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Old March 31st, 2011, 04:42 AM   #1
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African Congo Trip


Just after some information that would help me in my upcoming trip into Africa, Congo.

I will be filming and documenting this trip, one week will be in the jungle, the other three weeks will be building a perimeter wall around the Literature Outreach centre on the Congo/Zambia border (Lions are an issue in the nights!) and rebels apparently.... o.O

I am using the HDV Z7P x2 as my cameras.

My questions would be like what traveling essentials would I need for this kind of work as I have never in my life been to such a remote place, this will all be new to me, heck I dont even know if I can plug into a power source and recharge batteries, that information has not been passed onto me as yet.

If anyone has any ideas of what sort of gear essentials I would need, please feel free to fill me in :)


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Old March 31st, 2011, 05:49 AM   #2
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Re: African Congo Trip

I suggest looking at the Home away from home thread here on DVInfo.

Some gear I found useful: 9 days in the field: Kudos to Sony, Dolgin, Thinktank, Swit, Spudz & Sennheiser
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Old March 31st, 2011, 07:30 AM   #3
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Re: African Congo Trip

You will likely have vehicles available; find a reliable 12V-powered charger (I like the AC-VQ1050), and rig a simple "lighter plug" with alligator clips to serve as an adapter in the event the vehicles' cig lighter outlets don't work. Bring a multimeter to test available power sources (often can't tell if a plug is 110V or 220V just by its shape in Africa). Bring adapters for almost any imagined situation. Bring a second charger in the event your first charger gets fried. Surge protectors are also a good idea. Test your whole setup well in advance to get a good idea of how long you can shoot and how long it takes to charge up, and re-equip accordingly.

Plenty of NPF970's

Plenty of tapes, about 50/week per camera, depending upon how much you usually shoot.

Plenty of CF cards; double-record to both tapes and MRC. Have a suitably-sized watertight case just for media, with a silica gel drylock bag inside. Multiple ziplocs can also serve in a pinch. Possibly also a small, battery-miser laptop with lots of hard drive space and a CF card reader.

DEET. Lots of it.

A means to safely clean DEET and dust off your camera.

Rain covers for each camera, just in case.

A comfortable, sturdy, rainproof backpack for each camera and its associated gear.


A good friendly attitude, introducing yourself to people before taking their picture.

A small, discrete camera for instances where you know you'd really rather not - even if it's just a GoProHD (which you could use for plenty of other things).

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Old March 31st, 2011, 09:17 AM   #4
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Re: African Congo Trip

I think the main problem is power and in particular for the jungle trip:

There is a myriad of plug types, the easiest way to solve that problem is to go to a hardwarestore once you arrive to the first major town or city and show them the plug you have. They'll find the adapter you need. But, don't count of having electricity all day. I've been to places with electricity just 3-4 hours from dusk to arround 2200. Bring an adapter/charger to use with the standard car plug for use if you go on safari, or if electricity is not available 24hs.

I don't know if you'll be driving into the jungle read the tour description carefully and ask the agency. A jungle trip usually implies leaving cars behind, at least if you want to see wildlife. This likely means no camera juice for days. Two things you can do: Extra batteries and a solar charger. You can get solar panels designed for this, I mentioned those elsewhere. But, AFAIK it takes a good long day to recharge a battery, so first get spare batteries so you can have one charging while using the other. Otherwise, maybe you can rent a car battery and bring that for overnight recharging.

Learn to use the powersave options, get your camera ready fast and get used to the EVF to save power.

Second keep your gear clean, it's dusty and humid or wet and muddy or all of it, and you'll be sweaty and greazy from the coctail of sunscreen and mosquito repelant, so you need lots of cleaning kit, extra cleaning cloth, hand towels and then all of it double up. Bring rain cover for your cameras. Bring water/dust proof pelican cases both for cameras and tapes. If you will carry your camera you need a suitable backpack - read the tour description again.

