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Video Gear Gets Smaller, But One Hurdle Remains

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When Steve Nathans-Kelly asked me to write a section of The Gear of the Year, I thought small. While we’ve often featured big, expensive gear, the challenge he put in front of us writers -- many of whom had written for Steve at EventDV, a previous Information Today, Inc. magazine targeted at videographers -- was to think about gear that we use in day-to-day production.

My travel schedule is such that I need to be highly mobile. I seldom check a bag for domestic or international trips, so any production gear has to fit into a carry-on along with several days’ worth of clothing, a computer, and the essentials of life on the road: adapters for different countries, reminders of home, and at least a few toiletries.

It used to be that I needed to carry a leather attaché case with me to hold the cabling necessary for two mics, two cameras, and an extra battery or three. Between this and the carry-on bag, I had a small two-camera studio solution complete with high-quality audio recorders. The audio from the two recorders -- good for four people in a round-table discussion or two people discretely recorded -- could be synced with the video after a recording, thanks to PluralEyes and Premiere or Final Cut Pro.

Several years ago, though, I decided I could go even smaller, replacing the attaché case with a shoulder bag that could collapse down to a pile of canvas (thanks Adobe). More recently, I’ve moved to a multi-pocket shoulder bag (thanks Wowza) that not only holds my production gear but acts as a 2-day travel bag.

One reason the production kit shrinks in size: I can now do basic productions with limited or almost no cabling. Using a MacBook Air as an encoder, limited switcher, and wireless access point -- via Sharing in System Preferences -- I can connect several cameras: a DSLR directly to the MacBook Air and two iPod Touch/iPhone devices via IP camera connections.

In addition, as you’ll read in Gear of the Year, I’m able to use an Apple TV to do double-duty for both encoding tests and later editing on a larger, hotel-room flat-panel TV. It’s not perfect, but it is good enough when the trade-off is waiting to start the editing process when I’m back in the office. The space savings in my bag even opens up the possibility of carrying a carbon-fiber monopod, great for stabilizing an iPhone, a DSLR, or even myself if I’m hiking into a remote area.

Now that I’ve moved from small to smaller, I find myself contemplating the idea of going smaller still. The biggest limitation, though, is not the question of quality: We’ve already seen what small GoPro cameras can do for everything from self-productions to major worldwide events.

The limitation I face right now is the need for power. Even an iPod Touch, which doesn’t have GPS or cellular chips to drain the battery, has a rather limited shooting or streaming timeframe once the processor starts pushing video from the lens to the processor to the Wi-Fi connection. And DSLR cameras are even worse, many becoming hot to the touch after just a few minutes.

While mobile phones have sorted out all the incompatible power supplies, thanks to the EU initiative to drive handset makers to use the micro USB connector, we’re still in limbo when it comes to laptops and DSLRs and even just basic point-and-shoot camera batteries. Even the 11" MacBook Air that I carry, which is not much thicker than a full-sized iPad, has a power supply almost the same size as its 15” older brother, MacBook Pro.

Eventually these battery-charging considerations will fade, but right now it’s a showstopper to advance to the smallest mobile production kit that I’ve ever contemplated. Until then, I guess I’ll stick with the shoulder bag, at least until I wear this one out.

This article appears in the April 2014 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Small, Smaller, Smallest."

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