This post is just for fun. I’m constantly overawed by what’s possible with gear on the market today (and by what might be possible tomorrow).
At the same time, I hate gimmickry — gadgetry’s ability to suck time, energy and resources out of reality and into digital oblivion. Especially in adventure, there’s so much value in going old-school, low-tech and disconnected; giving those wits a good old-fashioned sharpening.
But for those more interested in tools than toys, it’s incredible what’s out there. If money were no object (or I had the backing of a large generous socially– and environmentally-conscious sponsor), I’d waste no time in adding this lot to my equipment cupboard:
Update: Sony HXR-NX3D1E 3D Digital Video Camera
Spotted this a couple of days after originally posting this article. The HXR-NX3D1E isn’t on the market yet, and the whole 3D revival thing might turn out to be another gimmick. But when a company as influential and entrenched as Sony come up with a gadget like this, you’ve got to accept that the format might just be here to stay.
I’ve included this digital video camera here purely for the fact that it’s just ridiculously cool. 96GB of built-in memory? Tapeless 3D Full-HD recording? Every manual control a professional could ask for? And practically the same size and weight as my ageing HVR-A1E?
Android Smartphone (with Bluetooth keyboard)
I keep banging on about smartphones, even though I don’t have one. I guess that 90% of people who own one don’t need it — there’s enough spam on Twitter & Facebook already without having to hear what flavour of burp my old schoolmate produced ten minutes after dinner.
But when weight and space is at a premium — such as on a trek or a bike trip — a pocket-sized piece of kit that can do what a few years ago you’d have needed seven separate electronic devices for (phone, laptop, modem, camera, camcorder, MP3 player and GPS) — and a stack of books — must be worth its weight in gold.
Why Android? I don’t know… I like the transparent open-source ethos. I just can’t bring myself to buy into Apple’s uncomfortably-swishy world of lifestyle toys. I’d bring a Bluetooth keyboard if I was planning on blogging regularly.
Nikon D7000 HDSLR
This is not the top-of-the-range Nikon DSLR, but then I’m not a sports photographer who needs to shoot 9 frames per second and a grapple with a huge metal body and battery grip. The D7000 is a compact DX body that can shoot full-HD video (albeit at 24fps). It has manual video controls for complete creative control, and gives you external microphone inputs to negate the need for a dedicated audio recorder.
What it doesn’t have, stupidly, is full HD resolution at 25 frames per second — i.e. British HDTV format compatibility! The mind boggles! Is the step up from 24 to 25 fps too much to ask for?
Naturally it would also shoot excellent-quality stills. Its successor (which must have 1920x1080p25) will be the only camera I’ll need for fast and light adventure filmmaking. Until 4320p UHDTV gets here.
(Video included for the picture quality rather than the too-damn-cool behaviour.)
I’d put a sharp, light and practical 18-200mm or 18-70mm zoom lens on the front — nothing bigger or heavier for a lightweight trip. If I could take more, I’d bring a 10-24mm ultrawide, a 35mm f/1.8, a 50mm f/1.4, and maybe a 55-300mm VR. (Money no object, right…?)
Schmidt Dynohub Bicycle Generator Hub
I’ve tried a variety of solar charging devices, and all have turned out to be high on marketing hype and low on delivery (except for the simple and excellent Powerfilm AA-battery charger which powered my helmet-camera and GPS across Mongolia).
The idea of using the hours of pedalling to power my gadgets on bike trips is a sublime one. Actually generating the power is only the first stage of a solution like that, and no dynamo hub has the reputation of German manufacturer Schmidt’s range. Shimano make them, too, but don’t quite have the clean sweep of write-ups that the Schmidt models do.
The natural accompaniment to the dynamo hub, PedalPower+ is one of a small handful of clever solutions that’s designed as a kind of energy broker between the generator hub and the device to be charged. The device would take care of the obligatory smartphone’s charging needs, plus the AA and AAA batteries in the GPS and headtorch.
What it wouldn’t do is charge DSLRs, video cameras or laptops, which would need a 12-volt supply. If anyone has a reliable (and preferably hub-powered) solution for that, please share it in the comments!
My instincts veer towards cynicism — I love the tangibility and timelessness of a book as much as anyone else. But on a long bike trip or trek, can I really justify lugging a small library around with me — like I have in the past — when devices* which are just as comfortable to read, last for a month between charges, can store my entire reading list and weigh less than a paperback are now on the market ( * and without* 3G connectivity)?
Drift Innovations HD170 Stealth Digital Video Camera
I took the predecessor to this action-camera to Mongolia and was very impressed. The LCD screen is the real selling point for me over the GoPro range — I want to be able to compose the shot rather than guess what it’s going to look like. (I’d have a GoPro too, though, in my money-no-object world, for underwater shots!)
The HD170 is the more recent high definition version (the Stealth tag just seems to mean it’s black instead of fluorescent orange), and since the world’s gone HD-mad, people who make video have little choice but to keep up — even if a significant percentage of consumers can’t tell the difference anyway…
Olympus LS-11 Digital Audio Recorder
Audio recorders are actually a key tool in the filmmaker’s box, and a multi-functional one at that. I’ve used a cheap Olympus recorder for a while, but I’d love a really crisp, uncompressed-format professional one like the LS-11.
A high quality recording device can be used in situations when an onboard microphone might not cut it. I’d use it to record ‘atmos’ — the industry jargon for the atmospheric sound that most viewers will never realise is contributing far more to their viewing experience than the picture. (The secret to a great video is… the audio — technical article warning).
Then there’s the audio diaries, sounds of nature, spontaneous music, street performers…
Canon XA10 Digital Video Camera
DSLR video is coming on in leaps and bounds, but two things will forever keep dedicated video cameras on the kit list: handling and power-zoom.
It’s difficult to explain how important handling is if you haven’t done a lot of ‘run-and-gun’ shooting. If I was running around trying to capture actuality for a documentary scene, I’d go with a video camera every time, even if it cost me the DSLR lens’ sharpness or depth-of-field control. Simply put — everything about a video camera is built for shooting video.
I’ve used Sony’s excellent A1E for years, but I have my reservations. I’m not a great fan of the unit’s 4-blade diaphragm, its reliance on the HDV on MiniDV tape format and all the moving parts that entails, its lack of manual aperture controls, or its crappy lens hood and obstructive filter-thread positioning. (Yes, I have become a bit of a pedant!)
The brand new and tiny yet professional-grade Canon XA10, however, sounds like it will address all of these shortcomings. Now I just need to find a couple of grand from somewhere…
Petzl Ultra Headtorch
The TacTikka XP I’ve had for the last couple of years is a functional, reliable and simple headtorch, but sometimes it just isn’t as bright as I’d like. This is especially true when riding at night (although I managed alright in Scandinavia this winter — but then, everywhere was white!).
I’d feel much more comfortable with a high-powered unit like the Petzl Ultra while blasting through the night. It might encourage me to do a bit more night-time mountain-biking or trail running too, once I’m back on my feet.
Laser Eye Surgery
Not a gadget as such — but faced with a lifetime of paying for prescription sunglasses, goggles and regular specs, plus regular eye-checks and the inconvenience of carrying and using the glasses in the field, the frankly incredible achievement of optical surgery using fricken’ laser beams increasingly seems to be a no-brainer for someone who spends much of his time active and outdoors…
Well, that’s my wish-list! Now I’ll just sit back and wait for the large generous socially– and ecologically-conscious sponsor to contact me about my next adventure…