Don't bring a tripod, bring a monopod. I learned that in Costa Rica rainforest. A tripod is not good to track animals high in the trees and do 360 pans or 180 tilts. Lighter to carry and faster to rig. I don't know why you want to bring two cameras, unless you have somebody with you to operate the other camera I doubt you'll use more than one. Is the second a spare? On a jungle tour, forget about fancy setups, in particular if you're more in the group. People won't wait for you and wildlife less. You'll need to have your camera ready fast, that's why I don't see a use for a second cam.

Don't expect to shoot 7hs a day on a tour. Most time you'll be walking, driving or sailing down a river with little wildlife to see. Unless you will record the guide's explanations, 1hr a day is probably more likely.

I was 3 weeks in Costa Rica and got about 4hs, one hour I simply placed the cam in the nose of the canoe while paddling arround. I did not bring a solar charger or extra batteries and I never ran out of juice. But everything depends on your plans and how the tour works out, read the tour description, and ask the agency - again.

BR, Erik
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Old April 3rd, 2011, 12:43 PM   #5
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Re: African Congo Trip

Also note that there ARE rapid advances being made in Solar. I was just at Costco (of all places) and they were having one of their roadshows and there was a display of solar charging technology by a company called GoalZero ( and they had one of the more impressive arrays of solar battery charging technology I've seen lately. Prices ranged from below $50 up to larger "run the camp" solutions at around $1000 with tiered solutions in between.

I liked the fact that their warrantees were in the range of 5-7 YEARS - a measure of comfort in the rush of new technology.

May be worth checking out.
Classroom editing instructor? Check out
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Old April 9th, 2011, 11:13 AM   #6
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Re: African Congo Trip

Having done some shooting in remote locations in Central America, power issues are the biggest ongoing problem. All of the suggestions already posted are great ones...additionally, I carry a small hydrogen fuel cell battery charger and a solar cell charger, just in case.
Some of these obvious considerations beyond protecting your equipment ( hard cases that are waterproof/dust proof like Pelican, etc. are worth their weight in gold), personal protection is really important too.
Find out as much as you can about the political climate in the prepared to pay off people/groups. We have a local "fixer" in Honduras that we use; he simply "buys" our way into the good graces of some of the local enforcement types, both official and unofficial.
Health concerns are always big. Make sure you get all of the recommended innoculations for the area you're travelling to. NEVER rely on the water supply, EVER. Even with bottled water, I always wipe down the cap with a steri-wipe before opening, and use a steripen on the contents before drinking it. They ( steripens) are fairly inexpensive, easy to carry with you all the time, and will kill anything that's in the water without imparting a horrible taste like iodine tablets do.
You have to be REALLY fastidious; one of the Doctors on our last trip brushed his teeth one morning and rinsed with a bottle of water than hadn't had a sterilizer used on it; within three hours we were medivacing him to a hospital.
Another thing that's helpful is to carry a few of those disposable cool packs. Your gear will heat up quickly, and they are helpful to cool down an overheated camera.
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Old April 10th, 2011, 09:30 PM   #7
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Re: African Congo Trip

I've had a few shoots in the Congo and Uganda. Mainly in the areas where the fighting is still happening, so the following is the 'extreme'.

So important to be medically prepared. As my Doctor put it "Congo is the melting pot of every illness known". So innoculate for everything, take medicine with you for Malaria, Stomach infections, food poisoning, cuts etc.
Sterile hand Gel is a must (Dettol) for hands. Before every meal there might be a 'communal' hand wash. Do this as a courtesy but then clean your hands with the Gel. Try and avoid touching your face with unclean hands.

Make sure the internal flights you take are with a "good' carrier. Some of the pilots would rather feed their family than service the plane.

Try and keep your camera gear hidden. If the UN, Police, Army, even the village chief sees a camera you can expect to pay huge bribes.I tend to take minimal gear, if I cant carry it hidden I dont take it. Never ever leave your gear, keep it in sight 24/7.

Power is erratic. Lucky to have mains power 2 hrs a day. Most compounds (Hotels) have their own generator (run for 3hrs?)but when they start them up there is a huge power surge. Surge protectors are a must. Source all plug adaptors before you leave (have them all, Congo has many different types of wall fittings). There are no shops to buy stuff. Same goes for rain protection, expect incredible humidity. A battery operated hair drier is handy for drying out the heads of your camera.

