Essential Gear For Any Political Activist
Let’s face it, political activism can be a risky line of work. Often times, political activism involves a message that is not necessarily popular or widely accepted by the general public. Political opponents can and will call the police in hopes they will harass the people for whom they don’t agree. It’s really a sad state of affairs, but I have plenty of video evidence to prove my claim that people will call the police on activists for admittedly breaking no laws.
That being said, if you plan on taking to the streets to spread your message, you must be prepared for hostile opponents, or police who aren’t well versed on the laws they supposedly enforce. In this article I will cover all of the gear that I have acquired that not only helps me document my activism, but also helps protect myself by providing objective video evidence should anyone violate my rights. You will find people act differently (usually more civil) when they know their behavior is being captured.
A quality camera is arguably the most important investment that any political activist can make. Documenting activism is vital for maximizing your message and spreading it to the global audience of YouTube or other social media platforms. Depending on the type of situations you plan on documenting, some cameras are more applicable then others. Ultimately, I decided to go with a DSLR camera since it can take stills and video with some amazing quality. Now, I will admit, DSLR cameras are not ideal for filming for a long duration, such as speeches or debates. However, they provide cinematic properties to your video which can provide your future audience with some added quality, and by judging the feedback I have received, they appreciate that.
I decided to go with the Canon T3i (600d) Rebel, a lower end camera by DSLR standards, but I felt it met all of my criteria to be an amateur video producer. I’ve had this camera for a little over a year now, and am very happy with its results. This is definitely not a point and shoot camera as it requires some basic understanding of the settings in order produce quality shots, but it’s worth learning. Another factor that I used to justify this camera was its versatility in accepting additional components. For example, it allows for external microphones, external flash, and a variety of lenses. I knew that I could upgrade the quality at a later date should I ever have the need.
Now, if you don’t want to learn all of the intricate features of a DSLR camera, and are looking for a more affordable, user friendly option, might I recommend the Sony Handycam.
I don’t have any personal experience with this particular camera, but it is a popular choice for activists everywhere. The compact design, along with the powerful zoom feature makes this camera a very practical, multi-use camera. I eventually plan to purchase one as a backup to my DSLR.
If the prices for these cameras seem to be out of your range, remember that this is an investment. Meaning, that if you end up producing content that others find value in, you can actually offset the costs of the camera via ad revenue. I was able to pay for all of my equipment within a years time from YouTubes adsense program.
One of the most overlooked aspects of documenting activism is the ability to capture clear audio. Personally, I can handle sub-par video quality if the audio is good, however, I will stop watching if the audio is full of wind noise or barely audible. So, after researching different microphones and watching endless reviews on YouTube, I decided to purchase a Rode Video Mic Pro Compact Shotgun Microphone. I have been very satisfied with the audio quality and more importantly, the battery life is amazing. It plugs right into the microphone jack, and attaches nicely to the accessory clip on top of my video camera Additionally, if you plan on filming outdoors, I would highly recommend an additional windscreen cover. Wind noise can ruin the best of videos, so you might as well be prepared.
The RODE microphone is great for the majority of situations, however, I found myself needing an additional audio source for interviews, or capturing sound from subjects far away from the camera. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money for a wireless microphone setup, so I chose to go with an independent audio recorder, the ZOOM H1. Now, I am equipped to interview subjects without all of the background noise captured by the shotgun mic. I also went ahead and got a lavalier mic so the audio can be captured without having to physically hold a microphone up to someones face. The audio recorder can also be used to capture audio discretely, if you ever find yourself in a undercover journalistic situation (check your wiretapping laws in your state first). The only downside to having an independent audio source is that the audio track must be synced with its corresponding video track in post production. This can and will cost you additional time while editing, but depending on your budget and time constraints, it will probably work for most activists.
In order to make the most of all of the items mentioned above, you will need to have a few core accessories in order make filming videos possible. First, and probably the most crucial is a camera bag. You need something to store your equipment and transport from your house to rally and back home again. I ended up purchasing a back pack made by Canon for under $40, and it has served me very well. It has lots of different compartments and pockets to store most everything you’ll need.
The second most crucial item that you will need is a tripod. Now, I ended up going really cheap on the tripod and now I’m regretting that decision. Don’t get me wrong my tripod serves its purpose, however, panning and tilting is near impossible. Anytime I need to adjust the angle the camera jumps and its anything but smooth. So, be sure to do your research and read the reviews to find out what will work for you.
Also, don’t underestimate the need for backup battery power. While in video mode, my T3I really eats through the batteries. If you plan on filming for extended amounts of time, you should have at least 2 if not 3 or 4 backup batteries. Nothing is worse then realizing that you are out of juice and miss what could be a pivotal moment in your activism.
Hopefully this article gives you some ideas on what you might need to properly document your activism and share those experiences with the world. Remember, if its not recorded, it didn’t happen.