IMMJ Required Multimedia Equipment List & Multimedia Gear Buying Guide

Introduction

The following guide is specifically designed to help students buy equipment for the China-based MA in International Multimedia Journalism & MA in Visual Design programs. It can also be used as a guide to anyone new to Multimedia Journalism and wanting to invest in a basic equipment set up.

Required Multimedia Equipment

  1. A camera capable of shooting video and still pictures. Alternately you may have two cameras, one for video and one for stills.
  2. A single or range of lens(s) with focal lengths between 28mm and 100mm — (35mm equivalent). Eventually, you may supplement with other lenses but it’s best to start with one or two and buy more as you develop. A 24–105 F4 lens is a perfect start as it covers all the range you will need.
  3. A laptop computer capable of editing images, video, and audio* Note: Adobe Creative Cloud’s system requirements are an excellent benchmark. If a laptop meets Adobe’s specs, it will meet ours.
  4. A shotgun microphone that fits on and plugs into your camera.
  5. Memory cards for your camera.
  6. A lavaliere (or tie clip) microphone with an extension lead or a radio connection for recording interviews.
  7. A tripod for shooting video.
  8. Headphones (over the ear, not earbuds)
  9. 6TB external hard drive or 6TB cloud drive + a 1 TB travel hard drive for backing up your assets
  10. An equipment bag and carry system– we prefer a backpack to protect your back
  11. In addition, you will need software
  12. You will need photo and video editing software, we recommend either the complete Adobe CC collection (Student edition or Chinese Trial Version is fine). Alternatively, if you use a Mac you might choose Photos (image editing software) and FCPX for video editing. In class we teach using Adobe Premiere for video editing; however, all tutors do also know FCPX so can help you with that.
  13. Lightroom ( available as a free trial and cheap in China)
  14. Microsoft Word/Powerpoint or Pages/Keynote or similar word processor and presentation software. You will need to be able to save your written work as .doc files for our system of feedback. Google Slides and Docs also work if you can easily access them.

1. CAMERA OPTIONS

You’ll need a camera capable of shooting video and still pictures. For students who are already shooting stills and or video, you may prefer two separate cameras. For beginners, we recommend a video-enabled stills camera (DSLR or mirrorless). The four biggest brands are Canon, Sony, Panasonic and Nikon but there other brands out there including, Fujifilm, Olympus, Sigma, Blackmagic and Pentax, and they are also worth a look. The camera should have a large sensor (at least 1 inch, better if it is an APSC or Full Frame) and be capable of shooting 1080P at 25 FPS.

  • Sony: A7 series, A7S series, A7R series, A9 series, A6000 series
  • Panasonic: GH series, S series, G series
  • Canon: R series, 5D series (from II onwards), other EOS cameras that include a mic jack
  • ENTRY LEVEL MIRRORLESS The Sony Alpha a6300 or any of the series up to the newer a6600 are great choices. The a6300 has a high-resolution APS sensor and EVF, it’s a great choice for students and can be easily set to manual everything. At a top ISO of 25,000, it performs well in low light and there’s a growing line of E-mount lenses. Mirrorless cameras offer more compact, lighter weight, and more discreet models than DSLR ranges. You should be able to buy it new with a lens for $1,000.
  • MID LEVEL ALL ROUNDER MIRRORLESS Sony Alpha a73 The A73 is an affordable full-frame digital camera the included 28–70mm kit lens is reasonable. The sensor delivers outstanding image quality, and its autofocus system is fast. It has an ultra-high-resolution electronic viewfinder. You should be able to buy it new with a lens for $2,000. If you can afford it this would be our choice of cameras to buy for the course.
  • TOP LEVEL MIRRORLESS If you are willing to spend $3,000 of up there are a number of good choices we would recommend. If you are a Canon user the R5 or R6 are excellent all-around cameras. For Sony, the A7S3 or the A7R4 are the best on offer (the S3 is better at video whereas the R4 is better at stills but both do a good job on both). For a slightly cheaper option, the Panasonic S1 has excellent specs for a full-frame camera.

