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September 16, 2015

Freelancer’s Guide to Business Travel: Before You Travel – Get Rewarded!

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Foreword

As a freelance videographer, I travel A LOT, and when I first started traveling for work, I realized that it is completely different than traveling for leisure. Tight turnarounds, spending weeks in hotels, having to navigate through tons of travel sites to get good deals…it can all be draining. But as I talked with fellow business travelers, I learned a few survival tips that made flying all over the country a little bit more comfortable. So, this is the first post of my series, A Freelancer’s Guide to Business Travel. Please let me know what you think, and if you have a few tips of your own, please send me them in the comments section.

All views in this article are completely of my own opinion and have not been biased by offers, financial incentives or gifts from any of the mentioned companies or vendors. I just think they do a great job! 🙂

 

A Hard Conversation

On a recent business trip to Texas, I was talking with my fellow videographer, Dominic, about the benefits of traveling for work: seeing new places, sampling local cuisine, and of course, getting all those rewards points saved up for a free vacation. That’s when the conversation changed. Over all the years we had been traveling together, Dom had never joined a rewards program, and now, sitting in the Atlanta airport, it dawned on him that he had missed out on, essentially, free money. D’oh!

This was not the first time I’ve had a conversation like this, and only a few years ago, someone had this talk with me in airport bar. While the landscape of rewards programs, credit cards and membership plans seems endlessly confusing and muddled with empty promises, there are good programs out there that will reward your hard working business travel.

 

Earning That Next Trip

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One of the most well known rewards program is the Frequent Flyer programs airlines offer to encourage loyalty from their customers. Unfortunately, airlines purposefully make their system complicated and vague. The Simple Dollar wrote a great breakdown of their favorite programs for 2015.  There are many sites out there willing to teach you how to cheat the system (often for a price), but for the business traveler, this can be just as complicated and time consuming. And while some would call the heyday of frequent flyer programs is coming to an end with the adoption of price-based rewards becoming en-vogue, there are still many benefits to joining. Besides, it’s free!

SkyTeam Skymiles: This one I have been with for awhile and use quite often, however, in 2014 they changed the program to require minimum amount spent on tickets. Basically, rewarding only those who spend a minimum of $3000/year, which if you are traveling frequently (especially internationally) it’s no problem. However, don’t sacrifice your production budget just to get some points.

AAdvantage: This is one of the largest frequent flyer programs. Under the Oneworld Alliance partnership, you can gather points by flying airlines such as American Airlines, US Airways, British Airways and more.

Southwest Rapid Rewards: This is one of my favorite airlines! (and no, they don’t pay me to say that) Whenever I book personal travel, I always try to fly Southwest because of their SUPER friendly customer service, open seating and great track record of being punctual. Their frequent flyer program changed from a punch card style to a mileage system, which actually made it better with no expiration on points! They also get high ranks from all the flyer program watchdog sites including US News 2015 Best Frequent Flyer Programs.

MilagePlus: Much like SkyMiles, this frequent flyer program for United and Star Alliance awards points based on fare and on mileage. As you move up in status, you gain more “miles” per transaction.

Overall, rewards programs are easy to sign up for and there is no real commitment. While I would recommend signing up with any airline you are flying with,  to really get the benefit these programs pick an airline you like and try to consistently fly with them. Before you know it, you’ll  be taking that Bahamas vacation courtesy of your airline.

 

Enjoy the Road

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I’ll admit not every video production has me jet setting away to an exotic location. Most actually have me humping it in a rental vehicle packed with video equipment. That being said, I still find a way to get the most out of my rentals. Joining programs with rental car companies like Avis and Enterprise can get you perks like free upgrades or unlimited mileage. When your having to drive from state to state, an upgrade to a premium SUV or minivan with leather seats and satellite radio for free can make the drive a little more pleasant.

 

Double Up On The Rewards with Credit Cards

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Using credit cards that offer cash back or points is where I have really succeeded in the rewards game. Most of the productions I work on pay for my travel and expenses. Rather than paying for flights, hotel, etc. out right, I typically use my points card and then immediately pay off the balance. Also, by using my card in combination with rewards programs, I effectively increase my points earnings. Some cards even have special promotions for certain vendors in which you earn double or triple rewards just for using them i.e. American Express offers a Skymiles credit card with extra points for Delta flights.

Of course, availability, program options, interest rates and cost (yes, some charge annual fees ~ $85) will all differ depending on your credit score and history. Also, be aware that credit cards can be dangerously addictive and can lead to poor financial management. I recommend only carrying one card. This helps you build good credit and easily manage payments.

 

Earn Points While You Sleep

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When I started working with the Army, I had never really been partial to any hotel brand. That all changed when once we started traveling from base to base. For us, we always stayed in a Marriott brand hotel because they typically had government rate rooms available, were clean and where in close proximity to the bases. Plus, they’re nice! Every Marriott I have stayed at has been above average quality. Plus, they have a great rewards program! There are other programs from Holiday Inn, Hilton, etc., but I highly recommend Marriott’s.

That being said, their are also programs from online bargain hunters like Hotels.com. My wife and I love using these for personal trip, but they are also useful for the business traveler to gain free hotel night stays.

 

That’s Not All…

These are just the main programs I would recommend signing up for if you are a freelancer or business traveler. However, there are TONS of programs out there from grocery stores to restaurants (Panera is a favorite of mine). All of them have their benefits so keep an eye out. You may be surprised by how many free perks you’ll accumulate.

