Going Hand Held

Last weekend I videoed a Scooter festival, in my local town of Leek. I used my tripod to capture all of the action. Whilst this gives me a great, steady shot, I do sometimes have worries about people tripping over it. My usual solution is to use a Monopod, or if I want to be very mobile, a monopod into a waist belt.

This works great, but there are occasions when I want something even more compact and a way of mounting other gear, such as a radio mic or an LED light. A discussion on the #mojocon Facebook page, got me thinking about other solutions. I have used a Nikon flat bracket in the past, but it wasn’t the best solution. Bernhard Lill posted a picture of a bracket that looked like it would do the job. I found one on Amazon for £12. Bernhard mentioned that his smelt horrible, but mine doesn’t at all. With a Shoulderpod S1 camera bracket, it works really well. I started off with the handle in my left hand, but this left the audio input on the phone exposed and was a stretch for the TRRS converter (SC4) that I use to connect my Røde VideoMic Pro to my iPhone 6+. By changing everything around and holding the handle in my right hand (the same as I would with a DSLR), the jack into the phone is protected and I can even fit an Røde SC6 if I want to monitor the sound, through headphones. I added the very short handle that comes with the Shoulderpod S1 for extra stability. Continue reading

Leek Scooter Festival 2015 #MOJO Piece

Leek Scooter Festival 17th May 2015. ‘The Mods are Coming!”

Here is a two minute Mobile Journalism video, I created on the iPhone 6+.
Supplementary equipment used included:
* iRig Pro
* Røde Lavalier Mic/Micon Extension cable/Micon 5 XLR Connector
* iRig Mic HD (intro)
* Shoulderpod S1 phone mount
* Tripod
* Filmic Pro App

I was using the new updated version of Filmic Pro (V4.1.1), which was nice. I particularly like the fact that you can now directly save video to the camera roll. However I have noticed that it shows a white opening frame in the finder, instead of an image. Another issue I had was that occasionally I got movement in the frame, from what appeared to be the image stabilisation. I was using a tripod so I just turned it off. This was a quick edit as I wanted to get it out for the people that attended the event. Continue reading

#mojo Battery Power/Charger Options

From left to right: 3. EC Technology / 2. Maxell / 1. Ankar with a pound coin for scale.

From left to right: 3. EC Technology / 2. Maxell / 1. Ankar

It is often said that ‘the best camera you have, is the one that you have with you’. This has been one of the philosophies behind the #mojo Mobile Journalism movement and the growth of using Smartphones for news gathering. The problem is phones now have multiple uses; web surfing, photography, videography and even making phone calls 🙂 so they use a lot of power. All too often the camera you have with you, is sitting in your pocket with a flashing battery warning! With most phone makers electing not to have removable batteries, the answer is to carry a portable charging device. Here are three I use, there are many more options available.

1. Anker 2nd Generation Astro mini 3350mAh Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger External Battery Power Bank. At £9.99 this is cheap as chips and with its small size (87gm) it easily slips into the pocket. It is made of aluminium so feels solid and robust. When I was using an iPhone 5, it would give me one complete charge. It also, easily attaches to my tripod with a velcro strap, so I can use it whilst videoing.

2. Maxell 790404 5200mAh Power Bank Battery. This is a slightly larger unit, weighing 152 gm. It cost £25.16 and with my iPhone 5 gives me just over two full charges. With its aluminium housing, it feels very robust. Again it is small enough to velcro to a tripod so can be used whilst videoing.

3. EC Technology® 2nd Gen Deluxe 22400mAh Ultra High Capacity 3 USB Output External Battery (£28.99). This is a monster weighing in at 476 gm, you could build walls out of these! I bought this for prolonged trips where I do not have access to mains power. I charged my iPhone 5 with it and the battery indicator didn’t move. It will in theory charge an iPhone 4S 13 times!  It has three outputs and has a plastic case, presumably to keep the weight down. This is definitely one for the camera bag and not your pockets! It even has a built in torch!

I have recently bought an iPhone 6 Plus which has much better battery capacity than my iPhone 5, I will post charging figures for both phones when I have more data. Hope that helps! If you have any solutions you would recommend, please let me know.