Its not all doom and gloom though, the people of the Congo are wonderful. They have (and still are) going through really bad times. Many are still traumatised, so if you see some odd or aggresive behavior its probably from the effects of war.They have really strong local communities which they are slowly rebuilding. They love to have a chat (where language permits) so dont be frightened to get to know them. Hopefully you will have a good 'fixer' with you who can gauge when its safe to film.

Good luck with the trip
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Old April 11th, 2011, 02:55 AM   #8
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Re: African Congo Trip

Hey, I live in Uganda, and we share some of the same day-to-day problems that you will experience.

You will note that the Congo / Zambia border is very large, and runs through a number of different habitats (you might not be anywhere a 'jungle') - if lions are genuinely a problem in the area you are going to then probably you wont be in a 'jungle', more likely grasslands or forest-savanna mosaics. There are also a number of high plateaus in the country, where temperatures can be much lower than you would be expecting, especially at night.

You should confirm the actual habitat that you will be filming in, the min & max temperatures, rainfall etc, and pack accordingly.

Moisture is the main issue in tropical forests & rainforests; humidity and high temperatures could be expected. High altitude areas can also have a lot of moisture, but much lower temperatures.

In savanna, or forest-savanna you could expect higher temperatures and serious amounts of dust. Bring some compressed air, and a cleaning kit.

Charging batteries will be an issue. Bring lots of batteries and multiple chargers if possible, assuming there is a power supply. If there is no power supply you will need to look at portable solar options / car charging options.
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Old April 18th, 2011, 10:00 PM   #9
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Re: African Congo Trip

You've likely already got this, but DEFINITELY have something to protect the cameras in case it rains while your away from a vehicle. I think the Congo is still in it's rainy season through Mayish.
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Old July 5th, 2011, 09:29 PM   #10
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Re: African Congo Trip

This is a great thread. I was asking about this very stuff over on the Panasonic TM900 thread.

I am new to videography, and will be doing my first serious (amateur) shooting in southwest Chad this Dec-Jan. I will be in the village of Kindiri for six weeks. As far as I can learn, the weather will be dry and hot. I lived in Tanzania many years ago, so I'm familiar with the health/medical issues. Also, I'll be the guest of one of the villagers, who is thoroughly "Americanized," so I'll be in friendly territory. The goal is to produce a quality but amateur "documentary" about the village and a school-building project..

The nearest mains power is about 75 km away. I have to research solar chargers. In the meantime, can anyone advise if any single charger will handle various pieces of equipment like batteries for the TM900, backup storage, auxiliary lighting, microphone, etc.? Do you suggest I place a surge protector between the charger and the batteries?

The suggestion of a monopod is excellent. I've been grappling with what type of tripod to take, and the answer is "none". Also, a mono will be much easier to collapse and pack on the airplane.

I will want to capture a lot of outdoors sound - village talking, laughter, drums, dancing, animals. etc. I've been researching the Rode line of mics. Any suggestions pro and con, also about deadcats or other wind-suppresing techniques? Also, would an auxiliary light be good for indoor shots?

Being new to videography, I'm having trouble calculating how much storage I'll need. Does anybody have any sort of rule of thumb? I took the videocam owners' manual figure for recording time on a 64GB card and guessed at the amount of time I'll be filming each day. Total estimated hours divided by the recording time per GB gives me the number of GB storage required. Multiply by two for backup. And I missing anything in the equation?

Thanks in advance for any further advice you may have. Needles to say, I am getting excited about this safari.
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Old July 6th, 2011, 06:48 AM   #11
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Re: African Congo Trip

IMHO, don't blink on taking a tripod. Suffering what it takes to schlepp it there only happens going and coming. Once you are there, you'll appreciate having it. It's also great to give others something to do who want to help. Your viewers will appreciate it too. It's hard to get your subjects to look off camera if you are behind the camera on a monopod. If you don't have an interviewer for them to talk to, a tripod lets you get off camera.... smile, nod, be interested.

