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OSEA Guidelines on Research Equipment & Supplies

To conduct ethnographic research you will need to make a financial commitment for equipment and supplies. Click here for quick checklist of items. See below for detailed discussion of items.

1. Mexican Cell phone, required
2. Photographic Digital camera, required
3. digital audio recorder, required
4. Digital videocamcorder, optional
5. Microphones, optional
6. Personal laptop, required
7. Research Supplies, required
8. Carrying Bags for equipment and supplies
9. Required Software. ACDSee Photo Manager
10. Recommended FREE Software. Audacity. Audio Editing & Conversion Software

Revised and Updated, April 10, 2016.



1. Cell Phones. Mexican Cell Phone is Required

  • You should plan on having two cell phones. A Mexican cell phone and your US cell phone.
  • Your US cell phone is for international communications on an emergency basis with your parents. Check your service provider for rates and packages.
  • Your Mexican phone is for regular, everyday use while in the program.
  • You may choose to either bring an unlocked used cell phone that you can dedicate to use with a Mexican simm chip or you purchase a Mexican cell phone in Piste.
  • If you bring or purchase a used phone that you like off of Ebay, make sure that it is UNLOCKED and that it uses a SIMM chip.
  • CALLING CARDS for USA calls. These are no longer as easy to use or as cheap as they once were, given the transformations of cellular technology and their pricing. Internet telephony is cheaper and easier to find. See telephony section in osea travel resources.

Regardless whether you buy a simm chip or a cell phone in Mexico you must buy it in Piste. Do not buy these in any other city or location in Mexico as you will then be paying long distance rates for each call and text while you are in Piste.

What is an unlocked cell phone?
How to unlock a cell phone.
What is a SIM card or SIM chip? called chips in Mexico
Verizon and CDMA phones Do NOT use SIM cards. Do not bring to Mexico

About Simm cards -- called "chips" in Mexico -- From Bestbuy website on cell phones
When you need an unlocked phone
Travel. Travel, travel, travel. The main reason buying an unlocked phone makes sense is if you actively travel overseas or if you plan to live in another country. Aside from AT&T, T-Mobile is the only other big GSM carrier in the United States, but Europe and Asia are filled with them. China, Mexico, Germany, Russia, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom are just some of the countries that support GSM carriers.

If you have ever tried using your phone in another country, you might have fallen victim to astronomical roaming charges, particularly if you need to use any data on the go. Even if you purchase an international roaming package, you end up spending a sizable chunk of change. That's why it is important to look into international carriers and calling plans before you travel.

If you have an unlocked phone, when you arrive in a destination country that uses GSM networks you can simply pick up a new SIM card from a local carrier. If you often hop around to multiple countries in your travels, it is not only possible but relatively easy to have multiple SIM cards on hand for different carriers and countries. You'll be able to place local calls without tacking on additional international roaming fees from your own carrier, and if you run out of phone minutes it's often an extremely simple process to "top up" your card with more minutes or data either right from your phone or via the web. You'll still want to be careful about your overall phone usage, particularly if you're using your smartphone's apps and other data-consuming services like GPS. Make sure to check with the carrier about how cell minutes and data might be handled differently by the plan you're picking up, including exactly how much data you're paying for and what happens if you run over your initial allotment.

If you work for a company that has offices overseas that you visit frequently, then an unlocked smartphone might indeed be the smart way to go. Maybe you are planning on moving to another GSM-friendly country for a year, and you don?t want to buy a new phone when you get there and another new phone when you come back. At the end of the day, the best way you can justify buying an unlocked phone is by thinking globally.

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2. Still Photographic Image equipment. It is required to bring a camera.
Your aim and shot camera is not good enough for ethnographic research. Its fun for the beach and facebook and just other low quality presentations. However, you should seriously consider buying a Digital SLR-style camera if not a digital SLR per se. Alternatively, you can use a Photographic Film Camera, if you are also prepared to spend the money on development and the time to scan images for archiving.

SPECS: Your camera should have a minimum of 12 megapixels, capacity for high ISO 1600 or 3200 (used for night shots/low lighting). Get something with a minimum 10 or 12 optical zoom. Do not pay any attention to the rating of the digital zoom, you will not use it. Never use digital zoom as it creates pixelated images.

Get two memory cards at least, each at 2 megs minimum. Get an extra set of batteries. If you buy Sony you need to buy an extra sony battery otherwise other brands use regular AAA batteries. Buy a recharger and a minimally two sets of 4 rechargable batteries. Batteries should be rated over 2400 mhz for digital photography. Ideally get batteries with 2500 or 2600 mhz.