Microphones Testing Testing 123

mics3Whilst for 9 out of 10 #mojo interviews I prefer to use a lavalier (clip on) mic, sometimes other microphones do come in handy. I have recently been looking for a USB microphone that I could use for podcasts and voice-overs. They have the advantage that they can be plugged directly into a computer/iPhone/iPad, without having to use an additional preamp. I was also interested to find a hand held, reporter style mic, that I could use with my iPhone for #mojo pieces. Here are some sound files to illustrate my findings. They are best reviewed with a good set of earphones.

First off is the Samson Meteor Mic (£56.65) which I know is a popular choice with podcasters. There are loads of reviews on YouTube, so I won’t go into too much detail about the build quality and looks. However, in a nut shell it’s a work of art. Well built and in the chrome finish I tested, it looks like something from the 1930’s, that Flash Gordon would be at home using. It uses a USB connector, but can be wired into an iPhone or iPad with the camera connector. In use, with its large diameter condenser diaphragm (25mm) it has a very full rich tone. Unfortunately with the sample I tried, there was a little background noise. Probably not too much to worry about, but it is there.

Next up, is the IK Multimedia IRIG MIC HDIN Microphone (£80). This comes with a selection of connection options; including USB and Lightening cables, so it can be plugged directly into an iPhone (a 30 pin connector can also be purchased for older iPhones). In use I found the mic to be exceptionally quiet, with a full sound. It also comes with a microphone clip, so can be connected to a stand. At a normal handheld distance, in a quiet environment it was fine. However in noisy environments, where I had to hold it closer to my mouth, I did find it was susceptible to breath noise and popping. To counter this I tried it with a Rycote foamy which cured the problem completely.

…and with a Rycote Foamy

I already have a Reporters mic, an Audio Technica AT804, which is a short handled model. So I also tried that into an iRig Pro (see my review). Again this was very quiet, but not quite such a rich sound as the IPIRIGMICHDIN Microphone.

So what conclusions can we draw? Well listen to the sound clips and decide for yourselves.  I know the iRig mic and the Samson Meteor were designed for different tasks, but there is quite a lot of cross over. For versatility and sound quality, I really like the IK Multimedia IPIRIGMICHDIN mic. It can be used directly into a computer or iPhone. I did find it a little prone to breath noise when it was used close to the mouth, but using a cheap foamy rectifies this.

I wanted to like the Samson Meteor Mic, the build quality, looks and full sound are exceptional, but it is a little noisy.

If you are already using an iRig Pro and have a Reporters Mic, try that. Depending on the mic it can be great and again is very quiet.

All of the microphones where tested, by plugging them into an Apple Macbook Pro and recording directly into Audacity (A free multi-track audio editor and recorder). As you can hear from the recordings, I have a voice that is probably better suited to being behind a camera and not in front, sorry!

Ethics Statement: All of the equipment above has been purchased by me. This site is not sponsored in any way. If products are reviewed for manufacturers it will be clearly stated, none of the above was.


#GE2015 Infographic Produced on the iPhone

#GE2015 from Martin Shakeshaft on Vimeo.

Philip Bromwell from RTÉ recently posted an infographic that he had created on the #mojo Facebook page. He had set himself the task to create a piece on his iPhone about the UK Election. I really liked the idea, so decided to try the challenge for myself. I used four apps:
Procam – stills photography
Gravie – graphics
iMovie – editing
LEGO Movie – timelapse

and three tubes of Smarties! I don’t know if it was an omen, but one had no blue smarties in it!

#MOJO Demystifying Microphone/Headphone Interfaces

As soon as you start working on mobile journalism pieces, two things become apparent. Bad audio can completely wreck a video and to be confident you need to monitor the sound you are recording, using headphones (see my article here).

