Tips and Tricks

Super compact travel filmmaking gear

When it comes to travel filmmaking gear, light and compact is what you really want.

We love capturing our outdoor adventures on photo and video, but used to end up lugging around an overpacked camera bag full of gear that was big, bulky and weighed a ton. All that excess kit weighed us down and stopped us from having fun! In this post, we'll share how we fixed that problem, and our three best camera rigs to use outdoors that are lightweight, but don't compromise on quality.

We'll also share the different ways that we use our travel filmmaking gear, and what scenarios we think each rig is best suited for, which might help with the indecision on what gear you should pack, and what stays behind.

We're by no means professionals, but maybe we can help you to find the travel filmmaking gear setup that is best suited to your adventures and that won't detract from what we want you to do: have fun outside.

1. The GoPro 7 Black

Best for: The most compact and rugged photo and video solution.

Let's start with our most light and compact rig - the GoPro 7 Black.

GoPro has been around for a number of years and it's become the mainstay of the POV world as well as a valuable item in any travel filmmaking gear bag. But GoPro's newest stabilizing feature "hyper-smooth" has turned this camera into an all-in-one rig.

We have no idea how it works, but hyper-smooth acts like an invisible gimbal that stabilizes otherwise shaky clips, giving you liquid smooth footage that looks professional and is pleasing to watch.

With video resolutions of 4K @ 60fps and 1080p @240fps, the GoPro 7 Black puts out incredible quality even at super slow-mo. The 12MP stills camera is nothing to shake a stick at either and the new "linear" function reduces the classic fish-eye lens distortion associated with the GoPros of the past.

We use the GoPro 7 Black in most POV scenarios with our trusted mouth mount, but there are any number of other GoPros accessories to choose from.

The GoPro 7 Black is also waterproof in its case so we use it for surfing and snorkeling shots too. We've used it a little for vlog-style footage, but we mainly use it as a B camera to get smooth over the shoulder follows and leads. This was our go-to camera for all the water shots during our surf trip to the Telo Islands in Indonesia.

The Pros

  • It's an all-in-one, compact unit that can be thrown in a bag or kept in a pocket while out and about.
  • There are no special assemblies or setups required. Simply press record and go.
  • The GoPro 7 Black has exceptional image and video quality.
  • It has great slow-mo features.
  • It has a very robust build and is waterproof up to 10 m.
  • It's fairly cheap when compared with the same specs on other rigs.
  • It's compatible with a plethora of GoPro accessories for a variety of views and angles.

The Cons

  • It's not as good as a gimbal at keeping the horizon line flat when filming.
  • It doesn't offer as much control over camera movements as a gimbal does.

All in all, the GoPro 7 Black is a fantastic, all-in-one rig that takes up virtually no space at all.

Our rig

GoPro 7 Black camera rig
Mouth mount  ::  GoPro 7 Black  ::  Suction cup mount.

2. Mobile Phone and Gimbal

Best for: Incredible control over camera movements when capturing video.

While the GoPro 7 Black has vastly changed how we shoot there are instances where we want more control over the camera movements such as slow, even panning over a landscape, or controlled tilts while the camera is moving. In these scenarios we opt for our next rig - the mobile phone and gimbal combination.

Mobile phones are just getting better and better with their photo and video capabilities. And all that power packed into a device that fits into the palm of your hand makes for a very useful piece of travel filmmaking gear when out and about.

Taking photos on a mobile phone is simple enough, but shooting video handheld still looks a little tacky, which is where the gimbal comes in. There are dozens of brands, but we use the FreeVision Vilta M and we've been blown away by just how much of a difference it makes.

Whether shooting slow pans or making harsh sweeping movements, the gimbal makes you look like a pro. We've even managed to get crane-like stabilization while running down the stairs - it's really quite incredible.

This kind of rig is great for filming hikes and low-impact outdoor adventures (where you or your subject aren’t moving too quickly). It's excellent in situations that need dynamic camera movements where you want a high degree of control such as tilts and pans.

Check out this music promo video we shot with Byron Langley with only the Google Pixel 3 and our mobile phone gimbal.

The Pros 

  • Compact and light.
  • The stabilization is amazing.
  • It's easy to operate.
  • Consumer gimbals are cheap.
  • They're quick and easy to assemble.
  • As you're shooting on a mobile phone, it's also quick and easy to upload and share your images and footage online.

The cons

  • Fragile - The gimbal's motors can't take much resistance and even a strong wind can be a problem.
  • They are electronic devices which means they need a charge to operate.
  • Image quality depends on your phone, which in itself can be expensive.
  • Most phones are not designed for extensive filming so they get hot with a lot of use.
  • The phone's battery life will suffer with all the image processing so you need a power bank to deal with this while out and about.

The mobile phone and gimbal setup is small, compact, easy to setup and gives amazing results. It can be a bit unreliable at times, but overall, it's a great rig for most situations.

Our rig

mobile phone and gimbal combination
Any mobile phone  ::  FreeVision Vilta M mobile phone gimbal.

3. DSLR and Weighted Gimbal

Best for: Interchangeable lenses offer a wide variety of style of shot.

Finally, if we know we have the luxury of a bit more packing space we'll look to use our next set of travel filmmaking gear which is a DSLR setup.

The biggest benefit with DSLRs (as well as mirrorless cameras) is that you can change lenses and exploit the various characteristics of each one. You can go from wide, fish-eye lenses with their massive field of view right up to telephoto lenses that isolate and capture subjects in the distance.

We use our DSLR for both photos and video, but whatever the application, the biggest challenge is always stabilisation. A nice light tripod or car-door bean bag does the trick for photos and some video scenarios, but when we're filming, we like to move the camera too, and that requires more specialised kit.

For this, we like to use a weight-balanced gimbal system. With this rig, the camera is mounted on top of a plate that sits atop an adjustable pole and is counter-balanced by weights on a sled, the net effect being the stabilization of the whole system. We love using this setup for moving portraits of people, so we go for lenses in the 28 - 50mm range with nice wide apertures that give that sharp foreground and blurry background effect. We shot all of the portraits in our Telos Island video using this rig.

The Pros

  • Extremely versatile as you can make use of many different kinds of lenses for variety.
  • DSLRs generally have long battery lives.
  • Most DSLRs have a robust build that can handle being bumped around in a bag.
  • The gimbal has no electrical parts so doesn't need to be charged.
  • The gimbal can double as a mono-pod.

The Cons

  • Bulky and heavy (compared to the other rigs).
  • Things also get expensive very quickly as you start adding to your rig.
  • The gimbal takes lots of getting used to and it also takes a long time to setup.
  • Extra pieces of kit to carry.
  • DSLR cameras are prone to one of our pet-peeves - dust on the sensor! Nothing ruins a great shoot more than opening up the files and finding spots all over the images.

Our rig

Nikon D7100 and Yelangu s60t
Nikon D7100 :: 50mm f1.8 lens :: Yelangu S60T gimbal

The bulk of our shooting is done on our DSLR rig as we're normally happy to take the extra weight and baggage, but ultimately we find ourselves using a combination of each rig on all of our shoots.

We also pack external microphones for capturing audio. We use a shotgun mic for general recording, or a lapel mic and voice recorder when we need to keep the mic away from the camera.

 

Final thoughts

So that's a little look at our travel filmmaking gear. This is by no means an exhaustive guide but hopefully it sparks some ideas for you in building your own adventure shooting rig. The whole idea is to get great photos and video without your camera gear weighing you down and getting in the way.

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