My Videoblogging Rig

One of the things I do for Sun is videoblogging. I use that term in preference to videography, filming, etc., because I don’t claim to be a video professional.

Nor do I have professional equipment. I need to be light on my feet (and in my suitcase), and I often have to shoot under less than ideal situations. When professional video services are justified, Sun has (expensive) teams to provide them.

But I’ve been upgrading, with advice from my videoblogging friend Jan McLaughlin, who’s a movie sound professional.

So here’s what I’ve got:

Camera: Panasonic PV-GS500. It’s a decent camera, 3CCDs, but really nothing special; we got it cheap because it was a floor model at Best Buy. I prefer cameras that use mini-DV tape. Tape is a cheap form of permanent backup, and it stores the video in a high-quality, raw AVI format that I can edit with the software I have, and can output at DVD quality (or better) if I need to (though I more often compress to Flash and iPod video formats for online distribution). Hard disk cameras, on the other hand, often compress while you’re shooting into a lossy video format – that’s why they can fit so many hours of video onto a small internal hard disk.

Extra battery: Some of the events I’ve videoed weren’t set up for it, at venues that wanted to charge hundreds of dollars simply to supply a convenient power outlet. It made more sense to get an extra battery that will last several hours, and having two means I can charge one at a less-convenient outlet while using the other on the camera.

Sound

At the first big event I taped, I learned that it’s tricky to attach a professional sound board to a consumer videocamera. Running a big, heavy XLR audio cable into the camera’s 1/8″ audio jack required an adapter and was a shaky arrangement – we lost half the audio on one presentation because something came loose.

On Jan’s recommendation, I bought:

  • Rode VideoMic: Gets much better sound than the camera’s internal mic, especially when aiming across a roomful of people. This is particularly useful in less-formal talks when there’s a lot of Q&A between the audience and the speaker, and it’s hard to get people to use secondary mics even if available (it’s also hard to get speakers to repeat the questions). This mic is also great for hand-held shooting – it doesn’t weigh down my camera hand too much.
  • BeachTek DXA-4P Dual XLR Adapter: This is a mini-mixer that fits between the camera and the tripod, with a mini-jack that goes into the camera’s mic jack. It provides a much more stable connection for XLR cables, and can also take input from another source such as the Rode mic, as shown above. Audio levels can be set independently for the two channels using the knobs – while you’re filming, whereas the camera’s internal audio level can only be set when you’re not.

I won’t claim I’m getting the best possible results from this setup; I’m still learning to use it. But the sound quality of my videos has improved markedly since my early efforts.

^ Here’s my equipment bag for carting stuff to and from the show floor. It’s a reusable grocery bag bought at a Santa Cruz supermarket the other day for 99 cents.

As for editing, I use the Roxio VideoWave software that comes with Roxio Media Creator. It’s easy to use (with a few irritating quirks) and so far has most of what I need, including text and graphic overlays. Again, it’s good enough, while a software upgrade would also require a skills upgrade that I don’t currently have time for. When we need professional video editing, there are folks available at Sun to provide that service.

And here’s how I post Flash video to Sun blogs and other sites.

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