The $131,775 Driving with John Chow Video Setup

Ever since starting my Driving with John Chow video series, I’ve received a ton of questions about the equipment used for the filming. The most asked questions are always what is the model of camera used, and how do I remove the wind noise with the top down.

I gave hints of the hardware used in some of the episodes, but have yet to do a complete write up on any of it. Until now. For those who have been wondering, this is everything used to filmed Driving with John Chow.

The Car – 2013 Mercedes Benz SL550

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The car used for nearly all the episode of Driving with John Chow is a 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550. This hardtop convertible is a tech geek’s dream come true. It has more technology than the space shuttle. Not only can it park itself, it can practically drive by itself if you let it.

At a cost of $130,000 out the door, the SL550 is by no means cheap, so it’s a good thing I got it for free. That’s right. I got this car for free as part of the MOBE Merc program.

One episode of Driving with John Chow was filmed in a Lexus RX350. All other episodes were done in the Mercedes. Let’s face it, the convertible Benz does a much better job with the whole Dot Com Lifestyle image.

The Camera – Olympus OM-D EM-5

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The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is the first of Olympus’ OM-D range of Micro Four Thirds cameras and is styled to look like the its classic OM series SLRs. The camera offers the quality of a DSLR, but without the bulk. The OM-D comes standard with a M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 EZ lens, but most episodes were filmed using the lens below.

Lens – Panasonic LUMIX G 20mm f/1.7

51rICc7E2hLThe Panasonic LUMIX G 20mm f/1.7 is my lens of choice for the Olympic OM-D. This lens offers a F1.7 brightness for a narrow depth of field. It keeps the focus on my face while blurring out the background (see the effect in the picture below).

The lens is also extremely compact and makes the Olympus OM-D a very travel friendly camera. Most of the time, I leave the Olympus 12-50mm lens at home because I never use it. Most of the videos and photos you see posted on this blog was done with the Panasonic lens. You don’t need a Panasonic camera to use it. As long as your camera is Micro Four Thirds (which the OM-D EM-5 is), the lens will work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Olympus SEMA-1 Mic Adapter

olympussema-1micThe Olympus OM-D doesn’t have an input for a mic, and the audio quality of its built in mic doesn’t come close to matching the picture quality. Fortunately, Olympus makes the very affordable SEMA-1 mic adapter. This adapter turns the OD-M’s hot shoe into a mic input.

The SEMA-a comes with a stereo microphone that can be plugged directly into the adapter, or into the lapel cable. While the SEMA-1 mic quality is higher than the built-in mic of the OM-D EM-5, it’s still not good enough to record the audio for Driving with John Chow. For that, we turn to the mic below.

Sony ECM-AW3 Wireless Microphone

ecm-aw3-03The Sony ECM-AW3 is a wireless microphone that uses Bluetooth to communicate between the transmitter and receiver. They can be separated by up to 150 feet and still work.

In the car setup, the ECM-AW3 receiver is plugged into the SEMA-1 mic adapter, which is plugged into the Olympic OM-D EM-5. The ECM-AW3 transmitter is attached to the SL550 seatbelt. While filming with the top down, which is all the time, the transmitter is covered with the supplied wind sock. It does a great job knocking out the wind noise.

The ECM-AW3 is a close-range mic, meaning it picks up sound within about a five feet radius. Any noise beyond that gets picked up at a much lower level. This is perfect for my needs since the road and background noise from a top-down SL550 at highway speed can get pretty loud. I am always amazed by how great the audio is.

Fat Gecko Mini Camera and Camcorder Mount

fatgThe last ingredient in the Driving with John Chow video gear is the Fat Gecko Mini camera mount. The Gecko works with any camera that has a tripod mount. The suction cup is rated to carry up to 4lbs, so unless you’re putting one of those huge zoom lens on your DLSR, you shouldn’t have any problems with it. If you do have some bigger video rig, there are two and three suction cup versions of the Fat Gecko.

