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


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


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 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


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!