»» Most participants will choose to bring a digital camera for their basic documentation; film photographers need not bring or work with a digital camera, but must understand that project requirements entail sharing print or scanned copies of all documentary work.

»» If you are buying or already have a digital camera, take a few days to explore ALL of its features before arriving to OSEA Program. Do several different kinds of shoots: Action, night, still of objects, portraits of persons, everyday street scenes. Figure out the limits and strengths of your camera. I found that my own (now old) digital camera to be very weak and impossibly SLOW for night action shooting - which is not good for when I wanted to do documentation of Mérida night life (people dancing, talking, walking, playing music, street theatre, doing things!). It was good to better for full daylight and panoramic shots. Try to get something that is versatile for your anticipated needs and type of research project.

Download the ACDSee Guide to Digital Photography and Digital Cameras. Its dated to 2004, but still useful as a beginning point.

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3. Audio Recorder. Required of all participants.
Digital Audio Recorders
for fieldwork is now standard. Even a few years ago, I was still an advocate for analog tape recorders. At this point the technology seems to have developed for there to be an extensive range of high quality machines that serve the purpose of ethnography. Previously, these machines, while excellent in function did not have functions that facilitated ethnographic field research even though perhaps excellent for journalists, musicians, ethnomusicologists. The very best products for ethnographers will always be found among those companies that produce professional quality recording equipment, but the question is for what professions!! Consider Marantz makes professional high end recording devices for music & journalism. Sony has high and mid-range products for music, journalism, business as well as a low/mid range products for popular audiences. Olympus focuses on business users, lawyers, medical professionals, and the like with high end, expensive digital recorders although they do have a handful of lower, more popular and harder to find models. Panasonic and other manufacturers are devoted to the low end consumer who wants a small, light dictation recorder.

Prices range from $30-100 for the low end, popular models. Due to the microphone quality avoid these.
Prices range from $80-$300 for the mid range, quasi-professional to low end professional models
High end professional products start at $300 and go up to $800.

Recommendations and Comparisons
My recommendation is to get a machine from Bestbuy for a walkin purchase for about $60-$85, say an Olympus. If you are very serious about ethnographic fieldwork and anticipate a future of substantial recording of interviews and music, then go for a Marantz or a Sony portable professional digital recorder for under $400. Check out "portable & field recorders" at http://pro-audio.musiciansfriend.com

1. Take a peek at this $1800 recorder for music from Sony to get a sense of "high" end!!!
2. In contrast, very smart, portable, very reasonably priced Sony TASCAM DR-07 Portable Digital Recorder. You cannot go wrong with this at $150
3. As for me, I have a Marantz PMD620 Digital Recorderwhich is has simplicity, 2 battery function, file folders, great recording quality, and very very light yet solid build.

In terms of low to lowhigh products, there are a variety of such products that range in price from $40 to $300. Your investment in this piece of equipment is really an issue of your pocket book and your committment to ethnography. Ultimately, I still hesitate to recommend the digital recorder because there is no easy means of transcribing recordings in which there are more than one speaker and recordings from the field. Transcription software has progressed incredibly but it is still a highly inferior product that will not under 98% of ethnographic situations resolve the issue of how you get a transcription out of a recording. However, I have JUST discovered that someone has created the solution to this proble: a usb plug in pedal for transcribing from DVDs, media files, mp3s, etc. The pricing on these however are out of control, starting at $200 and going up to $600 -- dont buy one of these, in other words! This model seems to be good option.

  1. Digital audio recorders and DVRs (digital voice recorders) are good for: music recording; protected environment interviewing; one-on-one interviewing; ambient sound recording for multi-media production. The digital recording is not good for situations that are live on the street or multiple speakers if you are intending to transcribe. The recording will not be intelligible to software that transcribes--- too many different sounds and voices for the voice recognition to work. Thus interviews that are sustained with one person in audio-protected environment is viable. It is imperative that you spend a little bit extra to ensure that your microphone has sufficient quality to record in situations where there are unexpected background noises -- animals, children, traffic, loudspeakers, etc.
  2. Althougth the Sony DIGITAL VOICE RECORDER PRODUCT INFORMATION RESOURCE GUIDE that is available here dates to 2003, the information about what to look for in a DVR is still useful in understanding the various options available. Try this comparison of the top Olympus models
  3. You may consider getting an high quality external mic for either your digital or high end recorder. These range in the $100-300. Do not buy cheaper products. Your integrated mic is already superior to anything priced at under $100.
  4. When you go shopping, if you are interested in doing research, first go to the website of manufacturers --- Marantz, Sony, Olympus -- to find out about their products. Pricing on their sites however are exorbitant. Find the models you like and then find electronics retail stores where you can get prices that lop off $100-200. Ebay is also a good option to find a machine.

