IMMJ Required Multimedia Equipment List & Multimedia Gear Buying Guide

By D J Clark, Sharron Lovell & Gup Rongfei | Updated Sept 2019

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.

Please be warned, it’s not an in-depth review of all the latest gear, it’s not a checklist either — everyone’s set up will be personalized to suit their style, needs, and budget. Instead, you should use this guide as a starting point to guide your own detailed research on specific purchases.

We do update the guide yearly but before you buy expensive new equipment we strongly suggest researching products online to check there are no new releases since this was written, we also recommend going to a store and trying out equipment in your hands before purchasing to figure out which items suit you. If you are a student in Beijing, then the Wukesong Camera Market is the place to do this.

If you are looking for comprehensive gear reviews we recommend https://dslrvideoshooter.com. Check their youtube channel for a comprehensive guide on what equipment to buy and how to save money. Use their playlists to research the type of equipment you want to buy and spend time to check the show notes where more information can be found.

This guide is divided into two sections, ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT, and EXTRAS. In the Essentials section, we list 10 items necessary and required for all IMMJ/VM students prior to joining the program and ready to use in the first week of study. These 10 items are enough to equip a beginner multimedia journalist to shoot pictures, record video and audio as well as edit and publish basic multimedia assignments. We understand that everyone has different budgets and ways of working, therefore we’ve included a range of budget options in each category. Don’t think you need to buy the most expensive items, even the cheapest options will work well for what you will be asked to do on the course.

In the Extras section, we list other equipment — mainly for video — that enhance creative options and in some cases make your job a little easier to perform. However, we don’t advise buying anything in the extras section before you start the program.

All IMMJ/VM MA students are required to purchase the ten-item basic set up listed below. You must purchase all ten items by the end of the first week of term 1. If you are unsure about any equipment purchases, please seek advice from tutors and peers via Wechat or during the first week of the program. The complete essential multimedia journalist kit costs around $1500 excluding the laptop which you may already have.

If you already have some existing gear and are unsure whether it is suitable please contact your tutors. If you have a low budget, simply stick to the lower budget options, they are equally capable of producing great work. Some of the best works made on the program have been with the most budget option equipment! It’s how you use your equipment that matters.

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.

We recommend listening to this podcast to give you an overview of buying equipment: EP79 — Student gear guide & readable video. It’s dated in terms of specific gear but much of the general advice still rings true — for example don’t blow your whole budget on an expensive camera and have nothing left to invest in a decent lens or two — cameras lose value quickly, while lenses will last you a lifetime. A medium quality camera paired with a couple of really good lenses will typically give better results than a most expensive camera with a poor quality lens.

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.

When buying a video camera the audio options and controls are REALLY important. Audio is 50% of video. When recording audio for video you may sometimes want to use a separate recording device for optimum quality, however, an audio input on your camera gives you many more options for a variety of situations.

Some cameras have great shooting functionality and poor audio functionality — this can be really frustrating and these kinds of cameras will require lots of workarounds to get professional quality. One thing you should look out for is an audio input. If there is no audio input check to see if another port can be adapted to give you an audio input, if not buy a different model.

An audio input means you’ll be able to connect external microphones and record quality audio directly to the camera, Ideally, your camera will also have manual audio controls and a headphone jack so that you can monitor audio. If the camera does not have a headphone jack, check to see if one of the other ports can be adapted to give an audio out.

Before looking at a high-end new camera watch this video on 10 video cameras under $300 https://youtu.be/MeBNSOTa1_c that demonstrates how you don’t have to spend big if you are prepared to think out of the box. You need a good quality camera (APSC or full-frame sensor if possible) that shoots 1080P and has a mic jack. Anything else is a bonus but not necessary.

The following models from Canon, Panasonic, and Sony all shoot at high-quality HD (1080p) and have audio inputs, some also shoot in 4K, this is not necessary as many laptops still struggle to edit 4K footage. However, it’s a nice function to have for occasional use. All of the cameras listed below would be perfect for the program. The latest model in the series will be the most expensive and have the most features, but finding cheaper models from earlier in the series (such as the A7 mk1 rather than mk3).

  • 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

*Models highlighted in red color are highly recommended for the program as they are highly suitable for video production.

  • 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.

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.

Also, remember the number of the lens refers to a full-frame sensor, but if your sensor is smaller like an APSC the number will have a multiplier. So on an APSC sensor, you have a multiplier around 1.5, so to get the range of 28–100 you need a lens roughly 18–70. Make sure you check the sensor size and multiplier before you buy the lens.

Should I buy a kit lens with my camera?

