Traveling with video equipment

Filming in other countries- Mexico

This will be a series of different posts depending on where Im traveling.  This year Im traveling to Mexico, Canada, and Thailand.  Im going to try and work on my reel, learn about filming, and generally see and capture as much as I can while out and about.  I’ll be talking the Following topics for each country:

  • Where Am I going?
  • What am I doing?
  • What am I bringing?
  • What did I want to bring but didn’t?
  • Why didn’t I bring it?
  • Customs/Duties/ laws
  • Challenges
  • Tips
  • Conclusions

So let’s get started

Where am I going?

Mexico- Solidaridad/ Cancun area

I was here on vacation- and decided it was a great way to test out the Atomos Assassin and sony a7s IMG_9067.JPGfor a run and gun shooting situation. This year I’m really focusing on creating a solid reel, and film a lot more and learn about composition and what works and what doesn’t.  I wanted to see how feasible it was to walk around with the combo unit and see how it felt, how easy it was to use etc.  You can read all about my finding on my other blog post- Running and gunning with the Sony a7s and the Atomos Ninja Assassin. 

What am I bringing?

I wanted to see how comfortable I could be while carrying a bunch of gear.  And I also didn’t want to bring a ton of gear because i never really traveled with my gear before nor did I want to lose EVERYTHING should something unfortunate happen.

I knew I’d be filming underwater and Id be filming some outdoors scenes mostly, but wanted to be as versatile and “never be without an option” for filming. So I brought the following equipment:

Gopro Hero 3 Black in waterproof case and bare case (in case I needed to do some time-lapse

Hand held Floaty for Gopro

Extra Batteries and charger for Gopro

Camlapse 4 360 timelapse timer

Iphone 6+

Reticam Iphone mount

Waterproof bag for iPhone- couldnt find the exact one online but it was a triple ziplock and velcro (worked great)

10000 mAh external battery for charging misc devices

Sony rx-100 IV– a phenomenal 4k camera that also does upto 960 Fps internally! and its about the size of a deck of cards

Sony a7s

Extra sony batteries

Atomos Assassin 4k recorder

Watson batteries and charger for the Assassin

Rokinon 50mm cine prime

Canon 18-135mm zoom lens

Some Cheap passive adapter

Gorilla pod

Cheapo tripod

What I wanted to bring-

I wanted to bring a small rig with cage and V mount battery support. I know that the assassin and sony just work better in a rig as far as mounting and rock solid feel.  I also wanted to bring a nice fluid head tripod like my manfrotto but was concerned with the weight of all of it.  Lastly I would have loved to bring my phantom drone along to get some great aerial shots.

Why Didn’t I bring other gear?

This bleeds over a little bit into the topic of customs and duties but the main reason why I didn’t bring everything i wanted was I didn’t want to carry everything all the time.  The weight of a rig and tripod and v mount battery bricks are no problem for scripted or staged shoots but as soon as you start traveling with a bunch of equipment you feel every pound.  Additionally I didn’t want t be a target.  For the good guys OR the bad guys.  The bad guys might steal my gear, the good guys might want me to pay permits.  Additionally I wanted to see what worked and what didn’t work for this trip.  Lastly I definitely didn’t want to bring my Phantom drone along as its very hard to transport in a small package, and its very possible I would have to dealt with the local military or police.

Customs duties and Taxes

Each country you visit has strict laws about what you can bring in or out of the country.  In the case of Mexico, You are allowed 2 cameras and a certain number of media devices (memory cards etc) 1 playback device like a dvd player (or the assassin in my case).  They absolutely expect tourists to take pictures and video during their stay in another country but dont want you bringing things in to sell and not pay taxes on etc.

More Information:

http://www.dutycalculator.com/

http://www.bajainsider.com/article/mexicos-import-duties-and-exceptions

Additionally- For professional equipment you may need permits or at the most have to pay up to 10% of the total cost of all the equipment to bring it into the country.  In my case If I got shaken down by the customs officer I would have paid around $500! to bring my equipment into the country.  This was another reason why i ditched the rig and phantom and brick batteries. 
A DSLR or Mirrorless and a couple lenses makes you look like a tourist, Pro equipment and cases and multiple batteries make it look like you are doing commercial work in another country and therefore making money without paying taxes.

