an all Flash affair in the upcoming HTML5 years and this is just their first foray into a new and foggy future. Either way, we say thumbs up for integrating Kaltura’s open source player into the Adobe Widget Browser ecosystem.

The Widget is available through Adobe’s Widget Browser, an exchange program for short bits of useful code such as the video player, various jQuery effects, and Google Maps integration among others, that can be integrated with Dreamweaver or used to grab the HTML if coding by hand is your thing.

From Adobe:

Code generated from the widget plays video in the best possible player for the requested platform using a range of video codecs. Based on the Kaltura open source library, the HTML5 Video Player widget is fully cross-browser compatible with support for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and Opera. Moreover, the player is completely customizable with industry standard CSS techniques, as used in the jQuery ThemeRoller web application. For the ultimate in control, the HTML Video Player widget is JavaScript-driven and provides a robust set of easy-to-extend library functions for importing, editing, and even client-side encoding.

Options to customize the player are relatively simple right now, essentially giving you the ability to decide whether to autoplay the video and apply some light skins. For those that like to roll their own, here’s a look at the code the Widget spits out.

<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN">
<html>
<head>
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8"/>
<title>HTML5 Video Player : Untitled 1</title>
<script type='text/javascript' src='kaltura-html5player-widget/jquery-1.4.2.min.js'></script>
<script type='text/javascript' src='kaltura-html5player-widget/mwEmbed-player-static.js'></script>
<link type='text/css' href='kaltura-html5player-widget/mwEmbed-player-static.css' rel='stylesheet'/>
<style type="text/css">
@import url("http://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jqueryui/1.8.1/themes/ui-darkness/jquery-ui.css");
</style>
</head>

<body>
<video width="" height="" poster="images/elephants-dream.jpg" duration="10:53" preload="metadata"  >
	<source type="video/webm" src="http://cdn.kaltura.org/apis/html5lib/kplayer-examples/media/elephants-dream_400p.webm" />
	<source type="video/h264" src="http://cdn.kaltura.org/apis/html5lib/kplayer-examples/media/elephants-dream_iphone.m4v" />
	<source type="video/ogg" src="http://cdn.kaltura.org/apis/html5lib/kplayer-examples/media/elephants-dream_400p.ogv" />
</video>
</body>
</html>

Simply copy the code between the video tags, and make sure to include the Javascript between the head tags and you’re good to go.

For those that use Dreamweaver, here’s a video tutorial that demonstrates how to use the Widget Browser with that program:

As Zohar Babin, Kaltura’s Head of Developer Relations and Community, notes on the Kaltura Development Blog:

The main reason why HTML5 is raised in every session or workshop on web video lately is due to mobile devices that don’t support Adobe Flash (*cough* iOS). Alas, whenever HTML5 is presented as the “standard-compliant-preferred” solution for doing cross-device video playback it raises many eyebrows, and rightfully so – some claim that HTML5 isn’t ready yet for production websites. At least not on its own. And further, most mobile devices don’t support the freshly not-yet-fully-spec’d standard.

Nice to know they’re tools out there that are making this easy.

Fun with HTML5 Video

Hacking away through HTML5 Video in an attempt at multi-browser playback…



I tested the above video on a Mac in Chrome (it works), Safari (it works), Firefox (it works after I logged back into the Amazon S3 console and changed Content-Type: video/ogg). Can someone take a look in IE9 on a PC and let me know (in the comments section below) if the video displays / plays for you?

The below comment was before making the change to the .ogg file in Amazon S3:

What’s odd with Firefox is that when I load the page with my multi-browser <video> code, which I got from VideoJS, the .ogv file does not play, but when i open a new browser tab and drag the .ogv file from my desktop directly into the browser window the video does play. I then changed the extension to .ogg from .ogv for shits and giggles and again, same result – the video file didn’t load / play through the player code, but it did play when i simply dragged the .ogg video file into a blank html tab / window.

Firefox fix


To get the .ogg video file to play in Firefox, Heff from VideoJS / Zencoder pointed out that I need to log into the Amazon S3 dashboard and change some settings for the .ogg file.

I created the actual video file using the Firefogg video encoder, which is a free firefox plugin.

I also created the WebM version of the video with Firefogg. I used quicktime to create the MP4 version.

I’m already getting a headache encoding and transcoding in various file formats so that the video plays on all the browsers. I’m doing all this in a DIY fashion (e.g. uploading my videos and still image to Amazon S3 and using free video player code that’s publicly available) versus using an Online Video Platform (OVP). OVPs do all the transcoding on their servers so you don’t have to deal with multiple encodes yourself…just upload your source video file and be done with it.

Tea Partiers do the Open Source Socialist Thing

Can code be political? If so, what does it mean that a new Tea Party site is built on Open Source software. Could their rigid opposition to all things collective be softening?

Diversitea home page

As the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reports, the Tea Party is trying to demonstrate that the movement is more than a bunch of Angry White Folk and actually includes people of various backgrounds and ethnicities.

Tea Party leaders Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe, both of the national advocacy group FreedomWorks, were discussing the movement’s success while having coffee with reporters this week, when one of the questioners asked about the Sept. 12 rally in Washington, yet another Tea Party event distinguished by a sea of white faces.

“I’m glad you brought that question up,” replied Kibbe, “because we have a project that we’re launching this week called DiverseTea.” He said DiverseTea would highlight “African Americans, Jews, Hispanics, others that have come to this movement, because there is this nagging perception that we are not diverse.”

They’ve launched a Web site to demonstrate such diversity and as of yesterday, Milbank tells us, “the list of ‘Diverse Tea Partiers‘ on the site had reached a grand total of five.”

The list is now eight (60% growth in a day!) but what catches our eye is the site platform. 

The site’s built on WordPress, the open source CMS, and the design is the freely available WP-Creativix Theme created by IWEBIX

There’s conspiracy in here somewhere. Opponents of Open Source say it’s anti-capitalist and if there’s one thing Tea Partiers love, it’s their capitalism. 

So what gives? Next thing you know they’re going to jump on the Net Neutrality bandwagon.