Why spend $140 on Digital Audio Recorder and not $30?
»» Check out the interface of the machines. Which do you like and feel is intuitive, easy to use?
»» Is there an ON-OFF button? dont laugh, these switches seem to be the highest technology available since their presence boosts prices up $60 at least! If you dont buy one with an on-off button, you WILL end up spending your money on endlessly buying batteries!
»» does the machine allow for a firewire-USB cable connection to your laptop? or does it require you to pull the memory chip and insert that into the laptop?
»» does the microphone have STEREO, not mono-recording? is the mic built in or can it be removed? can you use a different plug-in mic? the key difference in quality of recording is the microphone. higher quality means: not built-in, stereo, option for plug-in. These features boosts the price over $100
»» Does the recorder say it can work with Dragon Naturally Speaking Voice Recognition Software? If so this adds to the price, say $30-60. Note that this software can usually be bought through your university at student discounted rates for approx. $100-130. You need not buy the most expensive version of this software (for lawyers and doctors, priced at $800, $1600!). This software may be extremely useful for taking field notes but not for interviews and other kinds of ethnographic audio recordings since it only comprehends ONE voice.

  1. Technology is such that regardless of your needs, it should be available in walkman size or smaller.
  2. DO NOT BUY microcassette recorders made for dictation. These are not suitable for ethnographic research purposes nor fieldwork. Read comment below about notebooks regarding digital voice recorders (i.e., "digital dictation" machines for business)
  3. The basic walkman style audio cassette recorder. This basic field equipment. You can buy a $20-50 version as your basic recorder. Panasonic and Sony are the most common and good brands for this type of low end recorders. It is also recommended for the future, for your future as a field researcher, that you have one of these as a back up for any and all occasssions, even if you are primarily using other devices. The old style audio recorder is the best technology for in-situ field recording of interviews that involve one or more person. The higher the quality of the machine ($200-$300) the better; but these will also need a good, professional microphone.
  4. The cheaper product will have an integrated microphone and integrated speakers. The higher quality products will have external mic and a plug for external speaker/headphones. The price of the high end machines are actually mostly because of the quality of the microphone. Get a lapel mic.
  5. For the highend walkman style recorders buy Sony or Aiwa. Marantz is also good brand for music recording but does not come in walkman sized machines. These are all identified as professional recorders. When you talk with sales reps, find out for what kind of professional! (i.e., musician, journalist, etc.).
  6. For the low end products Panasonic, Sony, Aiwa, and other lesser brands are adequate. Make SURE that what you buy on the low end is a RECORDER and not just playback. Recorders are not an easy find at the stores, even before ipod. Try ebay for low end products, preference is new, but used is okay as well. For the high end, only go with new. To buy these you will need to go to a major electronics store that has diversified products.

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4. Video Camcorder.
Required for video-documentary work according to participant focus, use Digital Tape or DVD.
Please see the following discussion of tips on buying and using digital video

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5. Microphones
You are requiered to purchase a quality microphone for your digital audio recorder.

Most research requires the use of uni-directional. However, Omni-directional are often required depending upon the type of fieldwork interviews you conduct.

These must be purchased separately if they are not provided with the audio or video recording equipment or if participant has special research needs.

Smart phones and Tablets are not research quality digital recording devices. You must buy a real digital audio recorder and an external micophone for your fieldwork. This is mandatory.



6. REQUIERED: Personal laptop computer.

OSEA is PC based. If you bring an apple, please ensure that you have means by which to share your data and files with PCs. You should have WIFI capability and 100 gigs storage space on your harddrive for research.

If you are a Mac user, then you need to bring your own portable hardrive that will connect to a PC. You are responsible for being able to have your reserach materials burned to a DVD, and to have it loaded onto the OSEA PC based portable hard drives. You need to bring cables for all this and to be able to connect to different types of monitors. Make sure that your OS is updated.

The ACDSee program for MAC will not function unless your OS is updated. Please verify with ACDSee what are the minumum tech specs to operate the software. This must be installed and you must gain experiential knowledge on how to use it before arrival.

You must have a DVD burner with your computer or bring an external burner.

You do not need to bring a scanner or a printer.

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    7. Research Supplies

    ⇒ Notebooks
    ⇒ CD/DVD Burner and cable
    ⇒ Thumb drives, minimum of 8 gigs
    ⇒ portable hard drive with 100 gig space
    ⇒ batteries for all your electronic equipment
    ⇒ battery recharger(s)
    ⇒ connecting cables for equipment
    ⇒ SD memory cards for digital camera, audio recordings, and video recordings -- make sure you buy Ultra Class 10 for High Def recordings and highest quality images
    ⇒ pocket knife
    ⇒ duct tape -- always right?

