MULTIPLE CITIES: Today’s outdoor video production
equipment is smaller and more capable than ever before. That said, there is
still a need to shop carefully when buying field gear that will fit into a
backpack, unless you enjoy hauling 150 pounds over rough terrain. Ryan
Christensen (pictured at right) knows all about backpack-ready field gear. Christensen and partner
Jonah Matthewson run Bristlecone Media, a full-service video production house
based in Bishop, Calif., that shoots outdoor videos for the National Park
Service, the Inland Empire Utilities Agency and National Geographic Television.
“One of the qualities that set Bristlecone Media apart from many other
production companies is ‘backpack journalism,’” Christensen said. “Working for
National Parks and other land management agencies inevitably will require
shooting video in remote and difficult locations. In those situations,
everything must be in carried by backpack. For National Geographic Television,
we backpacked for a week on the Pacific Crest Trail in the Sierra Nevada
The videographer carried all the gear necessary for the shoot, including video
cameras, sound equipment, extra batteries and tripods, he said. “This enabled
us to get shots in extremely remote locations that otherwise we would not have
had access to.”
No one piece of field gear is more important than a camcorder. Backpack
journalists will need a small unit that is rugged and weather-resistant,
supports multiple formats—especially HD 720p and 1080i— works in low-light
conditions and sips power.
The camcorder used by Bristlecone Media is primarily the Sony PMW-EX1R,
Christensen says. “It is extremely portable and the quality of the image is
The Sony PMW-EX1R (pictured left) is a “full HD” (1080p, 720p, 1080i) camera that records to
SxS cards. It is equipped with ½-inch-type Exmor CMOS sensors, has a wide
angle, 14x Fujinon lens, a 1.23MP viewfinder and stereo microphones. And yet,
the PMW-EX1R weighs only 5.25 pounds.
Bristlecone also uses the Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR camera (below, right).
The EOS 5D Mark II has a 21.2 megapixel CMOS sensor, and can shoot 1920x1080 HD
video. The Canon EOS 5D is used “for wildlife and for time lapse,” and is “a
highly portable camera,” he said.
No matter how steady a videographer is at handheld shooting, there are times
when a tripod is a must. The challenge is obtaining a tripod that properly
balances weight against strength and stability. Bristlecone Media uses Sachtler
tripods for all productions. In addition, Bristlecone uses Sachtler FSB-6
Tripod heads (below, left) on Speed Lock 75 CF legs, which are made out of carbon fiber. “The
tripod fits inside our Gregory backpacks, with all of our other gear,” he said.
Clearly, batteries are an absolute must for videographers, backpack or
otherwise. The problem is that batteries are heavy. Pack too many, and
videographers may find the load wears out the shooter on the hike. Pack too
few, and the shoot may be cut short leaving the production without all the footage needed.
Mindful of that, Anton|Bauer has been working on the battery weight
dilemma. Its solution, the ElipZ 10K battery system (below, right) is for backpack journalists
using smaller, handheld cameras operating off 7.2 volt batteries, said Kyle
Dann, an Anton|Bauer product specialist.
“The ElipZ battery is a 7.2 volt, 75 watt hour lithium ion battery which mounts
underneath the camera via a quick release shoe while still providing the ability
to be mounted to a tripod,” he said.
Due to its high capacity, the ElipZ 10K provides an all day battery solution
that eliminates the need to carry multiple smaller batteries. In addition, each
ElipZ battery weighs 1.3 pounds, while the charger weighs just under a pound.
Even with today’s low-light cameras, there are times when a cameraperson needs
to add artificial light to the scene, and Anton|Bauer offers two lightweight
products, the EledZ LED lighting solution (left), and the ElightZ tungsten solution,
The EledZ is a flat, rectangular light that sits on top of a camcorder. This
unit only needs four watts of power to provide soft light at 5600K, and a 3200K
filter—for a warmer, more orange tone—is included. Its output at two feet is
560 lux, for a weight of 0.4 pounds. The EledZ comes with a multi-lateral arm,
to allow the panel to be pointed in a wide range of directions.
Meanwhile, the ElightZ tungsten camera-top light provides 10 watts of studio
quality light. It draws power directly from the ElipZ battery, rather than the
camcorder. The brighter ElightZ has a two-stage hinged boom to offer a wide
range of movement, plus two mounting points for gels and spun filters.
There is no point obtaining the right field gear if the videographer does not
have the right backpack to carry it. The backpack should be spacious,
protective and yet small enough to be worn comfortably.
Bristlecone Media relies on Gregory backpacks. Made by Gregory Mountain
Products, these are packs made for hikers, not videographers. That makes
excellent sense for a serious backpack shooter like Christensen, who carries
clothing, food and bedding in addition to video gear.
While it makes sense for backpack shooters to acquire a serious hiking pack,
Christensen says don’t just acquire the first one found. “I would suggest
trying to pack your gear into backpacks (while) in the store before buying the
bag,” he said.
By doing that, backpack videographers will ensure the gear fits and is not off
balance. He adds that the tripod can easily throw the backpack off balance,
making the pack very uncomfortable. In instances where the videographer does
not need to haul food and clothing, Bristlecone Media uses the Petrol Bags’
Black Deca DigiSuite DSLR case (left) to haul their cameras. This is a semi-hard
suitcase-style carrier that can carry two cameras and accessories safely and
“The bags elegantly suit almost any situation from a rock-climbing shoot in the
granite crags to a studio interview in the city,” Matthewson said. “Regardless
of where a shoot might occur, I can always rest assured the fittings, straps
and zippers will not fail, and that the contents will be completely protected.”
When it comes to backpack videography, a shooter needs the right clothing,
bedding, camping gear and, especially, the right boots. If a videographer’s
feet are raw and sore after a few hours’ walk, the entire shoot could be in
Meanwhile, stay on top of new field-gear products, in order to obtain the
small, lighter packages. In particular, “it seems like there are more and more
great lightweight options for HD video cameras,” Christensen said. “I would
seriously take a look at using the new Canon C300 or the Canon 5DIII that just
came out, as they are very lightweight and offer superb imagery.”
~ from Government Video