Whilst the on-board mics in your phone are fine for ambient sound, to isolate people you need to use some form of external microphone. A popular choice for #mojo reporters is the Lavaliere (lapel/tie clip) mic, which can be discreetly placed on your subject. For reporters working to camera, some may prefer a stick mic (some models are specifically designed with longer bodies, to facilitate a good working distance)

XLR Connectors Microphone/iRig/Rode Lav

XLR Connectors Microphone/iRig/Rode Lav

No matter what you choose, most professional microphones use XLR connectors (see note below) and some require a power source to work (referred to as Phantom Power). So your first consideration is to find a way to plug these into your phone, some kind of interface box.

There are a few options currently available and a few new models about to be released. The most popular options for #mojo reporters at the moment, are the iRig Pre and iRig Pro. These are made by IK Multimedia, a company that produce recording interfaces for musicians using tablets and phones. Both of these models are essentially high quality preamps. They boost the microphone output so that the gain in the phone can be kept low, to avoid introducing noise. Continue reading

Monopod Solutions

I was recently asked ‘ give us one tip to really make your video capture look professional’. This is a pretty easy one, ‘If you can, use a tripod’. This really does make the difference between professional or amateur footage.

The problem is, using a tripod is not always possible. If you are working in public spaces or covering demonstrations, the chance of people tripping over you is a real danger. Manfrotto and Benro have introduced monopods with small floor stands to try to combat this, but in some conditions they can still be a liability. Another solution is to use a shoulder rig, but the problem here, is that what started out as a compact solution, is quickly expanding into the size of a full ENG camera!

One cost effective, solution that works for me, is to use a monopod into a waist pouch (See the right hand picture). The camera/iPhone is mounted via a Shoulderpod S1, onto a simple Manfrotto 234 monopod tilt head. This in turn is connected to a monopod, that is supported by a  Manfrotto 080 belt pouch. For added stability, you can also add a cheap shoulder brace Manfrotto 361 (middle left). The scenes shot at the nighttime rallies in this video were all shot using this solution

Greek Elections 2012 from Martin Shakeshaft on Vimeo.

Tip: to assess how well a steadying solution works, look at a point in the corner of the video to see how much it moves.

Journalism Is Dead, Long Live Journalism!

#Mojo Mobile Journalism Conference Dublin 2015

#Mojo Mobile Journalism Conference Dublin 2015

At the recent #Mojo Mobile Journalism Conference in Dublin, Michael Rosenblum gave a very thought provoking presentation, where he declared ‘The Job of Journalist is finished’. Here is my response:

It is ironic that the debate sparked by Michael Rosenblum’s statement that ‘The Job of Journalist is Finished’,  really sums up how poor some modern journalism actually is. The pronouncement is a great headline grabber, but is simplistic in the extreme.

His argument is, that with modern technology and people carrying phones,capable of broadcast quality video….. there is no barrier to being a journalist.  Whilst there maybe some merit to this argument, my riposte would be just because people can produce content, doesn’t mean it will be watchable. Kitten videos on Facebook may look better, but that doesn’t mean they are more compelling or less annoying! As a photojournalist with 30 years experience. I have met amateurs  with better equipment, than me, but that doesn’t mean they can structure a feature or even get shots in focus!

What probably is dead, is the condescending top down model that has driven modern journalism ‘we pronounce – you listen’. People are tiring of this approach, you only have to read the comments section in a modern newspaper to see that people also want their voice to be heard.

So where does this leave the career journalist? I would argue that the future is bright. There are now more opportunities than ever before for journalists to tell stories and to really create engaging content. The challenge is to keep abreast of these emerging technologies and to exploit them to their full potential. The other skill that should set the ‘professional journalist’ apart is the ability to research and produced well informed content. Stories need to be contextualised. As more and more people try their hand at producing content, trust and authenticity will become increasingly more important commodities.

It is true that many traditional employment opportunities will probably dry up, largely because newspapers have been slow to respond to the challenges that the internet has thrown up. In Britain the traditional press has long supported the status quo, contributed much to spectacle, to voyeurism and been a law unto themselves. Anything that challenges this has to be for the positive. At the same time, new opportunities will arise.

Michael Rosenblum has kick started a debate that is long overdue. So is modern journalism dead? I don’t believe it is, it’s evolving and with this evolution come new opportunities and challenges.

To misquote Mark Twain  ‘Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated’.