    Participants need to bring their own supply of film, digital storage media, audio-cassettes, flash drives, back up hardrives, etc. It is recommended that you are also bring your own supply of your favorite pens or pencils and notebooks, although these can also be purchased on location.

    You will need to buy a set of notebooks, each with about 100-200 pages. Because you will carry these around with you all the time and be writing in them in awkward positions - standing on a street corner, kneeling beside a wall, sitting and swinging in a hammock-you need to figure out what you will find most comfortable and appropriate to use regarding size of paper, thickness, flexibility-durability and strength of the binding and covers. Alternatively you can complement your writing of notes with digital recording of voice notes. However this is not a good solution unless you have the ability to TRANSCRIBE these notes. Digital transcription equipment starts at $200.

    I have found that small (half letter size) hardcover notebooks to be the most sensible and worthwhile. The hardcover allows you support and lightness while providing something hard to write against. The covers are also good protection against the elements. These come in sizes ranging from 50,100, 200 sheets. You can also find these in soft cover.

    I suggest buying this in Mérida, because they will be less expensive. However the choice of cover might not suit your aesthetics! Because the production of paper products is totally geared toward the elementary and middle school consumer, your choices of cover will be limited to colorful flowers, Disney characters, ninja and hello kitty, batman, etc. Unfortunately, no Southpark covers are yet available… Sure, there will the hard to find simple plain color cover, but you have to do a little searching.

    Personally I find the full letter-sized notebooks typically used in classroom context to be unwieldy for ethnographic fieldwork and field notes. You will need to use a few notebooks for fieldwork. One for writing fieldnotes, one for jotting notes and one for a diary. The jotting notebook is to quickly record information in order keeps track of your hourly activities and all digital, film, audio, audiovisual documentation that you taking. The jotting notebook can also record other information as necessary. Because of this function, these jotting notebooks could be much smaller sized according to your own personal preferences.

    As an alternative to the jotting notebook, you may also consider the use of a personal digital voice recorder - or what used to be called dictation machines.

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    8. Bags for Transporting Supplies and Equipment
    I find it cumbersome to use a backpack for all of my stuff. This may be a personal issue. However if you consider that you will need to have mobility and quick access to supplies, you should strongly consider using one or more of waterproof cases/bags for different equipment. A belt buddy/pouch is excellent for a variety of things: keys, wallet, cell, batteries, flashdrives, memory cards, etc. Waterproof Cell phone cases that can be strung onto a belt are also great options for batteries, memory cards, and the like. If you check out the bag accessories for cameras and GPS you will find a variety of things, some of which may suit your personality and expectations.

  • for More on this topic see "carrying supplies & equipment"

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    9. Required Software. ACDSee Photo Manager 18 or later
    The ACDSee Photo Manager is the top of the line, most versatile and effective system of digital photographic management. You will need to use this to quickly and very effectively create the meta-data or fieldnotes on all your pictures not one at a time but in batchs. There are other alternatives, but our recommendation is with ACDSee.

    Other programs such as Adobe Lightroom require you to import your images into the lightroom software and thus make it very difficult to back up, copy and to access outside of this software. Picaso is now no longer a functional software as of 2015. Othe similar software programs simply do not have the power/capacity to do what is necessary for the coherent archival management of thousands of photographs produced during ethnographic fieldwork.

    ACDSee offers Academic Pricing on their online website. As of March 2016, the prices are $29.95 for Photomanager and the Mac Pro 3 software is priced at approximately $50-60.

  • Visit www.acdsee.com

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    10. Required (free!) Software. Audacity.
    Audacity software. Free to dowload from http://audacity.sourceforge.net/

    This is essential software for editing audio files and to convert audio file formats from Microsoft and Mac formats such as .ac, .wav and .wma to mp3. MP3 is the ideal format for audio recordings as these are extremely light and yet are capable of maintaining very high quality recording. Download and install and test run the program.

    You will also need to download and install what is called the LAME encoder to be able to convert files to mp3. http://manual.audacityteam.org/o/man/faq_installation_and_plug_ins.html#lame

    Change the default settings on the mp3 conversion to obtain the highest levels of audio recordings.

     Audacity is required software for any researcher and fieldworker. It is free and exceptionally light program that allows you to convert the file format of any or most digital audio recordings and allows you to do basic editing out of extraneous pauses, delays, loud noises, or inaudible materials. Crucial for improving your research materials.


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