After a few years of collecting behavioral observations under natural conditions, our "tools of the trade" have evolved with our methodology. We currently use mini-DV camcorders. After a period of testing, we are very pleased with our current set-up. I am a fan of Canon. So far our camcorders have sustained a considerable amount of "not so friendly" treatment, and they keep clicking. I should probably point out that I don't get any free equipment from them, although I wouldn’t mind being sponsored by them. Also, I like the fire-wire option, which allows for easy and fast playback on computers. You can call me old fashioned, but I am not a fan of the new digital hard-drive cameras. When you are recording hundreds of observations as we do, tapes provide a much friendlier way to store the data.
We have two distinct combinations of equipment. For our work on time-budgets, our “set” consists of (a) a mini-DV camera, a small compact camera with a manual focus option that is admittedly somewhat awkward, but useful for the occasional need to focus in on the lizard; (b) three extended life batteries, total recording time 10 hrs; (c) lightweight monopod with quick-release plate; (d) plenty of empty tapes, we can fit 4 extras inside our cases; and (e) a trusty water-proof & impact-resistant Pelican case. You might think, “there’s no need to use a mono-pod with such a small camera.” Well, think again. When you are trying to follow lizards for an extended period of time, anything that helps to increase the steadiness of the footage is a must. In addition, the set contains a Rite-in-the-rain notebook, tailor’s measuring tape, and mechanical pencil. This is a small compact set, which fits inside most backpacks and can stand the daily pounding, including occasional ocean spray, rain, heat, and the occasional drop of the backpack or Pelican case.
For our work on the physical properties of head-bobs displays, our equipment gets a little more complex. Again, we use (a) a Canon -- this one is our work-horse, with Hi-Definition recording and manual controls (such as the focusing ring that is quick and reliable); (b) sturdy tripod – you can’t get good videos for this type of work with out a stable tripod because the slightness shake prevents accurate quantification of head movements; (c) sturdy quick-release tripod head -- after using a few different types, we have found that the ball- type works best as it’s easy to use and carry around; (d) extra-batteries -- enough for 12 hrs of videos; (e) a large Pelican case that is big enough to fit the camera, tapes, batteries and tripod head; (f) an anemometer -- this one has a separate Pelican case; (g) a digital range finder, which is also transported inside its own Pelican case, and (h) our trusty ping-pong ball. This set is a little heavier than the other, weighing altogether approximately 20 - 25 pounds. However, again, we have found what seems to be strong enough to survive in the field, here under salty conditions or in the rainforest, while also collecting high quality data. Note, this set is approximately ten times more expensive than our focal observation set. Thus, if you are not interested in very fine details, there is no need to go overboard with something like this.