Gifts for the multimedia journalist

    So you want to be a multimedia journalist… oh wait, wrong site.

    People have been asking me recently about what multimedia equipment to get (or make their parents get for them). I can only speak from experience, but some products are so outstanding that they’re easy to recommend. Just be sure to read the reviews for yourself, and always shop around for prices.

    Want more recommendations? The amazing Mindy McAdams, a multimedia journalism teacher, lecturer, blogger and author, has a page of suggested equipment, although many are the same as below. She does have a guide to microphones and headphones, which I’m less familiar with.

    Still cameras | Voice & audio recorders | Video cameras

    Digital still cameras

    SLRs: You know all those monster lenses and cameras you see on the sidelines of the football game? Those are SLR systems, the cameras of choice for photojournalists.

    Though the gap is closing, especially in the number of megapixels, digital SLRs remain faster, higher quality, more accurate and more responsive than your average digital camera. SLRs can take a variety of lenses for different situations, and have physical buttons to change aperture, ISO and shutter speed quickly and over a wide range.

    Your pocket camera has less control over those elements, and makes you navigate a menu to change them, which makes capturing news events or sports tough. Plus, pocket cameras typically have a fairly long delay between pressing the shutter and taking the picture.

    SLRs, of course, cost more. Much more.

    I own a Canon Digital Rebel XT. Its images are reliably excellent, the controls intuitive, the focusing great and the selection of lenses incredible. As a very amateur photographer, I’m very happy with my SLR.

    Here’s the latest and greatest in digital SLRs:

    Canon Digital Rebel XTi (Amazon: $660, with lens)
    Nikon D40x (Amazon: $640, with lens)
    Olympus E-510 (Amazon: $650, with two lenses!)

    If you’re serious about digital photography, the Canon Rebel XTi and the Nikon D40x are the basic SLRs from the two top SLR companies. Both are easy to use and offer a ton of control and fantastic image quality. I’ve used Nikons, and they’re completely a match for my Canon.

    I recommend these two first because pretty much every media outlet in the world uses Nikon or Canon; and these two cameras can use the same lineup of lenses, flashes and other gear you’ll find at those places. If you want to shoot sports for a living, for instance, you’ll want the amazing, absurdly expensive telephoto lenses that Canon and Nikon make.

    And if you want a bargain, get the older version of each model, before they’re out of stock: the Canon Digital Rebel XT ($465) and the Nikon D40 ($480). Both come with the same lens as their newer brethren.

    But other fantastic cameras exist, especially if it’s a personal, and not professional, choice. Sadly, I’m not rich enough to own more than one SLR, but Wiredreviewed the latest crop of cameras under $1,000. According to them, Olympus’ latest model tops Canon and Nikon’s consumer cameras; it cleans your sensor of dust, comes with nice lenses, operates quickly, and uses image stabilization to keep the sensor steady, even if your arm is not.

    And now I kind of want one.

    Bridge cameras: “Bridge cameras” are better than your average digital, but not quite the level of an SLR. You’ll get great shots of friends, landscapes and such, but will still struggle at fast-moving news events. Wikipedia has a good entry on these cameras.

    Many exist — look for Canon PowerShots, especially G and S series, as well as the Olympus SP and Nikon Coolpix P series — but the one I’m most familiar with is the Canon PowerShot S5 IS ($345). Much like the Olympus, it has image stabilization, as well as a great zoom, good quality images, and a very capable movie mode.

    Read reviews of the cameras mentioned here: Canon PowerShot S5 | Digital Rebel XTi | Digital Rebel XT | Nikon D40x | D40 | Olympus E-510

    Voice & audio recorders

    The use of the terms can differ, but typically “voice recorders” record and help transcribe interviews; “audio recorders” capture usable sound for multimedia and broadcast.

    For interviews: Olympus voice recorders ($70+ at Amazon)

    If you just want to record an interview to transcribe later, I’ve found Olympus’ voice recorders to be pretty good. The latest plug into your laptop’s USB port, so forget about cables or cards. The one shown here can hold about three days of audio, but other models in that line hold even more.

    The only annoyance is that they now record in Windows Media Audio. That’s fine for playback, but you’ll likely need to convert to MP3 before editing, or using it on a Mac. Many free programs, including iTunes, do that. When you import a song in iTunes, it will automatically convert it to a readable format. (To convert specifically to MP3, read this guide.)

    For multimedia: Edirol R-9 ($360 at Amazon)

    My top choice for multimedia projects. It’s a simple-to-use, quality audio recorder that fits in your pocket. It writes to an SD card, so transferring files is easy. The built-in stereo microphone are good enough to broadcast both voice and natural/ambient sounds, and you can also plug in external microphones through the 1/8″ jack (the same your laptop has).

    The only flaw is a clumsy battery case. But of all the flaws an audio recorder can have, that’s one of the better ones.

    For NPR: Marantz PMD660 ($500 at Amazon)

    Higher quality but bulkier and more expensive than the Edirol, get this if your livelihood depends on what you record — it’s what NPR gives its reporters. It takes XLR microphones, the kind you use for concerts and studio recording, so the quality is superb. And it has built-in mics as well.

    There are pictures of me, with a mic and headphones, looking like a total dweeb using this, but I have to say — the audio was fantastic. Here’s one project I made with it. Forgive my scratchy voice, which was recorded in a hotel bathroom on somewhat little sleep.

    And no, I’m not going to post those pictures publicly.

    Full Marantz review from Transom

    Video cameras

    I don’t have much hands-on experience here; I use an old Panasonic MiniDV camera that they don’t even sell anymore. My sense is that most MiniDV cameras with a microphone jack (like the Canon ZR800, $203) suffice for a multimedia journalist shooting Web video; I have no clue about broadcast. But perhaps some video people can chime in?

    I’ve been reading as much as I can, though, and video cameras are moving in two directions: No more MiniDV tapes (but with new problems instead) and, like everything else video, HD.

    For HD: Canon HV20 (Amazon: $760)

    The best HD camera I’ve read about is the Canon HV20. It’s pricey and uses MiniDV, but is by all accounts very good. Wired: “With its jaw-dropping hi-def picture, the HV20 can make even the cheesiest cat video look like it belongs on Discovery’s HD Theater.” (Also, CNet’s review and another one.)

    Why does HD matter? Besides a prettier, more vivid picture, it means you don’t need a still camera: just rip the image straight from your high-definition video. Some newspapers have already run such “frame grabs” on their front page. The best part of getting photos from video is that at 24 images per second, you’ll most certainly have the perfect shot.

    Plus, much like sticking the letter iin front of everything, adding HD to a name makes it cooler. Or something.

    Going tapeless, but with problems: Canon HG10, Panasonic HDC-SD1

    Basically, there’s a new format that lets camcorders record files to a hard drive (Canon HG10, at $780) or memory card (Panasonic HDC-SD1, at $1,000), without going through the tape business. So that’s great for the future; I really don’t like ingesting. Right now, though, that format isn’t widely recognized by editing programs and is taxing on your computer. It’s something to keep an eye on though, and the new format will get more and more support over time.


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