Packing Lightly

This is my third documentary trip to Latin America in as many years, and this time I’m hoping I’ll really nail it! Not only do I feel infinitely more prepared in producing a documentary (I’ve written a script and know what I’m doing!), but I’ve finally upgraded my kit to… well… more professional quality than before. No more are the days where I Duct-tape a flashlight to a broken tripod for lighting! I have an audio recorder that will capture concert-level sound of the jungle symphony! And of course – the flying camera! Although it is composed of electrical tape its capabilities will hopefully boost my documentary-filmmaking potential to new heights!

I am writing from the plane and am amazed I’ve been able to drag everything on-board without them telling me to check it. My three bags (not just a carry-on and a personal item) are overflowing, and I have been stopped more than once for my overage of overcoats (“Isn’t Costa Rica pretty warm?”). Worsening the juggling act of two heavy, valuable bags and a heavy laptop Murse, one of my backpack’s wheels broke while wheeling to the metro and even though I’ve sewn its straps twice to support the bulging innards, I spent my first hour in San Jose sewing on a whole new one. The carry-on was searched in security, probably owing to the 5 computer chips that comprise the Parrot AR Drone 2.0. Lucky for me the young man who searched my luggage had heard of the device, was excited to talk to me about it, and didn’t even mind unwrapping my underwear, which I am using to protect the device.

Camera: Panasonic GH2 ($1200 + $300 (pancake lens) + $500 (Zoom lens))
Again I’m happy with my Panasonic Lumix GH series – a GH2 this time. Its half-sized chip gives me twice the zoom with my glass and therefore a much cheaper long-range capability for the close-up shots of difficult-to-approach animals. I have the GH standard 14-140mm lens with a silent autofocus and polarizer filter, a low-light, 1.7 aperture pancake 20mm lens, and will be re-claiming my 100-300mm lens from Shalynn when I meet up with her. Doubling these zoom powers, my range extends from 28mm for interviews and set shots to 600mm for the birdies. An equivalent Canon 600mm lens would price upwards of $l000s, and I got mine for a manageable $500.

Camera: Parrot AR Drone 2.0 ($300 + $200 parts)
This incredibly neat toy – no I must respect it as a powerful tool! – will give me the scenic capability to flyover the jungle forest, cascading rivers, and awe-struck locals. I will also be able to survey the pineapple plantations that are culpable for the habitat destruction/fragmentation at the project’s core. I have re-christened my flying buddy “Gordo,” in honor of our favorite Scarlet Macaw from Manu Wildlife Center. Being a Parrot Drone, I find it fitting and even more whimsical than having just a remote control quad-copter controlled by my Samsung Galaxy Nexus ($200 with new contract). Gordo emits his own wi-fi signal which links directly to my phone. Using the phone’s internal gyro capabilities, Gordo mimics my phone’s tilting actions to maneuver quite responsively. I can also move him directly vertical or rotate to cover the shots on the X-Y axis, and Gordo is kind enough to send me a live feed of his 720p forward-facing camera or his 480p ground view camera. Although his camera quality is little more above the exciting spy potential (one friend called him the “peeper” and vowed to get one to take to a nudist beach), I am supplementing his aeronautics with a camera upgrade.

Camera: GoPro HD Hero2 ($300 + $60 warranty)
This very handy and very portable and very, very versatile little guy is primarily the 1080p attachment for the Drone. The GoPro is a little heavy for Gordo, but effective to record in whichever direction I want to view by simply strapping him on Gordo’s back with electrical tape and a custom-fit foam body. I’m hoping my preflight practice will prevent any crashes, but you never know. I have bought a lot of spare parts just in case…
The GoPro will also be invaluable as a device for timelapses, underwater shooting, and catching extreme sequences (we’ll see if I can get Shalynn to bungee jump!). It is so small and automatic that I can put it anywhere, and I am hoping to use it like a set camera trap.

Although I am bringing my trusty underwater flashlight, I shelled out the measly $35 for an LED camera light. It fits into my camera’s shoe, has an adjustable dimmer, and color filters. It will be much more reliable than taping a flashlight to a broken tripod with a 36 hour battery life.

Action: Plenty to come!

Audio: Tascam DR-07 with Cardiod Mic ($154+$19)
I have had some good luck on my previous trip with an Olympus audio recorder, but this time I went for the professional quality of a Tascam. With adjustable sensors for surround or directed sound and a plug-in for a directional lapel mic, I’m sure I’ll be able to deliver high-quality sound to transport my few viewers into the thick of the bush.

Tripod: Benro Adjustable with Manfrotto Fluid head
No more crappy, frustratingly-shaky, cheap Walmart plastic tri-pod! This time I went… well almost all out with a Benro adjustable aluminum tripod. I wanted to go carbon fiber, but for $160 instead of $360 I have a tripod that ways 4 lbs instead of 2. Good trade. On top of its sturdy legs will rest a Manfrotto fluid head tripod which will guarantee I no longer have jitterbugs on-screen.

Now I really feel like a pro with a light-weight field shirt, and a million-pocketed fisherman’s vest. To save room in the luggage I am wearing my 10 inch wild land firefighting boots, khakis, travel wallet hidden in a protective location, 1TB traveler hard-drive strapped to the inside of my calf, the field shirt, the fisherman’s vest, a T-shirt underneath, a Northface fleece and a waterproof wind-breaker, all a-topped with a floppy safari hat. It’s been a hot day dragging all my gear in all my skins! But I realized in the bathroom that this is really how I want to dress all the time! I would love to be always heading toward the jungle or the field to film. Me llaman señor bolsillos! Or so I thought until I saw all the goofy old guys wearing similar vests and hats and looking similarly as ridiculous!

Added to my kit are all the little connectors, fasteners, stickies, and mendors you can name: rubber bands, Velcro strips, Velcro pads, zip-ties, Gorilla tape, rescue tape, bungee cords, fishing line, sewing thread and needles. I also have extra batteries, paperwork for film releases, and framed pictures of the people who attended the wedding Shalynn photographed. Strapped to my bag is a roll-up sleeping pad to finish of all the exhausting haul with the guarantee of uncomfortable sleep. And one would think given my history that I would have brought a lot of bugspray… well… WHOOPS.

An adventure!

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