Reporting on the move – what I carry and why
May 13, 2009 | 1:57 pm
By Paul Biba
I thought you might be interested in some of the ins and outs of doing coverage like the tweet stream from the IDPF conference yesterday. I have done a lot of mobile coverage for Palm Addict and GPSPassion in the past. Three times to CES and then to a fair number of trade shows and press events in and around New York City. My general goal is to carry as little as possible and avoid using gear bags if I can.
The first requirement is pen and paper. The paper is important because you want to be able to flip pages fast while you are interviewing someone. You don’t want to loose what they are saying while you have to pause to turn a page. The best tool for this, I’ve found, is a Moleskine Reporter notebook. This is pictured at the left. Very easy to use and you can flip pages really quickly. The built in elastic band makes it easy to mark your place and all Moleskines come with a pocket in the back cover where you can put all the business cards you collect. They cost about $12. Next is a camera.
I have a big, heavy Canon 30D with a bunch of lenses, but I don’t really use it much for this type of work. First, it’s too heavy to carry all day. Second, the pictures are beautiful, but like most professional cameras it doesn’t have a 640×480 setting and so you have to resize the pictures to use them on the web. It’s useful in special circumstances, but not as a general web machine. Third, it uses rechargeable, proprietary batteries. You don’t want to be on the CES floor and need a battery recharge. So, for most purposes I like my little Canon A570IS. Image stabilized for clearer shots, 640×480 setting for instant web use and, most important, it runs on AA batteries. If you forget to bring some spare AAs you can always find them without any trouble. It fits nicely into my pocket so it is always handy. It’s major drawback is poor low light performance, as you can see in the picture of the Conference hall, but this is compensated for by an excellent macro mode for doing product shots, and you can get it for under $200. The camera is a few years old and Canon has upgraded it to the A1100IS, which is also available for under $200. This unit has better low light performance, and I’ll be upgrading mine soon. This is the camera on the left.
If you want to do audio interviews or do videos, Canon has a nice solution in the SX10IS. This is another AA battery camera that has a very long zoom and a wider wide angle than the camera above (28 to 560 mm equivalent). It takes excellent videos and can also be used as a first rate audio recorder for interviews. It’s major drawback is that it can’t be put into your pocket, so I don’t carry mine as much as I do the one mentioned above. You can get it for about $370. My daughter recently took one along on her 6 week trip to Asia and was extremely pleased with the results. Never a problem finding AA batteries overseas. I am very happy with mine, also, and find that I use it more often than my big 30D.
One very useful accessory for any camera is a Gary Fong Puffer Pop Up Light Diffuser. This slides into your hot shoe and sits in front of your pop up flash. It is highly adjustable and fits most cameras. If you are doing people pictures or product shots it takes out the harsh, glaring light of the flash and replaces it with a soft glow. It makes a huge difference in the quality of the picture. There are other solutions for accessory flashes, but I try to avoid carrying my big flash with me, as it is just more weight for something that is seldom used. For special uses I have a Canon 580 EX Speedlite, but I only use this on special occasions.
Now we move on to the phone. My iPhone is not suitable for this type of use. It’s battery life is just not acceptable and there is no way of changing batteries if necessary. Also, for me, the keyboard is impossible to use for anything other than short messages. Doing a Twitter stream would not be possible for me. So I will take my Nokia instead. Currently I am using the Nokia e71. It has a number of advantages. The battery lasts forever, and it is interchangeable so I can carry an extra battery with me. Reception on the phone is, like all Nokia phones, excellent. The keyboard is wonderful – I did all the IDPF tweets on the phone. The browser is almost as good as the one on the iPhone (the terrible browser in Windows Mobile phones is one reason why I have long ago rejected that platform). For email I use the excellent third party email client Profimail, for Twitter I use Gravity. It syncs contacts and calendars just fine with my Mac. I use an unlocked version, but it is my understanding that AT&T will be offering their version of this phone for about $100. That makes it the best buy around, IMHO.
Computer choice is getting easier. I just upgraded from my 13″ MacBook to a 17″ MacBook Pro. So far I’m getting about 6 to 7 hours of use per charge. This is the machine to take if I’m going to need to do anything other than very simple tasks. Cost is $2,800. For very simple stuff, involving just postings with a picture and no image processing or other stuff, then my Asus EEEPC 1000HE is an excellent choice. It’s light and I can easily get 8 hours of use out of it. Cost is $387. I would love to have a wireless modem card, which would avoid the “lost WiFi” problems of the IDPF Conference, but I can’t justify the monthly costs for something I would use fairly infrequently. So far I haven’t had any success tethering the Nokia to either computer, but this may change when the iPhone 3.0 appears. I hope it does allow tethering, as most rumors predict.
Bags: I do need a bag to carry the computer. As I like to keep things minimalist I use a Tom Bihn Brain Cell. It weighs absolutely nothing and the stretchy mesh on the front is enough room to carry a mouse, and AC adapter and a few other things, including a Kindle. As for cables, flash drives, batteries, etc. I use a Tom Bihn Organizer Pouch which I clip to the shoulder strap of the bag.
The Brain Cell costs $65 and the Organizer Pouch (large) costs $12. If I do need to carry and extra bag I will use my Tom Bihn Medium Cafe Bag. I also use the bag as my every day carry bag. It costs $55.
Clothing: Clothing choice can be important if you want to avoid carrying a heavy bag.
I tend to favor shirts and pants by 5.11 Tatical. Their stuff is inexpensive and is sold primarily to police, fire and ems-type people. The nice thing about these is they have a lot of pockets. The Tactical Shirt sells for about $38. All their stuff is extremely well made and quite durable. I especially like the pants as the extra pockets on the legs can come in very handy. The pants also have a velcro-closed pocket that will hold a cell phone. They run about $40.
Finally, I generally like to wear a sports jacket. It gives me more pockets. Pockets over bags is the way to go for me. In this there is only one choice, and that’s the Tilley Travel Blazer. This is an incredible jacket. It has numerous pockets, including a zippered one where I keep my wallet safe and secure. The jacket is also wrinkle free, which is nice if you have to dress up a bit for any reason. I bought mine in Toronto and wadded it up into a ball in order to stuff it into my tightly packed motorcycle saddle bags. When I got home back to New Jersey, I took it out and was stunned to see that it didn’t have a single crease. Amazing. It costs $280.
So that’s it. I hope some of this will be helpful to those of you who might go on the road. If you have any questions I’ll be happy to answer them in the comments.
Update: I will be adding a MiFi from Verizon when it shows up in my local store. I’ll be going for the pay full price for unit/$15 a day plan. This is just perfect for someone like me who doesn’t need an annual plan.