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The Vanishing Video Package: Making it Smaller, Lighter and Cheaper

Today's videographers want their gear packages light in weight and compact in size. This not only cuts travel costs, but allows videographers to work faster in high stress level video shoots.

Late last year I traveled to the South to record some video interviews. As with many shoots these days, I was a one-man-band. After that trip — as I have done countless times before — I cursed the heavy weight of my video gear and slowly begin the process of lightening things up.

I began by laying out the assortment of gear in an effort to see where all the unnecessary weight was. Much of it, I quickly determined, was in electrical cable and outlets, light stands, tripods and quartz light fixtures with their accessories. I knew it was cumulatively too heavy and I began to investigate how I could effectively replace the stuff with smaller, less bulky equipment for the road.

My Domke F-2 camera bag

Today, I'm happy to report success. I whacked down the weight by almost half. My entire basic video rig now fits into a single Domke F-2 camera bag — the original soft case used for still photographers working in journalism and a longtime personal favorite. 

In that kit, I carry a Panasonic DMC-GH4 DSLR video-still camera, a couple of lenses, a Rode Stereo VideoMic X microphone, a couple of lavalier mics, headphones, a Litepanels LED portable light and extra flash cards and batteries. I can easily carry the whole kit on my shoulder.

For gigs where I need additional gear — such as lighting and a tripod — I use a LowePro Pro Roller x200 AW case. The case holds all the gear I need and is convenient to roll around transportation hubs. With the LowePro and the Domke cases, I am set for travel anywhere.

My latest downsizing involved mainly dumping all my quartz lighting fixtures, my tripod and associated AC cables and outlets. Though my Lowel quartz fixtures were quite small, they needed stands and AC power, which added bulk and weight to the package.

Since I do mostly interviews on video, I searched for lighting that was more compact and lighter to travel with. I decided on Rotolight's RL-48 Interview kit, a two-light kit priced at $250. The Rotolights run on AA cells, which meant I could get rid of all the AC power gear.

The Rotolight's RL-48 Interview kit.

These small ring lights, which weigh six ounces each, offer flattering illumination on interview subjects and run four hours on only three batteries. The whole kit — with mounting gear and filters — weighs well under two pounds and takes up very little physical space in the case.    

I have also ordered a new Rotolight Neo, which features flicker-free bi-color LED lighting with good color rendering. The Neo, which I will use as a key light mounted on camera, delivers 1077 lux at three feet while still running on batteries. It's priced at $400. I like the Rotolights for the type of work I do and they are well made.

I also wanted light stands that were lower in weight and more compact than I had. No manufacturer makes them any smaller than the so-called light weight models, I learned. Apparently there are no carbon fiber light stands — at least yet.

As an alternative, I sawed off the top of a couple of small music stands and had standard mic adapters welded on. It supports the Rotolights nicely and cuts the weight of my travel package even further.

Next came the tripod. I wanted a very short, light-weight but sturdy tripod to replace the heavier Manfrotto that I had been using. B&H Photo pointed out the carbon fiber Sirui T-1205X as my answer. 

Sirui is a relatively new brand that I was not familiar with. However, I learned that it's a hot company, making very competitive camera mounting gear in China. 

The Sirui T-1205X is first rate quality, yet weighs just 1.8 pounds and collapses to only 13.4 inches. It supports 22 pounds — far more than the 7.7 pounds the heavier Manfrotto supported. It cost $275.33, but was worth it if losing the weight and larger size is a priority.

For camera mounting, I'm using the Gitzo G2180 fluid head, which weighs 1.26 pounds. The cost is $259.88. Again, it's a good fit for the Sirui tripod and the whole package is about as light and compact as one can get.

I shaved off a few more pounds replacing some audio gear. I purchased a Tascam DR-70D ($273.99) four-channel audio recorder that mounts directly under my camera on the tripod. It runs on AA batteries, records four channels of audio simultaneously and has XLR inputs with phantom power. It offers its own recording on SD cards plus it feeds the camera's audio track. It weighs only 22 ounces with AA batteries installed. It allows me as the camera operator to also monitor audio during the shoot.

I also switched from Sony ECM-77 microphones which acquire bulk by using large power supplies for each mic. I switched to Rode's Lavalier ($249), which is very tiny and runs on 48 volts directly out of the mixer. 

The Rode Laviliere Kit.

Rode's unique MiCon cables and connectors also allow the mic to be used more flexibly than the Sonys. It can plugged directly into the camera with a mini plug by quickly swapping out the Micon XLR connector adapter. This quick change capability results in considerable time savings and allows multiple uses for the mics.

As I said at the beginning, tightening up a video kit for travel is a never ending process. One area of recent rapid change is LED lighting, which is resulting a regular rush of new products with improved light output.

At NAB 2015, Westcott showed Flex, a flexible, foldable, waterproof 10-by-10-inch LED "mat." It weighs only seven ounces and rolls up for travel. The company is soon to introduce many more Flex lights in a range of sizes and configurations. I already have my eye on it to lighten the kit even further.

Since I entered the location video business in 1975, I have been constantly trying to downsize my equipment travel package. It has been a continuing process. The early years I moved around the world with a whopping total of 28 very heavy cases — many of them custom-made for fragile equipment never designed for travel in the first place.

It is remarkable how far we've come in making video kits lighter and more portable. Even though I have been in the video business more than 40 years, I still think we might only be at the beginning. New developments are around every corner and keep coming as fast as ever before.