Today’s young journalists need a broader set of skills than was required a couple of decades ago. Now that publishing has become a multi-platform activity, journalism students who will soon enter the job market need to know how to report, write, shoot photographs, and create basic video packages. And to do that, they need to own and become familiar with a few critical items of gear.
While it’s true that smart phones can record audio, photos, and video, they can’t produce the quality expected by serious publishers. The essential tool kit for today’s multimedia reporter should include these tools:
- Laptop computer
- Digital camera / video camera
- Audio recorder
Let’s consider these one at a time.
This is the first tool you will need to work as a “backpack” journalist. Your laptop should have enough memory to allow you to do basic photo, audio, and video editing. A computer with 4 to 8GB of RAM and a hard drive of 500GB should be enough for most needs.
The latest digital SLR cameras are not only good tools for still photography but they can also be used to shoot great quality HD video. Your basic lenses should include a wide angle, or wide angle zooms lens, plus a a normal lens with f/2.0 or wider aperture.
A good entry level kit to shoot both stills and video is the Nikon 3100 with 18-55mm lens, which costs around $550. A longer lens is sometimes useful, and the same camera kit but with an additional telephoto zoom lens will definitely be worth the investment. Canon’s entry level camera, a Rebel T3, starts at $450 and also shoots good quality HD video.
One of the weaknesses of the entry-level digital SLR cameras is that they do not have auxiliary mic inputs in addition to their built-in microphones. If you can shoot an interview close to your subject, in a quiet location, the built-in mic can often produce decent sound. However, to capture broadcast quality sound in less than ideal situations it is better to use auxiliary microphones or a separate audio recorder that you can place close to your source.
If you’re seriously committed to multimedia work, you should consider purchasing a camera that is a step or two higher than those listed above. My students who are “bitten” by the multimedia bug often move up to a Nikon D700 or a Canon 60D within a year of buying their first camera. These cameras will give you a bit more flexibility and are sturdier cameras that feel good in your hand.
If you cannot afford a DSLR kit, consider the high-end point-n-shoots and 4/3 format cameras. These are sometimes a bit less expensive than the cameras mentioned above and are smaller and easier to carry as you explore the world for stories. I’ll write about them in a future post.
Although there are quite a few recorders in the $200 to $500 range that meet the specifications needed for a multimedia journalist there is one recorder available for just over $100 that is useful for interviews, slideshow audio, and separate audio tracks for video: the Zoom H2. This recorder fits into a pocket and after a bit of practice you can easily produce high quality audio for your multimedia packages.
There are digital audio recorders available for under $100, but I have yet to see any that record at a level that is usable for anything other than taking notes. A lot of beginning reporters go for the low quality recorder that cost $50 to $70, but if they had spent a bit more money they could have purchased a better and more versatile tool.
Lastly, to get the most out of your laptop, camera, and audio recorder, make sure to put these essential supporting accessories in your multimedia kit:
- spare memory cards
- spare batteries
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