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May 12, 2005

SUGGESTIONS SOLICITED: I'm trying to put together a generic blog-reporting kit, kind of like what I used to shoot the blog video and photos at BlogNashville. (Yes, that was in the nature of an experiment, as well as an effort to encourage others). But though my setup works pretty well, it's probably not the best, and I'd welcome any suggestions. This would be for a package that could be sent to bloggers, often outside the United States, to facilitate reporting, so it should be rugged, (comparatively) cheap, and easy to use.

I use a Dell Inspiron 700m laptop, which I like a lot. The one I use is overkill for blog-journalism: It has the DVD-writer, for example. But the downside is that it has an SD slot only. Not a big deal -- I just used a USB cable to hook up my camera -- but more options would be better. Key laptop features: Decent display (so that when you edit photos or video you can see what you're doing), long battery life, lots of I/O options, reasonably light, cheap and rugged.

For the stills and video I used this cheap Sony, which did an excellent job with video and -- very important when you're interviewing people -- audio. (A filmmaker even emailed to ask what external mike I used. None: Just the matchhead-sized built-in one. But the sound was clear despite background noise). Still, while I'm quite happy with it, is there anything better?

Software: I edited those photos with MicroGrafx Picture Publisher 7, an obsolete and only-sort-of-available program. It's not Photoshop, but it's good enough, and it's easy and fast. I can open it and edit, size, sharpen and save a photo in not much more time than it takes for Photoshop to load, or so it seems. Is there something similar that's still available? Cheap, fast, easy, and good enough. (I haven't used GIMP, but I hear it's not terribly user-friendly.) The Dell came with a trial version of Paint Shop Pro 8, which seems to be an updated-but-not-improved version of the MicroGrafx program.

I edited the video with Windows Movie Maker 2. Advantage: It's easy, and it's free. Disadvantage: Saves only in WMV. (I cheated and resaved the Quicktime versions with Vegas Video). Is there a good, easy, and cheap video editor that saves in multiple formats? One that nontechnical people (or at least those less geeky than me) would find friendly? I'm thinking maybe SONY Vegas Movie Studio, which I think is basically the Vegas Video Factory software from Sonic Foundry, which I've used and which is OK. (Alternatively, of course, someone else could do the format conversion later). Other suggestions?

Aside from these, what else should be in a package like this, given the constraints of toughness, reasonable cost, and ease of use? Email me if you've got any ideas.

UPDATE: Adam Keiper emails with suggestions from his experiment:

Other things worth including in the kit, space permitting:

- extra batteries and an extra flash card for the camera;
- headphones, if you're doing video-editing while an event is going on live;
- and, in case lots if people want to plug in their laptops and there aren't many outlets, it doesn't hurt to have a small power strip.

Good points.