DSLR Preamp Review

The 5D MK2 video revolution may seem like ancient history to multimedia journalists who have upgraded to dedicated large sensor video cameras, but I still find myself gravitating back to the DSLR for most of my assignments. The small form factor and the ability to switch between video and stills make it a great tool for most of my work, with just one niggle – the audio.

A small shotgun mic mounted on the hotshoe is fine for B Roll ambient sound, but the distracting hiss created by the camera’s low quality preamps when interviewing has had me scratching my head for a long time. It’s here the dedicated video camera with a professional audio preamp on board really makes the difference.


The job of the preamp is to take the signal from the microphone and boost its signal to reach your desired levels – normally between -12db and -6 db for an interview. Simply put the better the preamp the less additional hiss and buzz is added to your audio as it is boosted to the right level. Adding XLR connections, rather than the standard mini jack found on DSLRs with their additional earth wire and solid connections can also help cut down on unwanted noises.

So in this test I wanted to collect as many preamps as I could and place them between a mic and the DSLR then compare the results. I also wanted to compare the use of a preamp against not using one – bearing in mind that for most of my interviews I used a radio mic that has it’s own preamp built in.

I locked myself in a sound proofed audio booth with the following preamps,

I also tested these sound recorders, using the headphon
e out and a Sescom cable to feed into the camera.

And compared them with using the camera preamp directly and to the Sony UWP – D radio mic. I also tested two XLR to mini jack converter cables.


Using a constant tone created on my phone and held at a fixed distance to the camera I fixed the levels on the camera at -15db for each device then recorded me speaking from the same distance and 10 seconds of silence. On each device I tried to maximize the output so I could get the input levels on the DSLR as low as possible therefore minimizing the work being done by the camera preamp. Ideally I would have liked to get the levels on the camera down to just one click above zero but was only able to achieve this on the Zoom H5. That was a mistake as the maximum levels on the H5 distorted the signal coming into the camera.

This was by no means a scientific test and I quickly realized that I would have needed to spend several hours with each device to really get to know the best settings for my setup, so I would not use this test as a buying guide. For me the test reassured me that the Micro Riggy setup that I am currently using is probably as good as I can get from any preamp, and certainly out performed going straight into the camera from the radio mic. For now I will continue as before.

The DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ That Fell From The Sky

After playing with a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ in the park for the past month, I felt it was time to take it out on an assignment. 

The untreated footage, shot in standard auto mode with some adjustments while it was up in the sky, looks good on a mobile device but starts to show its limitations on a big screen. I sat down with Newsshooter.com to talk through my experience so far.

The Vision+ shoots 1080P at 25 or 30 FPS + 1080i & 720P at 50 or 60 FPS. It also has manual controls over ISO, white balance, exposure, sharpness & anti-flicker. All the above can be controlled during flight from the phone app.

In this demo I was shooting 1080P with sharpness set to standard. All the video is straight off the memory card unaltered.

The Vision+ allows you to shoot JPEG or DNG RAW (4384 x 3288 px) and has the same manual controls as you have with video, also controllable in flight.

In this demo I was shooting RAW and the images shown here and in the video have had basic edits in Adobe Lightroom.


Phantom 2 Vision+ versus the Phantom 2 with a GoPro on a gimbal:

As has been demonstrated in other tests online, the video from the GoPro Hero3+ outperforms the Vision+. However, bear in mind to get close to the same functionality as the Vision+ you will need to also buy and fit:
– a Zenmuse H3-3D 3-Axis Gimbal
– a wireless video link for FPV so you can send the video signal back to the controller
– 7″ FPV monitor with built-in receiver so you can see the video on a monitor attached to the controller
– iOSD superimposed flight data on video so you can use the monitor for helping you control the quadcopter
– plus a GoPro Hero 3+
– GoPro batteries

It almost doubles the price and is a lot less compact and easy to set up. You can almost start flying the Phantom 2 Vision+ out of the box and it syncs through an app to an iPhone or Android phone.

The fall from the Sky:
In the video above I describe how my Phantom 2 seemingly fell out of the sky for no reason. Since returning home I have been able to research the incident and found the following.

The crash was most probably caused by the Vortex Ring State – an issue with the stability of multirotors. The DJI Phantom is prone to it when descending too quickly, or in strong winds. My natural action to throttle up, probably made it worse. There are no warnings in the manual related to this issue.


Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 19.00.14

DJI issued a new firmware update in late April to counter this by restricting the descent speed. Although my unit was purchased in early May it appeared not to have the latest update. I would urge anyone with a Phantom 2 to check you are running the latest software.

I spoke to DJI support in the US and in China. Though sympathetic to my crash, both stated company policy is not to offer replacements to units damaged by this issue. Support in China did offer me 20% off a new unit.

As I state in the video, even with the crash I still have come out with a positive experience using the Phantom. The video from the Vision+ isn’t as good as a GoPro Hero3+ but is so unique that everyone I have showed it to has missed its flaws while marveling at the smooth movements. The still images, once edited, are amazing.

The crash was disappointing as I still had another five flights planned. It was also an important reminder of the potential dangers of flying – especially when above people.

As I say in the video the shots above with the Phantom were done at the end of a network TV shoot I was on. I won’t get to edit the TV package for another couple of weeks and only then will be able to decide whether I can sneak one or two shots from the Vision+ in. It may be a stretch. But for online only, and learning to fly and shoot, I would recommend the Vision+. I am hoping DJI come out with a better camera or a better way to integrate the GoPro soon.

Making Of Thames Town


Over the past five years I have seen my freelance photography work transition slowly into a specialism in multimedia – predominantly photography plus video. For many editorial publications, offering video as well as pictures is an attractive proposition and can stretch a single day assignment into two or three. Yes it is true it is not possible to shoot stills and video at the same time and get great results, but for feature stories, particularly those that involve a lot of travel, spending extra time to produce a video for online often makes sense for both me and the publication.

At work shooting Thames Town with the Canon 5D mmiii

At work shooting Thames Town with the Canon 5D mmiii

I have worked with a single camera body hanging from each shoulder for 25 years, one with a long lens and one with a wide, and this I believe is still the best solution for shooting stills and video for online. For me, the DSLR is far from dead. For editorial assignments it provides an affordable and easy to use video solution that delivers a quality that replicates the look and feel of the still images.

In this 23 minute video I talk through an assignment for The Economist, from the choice of kit, through the shoot to the edit. It’s a simple practical workflow, designed to fit within the budget and time constraints of most editorial multimedia assignments.

Below is the completed video:

With thanks to Zixi Wu who shot the video and stills of me.

Q&A with D J Clark

Q. Your story is a collection of nine women each with a different story to tell. One of them was a bonded labourer, the others cover issues of disability, untouchability, environmental disaster, social stigma, gender discrimination and more. How did you find these stories?

A. The idea came from the Australian Ambassador to Nepal who wanted to fund a documentary about the success of women entrepreneurs in rural Nepal, something she had been involved in supporting. I worked with two very good local journalists, Looni & Pramod, to come up with a different way of documenting the women and we won the pitch. The characters were found by Looni, who called tens if not hundreds of women to try and find the best characters.

Q. Why did you choose Storyplanet as your platform for the story?

A. I have known of Storyplanet for over a year but never quite had the right project for it. When planning for the output for this project I spent a day playing with as many different formats as i could and decided Storyplanet was the best fit.

Q. You use a combo of text, images and video in your story. Especially the videos are very powerful emotionally. How did you prioritize the different media types and the interaction between them?

See the full article

Winners Announced

Too Young to Wed: Destaye from TooYoungtoWed on Vimeo.

It’s a good year for the World Press Photo Multimedia contest. After two initial contests where it struggled to find its feet, this year’s crop of winners are both better produced and have a clearer sense of belonging to the prestigious international competition for photojournalists. This year there were three categories: online short, online feature and the interactive documentary.

(If you can’t wait to get to the full results, they are laid out in full on the World Press Photo website)

The winner of the short was Pep Bonet from Noor Images and the online feature Stephanie Sinclair and Jessica Dimmock from VII Photo Agency. Both contain striking still images woven together with reasonable video. The emphasis is clearly on the photography rather than the video.

See the full article

The World Press Photo Multimedia Contest


The results of this year’s multimedia category of the World Press Photo awards which we reported a couple of weeks ago have once again sparked a lively debate. We asked some of our regular contributors for their reactions, including Duy Linh Tu, head of Digital Media at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism,D J Clark, director of Multimedia Journalism at the Asia centre of Journalism and course leader on the MA International Multimedia Journalism at Beijing Foreign Studies University, Sharron Lovell, multimedia journalist and lecturer on the MA International Multimedia Journalism at the Asia centre of Journalism, Jonah M. Kessel, multimedia journalist for the New York Times in Beijing, and our very own Dan Chung.

