Fieldwork Tips

Equipment Tips

I’m often asked about the equipment I use in the field. I have a pretty finely tuned kit having spent significant periods of time over the past 10+ years in a variety of field sites including rural sites where there was no electricity, urban sites in countries where electricity spikes were an issue, and a lot of time hanging out and doing interviews in loud, hot, dusty places.

Digital Audio Recorders and Transcribers:

  • Zoom H2 Recorder – a really obvious looking recorder with a big foam filter over the microphone. Comes with some useful attachments for propping up or holding the recorder. At appears to be geared for people doing recordings of live music. Pros: my favorite recorder – unbelievably good quality recordings – recording clarity is sometimes even a bit better than face-to-face, the foam filter completely eliminated problems I once had with wind and fans. Cons: short battery life (without visible warning when battery is low), complicated interface (including the absurd requirement to press the ‘record’ button twice to start recording), bulky size, attachments and cords to keep track of.
  • Olympus WS-500M – I have several of these. Prior to the Zoom H2 this was my go-to recorder. The sound quality is good, it takes only a small AAA battery and battery life is pretty good, has a retractable USB plug so no need to keep track of extra cords, super-small and unobtrusive, pretty inexpensive. Cons: no foam filter so wind and indoor fans can be a big problem for sound quality.
  • Olympus AS-2400 USB transcription pedal – improves transcription efficiency by offloading some of the work to your feet. This is like the old classic cassette tape transcribers, but can be used for digital audio transcription and plugs into your computers USB port. The pedals allow you to pause, rewind, fast forward the audio so you can keep your hands busy. Cons: rewind rate is slow (perhaps adjustable, I can’t find the setting in my software), have to carry around a serial number and software CD to use it with other machines (very annoying when you want to get your transcriber set up in Ghana!).

Camera equipment:

  • Canon SD 1400 IS – I’m not into professional camera equipment for fieldwork, but this is a good, very small, very straightforward camera, very easy to pull out and snap photos. More and more I use the video function to capture events unfolding (though videos of only a few minutes are very feasible). Battery seems to last forever, user interface functions are super-straightforward, has a zoom function (but is not a true optical zoom, just crops).
  • SD card (1 GB or more) – you have to buy an SD card separately for the Canon camera. Get one that is at least Class 6 or better…this has to do with the read/write time. The higher the class the faster your image will get captured so you won’t have that terrible lag after pressing the camera’s shutter button. If you get one with a lot of memory you can probably go an entire trip without having to upload your photos to a computer to clear up memory (but you should anyway for backup).

Electricity Converters, Adaptors, etc:


  • Express Scribe – free software to aid in audio transcribing. You still have to do the typing (no good auto-transcription software exists as far as I know). How does it aid transcribing you ask? It maps system-wide hotkeys so that you can do a quick pause, slow-play, rewind of audio recordings etc. all while keeping your hands on the keyboard. Supposed to also work with a number of transcription pedals (though doesn’t work with my Olympus pedal).
  • NVivo – I think is the most robust qualitative data analysis software out there but it is very expensive…
  • Saturate App – somewhat simple (crude) qualitative coding web app, but very inexpensive and keeps things simple. Allows you to export coded data into .csv files.
  • cut and paste into word documents, excel spreadsheets are also all valid ways to do coding