Challenges

One of the biggest challenges was actually working with so much equipment. Should I record the sunrise with the a7s? the go pro time-lapse? the iPhone? Whats easiest? What going to give me the best quality? What are the trade offs?  Is it feasible to get a good shot just walking around with a go pro? Will the rx-100 IV compare to the a7s in low light (its great for photos much tougher for video)  All of these different questions- happened because I had to many options.  Just like if you have a restaurant with multiple pages of menus it takes longer for people to decide compared to a place that has 4 options.  Limit the options and make due with what you have.

Tips-

Getting my equipment in and out of mexico wasn’t very hard.  I flew out of a small airport in the U.S. and flew on a small charter flight.  This made for a single customs agent that didn’t want to/ couldn’t check every single bag. I wasn’t doing anything wrong at all but in the past Ive flown out of Ohare in chicago and every 5th bag was searched and took 3 hours to make it through customs.  With the smaller airport it was a breeze!

Dont advertise you have a backpack full of equipment!


If you are carrying a large shoulder strap camera bag that screams “ Hey theres a few grand of equipment in here”.  Cary a backpack or something that looks like it wouldn’t be very appealing. Dont make yourself a target.

Less is more- Like I covered in the Challenges section- Having less gear would have been better for this trip.  Im going to be traveling to Shanghai and Thailand in the next few weeks and definitely plan on scaling my equipment back.

External battery packs are awesome! I used one almost every day while out to charge multiple iPhones and the sony cameras.

Insurance?

For this trip I actually looked into getting some insurance for my trip.  Unfortunately my policy as is only covers up to 500 for a total cost of recording devices. They didn’t even offer anything else in terms of equipment insurance.  I ran out of time and didn’t have insurance on my trip and would have been devastated if something happened to my equipment. 

For the next trips Ill be taking a small bit of insurance as a just in case. Additionally I’ll be bringing less gear so that should help keep the cost down.  I currently dont know who I’m going with for insurance but Once I figure it out I’ll be writing about it in a separate post.

Conclusions:

At the end I brought way too much stuff still- but I learned about what works and what doesn’t for traveling.  I brought the Gopro for underwater -which I did some snorkeling, but found the iPhone was WAY better for filming underwater for a variety of reasons. 

  1. on the iPhone it was very easy to frame a shot even underwater
  2. The battery and storage on the iPhone was excellent!
  3. I could edit AND export some samples straight from the phone.
  4. Very easy to jump between time-lapse and video and slow mo on the iPhone  compared the the gopro.

There were some good reasons to bring the go pro still as the images was higher resolution from photos and the flatter colors in Protune mode gave me a little more, but because of having the iPhone that fits in my pocket and ready to go at a moments notice compared to the Gopro which needs housing, a separate battery a separate media card, a floaty, etc. I found that the footage was GREAT and due to the stabilization of the iPhone6+ was more often Better than just shooting with the Gopro. 


One of the biggest downfalls of the go pro is lack of screen and review.  Its just not a simple solution.  After this trip Im really debating whether or not to keep my go pro equipment. I find I just shoot more with my iPhone compared to it.  If i was doing a lot of remote shooting and very dangerous shooting would be where I would keep the gpro.  But for traveling and a trip like this? I was hard pressed to find an excuse. 

Even going out on the ocean on a catamaran I ended up using the iPhone over the go pro time and again.

I had a whole situation filming with the assassin and a7s and came away feeling that I would rather just shoot a bit more compressed than have to carry the recorder and a7s again.  The mounting hardware may have had something to do with it and you can read about it in my other post mentioned above.  If i had the choice I’d pick up the a7s ii and just shoot with that than deal with the Assassin and sony combo again-

Which takes me to the rx100- IV. This little guy performed great!  it was small and quick and took me great shots.  While it couldn’t compare to the quality of lenses and framing of the a7s it was a great little camera that will be staying with my traveling gear.

The gorilla pod was excellent and I could use any of my cameras with it. Ended up using that far more othen than the tripod I brought. 


The external battery was one of the best things to bring on the trip. Was able to charge all my devices except the assassin over and over again.

I ended up shooting the most with the iPhone 6+ and the rx100-IV and a fair amount with the a7s.  In the future these are the three I will be taking with me.  unless i go to a volcano or something. THEN I might bring the Go Pro.

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