Look at the Manfrotto 190cxpro4 and 701HDV. It's technically a photo tripod but can handle above average weight for when you get a bigger camera. It packs nicely in a checked bag. Your camera weighs almost nothing so you have some choices.

If the solar power has an inverter, then your charger and other things will work....make sure they work on the voltage output of the inverter (220 vs 110). If there is no inverter, it's complicated. Search DVinfo for some discussions about solar power.

I'd take a second battery charger so you can charge two batteries during the day and have juice for the next day.

Seems like you are depending on outdoor lighting. As you know, it's hot and very bright there. And when you step into the shade, you lose your background unless you can light up your subject. Learn to use a reflector and take one. Get the sun behind and to the side of your subject so they aren't squinting and light them up with a reflector. I used a 24" one in the first headshot below in Zambia. Get up early and shoot before 10am. It's pretty much a lost cause out in the sun after that until the golden hour in the evening (third attachment - Kenya).

For indoors, a battery powered light kit is in order for decent looking stuff. The second attachment used a LEDzilla on the subject and a reflector on the floor to boost the background.

I doubt you'll find lights that use the TM900 batteries so .... yet another charger....Your camera isn't all that great in low light. I don't know what format you plan to shoot but the best quality on that camera is 60p but if it's like the TM700, 60i and it's 24p are better in low light. Do some testing so you know.

Unless you have a boom pole operator, you are stuck with on camera mic or wireless lav. A quality wireless lav like a Sennheiser is a nice small package that will get your mic to your subject. The me-2 is wonderful at suppressing ambient noise.

Do some practice interviews before you leave....the experience will help you when you have to do it run and gun in a hurry while your talent is baking in the sun. Learn how to attach a lav. You also need to think through how you are going to clean, protect and transport your gear in country.

The Nexto line of backup devices are great battery powered no-fuss units. I use the ND2700-500 for SDHC and compact flash. If you are taking a computer with Firewire, the G-Drive mini Raid in "Protected" mode gives you storage on two platters for the price of one copy operation. Albeit, it's still one device that if lost ........
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African Congo Trip-syd-zambia.jpg   African Congo Trip-ss-zambia.jpg  

African Congo Trip-b-kenya.jpg  

Last edited by Les Wilson; July 6th, 2011 at 07:29 AM.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 05:27 PM   #12
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Re: African Congo Trip

Thank you Les; this is terrific advice. I appreciate your taking the time.

Your advice about tripods makes perfect sense, especially since I hope to do interviews and perhaps some extended fixed shoots. So clearly a monopod won't handle those.

I've been researching solar chargers in DVInfo and have come up with Brunton, GoalZero, and Powerenz so far. Can anybody comment on the pros and cons of these or others? Your point about an inverter is well taken because I will have to charge batteries for several different devices as mentioned in my original post. I am really ignorant about electricity and hope I'll get a better understanding as I move forward. One thing I won't need is very quick recharge capability. I propose to carry extra batteries so the ones I'm recharging can take all day if necessary.

I have had previous experiences - good and bad - about filming dark faces in bright daylight, and I appreciate the advice about a reflector. As my budget is fairly tight, I'll have to decide further down the road whether I can take a light kit as expensive as the LEDzilla. It gets great reviews on the web. I'll also test the built-in light on the TM900.

Regarding mics, I think I will need more than a pure Lavalier, which the me-2 appears to be. That is because I would like to record ambient sounds one hears in a village - talking, music, children, etc as well as record interviews. I have been looking at two in particular, and would appreciate any feedback anybody can give. Both are in my price range at about $150. The Azden WMS Pro is wireless and has both a hand-held and a lavalier mic. The Rode VideoMic Directional Video Condensor sits on the camera, and I'm wondering if it can be hand-held off-camera either alone or with a pistol grip or something. It would have to be wired, though, and might not be as versatile as the Azden with its two mics. The Azden gets pretty good reviews for its price range, at least on Amazon and B&H Photo websites. The hand-held mic is bulb-shaped. Does that mean it performs differently from a directional mic?