See the full article.

Representing the Majority World


After eight years work that included the Imaging Famine project, my PhD thesis, which examines the visual discourse of photojournalism and explores its role in constructing the imagined geography of Africa, is now available online.

The thesis investigates how photographic illustrations of Africa play a role in constructing knowledge of the continent for mainstream UK audiences. It undertakes this in terms of the ‘Minority World’ and the ‘Majority World’ in order to challenge the assumptions of superiority and inferiority associated with traditional representations of ‘First World/Third World’ or ‘developed/underdeveloped’. Central to the discussion is the notion of a specific photographic point of view based on the author’s background as a Minority World photographer who has undertaken extensive work in the Majority World.

See the full article.

The Canon 5DMKII, Newspapers and China

Participants in the Hangzhou Yang Xiaoguang Canon workshop experiment with the Canon 5DmkII

Participants in the Hangzhou Yang Xiaoguang Canon workshop experiment with the Canon 5DmkII

Any international visitor to a Chinese photography festival should come prepared with the best the camera market has to offer, as anything less will leave you feeling markedly underdressed. At the meeting of newspaper photographers in Dali this year it was the turn of the Canon 5DmkII, a camera that has taken the Chinese news industry by storm as newspapers introduce multimedia onto their websites. One Canon rep told me they were selling around 2,000 units a month in China, and I have heard rumours of double this number in peak months.

See the full article.

Rethinking the Famine Story


Famine has been conventionally associated with Africa, and portrayed visually through stereotypes. As in recent media coverage of the crisis in East Africa, photographs of starving children with fly-blown faces, removed from their context, remain common.

Dr D J Clark, working as a multimedia journalist for China Daily, set out this summer to do something different. Focusing on the larger issue of food insecurity in Asia, he photographed, filmed and produced a six-part video series to provide a more complex story. Shooting in Nepal, Bangladesh and China, Clark explored the impact of population growth, urban growth, changing tastes and biotechnology. You can see all of the videos (parts 123456) on his Vimeo site.

Click to read the full article.


World Press Photo Connected Learning


This free stream course by World Press Photo offers tips from some of the best known photojournalists and multimedia producers in the world. It also has plenty of practical guidance and a chance to see other learners going through the early stages of producing their first projects. D J Clark is a lead tutor of the course concentrating mainly on video.

You can join the course ahttp://www.facebook.com/wpphconnected

MA International Multimedia Journalism

Introduction to the MA International Multimedia Journalism 2013 from IMMJ on Vimeo.

The course is based in Beijing, and is a collaboration between the Beijing Foreign Studies University and the University of Bolton in the UK, with the degree awarded by the University of Bolton. The course develops skills and critical thinking for journalists and storytellers to enable them deliver both short-form and long-form projects on digital platforms.

D J Clark is currently course leader – more information at www.immj-ma.org

Diploma in Multimedia Journalism

The Diploma in Multimedia Journalism is a one-year programme designed to provide Asian working journalists with a broad perspective and the skills to undertake cross platform multimedia journalistic projects. It combines both theoretical and practical approaches with lectures and discussions as well as hands-on exercise and projects.

D J Clark is currently course leader – more information at http://acfj.ateneo.edu/?page_id=169

Multimedia Train

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 22.00.06


The Multimedia Train courses aim to train professional journalists started in skills they maybe missing to a basic but professional level. The courses are free online at multimedia train.com or for a small price you can download the iBooks at the iTunes Bookstore. D J Clark was one of three tutors who write the books.


JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - FEB, 2010 (Photo by Jonathan Torgovnik)

Shutha.org is a website with instruction videos on a range of subjects aimed at professional photojournalists from the Majority World. D J Clark has produced the multimedia section which covers training on video, writing, audio and photography as well as some theoretical discussions on producing stories for digital platforms.



D J Clark runs workshops lasting from half a day to two weeks on a range of subjects related to multimedia journalism. Download his resume to see a list of some of the recent workshops to get a clearer idea of the kind of subjects he specializes in.

Use the contact page if you want to enquire about a possible workshop in the future.