Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Lust for lenses

I left daily newspapers in August 2007. I wasn't pushed out. I just wanted a change.
Even then, many newspapers were struggling to maintain profits and circulation, but the real bloodletting didn't begin until 2008.
There were at least 15,993 layoffs and buyouts that year, according to a website called Paper Cuts.
In all, according to the website, newspapers have bought out or laid off at least 41,133 employees since June 2007.
Even before I left daily newspapers, I was convinced that old-time print journalists like me needed to learn new skills. That's one reason I started this blog in 2008.
In 2010, I started experimenting with video. Since then, I've been posting videos to Vimeo and other sites.
I still have plenty to learn about video and a lot of other things. But it's been a thrill to try something new.
Last month, I attended a fabulous workshop in New York. It was the National Press Photographers Association's Multimedia Immersion workshop. Supporters and sponsors included the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, Canon, Nikon, the Associated Press, USA Today and other organizations.
There were 40 or so students and 20 instructors. It was a diverse crowd. The instructors included the winners of Emmys, at least one Pulitzer and many other awards. Below is a time lapse video of the workshop.

NPPA Multimedia Immersion 2012 timelapse from Multimedia Immersion on Vimeo.

We drew story ideas out of a box and used DSLR cameras to shoot the subjects of our character-driven stories.

I profiled Ann Johnston-Sullivan, an instructor of Irish dance. She and her students were wonderful and generous with their time. The video I produced for her is below.

Tracey Eaton - Sticky Legs - NPPA Immersion 2012 from Multimedia Immersion on Vimeo.

My main instructor at the workshop was Evelio Contreras, a digital content producer/editor at CNN. Video journalist Pierre Kattar also helped me.
Since returning from New York, I've been practicing some of the shooting and editing techniques they taught me.
The characters in some of my latest videos have not been complaining too much, although the cameras and microphones sometimes freak them out.
These subjects include white-tailed deer, Sandhill cranes, squirrels, crows and even a bobcat.
I lure them with cracked corn, then film them. If the neighbors saw me, they'd probably think I was nuts, but what the heck - I'm having fun.

My Corn from Tracey Eaton on Vimeo.

As I venture deeper into video, I'm not giving up writing stories about Cuba or pestering USAID with FOIA requests. But I do want to continue improving my video skills and becoming a well-rounded multimedia journalist.
Later this summer, I plan to travel to Cuba on a reporting trip. This will be no easy task since I have almost no budget for travel, but I hope to sell freelance stories to cover my expenses.
Over the past week or so, I've been scouring eBay, craigslist, Amazon and other websites for equipment. Here's what I've gotten for my backpack so far:

Pentax Super Takumar. Photo: eBay
  • A new Canon 60D DSLR camera. Canon lent me a 60D while I was at the workshop in Syracuse and I am hooked. It's a great camera. I could have gotten a 7D, but with my limited funds, I decided to put less money into the camera body and more into the lenses.
  • A new Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 telephoto lens. Canon says it provides "a natural angle of view," "is ideal for portraits" and will "produce beautiful background blur."
  • A used Pentax Super Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens. This is a vintage lens that has a great reputation and it's about $300 cheaper than Canon's f1.4. I like the idea of using vintage lenses to capture images in a country like Cuba, where vintage is everywhere. I may also take along a decades-old Pentax 28-200mm lens that I bought for $50 on eBay, but I'm going to test it first to see what the images look like.
  • A used Sigma 10-20mm f/4-f/5.6 lens. This should be great for wide shots.
  • A new Zoom H4n digital recorder. This will capture much better sound than the Canon.
  • A back-up camera - one of the old Sony camcorders I've been using to shoot video of the creatures in my backyard.
  • A tripod. I bought a really nice Manfrotto tripod about a month ago. It weighs a ton and may not be the best choice for run-and-gun shooting, but it's a sturdy beast and I love it.
  • Headphones to monitor sound.

Out of reach, but on my wish list are:

In the end, I know that it's about content - not equipment. But it is important to have decent enough gear to compete with all the other journalists out there, including vintage newspaper guys like me.

Update: Thanks to those who read my original post and suggested alternatives to the pricy Sennheiser microphones. Based on your suggestions, I bought a Rode NTG-1 shotgun microphone and a Audio-Technica lav - I with the AT899. That backpack of mine is starting to fill up...


Jamie De Pould said...

Wired lavs (I like Audio-Technica) and Rode shotguns (NTG-1) are a lot cheaper than the Sennheiser products you linked to. The difference in quality is a lot less than you'd think for the price point.

alongthemalecon said...

Thanks - I'll check those out.

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