Inside our Equipment Kit — Contrast

[Maria Fernanda Lauret (top) and Elia Ghorbiah (bottom) packing their kit for a deployment to Brazil for From Waste to Taste]

Many have asked us that million dollar question — what’s in our kit? When we pack up, setting our sights on the horizon for our next deployment, what essential gear do we always bring with us?

Each shoot is always different. Based on budget, timeline, location or story, the nature of the shoot will change. We’ve had crews as small as one producer/shooter and one fixer/translator on the ground, to crews that involve assistant producers, shooters and local fixers. Sometimes we’ll capture all the footage we need within three days — other times, we’ve shot for five or six days.

However, typically our shoots are compact in terms of crew size, shoot dates and equipment kits. We always have to determine the thin line between traveling light and mobile, to making sure we have the equipment that will support us to capture the story effectively.

Here’s a breakdown of what we use and how we’ve used it.

First, our 360 camera set up.

GoPro Omni Rig — on set for our upcoming documentary in Macedonia, “Winter, Leave”.

We typically use a GoPro Omni rig, although in the past we have also used Nokia Ozo (for I Am Rohingya and Oil In Our Creeks), as well as the Samsung Round (for Dreaming in Za’atari and We Shall Have Peace). Tip: We bring two GoPro Omnis, because we’ve found in the past that the Omni rig can be glitchy, especially when operating in extreme climates. It’s always better to have a back-up.

The Nokia Ozo during our shoot in Bangladesh for I Am Rohingya (on the left). Alan Bucaria, our DP, with the Samsung Round in South Sudan for We Shall Have Peace (on the right).

Here’s what we use with the GoPro Omni:

  • Battery pack. Whenever possible, we have our camera plugged into our external battery. This lessens the chance for the camera to glitch, and keeps it running longer.
  • Two extenders (see photo below). These two little silver rods connected to the camera are super important. We use them to create additional space between the 360 camera and the tripod mount, which will decrease how much visual space the tripod will take up on the footage. This will make a world of difference in post production when we are masking out the tripod.
Filming in Malaysia for The Curse of Palm Oil. The GoPro Omni Rig is connected to the tripod through two extenders and one ball-mount tripod.
  • Ball-head tripod mount (see photo to the left). Having one particularly helps when you are filming with a subject. This allows us to adjust the GoPro Omni so that we can make sure a lens is directly facing the subject head-on, and avoid unnecessary stitch lines across the subject’s face or body.

We also always bring a Samsung Gear 360 camera for tighter situations. Depending on whether we will need them, we also bring a spare one. We’ve used them in varying ways across different docs, although the quality of the camera is much lower than the GoPro Omni rig. They’re also particularly useful in more tricky situations, where you take a risk that the camera will get damaged. We’ve used a Gear 360 for Pearls of the Past (caged inside a waterproof case), for the drone shot in Forced To Flee, and our upcoming documentary in Macedonia.

For our tripods:

We’ll bring an assortment of options. Of course, we have the basic compact carbon tripod. If we need to get location b-roll shots, we’ll use a monopod that can get the GoPro omni rig as high as 180cm. The monopod also allows for extremely easy tripod-removal, appearing as a smaller dot at the bottom of the footage, as opposed to a taking up a large chunk of the lower half of the screen.

For other handy mounts for creative shots, we’ll use a car mount (like our opening scene from our film from Djibouti), or a bike clamp for shots like Dreaming in Za’atari, or a clamp that we connected to a cart inside the Rohingya refugee camp. While you don’t want to overdo these shots, they can be a nice divergence from the usual static shot and create some dynamic motion in your film. We also never forgot to bring a gorilla pod — although these are more convenient to use with Samsung Gear 360, as the GoPro Omni Rig can be too heavy for it.

For our sound, here’s what we bring.

Depending on the shoot, we’ll bring 2–4 lav mics (we go with the industry classic Sennheiser). We hook these up to the Zoom H4N Pro to record our audio — both ambient and interviews. Otherwise, if we want to capture spatial audio, we’ll use the Zoom H2N alongside the onboard audio of the camera. For an example of how we used spatial audio, check out our documentary The Curse of Palm Oil, where our producers stayed up at all hours of the night to capture different sounds of the forest.

Drew Ambrose and Sarah Yeo from 101 East, with whom we collaborated for The Curse of Palm Oil, recording the sounds of the monkey with our Zoom H4N.

What about non-360 video cameras?

Trying to get that tight shot in a tiny space. Using the Sony A7sii with the FE 24–70mm f/2.8 GM Lens.

Besides our 360 video equipment, we also bring a mirrorless camera to capture behind the scenes images and footage. Sometimes we’ll take photos with our phones (see the giph to the left), but we need higher quality images to use for our posters, social assets, and more.

For this, we use the Sony A7sii, paired with a FE 24–70mm f/2.8 GM Lens.

Attached to the beautiful camera (I’m a big fan of this camera, and have a personal one as well) is the XLR-K2M, the Sony adaptor microphone kit that attaches directly to the camera’s shoebox.

Lights, Camera… Action!

For lighting, we generally stick to natural lighting and avoid filming in the dark. The GoPro Omni’s strengths are definitely not filming in low light situations, as the footage is rendered extremely grainy.

However, we recently added these new portable LED lights to our kit — and we love them. They’re super light, and the best part is, they are flexible so you can bend them any which way. To hide them from the camera, you can wrap them around the base of a monopod. A good example of how you can use this for a VR shoot can be watched here:

You can use them to light up darker spaces in the evening, or even use them during the day to shine more light on darker spaces in the shot.

Additional equipment:

Besides the obvious equipment like the cameras, audio, tripod and lighting, here’s a list of other important gadgets or gear:

  • Extra extenders (mentioned above in our 360 camera kit)
  • Extra AA batteries (for Sennheiser Lav mics and Zoom H2N and Zoom H4N)
  • 2–3 Lens cloths (always always always keep these handy to wipe all of the camera lenses in the VR camera)
  • USB hub port (to import all of the memory cards of the VR camera, as well as to charge additional equipment)
  • SD card readers
  • An extra GoPro to take a plate shot for the tripod removal
  • Duck tape and masking tape
  • Headphones (to check audio levels)
  • Laptop
  • Charging strip to charge multiple devices and batteries
  • External HDs (We bring two 2TB Lacie hard drives, one that is a master and the other that serves as a backup).

Well, there you have it — somehow we manage to take all of this equipment and pack it in one or two backpacks for our on-the-go shoots. After taking a look through our kit, do you think there’s any essentials we’re missing out on? Comment below and share your recommendations!