Looks like I am sold on the Nextos for backup storage. I have had some terrific feedback on the NextoDI thread here: Nexto eXtreme Info. It's nice to hear that you use the ND-2700. The ND-2730 will be available shortly, and it will read SDXC cards.

Thanks again for your advice. As you can see, I'm hungry to learn, and every little tidbit adds to my knowledge and will make me a better videographer when the great safari takes place in December.

Last edited by George Taylor; July 7th, 2011 at 05:29 PM. Reason: grammar/spelling corrections
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Old July 7th, 2011, 08:16 PM   #13
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Re: African Congo Trip

@George: The ME-2 is a Sennheiser mic for use with it's Evolution wireless bodypack not standalone. You get what you pay for with wireless.

Your camera mic could be used for your ambient noise recording. The closest mic wins. The Rode Videomic is a good mic but as soon as you move it off camera, you are into 1/8 unbalanced cabling back to your camera. The WMS Pro is a beginner mic. I had one and got rid of it as soon as I could afford to. The Handheld is a condenser. Typically, for man on the street stuff, you want a dynamic mic which picks up close sound and not much ambient sound. Unless you get a Beachtek or something, you are kinda stuck with a one mic 1/8 mini connector strategy.

Reflectors are very cheap and make a big difference. You'll need someone to hold it for you. There are less expensive lights but you get what you pay for. If you aren't shooting indoors, then skip it.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 11:10 PM   #14
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Re: African Congo Trip

Thanks again, Les. You're helping me realize I'm only at the first stage of "Rumsfeld's Law," i.e. getting to know how much I don't know. I now have to learn about condenser vs. dynamic, balanced vs. unbalanced, XLR adapters with or without phantom power, amplification and/or pre-amplification, cardioid, shotgun, and others. Thank goodness I'm not leaving for five more months!

After very preliminary research, it seems that a wireless Shure SM58 system might be appropriate. The kit comes with or without a lavalier and can be had for somewhere around $300 - $350. Steep, but maybe worth it? I suppose a wired config would be less expensive, but might be impractical with lots of African children under foot.

Your comment above, "Unless you get a Beachtek or something, you are kinda stuck with a one mic 1/8 mini connector strategy." Are you saying that this strategy would deliver only an unbalanced connection? If so, is that a considerable detriment given my shooting environment? I think I would need only one mike at any given moment; I don't think I want to tackle stereo recording in this environment, and I see that I can use a "splitter" device to feed the sound to both channels on the camcorder.

Thanks. I'll keep y'all informed of my progress in sorting all this out.

Last edited by George Taylor; July 7th, 2011 at 11:11 PM. Reason: spelling
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Old July 8th, 2011, 06:47 AM   #15
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Re: African Congo Trip

The Shure receiver isn't battery powered. The problem is you are talking professional audio with a consumer a one man newb....5 months is not enough time ... let's back up.

Use a wireless lavalier like a Sennheiser G2/G3 or whatever you can afford for interviews. If you want a handheld mic, there are Sennheiser kits that also include a wireless handheld. That way you aren't reconfiguring your camera. If you purchase used, make sure they are A or B band. C band is not legal in the US.

Whatever you choose needs to have a 1/8 mini connector on the receiver to go into your camera. The G2/G3 Sennheisers run for a couple of 8 hour days on 2 AA batteries and come with both XLR and 1/8 connection cables so they'll work on your next camera...they also hold their value to sell them after the trip. They are metal bodied and rugged.

Use your camera mics or a shotgun like a Rode videomic or similar for the rest. Take two friends and spend a sunny Saturday morning in your town and pretend you are doing what you want to do in Africa... use one friend as the talent and the other on the reflector... setup some some interviews outdoors, shoot b-roll and record ambient audio... edit it into a short piece. Don't wait till you get to Africa and think you'll get it right the first time.

The children will rush you all the time and want to touch your lens. Go with it. I often let them hold my camera, sometimes get in the shot myself and let them shoot some film.... have some fun...make their you probably know, most kids have no Dads and some have no parents.

A polarizer does wonders outdoors. If you don't get one, at least get a UV filter for dust and fingers.
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Last edited by Les Wilson; July 8th, 2011 at 07:59 AM.
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