2. LENS OPTIONS

Please be warned — before buying any lens do your own research to make sure it’s compatible with the specific camera model you own! Lenses have different mounts and lenses for cameras with crop sensors will not fit full-frame cameras. Don’t make the mistake of blowing all your budget on a camera and buying the cheapest lens.

3. LAPTOP COMPUTER OPTIONS

You will need a computer capable of editing images, video, and audio. Note: Adobe Creative Cloud’s system requirements are an excellent benchmark for the laptop you plan to use to do multimedia work for the program. If a laptop meets Adobe’s specs, it will meet ours.

4. MEMORY CARD OPTIONS

Be careful when buying memory cards, some of the cheaper cards may not be fast enough to cope with the speed at which the camera needs to write video data. In just about every workshop I run someone asks me why their camera only records 30 seconds of video then stops, and 99% of the time it is because the card they have in the camera is not fast enough. For safety opt for read and write speeds of 95 MB/sec + 90 MB/sec. New cameras that have capabilities like 4K video or very fast frame rates — will need the fastest possible cards to keep up. It’s also important to note that in some countries, where fakes abound, you need to be careful where you buy the card or you may end up with a card that is slower and has less capacity than is stated on the label. You don’t want your card to fail on you just as you complete a day of shooting so don’t go cheap on this one.

  • SanDisk 32 / 64GB SDHC Memory Card Extreme Pro
  • SanDisk 32 / 64GB SDHC Memory Card Extreme
  • There are plenty more on the market Lexar, Transcend, Sony are all good options.
  • Also, note that new cameras will take the much more expensive CF express cards. These are very expensive and for your needs on the course, we suggest sticking to the cheaper SD cards above.

5. SHOTGUN MIC OPTIONS (SMALL ON CAMERA SHOTGUN)

ENTRY LEVEL Takstar SGG-598 has good reviews for a low-end shotgun. It’s quite big but has excellent sound and comes in at around $30.

6. TIE CLIP MIC OPTIONS

ENTRY LEVEL Tie clip mic (no brand) (30 RMB from Taobao or Zhongguancun). These mics are cheap as chips and will serve you well for the first term. After that, you’ll probably want to upgrade to a 2–300 RMB mic.

7. TRIPOD OPTIONS

Tripods are a crucial bit of kit and choosing the right one is a personal choice that must take into account your size and willingness/ability to carry a heavyweight around with you. If it’s your first time buying we’d recommend a cheaper option until you know more about your style of shooting, you can always upgrade later.

8. HEADPHONES

ENTRY LEVEL Tascam TH-02 studio headphones come in at $20 and are all your need for good audio editing.

9. HARD DRIVES

You need two types of hard drives for the course. One for backing up all your projects over the year and one for backing up when you are on the road. As most computers now use SSD hard drives you will find these are by far the fastest way to edit video projects. Using an external drive means sending information back and forth plus the ever-present danger of a cable coming out and corrupting your files. So we recommend you keep your computer hard drive free of old projects and back them up to external hard drives as soon as the project is finished.

10. BAGS & WORKING GEAR

The way you carry your equipment is important for your health and the security of the equipment so spending time to get the right carry system is important.

First, you will need a backpack or roller bag to put all your gear inside and be able to move it to the assignment without causing you long term injury or risking the equipment being broken or stolen along the way. These recommendations are based on a single person having to carry all their own kit to an assignment on public transport. This will be required on the course so you should plan for this even if you have your own car or decide later to work in a team.

Secondly, you will need a carry system that allows you to work freely in the field. This again is crucial for your creativity not to be impeded by being overburdened with heavy gear.

Thankfully in China, your local camera market will have plenty of choices at very reasonable prices. But you need to spend time thinking about it. It’s the last stage, so buy all the other kit first then take it all to the camera store and find the right bag and pouches, etc to help you carry them.

Here are some higher-end suggestions that will help you find cheaper options in your local camera market.

Extras

These are extras that may come in handy as you progress but you don’t need them to start the program.

