Going Vlog Wild with Photographer Tom Mason
As a wildlife photographer, I have a huge passion for sharing nature's stories. While travelling around the world to photograph everything from penguins to bears, I've been fortunate to have some truly amazing encounters with animals in their natural habitats.
Conveying these experiences through images has always been my main goal. But many of my clients and followers started to ask me how my photographs came about. Some people were just curious for a behind-the-scenes look, while others were hoping to learn some tips for their own wildlife photography efforts.
So I eventually decided to start vlogging, and I set up my own YouTube channel in 2017. This platform has been a great way to bring my followers out into the field with me, engage with them and pass along some of the skills I've learned over the years.
But I soon discovered that in order to share my adventures and wildlife photography tips, I'd need to pull together a proper vlogging kit. It would have to give me all the features and functionality to produce top quality videos, while still being compact enough to take with me wherever I go. (Especially since I already carry extensive gear for my photography!)
After some experimentation, I'm currently working with the following equipment to do my vlog. I've found this is the best equipment for producing quality content on the move.
Sony A6500, GoPro 3+, iPhone 5S
Although I already use Nikon DSLRs for my photography, I actually decided to go for a Sony A6500 for my behind-the-scenes video content. The small form factor, excellent 4K resolution and slow-motion features were a great draw. Plus, the video autofocus performance was also a major factor for me. I find the camera's tracking capabilities for when I'm on my own in front of the camera extremely helpful as a solo shooter. I only wish it had a flip screen!
Additionally, I have a GoPro 3+ for my more dangerous or wet adventures, when I want an easy camera that I can point and shoot, or use for B-roll when the A6500 just isn't practical. I use this unit in its housing and then often use voiceover to mix it into my video content.
My iPhone 5S is also always with me – it's great for grabbing little bits of video footage and audio when paired with a proper mic. I can be quite rough on my gear, so unfortunately my iPhone has a large crack in the screen. But it still works fine and I really hate replacing things unnecessarily, so it will have to do for now!
Shure VP83F LensHopper, SE215 earphones, MV88 iOS microphone
Lots of people think cameras are the most important piece of gear for video production, but in many ways your audio is just as important. Nobody wants to watch a video in 4K ultra HD with terrible sound! One of the biggest downsides to the A6500 is its audio capabilities: It has a mic input but lacks a headphone jack for monitoring, which is quite frustrating, to say the least. Luckily this is where the Shure VP83F LensHopper really comes into its own. My shotgun microphone features both internal audio recording, plus a headphone jack, allowing me not only to get great sounding audio, but also record a backup internal track on the microphone (to a micro SD) while syncing to my A6500. And the jack for headphone monitoring means I can set my levels accurately and I can be sure that my audio will be on point when recording or getting additional shots.
Of course, having a headphone jack is pretty useless without a decent set of headphones to monitor your audio. Many pros might prefer a set of over-ear style headphones. But with space a premium for me, I find the Shure SE215 Sound Isolating Earphones perfectly suited to my needs. Small and lightweight, these in-ears are easy to pack into my kit, with an excellent carrying case to keep them protected. The sound is top quality with a fantastic range. The solid cable and construction is great for constant use in rough conditions and the tight-sealing earbud tips are wonderful for cancelling out any external noise. This also makes them perfect for editing on the go.
The final piece of audio gear I always have with me is the MV88 iOS Digital Stereo Condenser Microphone. It's fitted with lightning connection for use with my iPhone. I've found this powerful little mic very helpful for recording voiceovers, as well as sounds on the move that are perfect for adding that extra layer to your videos. Since there's now also a video recording app from Shure, I am planning to start using the MV88 for YouTube live streaming. Being able to get great audio with my iPhone will mean I'll have a perfect portable solution. It's been a great addition to my to content creating arsenal.
Manfrotto Pixi EVO tripod, Sony RMT-VP1 remote, memory cards, batteries, USB charger
Stabilizing your camera while shooting video is of the upmost importance, but to keep things small and mobile I needed a portable tripod solution. Personally, I love the Manfrotto Pixi EVO. It gives me enough support for my A6500 with the LensHopper attached, but is flexible enough to mount on walls, tables or low to the ground. I can also fold it and use it as a selfie stick, or just pop it into my side pocket.
Having a camera remote is super handy when you are shooting yourself. I use the Sony RMT-VP1. This infrared remote makes it easy to do multiple takes from a single location without having to walk back and forth. It's also useful when I'm working with a tripod and want to reduce any shake that can result from touching the camera. And as a wildlife photographer, the remote is also great if I want to record some close up footage of animals, because I can position the camera and then trigger remotely when my subjects are close by.
Memory cards are something you shouldn't skimp on, especially when dealing with video. Cheaper cards with lower bit rates can result in dropped frames in your video (black frames) that can really ruin a take and be extremely difficult to edit out. I've always used Sandisk cards for Nikon Pro gear and the 32 and 64GB cards work great for recording video on my A6500. Remember to always have a few spares on hand, as you never know how much you'll shoot out on location!
Extra batteries and a charger are other key accessories I have in my vlogging kit. I always have three batteries with me, fully charged and ready to go. When working out in cold conditions, keep them inside your jacket to help them stay warm, which helps them to hold a charge longer. Personally, I also like to have a USB power bank with me, so I can charge the A6500 on location, even while still recording.
Keeping It Compact
It might sound like a lot, but the whole vlogging gear fits easily into my camera pack. It's a video production kit taking up very little space, yet still giving me everything I need to record for my channel.
In the future, I will be looking to add a camera with a flip-out screen and, of course, I'd love a drone for aerial shots. But those can wait for another day! Just remember: When investing in equipment for video production in the field, make sure to consider your audio setup, too. Being able to capture quality sound on location can make all the difference when vlogging.
You can discover Tom Mason's wildlife photography on his website or his YouTube channel.