After more than a dozen trips to CES, this is the absolute minimum set of gear I use to write stories, take photos and capture video at the world’s biggest tech event.
CES eats amateurs for breakfast.
Having a successful CES is about the intangibles — knowing how to cluster your meetings, wearing the right shoes, making time to eat something decent, staying hydrated and always making sure you get at least six hours of sleep.
But if you’re at CES to create content, there’s even more to think about. Because if you don’t plan well, you’ll run out of power, fight in vain for bad WiFi and get storage-full messages in the middle of your best video opportunities.
After more than a decade of sometimes learning the hard way, here’s the kit I bring to produce the best content possible while carrying a bag that’s light enough to sling all week.
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Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch — While plenty of content creators get away with a tablet or a slim Chromebook, I need a full laptop for running Adobe Creative Cloud and processing professional photos and video. I have the 2016 model, and while I don’t love the Touch Bar that’s existed on models since then, I do dig Touch ID and the 2560×1600-pixel Retina Display. And the 13-inch has plenty of horsepower in a small package.
Samsung Galaxy S9 — This is my work phone and it’s primarily about running Google G-Suite Apps, Slack and tethering as a mobile hotspot when connectivity gets flaky. It also takes great video and has a 3.5mm headphone/microphone jack, so it’s easy to use with an external lav mic for interviews. (Just remember that we expect the S10 to be announced as soon as February.)
SEE IT AT AMAZONApple iPhone XS Max — This is my personal phone, but I also use it to take and edit a lot of photos — both from the iPhone itself and to quickly grab images from my Sony mirrorless cameras to edit and post on Twitter or for stories with tight turn-arounds. Something else that comes in especially handy during CES is that my two phones are on two different wireless carriers, so I can sometimes get a connection on one when the other is sputtering.
SEE IT AT APPLEApple iPad Pro 10.5-inch 2017 — If I’m honest, this is mostly for watching movies and videos on the flights to-and-from CES. But, it also comes in super handy when my laptop is low on battery and I just need to open a text editor and write a story — when paired with the Smart Keyboard for the 10.5-inch iPad. While this 2017 model is still available, though, those buying now should check out the snazzier 2018 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pros.
SEE IT AT APPLESony a6300 mirrorless camera — I dig Sony mirrorless cameras for their compact size, silent shutter, electronic viewfinder, and other digital-first features. My go-to camera is the full-frame Sony a7R III, but the crop-frame a6300 and its lenses are smaller, lighter and more portable so that’s why it’s in my bag for CES. The a6300 also makes such a great video camera that many professional wedding photographers use it as their second shooter to get background and b-roll shots.
Sony 55-210mm f4.5-6.3 OSS lens — This lens is an amazing deal for under $500. It’s a perfect walkabout lens for the Sony a6300. While it doesn’t compare in quality to the breaktaking Sony 70-200mm GM f2.8, you can buy this crop-frame lens for a fourth of the price and sometimes even less. And considering that you’re putting it on a crop frame, it’s basically the equivalent of a 300mm telephoto. That makes it a powerful option at events. In terms of performance-for-value, I think it’s one of the best kit lenses in the world (and one of the most underrated).
SEE IT AT AMAZONSony 50mm f1.8 OSS lens — I also bring this tiny nifty-fifty for the e6300 because the one thing the Sony 55-210mm won’t give you is beautiful bokeh (blurred background). This 50mm excels at those shots, which is especially helpful for taking products photos.
SEE IT AT AMAZONApple Watch Nike+ Series 4 — There are plenty of steps to track at CES. Just roaming the show floors racks up lots of mojo. But, you also quickly learn that traffic is so bad at CES that it’s often faster to walk between locations than waiting in long taxi lines and then sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Even the 30-minute walk between The Venetian and the Las Vegas Convention Center is a lot more pleasant as a walk and well worth it for your mental and physical health. The show floors are so loud that getting wrist alerts about calls and text messages on the Apple Watch is also clutch at CES.
SEE IT AT APPLEBeatsX Wireless Earphones — I’ll just say it, I hate charging headphones or earbuds. I’m a reluctant convert to this part of the wireless revolution. And I still always carry a pair of wired earbuds as a backup. But, the BeatsX have terrific sound and are super useful when you’re walking a lot, or listening to podcasts and watching movies on planes. And the ease with which they automatically pair to an iPhone and iPad might be the most impressive thing about them.
Movo Lavalier Mic with Secondary Input & Headphone Monitoring — Since so much of the tech industry descends on CES — over 150,000 people and still growing — it’s a great place to interview smart people and ask them about the stuff they are working on. These encounters can make great video clips. But, CES is so loud that a lot of interviews can be useless without a good directional microphone. Movo offers some great options that can plug into either a camera like the a6300 or a smartphone. I like this one because I can plug it directly into the Samsung Galaxy S9’s 3.5mm jack and this model of the Movo also has a second mic so I can record my own audio as well as a guest and also listen at the same time to make sure it’s getting a good quality recording.
Aukey Pocket 5000mAh Power Bank (PB-N41) — Power banks are a dime a dozen. This one is my favorite because of its size and modest price tag.
SEE IT AT AMAZONApple Power Adapter Extension Cable — Apple used to include one of these long corded adapters with all of its MacBooks, but now it only includes the dongle to plug your power brick directly into an outlet. Those bricks are sometimes so heavy that they fall out of an outlet or can’t squeeze into a crowded power strip. I still use one of the perfectly extension cables from an old MacBook, but fortunately, Apple still sells these extensions as well. They’re super handy when sitting on a floor somewhere at CES to work on your laptop and stretching to plug into an outlet.
SEE IT AT AMAZONCable Matters USB-C Card Reader — I have plenty of old USB SD card readers that I could plug into USB-C adapters, but that’s clunky. And now that Apple has removed SD card readers from MacBook Pros, dealing with SD cards from cameras can be a bit of pain. This inexpensive little dongle makes it simpler — and theoretically, a little faster for transferring a lot of big files.
SEE IT AT AMAZONBelkin USB-C to Ethernet Adapter — Again, I could plug an old USB Ethernet adapter into a USB-C adapter, but that gets kludgy and it also doesn’t take advantage of Gigabit Ethernet. And at CES, whenever you can plug into a wired internet connection, you do it because the wireless gets swamped.
SEE IT AT AMAZONSony PlayMemories Mobile — This app lets you transfer photos from Sony mirrorless cameras to your smartphone, where you can then quickly edit them with your favorite app to post on social media and/or in stories.
Google Snapseed — Speaking of favorite photo editing apps, Snapseed is still the best for fast photo editing app on mobile. It’s also pretty full-featured. And Google bought it in 2012 and has made it available for free on Android and iOS ever since.
SEE IT AT ITUNESAdobe Lightroom CC — Snapseed is great for quick edits of photos that don’t need much help and aren’t going to be very high-profile. But for images that need more polish and that I really want to make pop, I import those to Lightroom. The great thing is that with Lightroom CC, Adobe’s next-generation editor, the mobile, web and desktop versions are nearly identical so it’s easy to import from any of those places and then switch devices to do the actual editing. Then, you can even switch again to export the file wherever you need it.