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Video Gear That Doesn’t Weigh You Down

Backpack journalists provide advice on field equipment

Today’s outdoor video production equipment is smaller and more capable than ever before. That said, there is still a need to shop carefully when buying field gear that will fit into a backpack, unless you enjoy hauling 150 pounds over rough terrain.

Ryan Christensen knows all about backpack-ready field gear. Christensen and partner Jonah Matthewson run Bristlecone Media, a full-service video production house based in Bishop, Calif., that shoots outdoor videos for the National Park Service, the Inland Empire Utilities Agency and National
Geographic Television.

“One of the qualities that set Bristlecone Media apart from many other production companies is ‘backpack journalism,’” Christensen says. “Working for National Parks and other land management agencies inevitably will require shooting video in remote and difficult locations. In those situations, everything must be in carried by backpack.”

A case in point: “For National Geographic Television, we backpacked for a week on the Pacific Crest Trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains,” Christensen tells Government Video.

The videographer carried all the gear necessary for the shoot, including video cameras, sound equipment, extra batteries and tripods, he said. “This enabled us to get shots in extremely remote locations that otherwise we would not have had access to.”


Sony’s PMW-EX1R Camcorder No one piece of field gear is more important than a camcorder. Backpack journalists will need a small unit that is rugged and weather-resistant, supports multiple formats—especially HD 720p and 1080i— works in low-light conditions and sips power.

The camcorder used by Bristlecone Media is primarily the Sony PMW-EX1R, Christensen says. “It is extremely portable and the quality of the image is just stunning.”

The Sony PMW-EX1R is a “full HD” (1080p, 720p, 1080i) camera that records to SxS cards. It is equipped with ½-inch-type Exmor CMOS sensors, has a wide angle, 14x Fujinon lens, a 1.23MP viewfinder and stereo microphones. And yet, the PMW-EX1R weighs only 5.25 pounds.

Canon’s EOS 5D Mark II DSLR Camera Bristlecone also uses the Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR camera, Christensen says. The EOS 5D Mark II has a 21.2 megapixel CMOS sensor, and can shoot 1920×1080 HD video. The Cannon EOS 5D is used “for wildlife and for time lapse,” and is “a highly portable camera,” Christensen says.

No matter how steady a videographer is at handheld shooting, there are times when a tripod is a must. The challenge is obtaining a tripod that properly balances weight against strength and stability.

Sachtler FSB-6 Tripod Head Bristlecone Media uses Sachtler tripods for all productions, says Christensen. In addition, Bristlecone uses Sachtler FSB-6 Tripod heads on Speed Lock 75 CF legs, which are made out of carbon fiber. “The tripod fits inside our Gregory backpacks, with all of our other gear,” he said.

Clearly, batteries are an absolute must for videographers, backpack or otherwise. The problem is that batteries are heavy. Pack too many, and videographers may find the load wears out the shooter on the hike. Pack too few, and the shoot may be cut short leaving the production without all the
footage needed.

AntonBauer’s ElipZ 10K Battery System Mindful of that, AntonBauer has been working on the battery weight dilemma. Its solution, the ElipZ 10K battery system is for backpack journalists using smaller, handheld cameras operating off 7.2 volt batteries, says Kyle Dann, an AntonBauer product specialist.

“The ElipZ battery is a 7.2 volt, 75 watt hour lithium ion battery which mounts underneath the camera via a quick release shoe while still providing the ability to be mounted to a tripod.” Due to its high capacity, the ElipZ 10K provides an all day battery solution that eliminates the need to carry multiple smaller batteries. In addition, each ElipZ battery weighs 1.3 pounds, while the charger weighs 0.9 pounds.


AntonBauer’s EledZ LED Lighting Solution Even with today’s low-light cameras, there are times when a cameraperson needs to add artificial light to the scene, and AntonBauer offers two lightweight products, the EledZ LED lighting solution, and the ElightZ tungsten solution, Dann says.

The EledZ is a flat, rectangular light that sits on top of a camcorder. This unit only needs four watts of power to provide soft light at 5600 Kelvins, and a 3200 Kelvins filter—for a warmer, more orange tone—is included. Its output at two feet is 560 lux, for a weight of 0.4 pounds. The EledZ comes with a multi-lateral arm, to allow the panel to be pointed in a wide range of directions.

Meanwhile, the ElightZ tungsten camera-top light provides 10 watts of studio quality light. It draws power directly from the ElipZ battery, rather than the camcorder. The brighter ElightZ has a two-stage hinged boom to offer a wide range of movement, plus two mounting points for gels and spun filters.

There is no point obtaining the right field gear if the videographer does not have the right backpack to carry it. The backpack should be spacious, protective and yet small enough to be worn comfortably.

Bristlecone Media relies on Gregory backpacks. Made by Gregory Mountain Products, these are packs made for hikers, not videographers. That makes excellent sense for a serious backpack shooter like Christensen, who carries clothing, food and bedding in addition to video gear.

While it makes sense for backpack shooters to acquire a serious hiking pack, Christensen says don’t just acquire the first one found. “I would suggest trying to pack your gear into backpacks (while) in the store before buying the bag,” he said. By doing that, backpack videographers will ensure the gear fits and is not off balance. He adds that the tripod can easily throw the backpack off balance, making the pack very uncomfortable.

Petrol Bags’ Black Deca DigiSuite DSLR Case In instances where the videographer does not need to haul food and clothing, Bristlecone Media uses the Petrol Bags’ Black Deca DigiSuite DSLR case to haul their cameras. This is a semi-hard suitcase-style carrier that can carry two cameras and accessories safely and securely.

“The bags elegantly suit almost any situation from a rock-climbing shoot in the granite crags to a studio interview in the city,” Matthewson says. “Regardless of where a shoot might occur, I can always rest assured the fittings, straps and zippers will not fail, and that the contents will be completely protected.”

When it comes to backpack videography, a shooter needs the right clothing, bedding, camping gear and, especially, the right boots. If a videographer’s feet are raw and sore after a few hours’ walk, the entire shoot could be in jeopardy!

Meanwhile, stay on top of new field-gear products, in order to obtain the small, lighter packages. In particular, “it seems like there are more and more great lightweight options for HD video cameras,” Christensen says. “I would seriously take a look at using the new Canon C300 or the Canon 5DIII that just came out, as they are very lightweight and offer superb imagery.”