Ethnographic Fieldwork Equipment That (Hopefully) Won’t Break the Bank: New Digital Tools

National Association of Student Anthropologists

Having discussed digital audio recorders, cameras, and camcorders in the first three installments of “Ethnographic Fieldwork Equipment That (Hopefully) Won’t Break the Bank,” I want to examine three digital technologies that professional and student anthropologists ought to consider when investing in or upgrading their field equipment:

  1. peripherals for smartphones, tablets, and laptops
  2. digital note-taking software
  3. smart notebooks.

Disclaimer: This column is neither a review or nor an endorsement of any particular product, brand, or service. My intention is to provide an overview of a range of digital technologies currently on the market and to assess their strengths and weakness as tools with which to generate anthropological knowledge.

Peripherals for Smartphones, Tablets, and Laptops
Although current generation smartphones and tablet computers lack many of the professional features of stand-alone cameras (e.g. low-light performance and manual controls), they can nonetheless produce high-quality photographs and video footage (especially if you invest in one of the few smartphone interchangeable lens options currently on the market). Unfortunately, the audio recording quality of these devices (including laptops) is inadequate for many anthropological applications. However, there are several relatively inexpensive peripherals that can greatly improve the audio recording capabilities of products that many anthropologists may already own.

What to Look for When Considering a Peripheral for Your Device 

  • If you’re going to be recording field interviews or musical performances, you will most likely want to use a condenser microphone (or two of them for stereo recordings) for this application. These mics are cylindrical in shape, have a wide frequency response, and produce crisp, high-fidelity audio.
  • A majority of the microphones available on the market for smartphones and tablets are designed with the Apple ecosystem in mind, therefore Android users should take special care to ensure that whatever device they choose will work with their phone manufacturer/model and software.

USB Microphones (for laptops as well as smartphones and tablets that accommodate a full side USB inputs or can be used with a micro-USB adapter) 

  • Audio-Technica ATR2500-USB Cardioid Condenser USB Microphone – $ 70.62
  • Blue Microphones Snowball iCE Condenser Microphone, Cardioid – $47.99
  • Blue Microphones Yeti USB Microphone – $113.99
  • Razor Serien Pro Elite XLR/USB Digital Microphone (has both XLR and USB inputs) – $224.99
  • Rhode NT-USB Condenser Microphone – $169.00
  • Samson Go Mic Portable USB Condenser Microphone (extremely small form factor) – $37.01
  • Samson C01U Pro USB Studio Condenser Microphone – $71.00

Microphones for iOS Devices 

  • Apogee MiC 96k Microphone for iPad, iPhone, and Mac – $229.00
  • IK Multimedia iRig Mic Field Stereo Condenser Microphone for iPhone/iPad – $80.17
  • MiC Studio Quality Microphone for iPad, iPhone, and Mac – $199.99
  • Shure MV88 – $149.00
  • Zoom IQ6 X/Y iOS Lightening Microphone – $99.99

Microphones for Android and other Smartphones(using a 3.5mm input jack or mini-USB)
*NOTE: Devices that connect with a mini-USB (digital) input will provide superior audio performance to that of a 3.5mm analog input.

  • Blue Microphones Yeti USB Microphone – $113.99
  • IK Multimedia iRig Mic Studio – $179.99
  • IK Multimedia iRig Mic Cast Mic for Smartphones and Tablets (3.5mm) – $39.99
  • Rode VideoMic Me Directional Mic for Smart Phones (3.5mm) – $59.00
  • Shure MV51 Digital Condenser Microphone (USB + Lightening Connector) – $199.99
  • Shure MV5 Digital Condenser Microphone (USB + Lightening Connector) – $99.00

Digital Note-Taking Software
Although pen and paper will certainly continue to be essential tools for contemporary anthropologists, new digital note-taking applications have made it possible to integrate handwritten or typed notes with images, hyperlinks, audio files, graphics, and video content. Many of these programs enable anthropologists to not only archive their data locally, but also in cloud based storage systems and often with cross-platform support. This means that if a user owns multiple web-enabled devices and has an Internet connection, s/he could upload, download, edit, and share data seamlessly across a range of devices.

What to Look for in Digital Note-Taking Applications

  1. If you are working in a location without access to a reliable Internet connection, it is imperative that you choose an application that will allow you to store your content directly on the device itself.
  2. Determine your data input preferences (using a physical or virtual keyboard or a stylus for handwritten notes) and find software and hardware that support your needs.

Note-Taking Software for Tablets and Smartphones

  • Apple Notes (iOS, Mac, Online) – Free (paid upgrade/storage options)
  • Evernote (Android, iOS, Mac, Windows, Online) – Free (paid upgrade/storage options)
  • Google Keep (Android, iOS, Online) – Free
  • Microsoft OneNote (Android, iOS, Mac, Windows, Online) – Free (paid upgrade/storage options)

Handwritten Note-Taking Software for Tablets and Smartphones 

  • Lecturenotes – $3.59
  • Paper (iPhone and iPad) – Free
  • Penultimate (iPad)- Free (paid upgrade/storage options)
  • Squid (Android and Windows) Free (paid upgrade/storage options)

Smart Notebooks 
Smart notebook technology, though still in its infancy, shows immense potential for a variety of anthropological applications. Smart notebooks allow users to compile handwritten notes and drawings produced on a traditional paper-based storage medium alongside other media content in a virtual notebook. Handwritten notes are digitized, stored, and, in many cases, can be rendered searchable (using optical character recognition technology) after the user photographs the pages of their notebook with a smartphone or tablet. Additionally, some manufacturers provide smart stickers with their notebooks that enable the user to instantly store and organize their handwritten data within a variety of digital formats, including some of the aforementioned digital note-taking applications. Smart notebooks are particularly useful for researchers who, like myself, prefer the immediacy and reliability of paper as a storage device, but also enjoy the convenience and speed of digital note-taking.

Smart Notebooks at Various Price Points

  • Moleskine Evernote Smart Notebook Series – Approximately $12.00-$25.00
  • Leuchtturm Whitelines Link Series Smart Notebooks  – Approximately $17.00-$30.00

Matthew L Hale is a dual PhD candidate within the Department of Communication and Culture and the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University, Bloomington and is the contributing editor for the National Association of Student Anthropologists. His dissertation research focuses on mass media fandom, digital/creative labor, and millennials within the United States. He is presently conducting 13 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Atlanta, GA thanks to the support of the Wenner-Gren Foundation. 


Original posting: AAA News

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