If you are buying a new camera you’ll find that cameras come with lens bundles, with cheaper entry-level cameras these ‘kit lenses’ are often cheaper, poorer quality variable aperture. These lenses often work really well in good outdoor light but can mean that you struggle in low-light situations. With more expensive cameras the ‘kit lens’ might be a great lens, for example, the Canon 24–105 f4. You’ll need to check what options are available with your camera. Also, it’s not a bad thing at all to have a cheaper starter kit lens, as mentioned earlier in many situations they work really well. If you are on a tight budget you might consider.

Zooms or Primes?

Let’s be clear, in this section we are advising on lens choices for shooting video or having lenses that double up for stills and video work. Both zooms and primes have advantages — quality primes are often faster (by faster we mean they have larger apertures and work well in low light) lighter and cheaper than quality zooms, but zooms are generally easier to shoot video with because you can easily vary the focal length and build video sequences without missing any action as you don’t need to waste any time switching lenses. In this case, we recommend that you buy zooms if you can buy one or two quality zoom lenses that cover a good range from wide to tight (with apertures that go down to at least f4) that will work well. For example, a single 24–105mm f4 will cover most needs. But that’s an expensive lens and you might only be able to afford a kit lens. In this case, you might opt to buy a cheap or even an old second-hand prime lens which won’t cost a lot of money ( decent lenses can be as cheap as the 200–700 RMB range) and will give you a lens that you can use in low light when needed.

Third-Party Lenses

Such as Sigma and Tamron, personally, I love these — they make some great quality lenses and are often just as good and cheaper than Canon, Nikon, etc. I personally own the Sigma 18–35f/1.8 Art Lens and the Tamron 24–70 f/2.8

It’s really impossible for us to recommend all lenses for all budgets for all camera models. Once you’ve narrowed down the list to a few you’re interested in, we recommend checking if DPReview has any reviews on the lens. They do a great job and you would be surprised. Sometimes the much cheaper third party lens is actually better than the original brand. Go by the science, not the label.

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.

The most demanding multimedia task is video editing and your computer needs to be able to handle this. You will need a laptop too if you really want to buy a desktop rather than a laptop — that’s possible but you won’t, in that case, receive any hands-on support from tutors over the course of the year so we suggest you buy a laptop. You’ll need to make sure the processor, RAM, storage, and display are all suitable. But more than anything, you need to pick a laptop that fits your budget. It’s difficult to recommend a single laptop to fit every student, instead here is a selection of laptops that offer suitable features at different price points. From our Windows-using alumni, Asus models get a big thumbs up. If you are buying from scratch for this course we recommend,

ENTRY LEVEL A second hand Macbook Pro 2015 or later. You will also find a selection on the Apple store website under “Refurbished”. Look for a Mac that has 16GB RAM or more. You will find the batteries on the older macs will not last long but if you are prepared to plug it in you can often get a very capable machine for under $500.

MID LEVEL A MacBook Pro 13” base model with 16 GB RAM will cost around $1,500. It’s a very capable machine that will be future proof for the next five years or so to help you use the skills you have gained beyond the course. You can always plug it into one or two external monitors if you need more space to edit.

TOP LEVEL A MacBook Pro 16” 8-core with 32 GB Ram will cost around $3,200 and will be able to deal with just about anything you throw at it. This is much more power than you need for the course but if you want to invest in a computer that will take you into the future this is the best bet. The large screen will also make it much easier to edit without an external drive.

EXTRA NOTES

We recommend using a Mac as all the tutors use them, so will find it easier to help you with your projects. You also have the option of editing with FCPX and Photos rather than be tied to the much more expensive Adobe software as well. However, if you already have a PC or feel more comfortable on that platform then stick to what you know.

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.

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.

MID LEVEL The Azden SMX-15 is one of the best all-round DSLR shotgun mics out there and at just $200 it’s at a good price point if you want to up your audio game. Check out the glowing review at DSLR video shooter where you can hear comparisons to the higher Priced Rode VideoMic Pro https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inE6rLe94uI

TOP LEVEL The Rode NTG5 is a serious short shotgun mic that can fit on the top of your camera and also be used as a professional shotgun. I bought the earlier NTG2 15 years ago and still use it on most assignments. The other microphones have a lot of plastic and will break if used regularly whereas a good pro mic like the NTG5 will last a lifetime. It costs around $500.

ALSO, CONSIDER The Rode Video Micro. At $59 it is not the best quality microphone but it is very small and can work with a mobile phone. I find I use the micro a lot on smaller cameras as well as on my main camera as it is fine if you just need some ambient sound from the camera. It comes with a dead cat as well and an adapter to plug into a phone that still has a headphone jack.

