How to cover #CES2019 in 2019

There was a time, in the not-too-distant past, that broadcasting live from the floor of the Last Vegas Convention Center required at least $10K in gear, a $250K microwave satellite truck, and a staff of three. The World’s Most Popular Podcast™ is doing it for about $2,000 with just me. Here’s how.

The 3 axis gimbal steadycam is Smooth 4 by . I had a Osmo Mobile but it was a buggy disaster of a device and I won’t ever buy a DJI product again. The Smooth 4 supports vertical video, something important for instagrammers and such. I paid an extra $20 for the white model but the black unit about $150 bucks on Amazon.

The Smooth 4 sports a wheel on its left side. Through the gimbal’s dedicated app, you can program it for Focus Pull (starting with one person in focus in the distance, then pulling the focus to the person closer) or as a smooth zoom.

It also features something I haven’t seen elsewhere: a passthrough charge port for the smartphone, but the short USB-C to Lightning cable I bought didn’t work. The Smooth 4 also comes with its own tripod stand, though the standard threaded connection on the underside can be used for your own.

This gimbal doesn’t act like the gimbals I knew before it: when you angle down, the camera remains level. The trigger on the backside of the handle acts as an “unlock” to allow for a pivoting motion. Most gimbals are the opposite, naturally panning down when you angle unless you otherwise lock it with the trigger.

The second trigger on the handle largely disables the smooth panning motion you’d get by twisting your wrist. This allows for high-speed action like race cars and such to follow the motion without falling behind the tracking.

The dial on the front is for exposure. Spin clockwise to increase the brightness of the shot, counter-clockwise if you’re blowing out your whites.

The Smooth 4 app also features object tracking, and time-lapse with point A-to-B movement but I haven’t experimented with those features, yet.

The microphone is an XLR-based 635L, known in the reporter business as a “hammer” for its indestructibility. I used one my entire 11 year radio career and watched a TV live truck operator use one to bash something back into place, so I knew it was the mic I wanted. It’s omnidirectional, so it picks up a lot of room noise, and it’s a little too tinny for my ear, but that’s the kind of thing that can be Fixed In Post.

To get the XLR mic to talk to the iPhone 7, I’m using a JK Audio BlueDriver F3 XLR Bluetooth transmitter. I’m not completely happy with it. In high-RF environments I get occasional pops and clicks, and most video apps only support the iPhone’s internal mic. The app supplied by Zhiyun supports Bluetooth as does my preferred video app . I’ve found long recordings (approximately 20 minutes or so) lose lip sync, so I just ensure I stop recording between interviews.

The app has some nifty features including colour correction, but I’m particularly happy that it supports multiple aspect ratios. I shoot everything in 16:9 but the app shows boundaries for 1:1 Instagram as well as formats for FB so I always know if the periphery will get into the final shot. The app also has built-in support for the Zhiyun Smooth 4, but the buttons aren’t properly matched with the labels (the front/rear camera toggle button doesn’t work – the single photo snap button switches cameras). This sounds easily resolvable with an app update.

The powerbank is an 10,000mAh unit with two USB charging ports that can refuel both the iPhone and the Smooth 4 twice each before recharging. Note: it takes literally an entire overnight to recharge this brick and depending on the USB charge wart you’re using, might not make it to 100% by sunrise.

The WiFi travel router is a GL.iNet GLAR750S that supports 802.11b/g/ac/n (433mbps 5G WiFi) to feed video wirelessly from the iPhone 7, and includes two Ethernet LAN ports for our laptops to ensure there’s nothing to bog-down the wireless uplink while we’re live. It’s not much bigger than an Altoid’s tin, powered by USB, and has a built-in VPN server and client to keep your surfing secure. I went with the model that features two antennae to ensure the signal cuts through the convention center noise. It’s also a #CES2019 Innovation Awards Honoree thanks to its open-source OpenWRT standard, so geeks can write their own code or upload plugins to enhance functionality your standard home router doesn’t have.

To show you more of CES2019 I’m shooting with an Olloclip super-wide angle iPhone lens that DOUBLES the camera’s field of view. The front-facing camera sports a fisheye lens for dramatic walk-and-talks.

I have a love-hate relationship with Olloclip. I love their products, but hate their prices. Every time I upgraded to a new iPhone, the slight changes to the form factor required me to drop $200 on a replacement lens — and I’ve done it every time because the wide angle is just so useful. Your mileage might improve if you go with one of those clip-style lenses that will work no matter which phone you own. Olloclip only recently started making its lenses interchangeable with bases for different phones.

The leopard print makeup pad is a remnant from my days at BNNBloomberg. It’s in my field kit to even out the skin tone and to make me feel SASSY.

Watch the gear in action Live on Facebook Live for CES 2019 from Las Vegas Tuesday January 8th 9:30am Pacific, 12:30pm Eastern as Alan Cross and I bring you the greatest and weirdest gadgets from the world’s biggest electronics show.

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