Gadgets & Gear

My personal tech gear lineup for 2014

I get lots of questions about the tech gear I use to capture and blog for this blog and my RV travel blog. I change and add gear all the time so this is current as of the last update note below.

(Last Updated – January 19, 2014)

My main video camera: I use the Canon XA20  Professional Video Camera. I love this camera. It is the perfect “run-and-gun” camcorder that is suitable for HD Electronic News Gathering (ENG), event coverage, independent and documentary filmmaking. The camera features a 1/2.84″, 1920 x 1080 CMOS sensor that captures video at various frame rates up to 59.94p, including a 24p mode for a more cinematic feel. The integrated Canon 20x HD Optical zoom lens has a 35mm equivalent zoom range of 26.8 to 576mm and features an 8-bladed iris to render highlights in a more natural manner. It uses professional XLR audio inputs for two channel recording. I use an attached shotgun mic and a wireless mic on the two inputs.

mikeglassBack-up Video CameraThe GoPro HD Hero3 black edition  outdoor version. Waterproof, dustproof, HD and able to be strapped to anything from a helmet to the side of my Roadtrek, this camera gets great wide angle perspectives great for action shots. There are lots of mounts. I have a helmet mount for biking and a suction cup mount for slapping on my motorhome or any flat surface.

Wireless Microphone System – Good sound is essential. I use the Sennheiser EW 100-ENG G2 Wireless Lavalier Microphone System, with BodyPack Transmitter,Plug-on Transmitter, Camera Receiver. This system is a workhouse for professional videographers and news crews. It provides video recording in the most varied recording situations, from as far as 100 feet. The ME 2 clip-on microphone is virtually invisible. The extremely small SK 100 G2 bodypack transmitter and the SKP 100 G2 plug-on transmitter as well as the EK 100 G2 camera receiver feature nine frequency banks with four directly accessible presets each.

My main DSLR Camera – The Canon EOS Rebel T3i 18 MP with an 18-135 mm lens. Awesome photos, great HD video. I bought this to do still and video but now use just for stills. Since this is a bit tricky to focus for video out in the boonies, I now use dedicated video and still cameras. This camera captures images with exceptional clarity and tonal range and offers more than enough resolution for big enlargements or crops. This first-class sensor features many of the same new technologies as used by professional Canon cameras to maximize each pixel’s light-gathering efficiency. Its APS-C size sensor creates an effective 1.6x field of view (compared to 35mm format).

My secondary DSLR Camera: Lately, I’ve also added the new Canon PowerShot SX50 HS 12.1 MP Digital Camera with 50x Optical Zoom. I have been stunned at the capabilities of this camera and especially how clear and crisp that 50X zoom is in geting me up close to wildlife and nature shots. This is much lighter than the T3i and is seriously vying as my always-carry camera.

Main lens – Because I like photographing wildlife – big, dangerous wildlife like wolves, moose, bison and bear – I need a good telephoto. But I don’t want to have to carry extra lenses. So I got the Tamron AF 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD LD Aspherical IF Macro Zoom Lens for Canon DSLR Cameras. This lens is amazingly compact and it works on everything from wide angles to telephoto.

Bag for Cameras – After years of searching, I’ve found the perfect gear bag for my DSLR calera, videocamera, lenses, wireless mics and batteries. It also holds my 15-inch MacBook Pro. It’s the Kata PL  Reporter Bag, model Pl-Rpt-30. The flap features quick release buckles for full opening or a quick top-access zipper opening for when quiet is necessary, like when you don’t want to disturb the wildlife you’re trying to photograph. The organizer pockets on the front will hold your small personal items like a wallet, passport etc. Carry comfortably with the padded shoulder strap or, when on the move, tuck the bag under your arm using the detachable handle strap.

I also love my Mountainsmith Descent AT Recycled Camera Bag. It’s a backpack, er, make that a frontpack. It is held in place on your chest by a  shoulder harness system. Cameras are always within easy reach but I have both hands free for balance and mobility. This can hold both my still and video cameras. Great for wilderness hikes.

Computer – The MacBook Pro with Retina display. Quite simply, this is the finest computer I have ever owned.  Mine is the 15-inch version, with the 2.7 GHz Intel Core i7 processor. I have 16 GB of RAM and 750 GB of flash storage. Because there are no moving parts, the the solid state flash drive boots up remarkably fast. About 20 seconds does it.

