Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Mobile 360 reporting: What's in my backpack

As a somewhat ~mobile~ journalist, I carry a lot of things inside my backpack whenever I get to go out to cover something (even though I'm technically an editor and I'm supposed to be at my desk but whatevs!)

Because I also work and experiment with mobile 360/VR journalism, I carry some extra equipment. So I try to make it so that the accessories and cables can be interchangeable, and that the equipment can help me cover something efficiently for quick publication in our small newsroom.
What follows is a list of the equipment I carry when I go out.

I have two phones, one personal and one for work. I currently have an iPhone 6 and a 7 with ATT and Verizon. I also carry an iPad mini 2nd gen, but that has no data plan so I'm not including it here. Because of the work with 360 cameras, I have found myself repeatedly using the two phones at the same time, including using one as a hotstop for other devices or to live stream while doing other things. Suffice it to say that a smartphone is indispensable and all other devices and accessories are dependent on it.

360 cameras

I have three, not because I need these many cameras but because they are getting better and cheaper quickly and I'm starting to have a collection:

  • I started with the Ricoh Theta S, which uses wifi and it's the official company camera. It shoots 1080p video, which is too low in resolution for actual workable video, so nowadays we just use it to quickly upload photos to Google Maps, using the StreetView app. We have a bunch of photos. I once live-streamed from it using a hack with a laptop and a phone for data, but it was pretty cumbersome (it did allow me to put other floating elements - a video and a logo - within the live stream, but resolution was too low).
  • Next up is the Insta360 Nano, and this little guy delivers. Video is 2K and its smartphone app allows you to upload quickly to Facebook or Youtube, plus you can live stream to Facebook, Periscope or Youtube. It's better used clipped to a phone. This is the cheapest of the cameras. 
  • The Insta360 One is a recent entry in the consumer 360 camera landscape and is now my default camera to shoot video (at 4K) and photos (24MP). As with the nano, you can live stream when attached to a phone, but its app and stabilizers really set it apart.


  • The first pole I obtained was a basic monopod to replace the bulkiness of a tripod, which didn't fit in my backpad (collapsed, the monopod barely does, at an angle). the monopod extends to 67 inches. 
  • I have a selfie stick with a stand that I've used repeatedly — and not for selfies! It can also be attached to the monopod. Add the Insta360 One to the top, and you've got yourself a floating camera.

  •  I have a clamp with a phone mount, which you can pretty much attach to anything, including your bike as you live-stream in 360. That's the clamp attached to the bike, holding an iPhone with an Insta360 nano. For this purpose, I add rubber bands to secure the phone, the 360-camera and the clamp, just in case.
  • I also have a super clamp, one of the heaviest things in the backpack and not one thing that needs to be brought to cover all events. The mandatory flex arm to go with it is pretty heavy as well, and I fold it in a "U" shape so it fits in the backpack. You can attach the selfie stick to the top of the super clamp and that'll open up more choices for where your 360 camera can be placed. If you use the Insta360 One, it will look like the camera is floating.
  • I have a Jellyfish tripod mount and that can be used in a number of combinations with a phone and a 360 camera, including a monopod or a clamp. It can help with live-streaming in 360 from very unique angles or just from very high up.
  • Duct tape. Solves all the problems. ALL OF THEM.
  • I have a micro SD card for the Insta 360 Nano. I use 64GB to keep me from going overboard.
  • I have two portable batteries, one old one I can't recommend anymore because it's garbage and I can't even, and a KMASHI battery (which I got as a #wjchat Secret Festivus present!) that can charge two devices at the same time. It's saved me from going dark a number of times. The 360 camera, phone, and data plan will consume more energy than normal and you'll need it for anything longer than an hour.
  • Asparagus rubber bands. I get nervous when I attach the phone to the Insta 360 cameras, so I use the rubber bands to secure them to the phones and the phones to whatever is holding them. The issue with the Insta360 cameras is that your phone can't use a protective case (I have Otter Box heavy duty cases; don't mess with your phones, kids), so the rubber bands make sure that nothing flies away when your phone and 360-degree camera are attached to a monopod or clamp. Also, asparagus is delicious.
  • Expansion screws. I have two small expansions that I initially was using to be able to plug the Ricoh Theta while using it (which I still use when using the Theta). But nowadays is mostly used in conjunction with the Jellyfish tripod mount or just to give the camera a bit more distance. They're easier to screw and unscrew on clamps and monopods, so they come in handy often.
  • Cables and plugs. I have two iPhones and three cameras so I carry at least two lighting cables and three USB cables, with 3 power adapters that work with USB in case I can plug somewhere. 
  • Lens cleaner. The Insta360 Nano came with one, but I had one just in case. The 360 camera lenses are exposed, so you'll find yourself cleaning them often.
  • I also have a 360/VR viewer (cardboard) to do quick demos. I used to carry a  Homido clip, which was good, until it broke, which was not good.

Not pictured: Sometimes I bring my laptop in the backpack if I know I'm going to be writing something from the field. But mostly I can upload from the phone itself, so I'm not including it.

I should also note that, partially, the reason I carry all these things is because I'm also likely taking photos, regular videos and sending live updates from the field, if I'm to cover something or help others with coverage. There's no need to bring the kitchen sink if you know what you're covering and how. Also, I wouldn't impose on others the tasks I give myself, so make sure you just bring the right equipment for the story.

And yes, I know it looks like a lot of things. But it all fits neatly!