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.

MID LEVEL BOYA BY-M1 Omnidirectional lavalier microphone is versatile in use, so can be operated not only with DSLR and video cameras but also with external recorders and even with smartphones and tablets. (Boya also does a very affordable wireless mic, it’s not the worlds best quality but it’s OK). $20

Or Audio-Technica ATR3350 Omnidirectional Condenser Lavalier If you want a budget upgrade this is a very cheap but remarkably solid option. It comes with a good length cable and extra power too. $35

TOP LEVEL SONY ECM-77B Omnidirectional lavalier microphone has been around a long time and for good reason. Still used a lot for TV and other professional settings. Very solid mic with great sound but expensive at $275

ALSO CONSIDER Rode SmartLav is also a good extra mic, it will plug into your phone and give you a surprisingly good extra option with the APP that comes with it.

RADIO MICS For most uses the wired option works just fine and there is no need for a radio mic for the course. In fact, wired mics are preferred in most situations as they take out the risk of interference, battery failure, and other issues with radio mics. However, if you want a radio mic to allow you to follow a subject with good audio wirelessly, then consider,

Rode Go — $200 very small and very popular — in most cases I would recommend this over anything else.

Sony UWP-D21 these are solid mics that work well in China. They now have a digital version that can connect to two transmitters so you can have two mics connected to one receiver. Works well with Sony cameras but I have had issues with Canon Cinema cameras. $550

Sennheiser EW 112P are a step up from the Sony in terms of build quality and much loved in the industry. $600

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.

ENTRY LEVEL Go to your local camera market and there will be hundreds of tripods to choose from. Spend a good half-day walking around with your camera and try them all out. Make sure you choose one that is light, is strong enough to carry your camera, and goes high enough to do a standup interview. You will probably find a huge selection under $100.

MID LEVEL The Manfrotto Befree Live Video Tripod. This has a built-in leveling base and is really well designed. Whereas with a cheap tripod from the camera market will probably only last about two years this should keep going for many years and spare parts are easy to find. $200

TOP LEVEL You can spend a lot of money on tripods but for most DSLR cameras you don’t need a state of the art heavy tripod. The Sachtler Ace system is a good start into a high-end video tripod. It’s big and heavy though so make sure you are willing to carry it before you buy. $712

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

MID LEVEL Sennheiser HD 200 — Over-Ear Headphones are a good mid-range set for $70

TOP LEVEL Sony MDR-7506 studio headphones are the most popular in the business. I have had mine for 15 years and have found it easy to get new foam when it wears out. They are easily portable and have crisp sound. $100

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.

Here are your options,

CLOUD DRIVE This is becoming a lot more affordable in China. A Tencent Cloud account gives you 6TB of storage for 30RMB a month — that is money well spent, even if you go for one of the other options and can work for on the road storage as well if you have access to good internet.

BARE DRIVES This option involves buying naked hard drives (the kind you will find inside a desktop computer) and a toaster (a device that allows you to plug a bare drive into your laptop). This is a great storage option for you to build a cheap archive but you should never edit from these drives as they can corrupt. You can buy a 6TB bare drive for around $140.

BACKUP DRIVES These are enclosed drives that plug directly into your laptop as they have an external shell and ports to plug in. Prices for these vary but expect to pay around $200 for a good quality 6TB drive that could be used for editing if you have to. I like to use the 4TB WD drives which are small easy to archive and don’t need external power. Currently, my archive is in two drawers with 50 of them color-coded and labeled.

When you travel you will need ruggedized hard drives that can take a drop. The main issue with the hard drives above is if you drop one you are likely to lose all the data. So they are not suitable for taking on the road. As you go out to shoot you need to get into the habit of double backing up before you reformat your cards. That might be one copy on your laptop and another on a travel drive or better one on the laptop and one in the cloud. Never keep the two copies together in one place or one bag that if stolen/lost means you lose everything. For that, there are three options.

CLOUD DRIVE See above, this works well if you have good internet. Remember you can easily shoot 100 GB in a day that will need to be uploaded at night.

SSD DRIVES These are expensive but very fast and very rugged. SSD’s have no moving parts so you can drop them and they should survive. They are also very small so you can easily carry them on you while your laptop is back in the hotel. Expect to pay about $170 for 1TB in a credit card size drive. That is all you will need to back up on the road.

