I'm heading to Mali at the end of the week on a short assignment for UNICEF to work as a videographer. My role will be to film water and nutrition projects in the north and south of the country and to document development work in the field. And while researchers, policy makers and international donors will largely be the audience for what I produce, it is nonetheless a great opportunity to learn more about Mali and its people.
Over the next few weeks (depending on where I am and Malian interwebs permitting!) I'll post some updates on my travels and try to offer a little insight into some of the development projects I'll be visiting. Right now I'm packing, so I'm going to give you a look at what sort of gear I taking for a filming trip like this one. It might be useful for TH!NK3-ers who are planning a little expedition of their own.
This is my trusty Sony Z1. It's clocked up a lot of service since 2005 but it's still going strong and is the main instrument that helps me earn a living. So, I really look after it. Around the world you'll see this camera used by a lot of video journalists. It shoots on Mini-DV tape which is inexpensive and fine for the sort of work I'll be doing in Mali. The Z1 also shoots in a variety of video formats. Most broadcasters these days demand footage in 16:9 (think wide-screen TV), but the UN still prefers 4:3 (think older square sized TV) - so the Z1 gives me the flexibility to film both in the one camera.
But there's one thing no camera likes - dust. Cameras are like magnets for sand and grit. In 2008 I spent a couple of weeks filming in Niger and came back with most of the Sahel in my camera. Luckily a very clever Dutchman took care of that. Though seeing my camera undergo surgery is not something I want to do after every trip and hopefully my camera will survive Mali. Whenever possible between filming sequences in deserts, I try to put the camera in a lightweight (light coloured) cloth bag - like a cotton shopping/carry bag - I find that helps to cut down on dust and sand. Though cleaning the camera religiously every evening is a necessary chore.
In my pocket or day pack I'll carry the Kodak Zi8 pocket video camera for those times when I don't have the Z1 but want to record something or do a little video blogging. And for still photos on this trip, I'll take the Canon G-10 Powershot. In good lighting conditions it produces great photos and rivals a DSLR.
Even though I do a lot of hand held filming and prefer the freedom of follow-the-action VJ style of filming, you also need a good tripod. I saved hard for a Miller tripod and it hasn't let me down - it's quite light yet offers a steady platform for the camera. Even if you're working with small video cameras, something like a flexible Gorillapod tripod can be an enormous help for a steady shot.
Actually to be honest I haven't decided what I'll take yet. Normally I would opt for the MacBook Pro 15 ", but I'm not expected to file anything from the field on this trip so... that might mean I take the smaller Apple PowerBook G4 12". Even after 7 years the little PowerBook is still powering along, running OSX Leopard and perfect for email, surfing the net and a little multimedia work. Goes to show that the latest and greatest isn't always what you need. Both laptops have Final Cut video editing software. Of an evening I try to capture-digitize the tapes I used during the day. That way I use my time in the field efficiently, have a digital copy for backup and can review the raw footage of the day's shoot - a good habit to have to check you're filming what you need.
I normally use Lacie Rugged firewire portable hard drives. I've found them to be quite reliable (and yes rugged!) and they are powered from the laptop.
On filming assignments, no matter where I go, I always have to ask about power cuts and the availability of electricity for recharging batteries - especially camera batteries. Sometimes it can be a little bit of a juggle with batteries, charging and power cuts. If you're serious about video, I recommend investing in at least a second large battery for your camera.
To try to avoid getting stuck without access to power in remote areas I usually take this (rather battered) Belkin DC to AC converter that plugs into a car cigarette lighter. That way I can always charge up when we're on the move. I have a couple of solar charging options for small gadgets, but I'm also giving some serious thought to a larger solar charger for a laptop and video camera batteries.
The Mozzie Net
A mosquito net is a must in malaria prevalent countries and I have all sorts of weird and wonderful ways for stringing it up in hotels that don't provide nets for guests in rooms. I even take it with me on long day trips in a 4WD. If we get stuck in the middle of no-where at night, then a mozzie net helps make a rather ordinary situation a little more bearable.
Other essential little gadgets
Recently I wrote a blog post for the Frontline Club on my Five favourite gadgets for the kit bag. Check it out for ideas, especially if you're into going mobile or need good coffee on the road. And, perhaps let us know here at TH!NK3 what you suggest to take on field trips.
See you next week in Bamako!