Video editing software – I use Final Cut Pro X. Fast, powerful, full featured and able to handle 1080p HD video without breaking a sweat.

Portable hard drive – HD video files are huge. So I carry the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex 1TB external hard drives. I make files for each shoot, organize them on the FreeAgent and never worry about using up my MacBook Pro storage.

Laptop bag – The SwissGear SA1923 ScanSmart Backpack carries my computer, cables, wires, adapters, chargers, notebooks, pens, thumbdrives and more stuff than anyone would ever need. I’ve literally tried every bag out there. After years of searching, this is the best for me. Padded protection for my laptop, lots of extra compartments, quality zippers and seams, I will never use another.

Smartphone – I now use a Samsung Galaxy S 4. I’ve had every iPhone since they came out but switched for a bunch of reasons. The Galaxy S 4 camera takes great videos and stills as a backup when I don’t have my main gear with me.

Tablet – The iPad. The 4g Version 3 model. Great for apps on the road. Check my PC Mike NBC-TV reports for my favorite apps.

My NetworkVerizon Wireless. Verizon, I’ve found, offers the best and reliable nationwide coverage. I’ve had AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. None came close to Verizon in terms of coverage while on-the-road, offering 3 and 4g coverage and reliability.  If no WiFi is available, I  use the Verizon MiFi wireless modem to set up a 4g hotspot on the Verizon network. That lets me use my MacBook Pro for web updates, uploading photos and videos.

Ham radio – I’m a long-time licensed amateur radio operator (K8ZRH) and I always have a rig with me. I travel with the ICOM IC-V85 two meter FM hand held transceiver and, permanently mounted, the Kenwood 144/440 MHz TM-V71A transceiver. I use amateur radio for emergency communications, weather monitoring and just plain chit-chatting with locals on their repeaters. I did a blog post on installing ham radio in an RV.  I’m hoping to add an HF model some day soon.

GPS gear – For my vehices, I use the Rand McNally TripMaker RVND 7710. This has a seven inch screen and can be synced to a central site to reflect the latest in construction issues and detours.  it is the most accurate and easy-to-follow vehicle navigation system I’ve yet to use. For my long bicycle rides and off road exploring, I use the Garmin Edge 705. Though made specifically for cycling, it slips off the handlebars mount easily and can be carried in my pocket for hiking.

My Drone – Lately, I’ve also been having a lot of fun with my own personal drone. It’s really not a drone in the sense of the military drones we keep hearing about but is  a radio controlled quadricopter, the Phantom 2 with a Zenmuse  H3-2D  Gimbal that acts as a steadycam for the GoPro Hero 3 camera it carries. I use this for aerial shots to show scenic views and overhead perspectives of the places I blog about. I have an FPV (First Person Video) monitor attached to the flight controller that transmits back the image the camera is recording. The camera has a built in compass and GPS navigation control.

Google Glass – I am one of the Google Glass Explorers, those Google invited in to experiment with its new wearable computer and am indeed experimenting with it in my Roadtreking reporting. The device is expected to go on sale in last spring 2014 but right now, it is used by me primarily to record video and shoot still pictures. I did a review on Google Glass for my PC Mike blog and already have done a couple of videos with it for the blog and will do many more as the 2014 travel season gets underway. Ot has lots of apps that work with it, projecting information on a little screen right in front of your right eye. It’s connected to the Internet and uses your voice to open and close apps, share messages on social media, record messages and to answer questions you verbally ask it just as you would type them with a keyboard on the Google search engine.

Clothing – I wear coats, shorts, jackets, vests, pants and shirts made by ScottEVest, an American maker of tech-enabled very high quality casual clothing that is known for having an abundance of pockets for all the tech gear one would want to carry around. The company started with a great photographer’s vest and for well over a decade, I proudly wore mine all over the world. Now, Scott Jordan, the guy behind the company, makes a whole line of mens and womens clothing. They are stylish and comfortable and perfect for all my gadgets and gizmos.

Mike is a veteran journalist whose video "PC Mike" reports have been distributed weekly to all 215 NBC-TV stations since 1994, making him one of the most experienced tech reporters in the country. His tech stories and videos have appeared on MSNBC, CNBC, the Today Show, The New York Times, USA Today and in numerous national newspapers and magazines. In addition to the PC Mike tech blog, he also publishes the RV Travel Blog in which he travels North America in an RV reporting about interesting people and places.