RUGGEDISED HARD DRIVES These are basically external hard drives with rubber all around them to give them a better chance of surviving a fall. Most companies make them as an option for travel and they are only slightly more expensive than the regular external hard drives. They are not good for the archive as they take up more space, they are also not good for editing as the rubber means they heat up quickly and can fail easily if pushed.

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.

BAGS

BACKPACK The Lowepro Fastpack 250 has been a bag of choice for many students over the years. It has a computer compartment, a large space with pads for the camera, lenses, mics, and other gear, it has a top compartment for chargers and other small gadgets, a side pocket to put your tripod, and most important a waterproof skin you can use both to protest the bag from rain and from pickpockets when you travel. The bag costs $75 but you will find many cheaper alternatives in your market, but look for all these features and check it is big enough to put all your gear. If possible get a slightly bigger bag than you need then you can also pack some clothes for an overnight trip.

ROLLER The Think Tank Airport Advantage is small enough to carry onto a plane but can house all the gear I need for most assignments. I have found over the years that I rarely need to put the bag on my back and rolling the bag saves a lot of energy. A roller bag is much harder to steal from too in crowded train stations etc. Like the backpack the bag has lots of space for all the gear, a tripod fits on the side and it’s water-resistant. The front pouch takes an optional laptop bag that allows you to have a smaller bag when on location. It costs $270 but you will find lots of alternatives in the market. Check the quality as you don’t want a wheel dropping off on location.

COMBO The Lowepro Pro Trekker combines both backpack and roller and is my choice for a bag as it gives you the best of both. For the most part, I just pull it, but if I have to climb stairs or take it off-road I always have the option. It’s expensive though at $350. Again your local camera market will have much cheaper alternatives.

WORKING GEAR

Normally once I get to the assignment I will find a safe place to leave the bag and break out into shooting mode. For this, you need a comfortable carry system that can hold everything you need to shoot before you can return to the bag.

A simple strap is enough to hold the tripod and another one for the camera, then you will need pouches for any additional lenses and pockets for batteries, SD cards, a cleaning cloth, and any other accessories you need with you. At your local camera market, there will be plenty of options to look at from belts with pouches to camera vests and clever carry systems like the ones from Newswear, thinktank, Tamrac, Saffroto, and Peak Design. Stick with one company to ensure whatever you get is compatible and you can build on it if you buy more gear.

For the SD cards get a waterproof solid case rather than a soft case to ensure you protect the cards.

Extras

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

Before you buy extra equipment it’s often worth renting it for a day or two to test it out and see how you get on with it. Or if you only need a specific piece of equipment for a few days or couple of weeks or so, you might also consider renting rather than buying. We recommend this app called Kamezulin (“咔么租赁” in Chinese. It’s available in most large Chinese cities and equipment is not very expensive and very comprehensive stock.

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).

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.

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.

For Sony users, you should consider the RX0 as an expensive option as it allows you to use the same color profiles as your main camera and hence make matching the colors in the edit much easier.

Also, don’t forget your phone which might have a very good camera and can also be used as a POV camera or second camera for action and interviews. Buy a cheap phone holder so you can pop it on a stand or tripod if needed.

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.

There are a bunch of very portable and affordable recorders we would recommend to carry with you. The Zoom H1N and the Tascam DR05X are both capable field recorders for under $100. The next step up is a Zoom H4N or the Tascam DR40X which both have XLR inputs and can work as preamps for DSLRs — around $200. If you are really serious about audio and want a recorder you can use for professional field recordings look at the Sound Devices Mix Pre 6 or the Zoom F6 both around $700.

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.

I would normally recommend the one that is made for your camera if there is one. Sony has an excellent one but they are not cheap. The alternative is either a generic model like a Juiced link or Saromonic or using a sound recorder as a preamp which most now can do.

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.

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

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.

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.

DJI and Zhiyun Crane currently make the best large gimbals for DSLRs. Expect to pay around $2,500 for a good DSLR gimbal. Alternatively, I would recommend a gimbal for your action camera if you have one. The Feiyu WG2X is small, lightweight, and costs just $170. I take mine on every assignment.

  • 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)

PLEASE NOTE

All the above software packages are considerably cheaper if you buy the student versions please ask your tutor for details.

Formatting external hard drives

Note Please format your external hard drives so they can be read both on PC and Mac — instructions below. Please choose exfat and only do it with empty disks. Never format a disk with material on it as you will erase the files. Watch this video to learn how.

Antivirus Software:

You should install antivirus software on your computer. I’d recommend Sophos, it's free and decent. It’s also easy to install and use. If you have USB drives you should be checking they are virus-free before plugging them into other computers.

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

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