One of the things I enjoy about going to events like this past weekend’s Raise the Wreck Festival at Old Fort Jackson is listening to radio communications related to the activity and taking photos. My experience at the Raise the Wreck Festival motivated me to do something I haven’t done in awhile – write an equipment related blog post. I hope this post will help you come up with a good combination of kit if, like me, you enjoy combining visiting an event with the hobbies of radio and photography.
Over this year’s trips and event visits I’ve come across a small combination that allows me to listen, photograph, and record with minimal fuss and bother: a very flexible and capable handheld scanner, a camera with zoom lens, a “phablet,” and a vest. This combination is easy to carry, light, and doesn’t get in the way.
The scanner is the very flexible and capable Uniden BCD436HP handheld. It has a broad receive range that includes VHF, UHF, and 700/800 MHz public safety/land mobile in both analog and P25 digital, airband, and military UHF. It has built logging and recording features which allow you to review what you’ve heard later and keep recordings of anything interesting you might have heard (examples here from a Blue Angels practice and here from the Raise the Wreck Festival). It runs on 3 AA batteries, so keeping some spare batteries on hand isn’t a problem. You’ll also want to include some ear buds (or maybe headphones for loud events like airshows or races) for better listening.
Amateur radio operators can augment the scanner with an HT (or replace the scanner with one if they choose to or don’t have a scanner). The HT lets you keep communications with other hams that might be at the event and it can also be used as a secondary receiver. For talking to other hams at an event, I prefer to use 70cm because it’s usually easier to find an open frequency and because transmitting on 70cm doesn’t seem to cause as much RFI with the scanner as transmitting on 2 meters does. Used in place of the scanner, many HTs will allow you to listen to most VHF and UHF non-trunked analog frequencies, VHF airband frequencies, and with some HTs military UHF frequencies as well.
The camera is a Canon Rebel EOS with a 100-300mm zoom lens. It’s a good, simple to use digital SLR that offers both automatic and manual modes (it can also take video if you want). The 100-300mm zoom lens is a good lens for outdoor event photography. For example, at airshows it will reach out and catch much of what is flying but isn’t as bulky and heavy as something like a 150-500mm zoom lens. It won’t work for things closer up, but that isn’t as big a problem as it might seem given the next item on the list.
The “phablet,” a Samsung Note 4, is a multipurpose tool. It serves as a source of information, a camera, and a note pad. In addition to looking things up via a search engine, some events, locations, and museums offer apps that can provide information during a visit. There are also third party apps that are useful when visiting museums or events. The Note 4 also has a pretty good camera that I use for close shots; that keeps me from having to switch back and forth between lenses on the Canon (and having to carry two lenses). Using Twitter and/or Instagram, I can also post photos or short video clips from an event or museum. I also use Google Keep on the Note 4 to take notes. The S-pen allows me to write notes on the screen and the Note-4 changes it to text. Later I can read the notes on the Note 4 itself or log into Google Keep on a tablet or computer and read them.
The vest is a Redhead brand fishing vest from Bass Pro Shop, but I use it more like a photographers vest. Since I use the the camera on the Note 4 for close photography most of the time instead of swapping lenses, the vest can take the place of a camera bag. Small accessories, spare batteries, and the like can be carried in the vest’s pockets. You can also stash a small snack in one of the pockets for long events. It’s nice not having to lug a camera bag around and makes it easier to keep up with everything because you’ve got it on you.
I hope this gives you some good ideas on what you might be able to use for event listening and photography. There’s no need to be wedded to the brands and models I use, there are many different brands and models that will do the same thing. The key is to find what works for you. What’s important is that today’s technology will let you do a lot while carrying little. There’s no need for carrying a camera bag or back pack full of lenses, notepads, etc. when everything can fit into some thing like a fishing vest! Another benefit is that it not only lightens your load and shortens the list of what you have to keep up with, it can often be easier to get through security these days when some places prohibit camera bags, duffel bags, large purses, and the like.