CAMERA BATTERIES

Batteries lose power quickly always worth having and carrying backups. The much cheaper copy batteries are not as reliable but I find the cost outweighs the downside so would normally buy two or three of them for the same price as one original battery. Put tape on one side of the battery so you know which belong to you and you can use the tape to help you know which are fully charged (tape up) and drained (tape down).

LIGHTS

Check out DSLR Video Shooter for great low budget lights (https://youtu.be/pwTFYYMt2RI this one in particular). He has lots of reviews of cheap alternatives to the expensive heavy lights. Look for the quality of light as well as the power of the light. Both are important when thinking about lights. I use three very small USB charged LED lights that together are no bigger than one camera flashgun. All purchased on Taobao for less than 1,000 RMB.

POINT OF VIEW CAMERAS

A point of view camera is great for the more rugged situations or going underwater. They can be strapped to the subject or mounted on a car or bike. The three leaders in the field are GoPro, DJI, and Insta360. I have used all and prefer the GoPro for its reliability and simple operation. The latter is crucial if you are giving it to the subject to use.

SOUND RECORDERS

This was on the essential list until this update as these days with a good camera and shotgun mic you should be OK for ambient audio and recording voice-over etc. But if you want to go a step further and better control of audio a dedicated sound recorder is a good option.

PREAMPS

DSLR’s are notoriously bad at dealing with the sound requirements of video. A preamp gives you three of the missing links. XLR connectors will make your audio signal more stable as the extra earth wire will help eliminate static and annoying interference from mobile phones etc and at the same time give you access to a whole array of professional microphones and other audio products. Secondly, the preamp will give you a stronger signal into the camera which means you don’t have to max out the in-camera levels to get audio at decent levels and degrading the quality of the sound. Thirdly it gives you multiple inputs so you can mic up the interviewer as well as the interviewee, do a two-person interview, or use a shotgun and a lav to get a fuller sound.

ND FILTERS

Variable ND filters are a must for DSLR video shooters wanting to get the maximum benefit from the large sensors. With the shutter speed fixed in most cases, the ND fader gives you another way to bring down the light levels so you can open your aperture up and get a shallow depth of field. Good variable ND filters are quite expensive and cheaper ones can give strange color casts. We suggest most students buy one or two regular filters at different strengths rather than a variable one which will be more expensive.

STANDS

There are lots of very cheap and lightweight stands you can buy to mount lights, POV cameras, monitors, or mics on. Lollipod is one brand but I have found lots of copies in the camera markets that are equally good. I normally carry at least one or two of these, sometimes more. They do break easily but are cheap so always good to have a small stock of them

MONITOR

If you conduct an interview and film at the same time then having a monitor is useful to check your frame without having to move from your seat. These days HDMI monitors are cheap and easy to carry but you may find your phone can also wirelessly connect to your camera and work as a monitor. You just need a holder for the phone and a lollipod to set it up.

GIMBAL

When it comes to camera movements having a gimbal will give you a lot of extra options. It can be used in place of a slider or connected to a stand, can be used as a jib. It is also great for smooth follow shots. BUT a gimbal that carries your DSLR + Lens is big and heavy so think about it before you buy. There are a lot of single operators including myself that bought them and have rarely used them because of their size.

OTHER THINGS TO PICK UP AT THE CAMERA MARKET

  • Deadcat for mics
  • Handle that plugs into the hot shoe
  • Extension cord for microphone
  • Special wire to use your audio recorder as a preamp.

Software

  • Microsoft Word/Powerpoint or Pages/Keynote or similar word processor and presentation software. You will need to be able to save your written work as .doc files for our system of feedback. Google Slides and Docs also work if you can easily access them.
  • You will need photo and video editing software, we recommend either the complete Adobe CC collection (Student edition or Chinese Trial Version is fine). Alternatively, if you use a Mac you might choose Photos (image editing software) and FCPX for video editing. In class we teach using Adobe Premiere for video editing; however, all tutors do also know FCPX so can help you with that.
  • Lightroom ( available as a free trial and cheap in China)

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IMMJMA BFSU / UoB

IMMJMA BFSU / UoB

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Readings & Information for students on the MA International Multimedia Journalism. Based in Beijing, China, with degree awarded by the University of Bolton, UK.