The Fat Gecko 360 Degree tilt, turn and rotation offers unlimited shooting possibilities. Because of the steep slope of the SL550 windshield, I had to used the supplied extension arm in order to properly mount the Olympus digital camera. I experimented with many different mounting location and settled on the upper right corner of the passenger side windshield.

What it Looks Like When It’s All Put Together

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The entire Driving with John Chow video rig can be assembled for $1,775.00 ($131,775.00 if you include the car). For that investment, you can create professional level driving videos with the top down, and not worry about background or wind noise. If you ask me, that sounds like a great excuse to break out the credit card!


22 thoughts on “The $131,775 Driving with John Chow Video Setup”

  1. Sha says:

    That’s an awesome camera. I’ve been looking to buy a new one. Looks like I found it!

  2. Mark says:

    Is it on autofocus while you’re recording?

    1. John Chow says:

      Yes it is but doesn’t have to be since I’m not moving far from the seat. 🙂

  3. Impressed John! Thanks for sharing. Do you use scripts for your videos? How are you able to focus so well on recording and driving so well all at the same time? Love the series.

    Thank you!

    1. John Chow says:

      No script. They are all done off the top of my head.

  4. The E-M5 is the direction where all high end cameras are going. DSLRs don’t make sense … you don’t need a moving mirror to take digital photos.

  5. ivan ong says:

    thats an awesome introduction… i tried to record a video with my top down car but the sound quality suck big time!

    now i know to do it exactly! Thanks

    1. John Chow says:

      Great video starts with great audio.

  6. Cool duded! Awesome camera…Could get one soon

    Thanks

  7. John Gibb says:

    hey John

    Nice post, I’m impressed with your achievement, and honesty about the tools and equipment you’re using to produce these awesome clips…

    So, you got the Mercedes for free to film, but do you own it after filming is done, or what’s the deal with it?

    Anyway, I’ll check out the link which you’ve shared to get the insights on this…

    Best!

    1. John Chow says:

      The car is my to keep. I didn’t get it for free to film. I got it because I’m a top affiliate for MOBE. http://jclink.me/mobemerc

  8. matt says:

    cracking camera

  9. Dean Saliba says:

    Great write up John. I did my very first video yesterday, I did it using the webcam and microphone that came built in with my laptop, it did an OK job, but I will definitely get a better external mic and camera later one, but in the mean time I’m just so chuffed at doing my first video. 🙂

  10. faisal says:

    No Amazon link to buy the MErcedes?

    1. John Chow says:

      If only Amazon sold cars!

  11. Simon Dodd says:

    Hey John,

    Thanks for this one. I was wondering though does the camera you are using have a limit to the length of videos it shoots…? I know the Nikon d5500 is limited to 5 minutes of HD video and the Canon 5D is limited to about 12 minutes. I thought that most SLR cameras have some sort of limit to the length of videos they can shoot due to the sensors overheating or something like that…

    I personally love using them but it can be a bit of a pain especially if they don’t have a light on the front to let you know if they are still recording!

    Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Thanks for the post.

    Simon

    1. John Chow says:

      All digital camera are limited to a max 28 minutes video recording because of a tariff issues. Camcorders have higher duty than digital cameras. If a digital camera can record more than 28 min, it’s taxed at the camcorder rate. I believe the OM-5 records up to 28 min, then it stops and starts a new file almost instantly. Your video editing software should be able to piece it together in post production.

  12. Miller P. says:

    That camera looks amazing. I have been on the lookout for one, and I may have just found it.

  13. Norm says:

    Very professional. And here I been thinking that you have a crew of peeps doing these videos for you. How wrong was I, good stuff.

  14. all those stuff were absolutely awesome. Having A Mercedes car is my dream!

  15. I. C. Daniel says:

    Great tools you have John. Amazing videos you’ve made so far. I’ll stay tune!

  16. Awesome Images. Great man, great car & great camera! 🙂

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