 

 

 

September 15, 2015

Tech Tuesday – Canon’s new 4 million ISO camera!

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Canon’s new ME20F-SH with an astounding 4 million+ ISO!

There is a lot of buzz on the internet right now around Canon’s new 4,000,000+ ISO camera, the ME20F-SH, especially since they just released new footage. But is it worth it?

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With an expected retail price of $30k, it can be hard to justify the cost for a specialized camera. Besides, most of us are not going to be shooting in complete darkness on our productions. However, if you are say chasing a loin (or a drunken bachelor on a reality show) into the bush, then the ability to crank the ISO to 102,000 and still get a usable shot is totally worth it. Here is the specs list from Canon:

Canon ME20F-SH, camera, video, specifications, specs, cost, capability

Canon ME20F-SH Specs Sheet

For me, as a videographer, I get excited about any new advancement in camera technology. To me, a camera is a tool. How it functions and its usefulness is up to me to decide. The Canon ME20F-SH is a incredibly specialized tool for extreme low light shooting, but with removable IR filters, it can also be used to create beautiful IR photography.

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With removable infrared (IR) fiters along with its high ISO capabilities, the Canon ME20F-SH camera can be used to capture unique, stylized video

 

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Removing the infrared (IR) filter can create an interesting effect on your video like this shot of a meadow on a summers day. Courtesy of Photo Dune.

 

So, if you are looking to shoot surveillance video or need that extra ISO bump on a run & gun set, then the ME20F-SH may be the right camera for you. However, for the just the one special shot, I would recommend renting it rather than purchasing outright.

For more: check out No Film School’s complete write up.

June 22, 2012

Top 5 Pros & Cons of HDSLR Video: Video Camera vs. HDSLR

I think a great misconception concerning today’s video advancements in DSLR cameras is that they replace video camcorders spec for spec. This misconception leads to one of the most common complaints I hear from clients and fellow industry people, “Why doesn’t it __(insert feature)__ like my camcorder use to?” The answer is simple: it’s not a video camera.

With many indie filmmakers, small production houses and people wanting an all-in-one solution snapping these cameras up like candy, the limitations of these cameras are becoming very apparent with their limited record times, non-servo driven lenses, jerky auto-focusing (if offered), etc. While camera makers are trying to address these limitations, some are actually inherent to the system. I believe the best way to correct this misconception is to not think of DSLRs as the replacement for video cameras but as an inexpensive solution to cinematic film cameras.

Sure it can fly…but does it still get great gas mileage?
BigWarpGuy – SmartCar of America

Here are a few pros and cons that I’ve experienced and have heard from others:

Top Five Pros & Cons of HDSLR Video

Pros

  1. High ISOs – Camera makers have done a brilliant job making sensors that can produce stunning images even in low-light settings.
  2. Depth of Field– I believe the main reason filmmakers have embraced HDSLRs is that it allows them to get soft, shallow depth of field that they use to only get with cinema cameras without the price tag, of course.
  3. Easily Interchangeable Lens – This applies more to videographers than DPs. With professional video cameras, you would have to detach the matte box, disconnect the servo, detach the lens, attach the new lens, check back focusing…it was a pain in the neck. Most professional cameras just have an all-in-one zoom range and you very rarely change it. However, the option to change the lens easily to get a desired look is a major plus in my book.
  4. Variety of Lenses – Along the same line as the previous benefit, HDSLR can take advantage of a whole array of lenses. Everything from premium Zeiss or Canon L glass to experimental Lensbaby or pin-hole.    7D Pinhole Video Camera. No Lens! from Erin Henning on Vimeo.
  5. Versatility – I think this is the most obvious one that people consider when they look at these cameras. It does both high-definition video and takes stunning stills. How could you go wrong…

Cons

  1. No Servo Zooming – Ever seen that slow, controlled zoom during concert films or sporting events. How about that disorienting vertigo shot in all the horror movies. Well a photography lens is not constructed the same way as a video lens is, which makes back-focusing and servo zooming unavailable if not impossible.
  2. Auto-Focus – This is one issue that camera makers are really trying to fix. Canon recently came out with their STM feature which is suppose to provide “smooth and quiet continuous AF while capturing video”. I definitely can’t wait to try this out!
  3. External Audio Pickup – If you have shot HDSLR video before, you probably have noticed the audio being garbled, over-driven or picks up every little hum or adjustment the camera makes. Some cameras allow for an external mic to be plugged into the body, however, this is an unbalanced connection and doesn’t provide the best quality audio. Many people use external audio recorders such as the Zoom h4n or mixers such as the Azden FMX-DSLR to recorder professional quality audio.
  4. Ergonomics – I don’t think this one is as apparent to people until they start shooting. Video cameras are designed and balanced for maximum stability and easy adjustment while shooting. HDSLR are made for photographers using the viewfinder and not the LCD display. Controls, buttons, switches are all located differently in each system for their primary function. Which leads to my next point…
  5. HDSLR Rigs – I don’t think most people factor in the cost of a HDSLR video rig when purchasing their camera. Also, they may not think that the video will be so shaky when they try to hand hold it. However, unless you are a person that loves to spend time with After Effects motion tracker, I highly recommend getting a good, solid video rig.

And with all these extra accessories, you have now come to the same cost as a video camera. However, in comparison to a cinema camera such as a RED or an ARRI, you haven’t even made the deposit. So for the independent filmmaker looking to get the cinema-look without the big Hollywood budget, HDSLRs are a fantastic choice. Just be sure you know that an HDSLR is not a video camera.